Code Black recap: When La Familia breaks your heart

"La Familia" -- Jesse is in denial when his brother arrives at Angels Memorial in bad shape after being pinned down in a warehouse collapse and further tests reveal he has advanced congestive heart failure. Also, Willis opens up to Rox about his brother who was killed in Afghanistan, on CODE BLACK, Wednesday, May 9 (10:00-11:00 PM, ET/PT) on the CBS Television Network. Pictured: Marcia Gay Harden (Dr. Leanne Rorish) Photo: Erik Voake/CBS ©2017 CBS Broadcasting, Inc. All Rights Reserved
"La Familia" -- Jesse is in denial when his brother arrives at Angels Memorial in bad shape after being pinned down in a warehouse collapse and further tests reveal he has advanced congestive heart failure. Also, Willis opens up to Rox about his brother who was killed in Afghanistan, on CODE BLACK, Wednesday, May 9 (10:00-11:00 PM, ET/PT) on the CBS Television Network. Pictured: Marcia Gay Harden (Dr. Leanne Rorish) Photo: Erik Voake/CBS ©2017 CBS Broadcasting, Inc. All Rights Reserved /

Code Black brought us into Jesse Sallander’s family this week and it was emotional. Here’s what happened in Code Black season 3, episode 3.

Family is a major theme for CBS‘s Code Black, whether it’s the families of the staff or the people whose family members come into Angels Memorial Hospital every week. In this week’s episode the show once again combined the two.

“La Familia” opens with Dr. Ethan Willis (Rob Lowe) having a slow morning. His new partner Rox (Moon Bloodgood) shows up on his doorstep to chastize him for being late. But her latest snipe is interrupted by an emergency call for the two of them.

Riding along this time is Pepper Russo (guest star Chaley Rose), the newbie who accidentally inhaled fentanyl and almost died last week. That fact leads to some deadpan humor from Willis as only Rob Lowe can deliver:

"Pepper: Any advice, Dr. Willis?Willis: Yeah. If you see any toxic powder, don’t inhale it."

At least he can joke about that? Anyway, Code Black cuts to Leanne Rorish (Marcia Gay Harden) having to text Ariel (Emily Alyn Lind) to get her to pay attention at lunch. Ariel is too interested in being your typical smart-aleck teenager, but she’s pulled away from the guy she’s chatting up to actually work.

Leanne, Mario Savetti (Benjamin Hollingsworth) and Noa Kean (Emily Tyra) deal with the fallout of a fight at a baseball game. Steven got roughed up at a baseball game and his fiancee doesn’t look much better after she tried to get between him and his attacker.

Leanne leaves Steven with Mario when she recognizes the man Willis brings in from his warehouse accident: It’s Jose Sallander (guest star Efrain Figueroa), Jesse’s brother. That brings Jesse (Luis Guzman) into a panic, almost as much as Steven’s fiancee Daisy.

Code Black does give us a bit of levity when Noa tries to calm down Steven’s fiancee by telling her that Mario is “the second or third best guy in the world” and then the camera promptly cuts over to Benjamin Hollingsworth’s oblivious expression. This show does have a sense of humor when it’s appropriate.

Jesse comforts Jose’s daughter Lupita (guest star Chrissie Fit) and then threatens to beat Diego Avila (recurring guest star Tyler Perez) with his camera, which really no one can blame him for. It is not a surprise when Diego goes running—and gets drafted to help the woman who was also hurt with Jose in the accident, who happens to be his girlfriend no one else knew about.

Once everything calms down, Daisy tells Mario she was the reason they were at the baseball game and Mario is surprised that she deduced he and Noa are dating. It’s kind of obvious, dude. The rest of Jose’s family visits him in recovery and our ambulance crew deals with trouble on a porn set where the two actors um, can’t be separated. See, more levity!

But that’s there to offset that Code Black is about to serve up bad news for Jose Sallander. His test results are back and he has heart failure:

"Leanne: He doesn’t have much time.Jesse: You don’t know that."

He insists on breaking the bad news to Jose and his family himself—but when he walks into the room, he can’t bring himself to do it. Leanne watches as Jesse tells them he’s “going to be okay.”

While Ariel discovers that Max (guest star Alex Lange), the guy she was talking to at lunch, is a cancer patient she also runs into Dr. Will Campbell (Boris Kodjoe). Campbell has already tried to keep shaping up Dr. Angus Leighton (Harry Ford) by ordering him to work on his surgical technique by mending Campbell’s daughter’s jeans, so he’s in a great mood today. But Angus gets some more relevant practice when Steven (David Lipper) needs immediate surgery.

Willis is able to separate the porn stars relatively quickly—though it does result in a broken penis. You do not see that every day, and it crushes the dude’s ego. Speaking of ego, Diego chooses this moment to tell Noa that “in two months, you will be in love with me.” She retorts that he won’t be there in two months, and we hope she’s right.

Meanwhile, Jesse meets Jose’s girlfriend Nora (guest star Roxana Brusso) before finally telling the rest of the family that he has stage four congestive heart failure and will die in a few months. We start crying along with them, before Angus comes down to help Mario. Score some more points for Benjamin Hollingsworth:

"Angus: You’re intubating?Mario: No, this is her Halloween costume. She’s going as “woman clinging to life.”"

