When viewers last left the employees of Chicago Fire‘s Firehouse 51 in the midseason finale, things looked dire for EMS duo Mills (Charlie Barnett) and Brett (Kara Killmer) following a shocking Mafia kidnapping. Meanwhile, the tension between Casey (Jesse Spencer) and Dawson (Monica Raymund) continued to mount, Boden (Eamonn Walker) learned his son’s birth came with complications, and Molly’s II all but went up in flames.
Tuesday’s winter return, titled “Let Him Die,” picks up right where things left off — before flashing back to learn about the events that led to Mills and Brett’s kidnapping. The Hollywood Reporter caught up with showrunner Matt Olmstead to get the lowdown on what to expect from the remainder of the NBC procedural’s third season.
Looking at the overall back half of season three, what kinds of big stories can viewers expect?
The Mafia story was a bit of a slow burn for us and this is the culmination of it. In the helicopter crash episode where Brett saved a shady guy’s life, the guy gave her a get out of jail free card. So she’s holding this card and when we come back with the Mafia, does she pull that card out? That is the nice little fuse that we lit a couple of episodes ago. But the Mafia thing, it’s time for the crescendo of that story and we definitely feel we got it. Coming up we have some big arcs and big episodes. At the end of Tuesday night, we’re playing a couple of episodes where they’re called to a storage facility and they break into what looks like a potential kind of arson staging facility. And they look over and there are a bunch of clippings of the fire that killed Shay.
How does that resonate with Severide (Taylor Kinney) and Dawson?
You have Severide on the warpath as you might imagine. And Dawson. So we’re playing that for a couple of episodes in terms of the investigation of, Was it not an accident? They thought it was a homeless guy who had a Bunsen burner go out of control. So how did they miss that, and did someone indeed set that building on fire? If so, that’s murder. So that’s obviously a big one we’re coming back with, and in a few weeks it bleeds into Chicago P.D.
How do things pick up when the series returns?
We do a bit of a time jump where the rest of the house discovers Brett and Mills are missing and things don’t look too legit, and then we back up six hours later and show what led to the abduction. We played for a couple of episodes that there’s a mob boss — his kid died in the care of Mills and Brett — and though it wasn’t their fault, he blames them. Sure enough he’s behind this, so we pull Detective Halstead (Jesse Lee Soffer) over from Chicago P.D. to head the investigation. It becomes an investigation of where are they, who took them and what kind of shape they are in.
Does that mean the storyline could bleed into Chicago P.D. when it returns as well?
It doesn’t — we have another storyline that’s coming up in a little bit that involves a couple of episodes on Fire that rolls into P.D., but not like a big crossover, just more like we’ve been doing recently in terms of going back and forth. This one is just a one-way street that plays independently.
Is it safe to say the EMS workers in Firehouse 51 are cursed? What kind of shape are Brett and Mills in?
We knew we were looking back on it and certainly Shay [Lauren German] and Dawson got put through the ringer and it seems to be the center of the bull’s-eye when it comes to conflict on the show. Mills and Brett definitely take their knocks when we come back.
Assuming they make it out alive, how will these events impact them for the rest of the season?
They make it out, perhaps changed in certain ways, and not without some real hardship. It has ramifications in that you have the Cruz (Joe Minoso) character who likes Brett, so he certainly is sensitive even if there’s like a five-second delay hearing back from ambo. So he’s anxious about her going out. It also has a ramification because the Sylvie Brett character we played, when she came to New York as a paramedic it was very much bright lights, big city. She came from a small town in Indiana, she was engaged to the guy she dated in high school, so it was all very new to her. This is a further cracking of her innocence that has long-term effects on how she sees the world and how it works. There are two ways to go with that — you pack up your bags and retreat or you keep going forward, perhaps with your eyes a little bit more open. The hope is that she’ll keep going forward with her eyes open as opposed to running back home.
What about for Mills, who has been through an awful lot so far this season?
