'Chicago P.D.' Embraces Change in Season 4

Showrunner Matt Olmstead discusses the recent departures of series regular Jon Seda and recurring favorite Samuel Hunt as well as the addition of 'Revenge' alum Nick Wechsler.
Elizabeth Sisson/NBC

For a series now in its fourth season, Chicago P.D. has undergone quite the makeover.

After saying goodbye to series regular Brian Geraghty in the season three finale, the series has since also parted ways with frequent recurring guest Samuel Hunt, series regular Jon Seda and now, at least temporarily, series regular Patrick John Flueger, whose character, Adam Ruzek, begins an undercover assignment in Wednesday's episode.

"We didn't start off at the beginning of this season with a big whiteboard like, who can we move out? Who can we move in? But we certainly wanted to be this season, as you do every season, ready for anything," showrunner Matt Olmstead tells The Hollywood Reporter. "[We thought], 'Let's be light on our feet. If there is any change, whether long-term or short-term, let's embrace it and use it as an opportunity for storytelling and conflict.'"

Those changes began in the fall when Hunt's character, tech expert Mouse, decided to re-enlist with the army (in reality, Hunt moved just a few soundstages over to begin a recurring role on Empire.) Then, in November's fall finale, Seda's character, Antonio Dawson, decided to take a job with the State Attorney's office (the actor will be a series regular on spinoff Chicago Justice when it launches in March). That cleared the way for Voight (Jason Beghe) to finally promote uniformed cop Burgess (Marina Squerciati) upstairs — a question that's been looming since season one.

"The show's here because of her as much as anybody else, so we want to keep her around, keep Platt around, but also honor the evolution of the show," Olmstead explains. "To keep her down in uniform was essentially to reinforce this portrayal of a character who really is ambitious, who is saying she wants to move up, but doesn’t really mean it and is happy sulking in uniform. With the character — and the way Marina portrayed that character — that's not the case. So it was an evolution of that character and the show."

The promotion not only changes the dynamics of the Intelligence Unit, but also eliminates the uniformed cop storyline that served as a smaller but consistent role in the show's week-to-week episode structure.

"Sometimes with the uniform story, it felt like, not an obligation, but sometimes it was difficult to kind of weave that in thematically," Olmstead says. "[This] gives a little bit more room to that A-story investigation, but also having our cake and eating it too. We still have Marina, we still have found ways to see Amy [Morton] downstairs, now not just through Marina, but through other characters, which is fun. So we feel like we've really hit a sweet spot and we're smart enough, hopefully, to let the show evolve to where it needs to be."

However, Burgess' move upstairs led to onscreen complications, particularly because her ex-fiance, Ruzek (Flueger), also works in Intelligence, hence his sudden desire to take an undercover assignment.

"It's going to be him really taking an undercover assignment because he wants to avoid dealing with her, so we intentionally want to kind of keep it a mystery of where he is. We intentionally want to not let her know what's going on," Olmstead says. "We don't do a whole separate storyline of following his undercover assignment. We just show that he's undercover and it's really kind of left for Burgess to deal with it."

Filling in for Ruzek is Revenge star Nick Wechsler, who kicks off a multi-episode arc Wednesday as Kenny Rixton, a former colleague of Voight's from their gang unit days.

"There's obviously people in the unit want to know what this guy's story is. If he was a former protege of Voight's from the gang unit, then does he represent the old Voight, which we knew from Chicago Fire, which was the kind of no-rules person which Voight has evolved from?" Olmstead says. "So the journey for his former protege is can he also make that transition? Or is he stuck in a certain methodology that is far from being with Voight back in the wild west of the gang unit? Is he too raw? Is he too feet-first, fist-first or can he make the adjustment?"

If he can achieve the latter, the question will soon become whether there will be a spot left for Ruzek on the unit when he wraps his undercover assignment. "It's open-ended and it was jumped on so quickly by [Ruzek] wanting to avoid what's going on that, in his haste to not deal with Burgess, did he give up his seat at the table essentially? So there is some worry for him, absolutely," Olmstead says. "We play it out over the next couple of episodes. Did he make a mistake thinking that his name was carved in stone above his desk?"

That sense of uncertainty is something Olmstead hopes translates to viewers, and more importantly, viewership.

"I learned a long time ago that if you try and please everyone, you please no one and so you have to be brave in your storytelling and go with your instincts," he says. "Some of the most popular shows, on cable in particular, one of the big draws of it is who's going to get killed or what bloodbath happened and what other characters they're bringing in. So clearly the sophisticated viewer has the ability, I think, to absorb the loss of a character if it's done in a compelling way, so we're not afraid of that. We're not trigger-happy … nor are we timid when given the opportunity."

Chicago P.D. airs Wednesdays at 10 p.m. on NBC.

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