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Chicago Med scrubs in for season two on a new night – Thursdays at 9 p.m. – with several new faces set to check in (Elementary‘s Ato Essandoh and 90210‘s Mekia Cox) as well as new positions for several of Chicago Medical’s finest docs. However, for everything that’s changed on the NBC drama, much is the same when the Dick Wolf-produced series returns for its sophomore season.
Ahead of Thursday’s return, The Hollywood Reporter spoke with showrunners Andrew Schneider and Diane Frolov about what they learned from season one, what’s coming up for the core characters and their thoughts on tackling the Zika virus.
Going into the second season, what kind of changes can viewers expect?
Diane Frolov: We’re, of course, delving into the characters even more so we’re going to find out about Dr. Charles and meet his daughter.
Andrew Schneider: We’re going to meet some of Ethan’s family
Frolov: There’s a triangle, obviously with Natalie, Will and Jeff.
Schneider: But also, some of the doctors will have new roles which will affect how we see them working. Ethan will now be the chief resident, so he will have certain administrative duties he didn’t have before. Connor is starting his fellowship as a cardiothoracic surgeon, and there will be a big surprise for Sarah Reese. She was still footloose at the end of last season.
Frolov: Also, in terms of Connor, we have a new mentor for him because Dr. Downey died. He’s going to be coping with a new teacher…
Schneider: …who’s very different from his last mentor.
When you started writing for season two, were there things you saw that worked well in season one, or conversely, things that maybe you thought didn’t work the way you expected? How was that part of the process?
Frolov: We discovered it didn’t work so well for our show to spend a lot of time out of the hospital on personal stories. It didn’t seem to fit our rhythm. … Other shows do that, but it didn’t feel like it worked for what we were doing.
Schneider: What always seems best for us if we can discover our characters’ personal lives and pasts through the cases that they’re working on.
Colin Donnell mentioned that the show expands outside of the ER more this season. Do you agree with that assessment? What motivated that shift?
Frolov: That allows us to follow a story through because usually in the ER, you come in and you go out. You’re either bumped to a floor or you’re released. So our doctors follow their patients through their stories, and that automatically takes us to other floors. We also have Connor now, who is doing heart surgery so he’s in a different department.
Schneider: His cases often come through the ER so let’s say Natalie might do the intake on a patient but she sends the patient up to cardiothorapy so then he and Natalie work together on the patient.
Frolov: She’s following through with the patient so she’s up there.
Schneider: We’re going to see some of Charles’ psych ward. We’re going to expand that a little bit.
Frolov: There’s a psychiatric residency that opens up and he asks Sarah to be the resident so she’s a psych resident.
Schneider: So she’s going to have a big learning curve from someone who was, at one point, wanted to be a pathologist and now is going to wind up training to be a psychiatrist. … It brings up her own psychological issues, which she’s been very good at keeping down so it’s going to be both a learning curve and a growing experience for her both emotionally and professionally.
Frolov: Charles too is going to have to reveal some of his skeletons. Because those things inform his decisions at times, and maybe they shouldn’t, and so her presence brings that to the forefront.
What can you say about the introduction of Dr. Charles’ family members?
Schneider: His oldest daughter, who’s in her mid-twenties, is an epidemiologist who will start working at the hospital. He has a complex relationship with her because when she was a little girl, he was divorcing her mom…
Frolov: …And he was also going through his first depression.
Schneider: So he has issues not related to her, but about feeling his own inadequacy as a father at that time in his life. The way he has to rediscover his relationship with his daughter, we also meet his youngest daughter, who’s eight years old and who is part of a generation that he is trying to understand.
The Dr. Downey storyline and the debate about the right to die at the end of the first season was very interesting. What made you want to explore that and what can you say are the repercussions of that for Connor looking ahead?
Frolov: He’s asked that question in the first episode by his mentor.
Schneider: It’s always going to be a question and it may come back in some ways but his relationship with Downey is always sort of present in him. Downey was the father he never had.
How will that loss impact him in season two?
Frolov: In a way, he’s more on his own now because he doesn’t have that father figure anymore. He’s truly thrown into the fire.
Schneider: And you have to deal with a very different personality type in his new boss and it’s just very challenging. He doesn’t have the kind of emotional support that he had from Downey, he’s challenged in ways that he hadn’t expected, but he’s determined to be a great surgeon.
Frolov: He has to face, at times, his inadequacies and what he needs to learn.
