'Chicago Fire' Boss Talks Casey's Fate and 'Wonder Woman'-Inspired Episode

"We love to play on people's fears and expectations and try to surprise them," showrunner Derek Haas tells THR about resolving that major finale cliffhanger.
Elizabeth Morris/NBC

[Warning: This story contains spoilers from Thursday's season six premiere of Chicago Fire, "It Wasn't Enough."]

Did Casey die?

After a long summer hiatus, Chicago Fire finally resolved its major season five finale cliffhanger with a resounding no.

The season six premiere of the drama picked up right where it left off: in the thick of the warehouse fire that left the status of nearly half of the main cast in question. However, after Casey ended season five by telling his wife Dawson (Monica Raymund) goodbye and saying, "you're my miracle," longtime viewers were obviously left to think that it was the show's longtime leading man that would be leaving.

However, the premiere showed that Casey — and the rest of the crew from Firehouse 51 — made it out alive, with Casey even receiving a medal for his bravery at what initially appeared to look like a memorial for lieutenant. With that cliffhanger resolved, the premiere sped ahead 60 days just as Cruz (Joe Minoso) was coming off of a suspension, Mouch (Christian Stolte) was coming back to work after his heart attack — no retirement for this guy! — and as Brett's childhood friend came to town to shake things up.

With several new plot points in motion, and Casey in no need of a life line, THR jumped on the phone with showrunner Derek Haas to talk about the thinking behind that cliffhanger, the desire to meet Severide's mom and how Wonder Woman inspired an upcoming Dawson-centered episode.

Knowing what the outcome was going to be, why did you just still feel it was the right story decision to put so many people in jeopardy in the finale?

You can say that we knew everybody was coming back, but you kind of write yourselves into corners and then get together with your writing staff a couple months before production starts again and say, "What's the best version of this?" One of the things when we did the Shay death between seasons two and three, that first episode back sort of — although we loved the way it came out — it was a downer way to start a season. And we felt like, while we love to play on people's fears and expectations and try to surprise them — it was almost a surprise this time to not do what we've done in the past. We just love this cast so much and we wanted to get this season started off on a positive note.

There's only so many times that you can put characters in grave danger and have them survive before the audience thinks they can predict what will happen. Given that, why was this the right time in the series' arc to have a big cliffhanger like this?

We've done it so many times. We think that was the expectation after season two — everybody was going to make it out — and then when Shay died, it was like, 'Oh, this show doesn't necessarily do that.' We did it with Hallie, Casey's girlfriend in season one. We did it last year in the second episode when we had Jimmy Borelli take a fireball to the face and move off the show when people were expecting him back. In our minds, trying to surprise people sometimes means that we play that someone's going to die. As you saw in the preview and the way we wrote the medal ceremony, we wanted people to think, 'Oh, they just killed a major character. We know what they're doing,' and then we didn’t. Timing-wise, we have tons of more stories we want to tell, a full season's worth for sure with Casey, Dawson, Severide, Kidd and those guys so that became the plan.

I think you're going to get some grief on social media for that medal ceremony scene …

(Laughs.) That's OK. I don't mind the grief.

When we talked in August, you said, "Not all characters are coming back for season six, but I won't specifically say how come they're not coming back." Who were you referring to? Should we still be worried about a departure?

Well, Kannell doesn't. We had a character join squad at the end of last year for five episodes with Jason Kannell and we just decided, 'Let's just return to our core cast and so we got Kamal Angelo Bolden. We didn't want to completely exclude his character. We didn’t want to kill him and, again, it makes for a sad episode if someone dies in a fire. So we had Boden find him a spot on another shift actually at the same house. We might bring him back at some point. We like to leave the door open.

The reason why I phrased it that way also is because Mouch had been contemplating retiring and so if people weren't going to think that we were killing someone, I wanted the expectations to still be, 'Oh, well somebody might be leaving. Maybe he's talking about Mouch.'

Can you talk about the decision to bring him back after he was not only thinking about retiring but also suffered a heart attack on the job?

Before we ever did the pilot, [co-creator] Michael [Brandt] and I did three weeks of hanging around 24-hour shifts at various firehouses. There was a guy on squad too that, when they introduced him, they said, "Oh, we want to meet you dead Tom." We started laughing and asked, "How'd you get that nickname?" He said, "Well, I had a heart attack on the job during a fire and they had to carry me down three flights of stairs and then my heart arrested and they got me back. So now everyone calls me Dead Tom." We just thought it was hilarious and we've been waiting to use that for five years. So that was the inspiration for Mouch having the heart attack and we saw on its feet guy serving for another four years after he had a heart attack.

We wanted the emotions of it to be real in the premiere episode, which is why we wrote Cruz is being overly solicitous to him when he comes back and Mouch is playing that up, but what we realize toward the end is it has been eating at him. "I looked down the tunnel and I wasn't happy because every day is precious," which is a great message for our show, so he gets to have that great speech.

How does that continue to influence him beyond the premiere?

In the second episode, there's more of that. He kind of uses it to galvanize the firehouse to participate in this muster, which is important to him, almost more important as a social event for all of them to hang out. You'll see that he gets a little big for his britches in that scene. We play it for emotion but also for comedy, and all of the things we like to do. But we haven’t really delved into, at least in the first six episodes, him and Platt, which we plan to do more of this year. She's definitely high on the list of stories we want to tell.

What conversations did you have with Christian coming into the new season? It looks in the pilot like he lost some weight. Was that intentional for the part now that Mouch is more health-conscious?