There’s a very interesting development after this whole thing goes down because he’s taken his knocks personally this season, even to a larger degree than Brett. He has had some veils pulled back on what he thought his life was like and how he grew up and who his family was. So he doesn’t take this very well. There is a lot of anger and perhaps a little bit of violent behavior that is manifested in his reaction to this. He goes from this kind of happy-go-lucky naïve candidate to a much more kind of world-weary, battle-weary adult. It’s definitely not that just this happens and then is sealed up perfectly with everyone going back to business: People emerge from it changed.
Whom does Mills turn to in that time of anger for support?
He’s bonded with Newhouse [Edwin Hodge] and, to his surprise, he has also bonded with Brett, who couldn’t be any more different than him in terms of the whole small-town thing. Then there’s a point later where he reaches out to Dawson, whom he knows he needs to stay away from out of respect to Casey. But Mills and Dawson did share something, he is going through something, and so there’s a mutual connection between them that could maybe be misinterpreted by other people in the house.
Does that mean there’s no happy ending for Casey and Dawson in the near future? Are you worried about fan reaction?
No time soon. There’s just as much danger if not more in having a couple settle down and nest and be perfectly happy. What do you play? Our hope in our design was not to manufacture these ridiculous complications just to give them complications. We embraced the real world they would face as firefighters working together. She’s working for him. They can’t be husband and wife while working together. We didn’t want them to just cross the finish line, so to speak, and then pop some popcorn and kiss and go to bed every night.
There was a nice bonding moment between Brett and Dawson in the winter finale. How long did you have to prolong that out of respect to the Shay character, and will they lean on each other going forward?
There are two things going on: There’s the loss of the Shay character, which for the audience they needed time to mourn her. We did the shock value version of all of a sudden she was gone. So the audience is potentially resentful of the new character coming in; we were aware of that. So the Brett character was, already, walking into the wind in terms of being able to garner any kind of affection from the people at the firehouse. We really had to take our time, be patient and trust that we knew what we were doing. We knew had the right actress, that’s for damn sure, and we feel it paid off. It’s also different for the actors. They’re a family out in Chicago. They socialize and things like that. And then Lauren left the show and here comes Lauren’s replacement; they had to adjust. And they’re all professionals and it all worked out, but we were aware on almost every front that we had some finessing to do. We had to do it right. It wouldn’t have worked on the second episode of the season. No one would have bought it. The characters would never have done it. The Brett and Dawson characters by every right should be friends — they’re the two females in the house — and having seen those scenes recently it’s really working; we did it at the right time.
You guys also took a long time getting Severide back together. Now that he’s accepted Shay’s death, what’s in store for him?
We just did an episode where Shay is brought up again for him. Early in the season, he had a hair trigger whenever you brought it up; he didn’t want to deal with it. So he was pushing it away, which is why he had this accelerated romance from Vegas, doing everything he could to outpace this fast-approaching grief that he was just unwilling or incapable of dealing with. And so now, for the first time, he’s able to remember Shay for the good times as opposed to being too raw and too pained to deal with it. [Now that] he’s been somewhat normalized and able to move forward, we’re just having other stories that we’re throwing at him. Perhaps some new romance, new people in the house that he may not get along with. It’s time for that second half of the season where there are new stories for Severide.
He is technically still married — is the door for Serinda Swan open to return?
The door is open, but the intention was that it was going to burn bright and burn fast between these two. Down the road, who knows? But they were able to kind of save each other’s lives essentially and that was why we brought her on.
With Molly’s II officially gone, what kinds of situations are you using to source comedic relief?
The humor is always available. It’s obviously fun to write, and it’s the one thing that usually we have to dial back a little bit so that we can get the deeper, perhaps sometimes heavier stuff in there. There’s no shortage of stuff that these actors can play in terms of humor. We even did that brief runner of Cruz being a Zumba instructor that gave us two episodes. That kind of stuff always comes down the line for us. Humor is never a problem for us.