Angus and Campbell have moved on from Steven, who’ll be okay for now, to Brandt the porn star with the broken penis. Thanks to Campbell explaining stuff to Angus, Code Black tells TV viewers more about that body part than we ever asked for.

Willis is hauled back into the OR when Jose crashes, and “La Familia” gives us a heartbreaking beat of Jesse literally pleading for his brother’s life. Luis Guzman is on his A game this week. But Jose has been without a pulse for 22 minutes, so even though Leanne says they’ll keep going as long as he wants, Jesse is forced to declare his brother dead. Although he once again can’t say the words.

Despite his own crushing grief, he goes to console Jose’s family and Rosa. But we find out that Diego, of all people, has done something to help. He was taping Jose’s last conversation with Jesse in the recovery room, and now the family can have those memories to hold onto. It’s a nice gesture that means everything in that moment.

In Code Black‘s last ten minutes, Steven worries that Daisy may never wake up. But Angus and Mario watch as she squeezes her fiancee’s hand, so she’s still in there fighting somewhere. And Brandt makes up with his co-star—whom Noa is shocked to find out is also his wife. The way they constantly fight does not make her feel good about her own relationship with Mario, and she asks him to reassure her that won’t happen to them. The fighting, not the injury.

Max wants to talk to Ariel again, while Campbell gives Angus more grief (“This isn’t punishment, this is the job”), and fittingly Code Black has Leanne there for Jesse just like he’s always been there for her. Jesse tells her a story of how his brother once saved him from bullies and wonders who will fight for him now, but she tells him that she will.

Willis, whom we know now lost his brother as well, watches them from afar before he tells Rox that his brother Robert was also a solider who fought in Afghanistan and “died recently.” He tries to say that he uses work as an escape, but she cuts him off. So instead he recites the last poem that his brother wrote before his death.

Ariel tries to apologize to Leanne when she sees Jose’s corpse in the hospital morgue. She learns that Jesse and Jose were both adopted by the same couple out of a group home, which of course affects her as someone in the process of being adopted. Leanne tells her what a family really is: a home. People who truly care about you. People like this group of doctors and nurses in this hospital, who have made a home and brought Code Black fans into it like part of their family.

“La Familia” is a great example of how Code Black stands out above the rest of TV dramas. It takes a common theme, and common plotline, and elevates them into something much more than common.

The idea of putting someone a main character loves in jeopardy is one of the most basic plots in TV. Almost every drama has done it at some point, whether it’s a medical show, a cop show, or any other kind of series. It’s one of those things that naturally comes around, and it’s a good concept as it allows for high tension and an immediate investment from the audience, because we know that person is important to someone we care about.

And a very common theme is the idea of the workplace family, that the characters we’re seeing are so close that they’ve become a surrogate family to one another. Again, you see that in almost every show. Some are better at it than others, depending on their premises and the chemistry in their casts, but it’s something many series hope to convey.

With “La Familia” this show excels in both respects. Jose ending up in the hospital is written so well. It’s not sensationalized because it’s Jesse’s brother; the circumstances he’s in could have happened to any patient, and what ultimately kills him is a totally unrelated condition. We get how much it matters to Jesse, and how much it matters to everyone else by extension, but in terms of the writing it’s not handled any differently than anyone else we’ve seen at Angels Memorial.

(This was also true when Mario’s father showed up last year, or even with Mike Leighton and his coma. Code Black takes care of its characters’ families, but it doesn’t deviate from what needs to be done or make them seem like they’re somehow better than any other patient because of who they’re related to.)

The episode rests squarely on Luis Guzman’s shoulders and he delivers. Guzman has been the rock of other characters’ stories many times and now he gets to shine, plus Code Black gives us what we all want and he needs, which is another scene between him and Marcia Gay Harden. The Leanne and Jesse friendship has likewise been a core dynamic of the show, and it’s great that this script makes sure to include it.

And we see, organically and not being beaten over the head with it, how the Angels Memorial staff really is a family. In how they support Jesse but also give him tough love when he needs to tell his brother the truth, and also help him grieve after his brother dies, we see how close they are and how they have shared trauma. As “La Familia” reminds us, both Leanne and Willis have lost family members, and that makes them the perfect characters to support this storyline.

We feel the love along with the loss, and that speaks to the talent of this cast and the chemistry between them. It’s one of the best ensembles on TV, and they deserve much more recognition than they currently get.

We’re only three episodes into Code Black season 3, but the show has already started to unfold these great new stories while maintaining its usual impeccable quality. Kudos to CBS for keeping this show on the air, and to the cast and crew for the superlative work they do every week. It means we have episodes like this that not only are entertaining, but are brilliant pieces of TV to be appreciated from a production standpoint, and also make you think about your own family. You can’t ask for more than that.

Next: FOX renews The Resident for season 2

Code Black airs Wednesdays at 10:00 p.m. ET on CBS. For more on everything happening in TV, follow the Television category at FanSided.