Character Deep Dive: Jay Halstead

Portrayed by: Jesse Lee Soffer
Show: NBC’s Chicago P.D. seasons 1-4

Jesse Lee Soffer as Jay Halstead in Chicago P.D.

We all know at least one person in the who selflessly gives everything they’ve got to the world and in return, they’re a closed book quietly enduring pain on their own. In the world of fictional television, Chicago P.D.’s Jay Halstead is that character. A former Army Ranger, current detective, and all around ridiculously good person. To be frank, I’ve written and rewritten this so many times that I believe at this point, simply being honest about my frustrations is the best way to go. I don’t know how to write about Jay Halstead without discussing the blatant mistreatment of his character. It seems as though everyone and their mother can’t look beyond Jesse Lee Soffer’s undeniable good looks in order to understand that Jay Halstead is so much more than a handsome face. And this isn’t just something that happens behind the scenes, but in the Chicago-verse, he isn’t taken seriously. Not only do I find that tremendously insulting on behalf of veterans, but rather for the human race entirely — this serves as significant proof of the fact that the world remains shallow and looking into a person’s heart is seemingly too difficult. That said, Jay Halstead is as inimitable as it gets; cobbled alongside the understandably human flaws he’s learning from, his kindness and loyalty know no bounds, but at the end of the day, it’s his integrity that’s unparalleled.

I’m always guilty of perhaps finding the good in Jay more often than not, but let’s not fret, as a human being, we’ve seen the flaws in him, too. And it’s those very flaws that have actually made his goodness that much more heartrending. Jay Halstead is brave for a number of honorable reasons, but when it comes to himself, he’s far from it. To a degree, it’s his own fault. Jay isn’t always brave when it comes to opening up parts of himself that he needs to let go of in order to be at peace, and where that bravery is concerned, his anger holds him back. While Jay does an admirable job of masking it where need be, it’s clear that deep within, he’s harbored a great number of heartaches from his life at home and his time with the Rangers. Jay has often selflessly taken too much on his shoulder forcing him to not only fall apart alone, but finding himself in a position where he isn’t even able to ask for help. And that lack of self-care has always been a dangerous vice for his character.

When a person finds them alone for a large majority of their twenties. It’s easy to close off the world, and where Jay could’ve resorted into a life that wasn’t so honorable, his choice to take the hard path has had both wonderful and horrible ramifications on him. And as we’ve learned that there was a period in his life where he’s delved into alcohol to ease the pain, he’s lost himself to things that weren’t so honorable, but somewhere down the road he chose to rise above. He chose to dig himself out of what could’ve become his grave. Where he’s closed himself off to the world, he’s simultaneously opened his heart to those who need it most — making it his sole duty to ensure that no one faces the kind of heartaches he’s faced too frequently in life. (He also seems to have horrific memory because I’m not sure how someone with his heart forgets to tell the love of their life that they were once married, but that’s something I actually believe the writing threw in there to add more flaws to the character. Will it ever make sense to me? No, no it won’t. You don’t forget those things. And you especially don’t forget those things if you’re Jay Halstead.) No, but seriously, does it make sense to anyone?

Whatever we’ve seen from Jay for four years now has showcased his sheer desire to protect the world, children especially from the type of indescribable cruelty no one should ever face. If that’s allowed us realize something, it’s that somewhere in his past, he stood up to the darkness that tried to govern him, and he chose to be a source of light. Jay’s chosen to be a source of goodness for the world. He’s chosen to be a helping hand when the rest of the world chooses to be silent or turn the other cheek when things get too difficult. He’s chosen to set an example as a police officer, and though he works in a fairly controversial unit, Jay’s always been steadfast to the kindness that’s governed him.

Essentially, it’s his kind, gentle spirit that has inspired people, younger kids especially to feel safe in his presence. They’ve felt safe enough to open up without the fear that they’ll be judged for what they say or what they’ve been through. And it’s that very kindness that’s helped someone like Erin Lindsay open up to the possibility of sharing her burdens with someone else. Whatever difficult, challenging bridge Jay’s approached, he’s approached it with kindness and tenancy. He’s approached it with the clear intention of making sure the person in front of him knows that they are safe to fall with him. They’re safe to open up with him. And while people might often mistake kindness for a weakness, when it comes to Jay Halstead, his kindness is his strength. His goodness isn’t dependent on his mood or some sort of steady optimism, but rather the means in which he approaches human beings. And his choice to be the kind of officer whose sole mission is to make the world a safer place is reflective of that very kindness. His choice to be the kind of friend and partner whose loyalty promises to remind those opposite of him of the best within them is everything that’s needed to reflect the goodness in his heart.