He's surprisingly fitter than you would think and we knew that. We told him about three weeks ahead of time that we were going to play this to which he said, "You need to give me more notice." (Laughs.) But then we did talk to our awesome costume designer, Sue Kaufmann, and we just said, "Hey Sue, we're going to play Mouch this way." She said, "That's great, we'll cut his shirts a little tighter and his sleeves." … She just took that and ran with it and you'll see that not only in episode one but in episode two. What he wears to the Muster is absolutely hilarious.

The premiere also showed that Dawson has these issues stemming from the cliffhanger that she's not dealing with. What was the thinking behind that and what's next for her?

She has a history of talking with the Chaplain Orlovsky character, so when your significant other says goodbye to you as Casey did, we just thought that's something you can't just laugh off even though we're doing this two-month time jump. Having that near-miss happen that dramatically had to have effects over the course of the episode. We wanted to play the audience a little bit like, it's fine, she's handling it, but slowly over the course of the episode when Casey makes the crack of, "Just point me to the fire and I'll be fine," you see her face fall. Obviously, she had said something to her and he realizes that she hasn’t been dealing with it. What really needs to happen is the conversation where she and Casey put it all on the table to each other so we saved that for the end of the episode. They do, and what you realize — and I do think this happens with first responders — you have to believe the lie. You have to believe we're all going to come home tonight. You have to believe anytime I'm running in, I'm going to come home safely to you. He needs to say it. She needs to hear it.

Is that something she'll continue to deal with, or is the book closed on that now?

She's still going to be dealing with her dad over the course of the first half of the season.

What is that obstacle?

He's not the easiest dad to deal with. Since we've met him in the previous season, he's a bit of lout and he doesn't really listen to her advice, he does his own thing. He might be there to give her some advice in episode one, but then when he's the one seeking advice, he doesn't really listen to his daughter. We're going to play that out definitely in the first six and he ends up being a major part of this season.

Casey officially stepped down as an alderman. Why did you want to make that shift in season six?

We got two seasons of storylines out of him being an alderman, but we never felt like we were writing Chicago Alderman. The bones of this show are Chicago Fire. While it was some nice complications for him, when we would explore those scenes we felt a little disjointed from the main stories that we were telling. We really liked the Tamara character, played by Holly Robinson Peete, and we thought that's a cool victory, She's the one really cut out for this, so that was our impetus in the finale to pass the torch to her. We haven’t written specific storylines for her to come back, but I see her around Chicago and definitely we'll pull her as needed.

And his alderman background is always lingering throughout this season. There's an episode coming up where a chief who's not so receptive to Firehouse 51 comes in for Boden. He knows about the firefighting alderman, said with a little bit of disdain. It's also part of the Ramon story. He needs a favor from an alderman so he asks Casey and Casey's not in that world anymore, so that becomes a beef with Dawson.

You've tweeted a lot about the fourth episode of the season, that it is a big one for Dawson. What else can you say about the origins of that and what to expect?

I think it's as good of an episode as we've ever done. I just watched the director's cut. I was in Chicago watching it there and had tears in my eyes and just thought it hit on all cylinders. Michael O'Shea wrote that one, he wrote the one where the gang members come and assault House 51, which was one of our better episodes from last year. He just killed it again; great writing and an insane performance from Monica. She carries it like a movie. It's got all of the scenes that we like to do in terms of comedy and suspense and thrills. I'm very happy with the way it turned out.

I will say, when Dawson has her episode, because she's off shift when it happens, Kidd is covering the ambo so we have a Kidd-Brett pairing that we haven't done before.

What was the impetus for that for Dawson specifically?

Whenever you can throw a firefighter off duty without their equipment, without their radios into one of these situations and see how they would react in that pressure cooker, she's a natural for it. It was her turn. After I saw Wonder Woman, I was like, "Dawson's our Wonder Woman! She needs to have an episode!" That was the driving force there.

You also introduce this new love triangle for Severide. What can you say about that?

That triangle is going to get more defined over the course of the first six episodes. I really like the Kidd-Severide chemistry, I think we all do here on Team Wolf. They just play really well together in scenes so that was the thinking behind having them live together this year, and throw in the fact that they’ve slept together in the past, throw in the fact that Severide's not looking for anything new or serious after what happened last season with Anna, and it makes for the kind of conflict and combustible mix that we love to write.

You have a break coming up because of Thursday Night Football, so do you have planned for that sixth episode?

There's a big cliffhanger at the end of six, which is shooting right now. The big ending is going to be exciting. We're treating it almost as if a season finale where you have to come back after the break to see what happens.

What can you say beyond those first six episodes are you're starting to break the later episodes?

We haven't broken past episode 11 so far, but 11 will be another big one because we're off for the Olympics after that. We're going to keep that outside family theme going. I think you're going to see family members that you either a) haven’t seen in a while or b) new family members that have only been hinted at. We've never met Severide's mom, we've never met Brett's mom and dad, we've never met Kidd's mom and dad, we have Joe's brother coming back, Ramon coming back, we have Antonio coming back and reviving the Brettonio of it all. (Laughs.) That's going to be rekindled. He will be back in episode seven right after the football break.

What brings them back together?

Dire consequences. (Laughs.)

So will Severide's mom definitely be introduced? How far along are you in planning that?

It's not set in stone, but it's been in the backs of our minds. It's definitely getting thrown up on the white board. We don't know much about her. We know that Severide was closer to her but that she had problems and that's why he lived with — for at least a year — April [from Chicago Med]. And we know that Benny cheated on her more than once, including with his high school teacher. She'd be interesting to meet and the casting gets us excited.

What else are you looking forward to this season?

We're also talking about doing a big high-rise fire, which we've never done, like the 40th floor of a building. I don't know if we can pull it off, but that's something we're talking about.

Chicago Fire airs Thursdays at 10 p.m. on NBC.

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