'Chicago Fire' Co-Creator Talks Castmember Exit, Casey-Dawson "Twist" and "Big Changes" Ahead at 51

CHICAGO Fire S04E07 Still - Publicity - H 2016
Elizabeth Morris/NBC

CHICAGO Fire S04E07 Still - Publicity - H 2016

[Warning: This story contains spoilers from Tuesday's episode of Chicago Fire, "A Real Wake-Up Call."]

Firehouse 51 bid farewell yet again to one of its own. On Tuesday's episode of the NBC drama, Jimmy (Steven R. McQueen) continued to struggle with his brother Danny's death at the end of last season. His grief, and subsequently his anger toward Chief Boden (Eamonn Wallace) over his involvement, caused rising tensions in the firehouse. In one particularly explosive moment, Boden nearly comes to blows with Herrmann (David Eigenberg) at Molly's and gets physical (albeit briefly) with Mouch (Christian Stolte).

However, it wasn't a fist fight or a firing that sent Jimmy on his way, but a dangerous fire after a year at 51. After losing faith in Boden's leadership skills, Jimmy takes matters into his own hands during a call and ends up getting badly burned, subsequently ending his career as a firefighter.

Jimmy's exit is just the latest shakeup at 51, following the death of Shay (Lauren German), Mills' (Charlie Barnett) decision to leave town and, most recently, Chili's (Dora Madison) dismissal.

To discuss the decision behind Jimmy's exit, the "big changes" ahead at Firehouse 51 and the "twist" in Casey and Dawson's future, The Hollywood Reporter spoke with co-creator and executive producer Michael Brandt.

Obviously this was a storyline that was in the works since the end of last season. When did you first start talking about a character exit?

I would say probably the middle of last year. We kind of work on each season in halves and so we're just past the point where we're really talking about what's going to happen the second half of the season. You start to think about how are you going to mix things up, how are you going to change characters around, and so it was about this time last year when we were starting to break the second half of the season.

Why this character?

That's the hardest question for us as the writers of the show because you have to deliver sometimes on the threats that you put in front of your characters. You can't have everybody always get away cleanly and safely and always have happy endings. That’s something that we're always juggling and trying to balance and trying to deliver on for the audience. As you start to go through what are the big moves you're going to make each season and especially towards the end of the season, you take a hard look at everybody on the show in terms of all the characters and what kind of moves you want to make.

For us, Jimmy felt like the kind of character who would do something fairly brash, given that he was young, given that he was emotional. We had met his brother when we first introduced the character. His brother was kind of a wild card, if you remember. He ties Jimmy up with duct tape and pours alcohol on him and dumps him on the firehouse driveway (Laughs.) Ultimately, it comes down to creative in terms of who might be leaving the show, and what we liked about this was Jimmy's repairing of his relationship with his brother and then ultimately that being the downfall of the character on the show. It wasn’t out of the blue. It was motivated by his love for his brother and it was also motivated by the decision that Boden made which, you know, all those things always live in gray areas, and they're always very complicated so it was just a creative [decision].

How did you decide on this exit strategy?

Well, you know, it's something different than we've done before. We've had characters get injured before and leave the show but not characters who are as big as Jimmy. Mills made a choice, Shay was killed, so this was a different way for us to have a character go off.

As people will see, we didn’t want Jimmy to die and leave Boden hanging in the wind: Did I make the right choice or didn’t I make the right choice? There's a very a nice moment in this episode, a reconciliation between Boden and Jimmy, which for us was important for those two characters and for the fans too, to know that this whole storyline wraps up in a way that even though it's tragic, it's not full of complete darkness and without any hope.

How does this impact the rest of the firehouse?

Well, the way Jimmy was reacting was causing waves in the house and so as people have come to know over the last four or five years, it’s a very tight-knit group in the house who don't react well to waves. So I think it gets to the point in the house where everybody feels like what Jimmy's doing is not to the benefit of the house or to the CFD. I think everybody understands why he's doing it; you know it's an emotional reaction, and when Jimmy does leave, there's sadness about what happened to him but ultimately it's for the benefit of the house who can then heal from what happened and reunite with each other.

You said at the beginning of the season that you weren't planning on introducing any new characters. Now that you're starting to get into the second half of season five, is that still the plan?

We feel pretty good about where things are. We're really happy about Dawson being back on the ambulance, and building that relationship between Brett and Dawson. We really like what Miranda [Rae Mayo]'s doing with her character. I think as of now there are no plans to shake things up too much. We know we've done that a lot in the past. We feel really good about where everything is right now, so for now, no, there are no plans to make any big changes.

As you've mentioned you've had a couple shake-ups recently. You had Chili leave and then Mills before that. Now that you're getting into season five and you've done this a few time, what is the biggest thing you've learned from having to write characters out and deal with changing dynamics in the firehouse?

Yeah, we have the benefit of doing a show where our characters are in inherently dangerous positions. It's not like a lawyer show where for somebody to leave the show, something really incredibly dramatic and tragic has to happen — it's not within the realm of the show — or they just have to move away. It does make it a little more organic for us to make changes within the cast. I also think it's important to keep things fresh and to bring in new voices, whether those voices are a voice of reason or a voice of trouble, either way it gives us something new and it gives the established characters something to play off of. I think 100 episodes in, we have to keep changing things up. We've had to do that to keep things fresh over the last four years, but they're dangerous jobs, what they do, so we do have to play the reality of that as well.

Now that you're further into the season, is there anything else you can tease about the 100th episode and what that will entail?

It's an episode that [co-creator] Derek [Haas] and I wrote. There's a lot going on in terms of personal storylines. Casey and Dawson are up against stuff with Louie and their own relationship — it all kind of comes to a head. Casey and Dawson, I guess, would be the main storyline. We've been playing with their relationship for 99 episodes up until this one. Casey coming back at the end of last season was something that we all really wanted to do. We know the audience loves them as a couple, we love them as a couple. We've had them engaged, almost married, we've really bounced around quite a bit with them and made their relationship as difficult as possible so I think the 100th episode is a time to solidify some things between the two of them, but that does not mean at all that they just go quietly into the night as a couple. There's a twist that comes at the end of the 100th episode that throws everything into a tailspin in terms of them and their family dynamics. So while some things do get solidified between them, like is the norm for Casey and Dawson, it's never easy and it certainly won't be in this episode either.

Derek Haas posted a photo of the writers room board that had the word "Morningside." What can you say about that tease?

That was a house that we've used in the past as an example of a house where the guys don't want to go because it's quiet and it's sleepy and it doesn't have the action of 51. I can say this: In the second half of the season, all of the members of 51 will not be at 51 any longer. We've done this a lot where our guys push the buttons of the higher-ups and they always tend to — through their own passion and their love of each other in a Spartacus kind of way — keep the house intact. They're going to go too far in the second half of the season and the higher-ups are just not going to stand for it anymore and make some big changes, and Morningside plays into that.

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