Someone with Jay’s past is expected to be irritable and perhaps even a little harsh at times, but where those emotions have come out of him, they’ve been merited. They’ve come from situations that have pushed past the limitations he’s put on himself and forced him into a state of outrageous rage or innate frustration. And while certainly not ideal or commendable, it’s precisely what the person in front of him has needed. Where criminals are concerned, he’s been ruthless without taking matters too far, but where his loved ones are concerned, he’s been stern when he’s needed to cobbling the resilience with an innate delicacy. But it’s those very emotions that while he’s learned to control to a certain degree, he’s also desperately needed to release them in order to be a better, calmer version of himself. (PTSD is an incredibly serious manner a number of people, soldiers especially deal with, and there’s immeasurable strength in facing the anxieties, depression head on, which speaks so highly of Jay to do so thereby, I know I’m not alone in hoping the storyline continues.) Jay’s loyalty transcends the promises he’s made as an officer and extended towards the goodness concerning those he cares for. Jay’s seen the best in every single person he works with, and when that person is lost, he’s the one who’ll stop at nothing to remind them of what’s within. He’s the one who’ll lose sleep over his loved ones falling through the cracks.

Jay Halstead is a lot of things, but his integrity shines as a leading example of how a man should be in this world. Where there’s a clear line between right or wrong, he’s known which path to take. Let’s be frank for a moment, within the unit, there’s no one more honorable than Jay. Plainly, simply. I love them all, flaws included, but if we’re going to choose a single person who exemplifies how an officer, a former veteran should be, Jay Halstead takes the crown with no hesitation. And it’s that integrity weaved in with his choices that allow him to shine as such an earnest, noble paradigm. There’s been no one more loyal than Jay — a man whose means of saying something potentially unkind are linked with the clear showcase of how uncomfortable not being able to help makes him feel. A man who’s willing to put his pride aside in order to offer an apology where he knows it’s due. A man who’s willing to admit when he’s wrong. It’s rare — ridiculously rare.

“The loneliest people are the kindest. The saddest people smile the brightest. The most damaged people are the wisest. All because they do not wish to see anyone else suffer the way they do.”

If this quote wasn’t written for Jay Halstead, I give up. In all seriousness, I’ll never stop arguing the fact that there isn’t a single character on television right now that swallows up as much as Jay while he hides behind the stance of a soldier. And while it appears as though people often forget just how much Jay’s been through because of his silence or statements such as “I’m okay”, when we look closely, Jesse Lee Soffer’s expressiveness tells us everything — behind the armor lies a man who’s seen and endured too much, and he’s endured it alone. Where death upon himself is concerned, he’s fearless, but the thought of losing someone because he couldn’t be there to save them crushes him beyond repair. And that sheer level of selflessness is due to the immense love embedded into his core — the innate kindness and appreciation for humanity. Jay Halstead may not always allow himself to fall, but he’s often been brave enough to allow his vulnerability to do the talking for him. In a room full of people who question him, he’s remained steadfast to his beliefs and spoken up about the wisest approaches that could be taken. In Intelligence, Jay Halstead is the most admirable figure — the man whose heart is so vast and whose demons are so loud, he’ll do anything in his power to ensure that no one ever faces the kind of brokenness he lives with everyday. A kind of brokenness that isn’t a weakness, but rather the kind of weapon that he looks towards to fuel him. He’s used his past to become a better version of himself even when he’s unable to hold it on, those breakdowns are a reflection of the conundrum within him, the battles, the heartbreak, and the intense guilt he harbors anytime another falls. In a sense, though alone, I’ve appreciated moments where we’ve watched Jay break because it’s proof of the fact that even the strongest amongst us fall and just because they’re always projecting their courageous spirit unto us, we mustn’t forget that they’re just as human — just as capable of having moments of cataclysmic vulnerability, inherent fury, or incandescent happiness. And having these moments are the very signs of exponential growth, for anytime we endure pain, we’re strengthened. Jay Halstead is the exhibition of the very quote that begins this paragraph — the kind of people that we must always do everything in our power to be aware of because no matter how brave they appear, even the strongest fall. It’s a fact. Pay attention to the people who bend and break backwards for everyone, chances are, they need a safe place to fall to. And my only hope for Chicago P.D. is that we give Jay the chance to release the burdens within him — the chance to seize the happiness he deserves.

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