Chicago PD has returned, but if anything, it makes us feel more nostalgic than ever for what the series used to be.

In many ways, Chicago PD Season 11 Episode 1 highlights some gripes viewers have had about the series for some time.

All those issues were pushed forward, thus making a highly-anticipated season premiere just shy of underwhelming. Scratch that, as we outlined in our Chicago PD Review, it was the epitome of underwhelming.

We have a lot of things to face this season with a limited number of episodes (the shortest to date), a new character we still must adapt to, and, most notably, the impending departure of Hailey Upton.

The good news, although that’s getting called into question as of late, is that with Hailey sticking around for most of, if not the entire season, there’s time for the series to orchestrate a decent exit that respects the series, what it built, the character and actress, and fans.

But if the season premiere indicates what that departure will be, we’re off to a rough start.

A consistent problem with Chicago PD is how imbalanced they’ve become with their storytelling and character focus.

We often have characters who fall to the wayside with little or stalled development and others who more or less monopolize a lot of screen time and plots.

And because the series has spent a great deal of time recently working around its cast by focusing more on character-centric installments in rotation rather than leading case-first with something that requires the entire team, it’s more noticeable than ever when some characters consume the series.

It’s where we are with Hailey Upton and have been for a long while.

And now, Chicago PD Season 11 faces a predicament as it’s her final season, and at a time when many viewers would prefer to see her take a backseat, she’ll likely be front and center.

But the problem is that she’s often been front and center for so long that now it’s simply more of the same.

They’ve oversaturated the series with Hailey storylines and issues that tend to drag on endlessly. Sadly, none of them are scintillating or new.

They’ve overplayed the Hailey card.

The Chicago PD season premiere should’ve focused more exclusively on Adam Ruzek and the ramifications of his shooting.

Even with the six-month jump, it was the more pressing storyline that demanded immediate attention and focus.

And yet, once again, as was the case with Kim Burgess’ shooting, Ruzek somehow took a backseat to Hailey and her deteriorating mental health and respective issues. It was confounding before and just as much now and is a routine problem for the series.

It’s a puzzling maneuver to push this sole character forward so often and frequently at the expense of the others and the narrative. And they’ve done it in such a redundant way that it’s also been a disservice to Hailey.

It’s also proven to be troublesome from a storytelling perspective when Upton is a character who often isolates and alienates herself from all the other characters outside of Halstead, who is now gone, and Hank Voight.

Limiting her to only interacting and having storylines connected to the same two people negatively impacts the other characters when they have to fight for some semblance of presence or an equally expansive storyline.

If the season premiere proved anything, it’s that as upsetting as it will be for some fans and viewers, Hailey’s departure may be a blessing in disguise.

We’re spinning a wheel with her storylines in such a way that it suggests that the series doesn’t know what to do with her anymore.

We’re rehashing the same storylines with Hailey, whether it’s impulsively jumping to conclusions about mentally ill suspects (this is the second time she’s done this) or making questionable decisions in the field under the guise of knowing better (which has become her entire personality).

What’s disappointing about Hailey’s arc is that it’s always repeated with little variation. We spent all of Chicago PD Season 10 watching her depressed, losing her grip on matters, struggling with things that happened with Halstead, and generally being sad.

And let’s not forget that the majority of Chicago PD Season 9 was Hailey spiraling and traumatized.

We’ve been on Hailey’s poor mental health train for a long while, and understandably, many viewers want off of this ride.

The time to make some forward movement with her growing and figuring things out for herself was during the 19 episodes that included time jumps since Halstead departed in Chicago PD Season 10 Episode 3.

It’s as if they’re stuck in a rut with this character, her particular storyline regarding this same subject matter and angle of character exploration dragging on well past its expiration date. In contrast, arcs for other characters can be blink-and-you-miss-it-fast with less thought behind them.

Hailey’s arcs have run out of gas, and retreading the same things for her character has put off the viewers. It’s hard to look forward to the prospect of facing even more of the same as we gear toward her departure.

If anything, it leads to an overwhelming sense of dread that we’ll likely face a heavily Hailey-centered shortened season as they work toward writing her off, and it may not be to the satisfaction of viewers.

We acknowledge that Hailey’s departure impacts the series. We’ve discussed it as much, and whether you’re a fan of the character or not, it goes without question.

But Hailey’s leaving also opens up new possibilities for the series.

With Halstead and Hailey gone, seeing what’s in store for Voight will be intriguing. Both characters often took up much of his time, as that trio had a storyline intertwined for the past two or three seasons.

In many ways, it had all their characters coming across as inaccessible to the other team members, and as much as we know that the unit is supposed to be close-knit, the series drew an unspoken line.

Voight has lost many people whom he cared about, and his job is his entire world.

He considers his unit his family, and more recently, there’s been a more paternal role that he’s taken with some of the team members as he fumbles through trying to mentor and exist with them during some of their more personal issues.

Voight can often be an island by himself, but there’s an unspoken desire not to be that anymore, and if Hailey departs for better opportunities or what’s best for her, it makes you wonder what role Voight will take with the other characters.

It would mean we’d examine more of Voight’s dynamic with them, some of whom we have yet to see much of the entire series (Kevin Atwater) and others we haven’t explored in more detail in some time (Adam Ruzek).

Of course, Hailey’s absence could mean that Voight spends more time mentoring someone like Dante Torres, taking the newbie under his wing to prevent some of the burnout and dark paths that consumed Halstead and Hailey.

Torres is tough to read, stoic, and has a darker past than the usual fare of cops and detectives. He and Voight share some similarities, and it’s a relationship that’s fresh, new, and worth digging into deeply.