What can you say is coming up for Will?
Frolov: He has a big financial obstacle. We find out that when you become an attending physician in a hospital, you have to pay your own malpractice so because he was sued, he has a huge malpractice bill to pay. On top of that, as soon as you become an attending, you have to start paying off your medical school loans. So he’s hit, in the first episode, with these two financial realities. So he’s going to have to moonlight and do other things. It’s a pressure on him.
Schneider: Since he’s now an attending physician, he has to assume the role of the responsible, teaching doctor which is very much against his nature. He has to sort of make the residents and medical students toe the line in terms of protocol and that’s who he’s been.
Frolov: So it’s a big role-reversal for him.
What can you say about him and Natalie going forward?
Schneider: He’s going to start a new romance, but his feelings for Natalie will always be there. So that relationship continues to be very important although in this season. Natalie… there is a triangle with Jeff Clarke. We’ll still be looking at the Will-Natalie relationship, but at the same time, they are going to have separate relationships.
What do you think the Jeff Clarke character offers for Natalie that will doesn’t? What brings them together?
Schneider: He reminds her of better times.
Frolov: She’s at ease with him. He comes from the same kind of background as her deceased husband, the military, so he’s very familiar to her and kind of safe.
What do you think the Jeff character adds that wasn’t there before?
Schneider: It’s always great to have a med student there because they’re really learning and they can be sort of the eyes and the ears of the audience.
Frolov: What’s fun is that, again, we’re reversing a role here, because Sarah really knew very little. She was really a newbie, but Jeff is quite experienced because of his past as a firefighter and his past in the army, so he’s very eager and knowledgeable. So it’s quite different than Sarah. But that in itself can cause friction and causes friction with Will, who wants people to stay to their roles.
Schneider: He always wants to jump in and take over and that’s not his position as a medical student.
Moving on to Goodwin, there was a big change for her personally at the end of season one. What is her emotional state going into season two?
Frolov: She is going to, initially, grieve a bit for her marriage, but she will have to go on. And we’re going to arc her personal life in a different direction, where she gets to express another side of herself in a new relationship.
Is it safe to say this new person is someone at the hospital?
Schneider: He does do something in the hospital. She meets him through the hospital and through Connor.
Ethan struggled with PTSD and now he’s the chief resident, dealing with more pressure and responsibility. What will that PTSD struggle look like going forward?
Frolov: He’s resolved a lot of those issues as we come into it. What’s kind of fun with him is he wants to bring his military expertise and organizational skills to the hospital. So in the first episode, we see him attempting to do that. We’re also going to see the Navy sends Corpsmen to the emergency wards in Chicago to learn about treating gunshot wounds.
Schneider: Ethan will be part of that program, he will be mentoring Navy Corpsmen, and he also continues his relationship with Vicky and so we like to reflect his military training in stories.
Another big event at the end of season one was April’s tuberculosis diagnosis. What is the next step of that?
Frolov: She’s got a long road with that. As we come back, you know her TB is latent.
Schneider: So she can work, but there will always be the question of, will it remain latent or will it become active? In which case, she’ll have to move to the hospital in isolation.
Frolov: It’s affecting her relationship – in fact we will find out she doesn’t stay over at Tate’s house anymore. Her fear is that she will give it to him and to his son so its affecting their relationship.
How does that affect her as a nurse?
Frolov: We’ll see that it’s really deeply affecting her. She’s constantly being checked and she is not contagious but it’s still eats at her. And the story develops further and it becomes active at some point.
What made you want to tackle TB on the show?
Frolov: it’s fairly common.
Schneider: It’s a growing issue….
Frolov: …with health care professionals that they get these things.
Schneider: And TB is a very hard disease to manage. If you don’t stay on your meds for the proper length of time, it can develop into a resistant strain.
Frolov: So it’s something we were attracted to, because we wanted to show that these people sacrifice a lot doing what they do, and they’re vulnerable to a lot of things that we don’t even think about.
One issue that was in the headlines this summer with the Olympics was Zika. Is that something you’re planning or hoping to address on the show?
Frolov: We might. In some ways, our TB story with April touches on some of the issues that Zika does because the treatment for… TB can be damaging to a fetus. So I’ll just throw that out there. (Laughs.) What I’m saying is some of those things we’re playing with April – we don’t want to play the same beat and the same issues with the Zika virus.
Chicago Med‘s second season premieres Thursday at 9 p.m. on NBC.
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