Spoilers ahead for Episode 5 of Chicago P.D. Season 9, called “Burnside.”

The first four episodes of Chicago P.D. Season 9 were mostly concerned with addressing the aftermath of how Season 8 ended, and “Burnside” finally moved on by delivering an episode centered on LaRoyce Hawkins’ Atwater that found him once again pulled in two directions due to his status as a Black cop in Chicago. Atwater has been the biggest proponent for the Intelligence Unit investigating as much by the straight and narrow as possible, but he had to work in shades of gray for the greater good in “Burnside.” Plus, he finally got a love interest! Hawkins nailed “Burnside” so much that the emotional end of the episode leaves me ready for more Atwater-centric episodes.

The episode got off to a pretty great start for Atwater, which probably should have been the first clue that it was going to go seriously downhill for him. This is Chicago P.D., after all! Still, he had a great time meeting and then going home with Celeste, who works to give a safe space for art to young Black kids who need a haven. The art she had posted made it pretty clear that her feelings about the police mean she probably wouldn’t have brought Atwater home if she’d known he’s a cop, but they made for a fun pair with crackling chemistry right off the bat… except Atwater didn’t drop the news of his job and lied about it. 

But again, this is Chicago P.D. There was bound to be some lying! The plot thickened after a shooting, with the shooter and the driver both kids in Celeste’s class. Atwater eventually came clean to one of the kids that he’s a cop, but only so he could talk 15-year-old Lewis through how to avoid the worst charges for his role in driving the car. 

Unfortunately, there was evidence that proved Lewis was lying, and he was sent to jail after being charged as an adult, only to be shot and killed during the drive to prison. Atwater bent the rules to try and do the best thing for Lewis, only for Lewis to be killed in the same car as him and another cop. 

The good news for Atwater is that Intelligence did ultimately crack the case and catch the man who put the boys up to their crimes, but it wasn’t an easy episode for him. Doing everything right didn’t work in time to save Lewis, even though it worked to save Burgess at the end of Season 8. And bending the rules wasn’t enough to save Lewis either.

Atwater seemed to feel about as lost as Celeste by the end of the episode, and their shared experience with what happened bonded them. And Atwater was on the verge of telling her the truth that he’s a cop, but she cut him off, and he stopped himself from confessing, ending “Burnside” on an emotional cliffhanger. And while it was a rough cliffhanger for Atwater, it capped off a pretty excellent episode that even delivered a multi-dimensional new love interest who will seemingly last longer than a single episode. 

And as shady as it arguably is for Atwater to hide that he’s a cop when the truth will inevitably come out, it’s not nearly as shady as what the others in Intelligence have done. It’s not even in the same ballpark as when Halstead was lying his way through a secret relationship with Camila back in the pre-Upstead days. Atwater is doing almost everything almost exactly right, and it was so interesting to watch. It’s hard to blame Atwater for lying because of how the actor sold it, and it’s easy to understand why Celeste is so convinced that he’s a good man despite not knowing him for long.

LaRoyce Hawkins nailed all the demands, from the intense moments to the emotional moments to even the fun moments of Atwater with Celeste whenever they had some time when something wasn’t going horribly wrong. In fact, his performance after Lewis was killed was among his best work in the whole series, in my book, and I really hope that the fact that Chicago P.D. didn’t close the book on Atwater’s relationship with Celeste means that more Atwater-centric episodes are on the way. 

Chicago P.D. is changing showrunners, so the future for how stories are told is as uncertain as ever, but my fingers are crossed that the show keeps exploring what was set up so well by LaRoyce Hawkins in “Burnside.” And I’m still ready for Atwater to make detective

Find out with new episodes of Chicago P.D. on Wednesdays at 10 p.m. ET on NBC, following Chicago Fire (which just delivered a game-changing twist with Casey) at 9 p.m. ET and Chicago Med at 8 p.m. ET. All three shows are among the biggest TV hits of fall season so far, so keep on tuning in! 

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