[This story contains spoilers from the second episode of Chicago Fire season 12, “Call Me McHolland.”]
In the eyes of Chicago Fire showrunner Andrea Newman, multiple seasons of any show that brings what she considers to be continual grind from everyday action heroes is going to garner change. And that’s exactly what viewers saw Wednesday night, as old guard firefighters Christopher Herrmann (David Eigenberg) and Randy “Mouch” McHolland (Christian Stolte) struggled with the blows of Father Time in two separate, potentially career-ending dilemmas.
Faithful viewers of NBC‘s long-running drama had been left wondering about Mouch’s fate after season 11, and if the long-timer had survived shrapnel from a sniper’s bullet in the finale cliffhanger. It wasn’t until last week’s season 12 premiere that it was revealed that Mouch survived his near-deadly ordeal. But, as this week’s second episode showed, Mouch is still struggling with the effects of his injury, and has taken it upon himself to change the way he lives and treats his body to show he can still compete with the best of them.
And then there’s Herrmann, who risked his own life to save Firehouse 51 from a bomb package in last week’s episode. The blast knocks Herrmann out, but he recovers. But this week’s episode revealed that he has suffered severe hearing loss from the incident. Fellow firefighter and friend Darren Ritter (Daniel Kyri) picks up on Herrmann’s hearing loss, but the fireman is in denial (or, he’s afraid of what the revelation of such an injury might cost him within his beloved career).
Newman, who took over showrunner duties full-time for season 12 following co-creator Derek Haas’ exit from the One Chicago franchise, recently spoke to The Hollywood Reporter over Zoom to discuss Mouch and Herrmann’s story arcs, and also give viewers insight into the character comings and goings within season 12 of the NBC and Dick Wolf long-running series — from Taylor Kinney‘s return to Kara Killmer’s impending exit, and other new arrivals ahead.
How does it feel drive what some might call a mega-horsepower-muscle-car of a show as sole showrunner of Chicago Fire?
Well, I’ll say that, because it’s such a big show, you really don’t do this show solo anyway. This is a big action show; it’s a big character show. It has got so many things; so, we work so closely with production. We’ve got this amazing producer, Demetra [Diamantopoulos], and director Reza [Tabrizi], and we’re in touch constantly. It’s always felt like a real team effort on this show. But, it’s fun! It’s fun to be a female showrunner on a big action show with some ass-kicking female characters. That’s a thrill for me! We have Kidd (Miranda Rae Mayo) and Brett (Kara Killmer) and Violet Mikami (Hanako Greensmith), all of them this year have some great tough storylines, and I love that.
But, you know, Derek [Haas] built this show and I still talk to him or text with him every single day. He’s such a part of this show still, so it kind of feels like he never left.
Is it safe to say you are going shift into gears not yet ventured now that you have total control?
Still using that metaphor, I think what that really means for a show like this is just digging down deeper into the characters, finding new character dynamics we haven’t seen before. Mouch with episode two is a good example. He’s been here from the beginning, but now we’re seeing other sides of him and digging in a little bit, and I love being able to do that. Season 12 on our show, it’s such a gift. You’ve seen these arcs for these characters, but you are finding new dimensions all the time. And that’s what I’m excited to do this year: New pairings, people we haven’t maybe seen work together or get tight before. Exploring all those character dynamics a little more.
Speaking of Mouch and episode two, it appeared his character and firefighter Christopher Herrmann (David Eigenberg) were going through different yet similar crises. Both were in a battle for their professional lives against Father Time (Mouch tells the crew he wants to be remembered as having “left it all on the table” as he battles back from a serious injury. And Herrmann is trying hide his severe hearing loss from Firehouse 51 after saving the crew from a box with a bomb in it.) Will this idea of battling with Father Time be explored throughout the season?
I can’t tell you how much I love that question. I love it because it is such a part of being an action hero. This is what these firefighters do! And what these first responders do. It’s a very physical job. So, what happens when you are fighting Father Time over the course of it? The guy who is our technical consultant, Steve Chikerotis, who is a deputy district chief, he’s retired and probably in the range of Mouch and Hermann. And I’ve seen that guy with his bare hands — when a tech van pulled up to scout — fend off two pit bulls attacking a passerby. It was a scary thing; this guy reaches in with his bare fucking hands and rips these pit bulls off of him! He’s as badass as they come, even at a retired age. He’s incredible and he is fearsome, and you would not want get in a fight with that guy no matter the age.
