So far Chicago Med season 7 has been a restart for Dr. Will Halstead. Will (Nick Gehlfuss) has said goodbye to his former fiancee Dr. Natalie Manning, wrangled his job back after getting fired, and is in the middle of a sneaky investigation about medical device kickbacks. But for longtime viewers of the show, this new beginning probably feels very familiar. It could also be foreshadowing if the series wants to take a risk.
Will opened season 7 having taken the fall for Natalie’s (Torrey DeVitto) stealing medication from the Kender Pharma drug trial—a massive overstepping that led Kender to cancel the trial and gave Chicago Med a big black eye. But while Natalie headed off to a new job in Seattle pretty much scot-free, Will was left facing the remains of the situation.
He had to bargain for his job back with hospital administrator Sharon Goodwin (S. Epatha Merkerson). Goodwin used Will’s situation to force him into informing on another doctor, Matt Cooper (recurring guest star Michael Rady, bringing that same oily charm he had as Coleman Wasserman in season 2 of UnREAL). So when viewers catch up with Will in tonight’s episode “Status Quo, aka The Mess We’re In”, he’s pretending to join Cooper in promoting a medical device that will make them both some extra money under the table.
That’s a complicated predicament but it’s pretty normal for Will. Chicago Med has put him in some pretty big outside-the-box—or outside the Emergency Department—situations over the years. He has also attempted to work in concierge medicine, served as an undercover informant for the Chicago PD and ended up in protective custody, then last season worked as much with Kender as he did in the ED. It all adds up to a lot of side hustling, more than any other character on the show, or on any typical medical drama. So what does it all mean?
Will Halstead is a character who’s kind of untethered at the moment. He’s officially no longer tied to the Manstead relationship that defined his character for so many seasons (which actually ended well before Natalie left the hospital, when she tried to get back with him again and he rebuffed her). Viewers know from last season that he doesn’t have a clear professional way forward because Goodwin told him he wasn’t considered to be chief of the ED. So if he’s going to move forward with his life, his options would seem to be sideways or outside.
Season 7 should be a formative one for Will in any sense. Even when he and Natalie weren’t together that relationship had a huge effect on how his character was written; he just got fired for her. This is the first season where the writers haven’t had that framework. He also hasn’t had his primary foil, Dr. Connor Rhodes (Colin Donnell), for a few years. There was a bit of tension between Will and Dr. Crockett Marcel (Dominic Rains) but that was also around Natalie—and Marcel’s arguing with Dr. Ethan Choi (Brian Tee) was better anyway.
This is the season to decide who Will Halstead is on his own outside of any romantic relationship or rivalry. What does he want personally? And professionally, where can he go versus where does he want to go? Despite Will saying in season 6 that he couldn’t leave the ED he seems pretty comfortable when he’s doing things outside of it.
If the show wants to do something super-creative he could end up with a different kind of job at the hospital based on his performance in Goodwin’s sting operation—maybe he starts working in a sort of “internal affairs” type gig, roving to different departments where he’s needed and can help or oversee other doctors, and that’s how he proves to her and the hospital board he deserves to move up. But that would be hard with Chicago Med‘s more narrow focus; the show has zeroed in on the ED for the last few seasons, instead of venturing off to show other specialties like it used to.
Or in the extreme, is this a swan song kind of year for Will? Chicago Med has shown a willingness to write out characters and having Will realize he doesn’t quite fit in around the ED anymore or that he wants to pursue a new opportunity would be an obvious exit story. It would feel slightly awkward since he just got his job back but it also kind of writes itself—the impulsive, rough around the edges doctor sorts himself out and goes off to do the bigger and better things he was always capable of.
Nick Gehlfuss did sign a contract extension before Chicago Med season 7 so it’s unlikely that he’s going anywhere. But to play devil’s advocate, the show also dropped Donnell and Norma Kuhling not long after their characters’ relationship ran out, so it wouldn’t be a complete shock if he also ended up leaving after the end of DeVitto’s tenure and the Manstead arc.
But whether he stays or goes, Dr. Will Halstead has become a character with better prospects outside the ED than inside it. Chicago Med season 7 should either run with that idea and find him something new and different to pursue or find something that’s going to make him fall in love with the ED again. Will deserves a clear idea of his future and there’s no better time than now to make it reality.
Chicago Med airs Wednesdays at 8:00 p.m. ET/PT on NBC.
Article content is (c)2020-2021 Brittany Frederick and may not be excerpted or reproduced without express written permission by the author. Follow me on Twitter at @BFTVTwtr, on Instagram at @BFTVGram.