The unit could revitalize itself with the second-generation approach to Voight mentoring and spending more time with Torres.

He goes into that dynamic with the heavy past of where he went wrong and all his mistakes and troubles with previous unit members like Erin, Olinsky, Dawson, Halstead, and Hailey.

Hailey’s departure also means that there will be a refreshing shift in how the unit functions. Essentially, Voight does need to have a “second” that he leans on or bounces things off of, and he can find a version of that with Atwater, Kim Burgess, or Ruzek.

It also speaks volumes about the growth of that trio of characters as we’ve followed their journey through their recruitment to the unit up to them serving as some form of a partner for Voight as they’ve more than earned their bones and become seasoned cops all worthy of detective status.

In many ways, proximity to Voight can aid a character well, hence how it has benefited Hailey, whether people cared for the storylines that resulted from it or not.

We’re due to explore Voight’s connection with these other characters more, and one thing the season premiere does tease is how deeply affected he was yet again by something terrible happening to one of his own.

Ruzek’s shooting weighed heavily on him and seemed to haunt him months later, and he refuses to consider anyone else for Ruzek’s position, even temporarily.

It’ll be nice to see that version of Voight directed toward the four remaining characters.

Because the four other unit members are closer or on the path toward it, Hailey’s absence means that we’ll likely have a more cohesive unit.

Without shifting focus or splitting time up to focus more exclusively on Hailey and Voight or Hailey by herself, the series could tap into that sentimentality of earlier seasons by having a more interactive unit with one another.

We know the budget-cutting incentives have affected how the series tells stories and how it chooses to focus on characters.

It’s impacted actors’ screen time and characters’ presence. But someone of top billing like Tracy Spiridakos exiting and potentially pursuing even bigger ventures will benefit the budget rather than hinder it and how viewers enjoy and consume the series.

The bad news is that we’ll be down a character and a popular one, at that. On the other hand, we won’t have to sacrifice so much screen time with the remaining characters; each could get more attention and have more comprehensive storylines.

In hindsight, it’s incredible to think of just how many storylines Hailey has had her hand in over the past few seasons. As a result, it often feels like she’s dominated much of the series.

In addition to the character-focused hours the others have, she often has some role or more significant parts in ongoing plots and major plots throughout the season, so she’s always there.

But in her stead, the series could take a different approach to pursuing future plots.

Related: Chicago Fire Season 12 Episode 1 Review: Barely Gone

Hailey’s departure presents an opportunity for the series to simultaneously tap into the wistful feel of earlier seasons while also turning a new page in the saga, revamping the series.

There’s trepidation about her exit, but there’s also an excitement to see how the series transforms without her.

There are entirely new angles the series can explore with space to examine the rest of the team.

Even some of the tried and true arcs about mental health and how the job impacts a person’s psyche and weighs on them can be enjoyable from the perspective of any of the other remaining characters.

Everyone behaves and responds to such things differently, and various factors can impact their portrayal.

The series has always grappled with law enforcement who color outside the lines and raise issues with their questionable methods.

Voight helms the unit, and his old-guard policing has been taken to task and dissected through the series’ tenure, evolving along with the many conversations about law enforcement, overreach, and so much more.

But the series post-Hailey may dabble less with the questionable methodologies of policing.

Related: Chicago Med Season 9 Episode 1 Review: Closure

Voight, for better or worse, depending on the viewer, has simmered down on some of his extreme antics and walks a tightrope with how he approaches cases and criminals.

Resident impulsive hothead Ruzek has evolved and grown organically and isn’t prone to land himself in as many pickles as he once did.

Atwater was never a character who stepped too far outside the line compared to the others, not egregiously and detrimentally so, and is the closest to a “by the books” cop that the series has.

And we’ve watched Burgess’s journey, especially recently, and how motherhood has affected her. She’s also grown, working through her trauma healthily and productively, thus giving us one of the better arcs regarding mental health.

We can move on from most of the arcs that involved questionable shoots, coverups, biases deeply affecting cases, and unethical and immoral maneuvers that raised flags.

Their arcs often seemed to plague Voight, Halstead, and Hailey more than the other characters and with such a frequency that they became cyclical.

Hailey’s leave poses an exciting shift. She and Voight have often attempted to hold one another accountable, but it’s typically implosive and backfires more than anything.

But there’s potential for Voight to find a new balance with another team member that won’t result in coverups and body burying.

Related: Law & Order SVU Season 25 Episode 1 Review: Tunnel Blind

There could be a character that can hold Voight accountable but is also strong-willed enough not to fall in line with emulating some of his darker traits.

The unit will always cross lines, but we can graduate from the team doing it in the worst possible ways.

And if a character like Torres is the one to get called into question on occasion, it would feel more natural for someone just starting and coming into his own as a cop rather than someone established who goes wayward when the job becomes too much.

As we settle into this season of Chicago PD and brace ourselves for the direction they take Hailey leading up to her exit, there may be a light at the end of the tunnel on the positives and benefits of this exit.

Over to you, Chicago PD Fanatics. Would the series benefit from Hailey’s departure? Let’s hear it in the comments below.

Chicago PD airs on Wednesdays at 10/9c on NBC. You can stream it the following day on Peacock.

Jasmine Blu is a senior staff writer for TV Fanatic. She is an insomniac who spends late nights and early mornings binge-watching way too many shows and binge-drinking way too much tea. Her eclectic taste makes her an unpredictable viewer with an appreciation for complex characters, diverse representation, dynamic duos, compelling stories, and guilty pleasures. You’ll definitely find her obsessively live-tweeting, waxing poetic, and chatting up fellow Fanatics and readers. Follow her on X.

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