But that being said, you’re absolutely right. It’s that’s something that’s always a struggle. And they raised the mandate retirement this year to 65. So, you can be a firefighter at 65 and a lot of these guys and women, they work hard to stay in shape and stay a part of it. But they also have to start thinking about the future; some of them are happy sliding into a desk job at a certain point. They can function that way like Boden, the fire chief of Firehouse 51 [played by Eamonn Walker]. It is a little bit of a struggle, but he can do the desk job. But then there are some people that are adrenaline junkies; they are never going to want to hang it up and just move to a desk.
So, that is going to be a struggle for the entire season, with the old guard and the new guard. They are seeing these young guys come in and the questions are, do I have limitations and if so, what are they? And, will they hamper me on the job? And, what’s the safest thing for everybody? But you know, they’re still tough!
Taylor Kinney returned as Lieutenant Kelly Severide this season after Kinney took an extended break from the show. In episode one, there was friction between him and his wife, Lt. Stella Kidd (Miranda Rae Mayo). Now, in episode two, there’s friction between Severide and Joe Cruz (Joe Minoso). Cruz is thinking about leaving Firehouse 51 and becoming a lieutenant somewhere else. Could this play into a spinoff that was slated for Severide’s character?
Severide’s challenge is to come back to regain the trust that he lost when he got sucked into those arson cases. And definitely Kidd sees arson cases as a drug for Severide, in the same way he looks at arson as a drug. It’s something that he gets caught up in, and there’s just so much rich stuff there because his dad was in arson and he had a really fraught relationship with his father. So, is he falling into some kind of scary groove? A then-you-become-your-father-no-matter-what-you-do groove? He has to figure out how to keep it all together, make sure he regains the trust that he lost with Cruz and with Kidd. And he wants to keep arson in his life. Arson is a very compelling area. As a writer it’s really compelling, and I know Severide as a character loves it. Yeah, you’ll have to find a balance there.
How about Kara Killmer’s Sylvie Brett character. We know she’s preparing to get married to Matt Casey (Jesse Spencer) and move to Oregon with her new adopted baby. Will this be Killmer’s last season?
Sylvie Brett is leaving us this season, but we have her for a while. In episode two, she’s starting to plan for this wedding. And what I’ll say about that is that it will all not go according to plan. She’s going to have to scramble and it’s going to be a challenge to get to where she wants to get to. On that front, there’ll be some twists and turns along the way.
Will we see her fiancé Matt Casey (Spencer) again?
What are some of the other storylines that are in store for viewers for the rest of the season?
Obviously, change is one of the themes for this season and we’re going to see fresh faces. You meet Gibson (Rome Flynn), our firefighter in episode two. Love him! He comes in and he’s going to join the Firehouse. And then the question is, will he fit in at 51? And, who really is this guy? That’s the question we always ask when someone joins 51, because it takes a takes a certain time to fit in there. So, we’ve got some layers to peel back on Gibson and find out, is he trouble? Is he good trouble, is he bad trouble? We’ll be playing with that character for a while.
And we have a lot to play with Violet [Hanako Greensmith]. She’s been through a lot [her boyfriend, Evan Hawkins, was killed in season 11 trying to rescue a civilian], and she has her partner around for only a little bit longer; so, Violet got a great journey this season with a kind of coming out from under Sylvie’s shadow a little bit. She’s had some hard times, her boyfriend, the paramedic chief, was killed right in front of her. So she is going to struggle with that a bit and come take her moment stepping out into the sun, and work through a lot of what she’s been through in the past.
We have all our guys struggling with change and comings and goings; so, there’s a lot to play with this season. A lot of new character dynamics.
You’re in the 12th season of Chicago Fire. How does the show stay fresh after this long period of time?
That’s a great question. I think what Fire has that’s very unique — and is unique to me, having written for a long time before I started here — is that it’s like three shows or more possibly. Because we get the action, you get the character dynamics and the soap, and then we always have comedy as part of the show, too. And I think that’s unique for an action show to have full comedy stories that could be episodes of their own. What we like to do is be as true to a first responder’s life as possible. To be as reflective of that world as possible. And that is very much how our first responders get through it in in real life. At the end of the day, you have to find the light at the end of the tunnel and the hope. And humor is a big part of that. The fact that there are so many balls in the air, that keeps it fresh.
How long have you been with Chicago Fire?
Since day one! I never in my life expected, in a TV writer job, to have that kind of permanence. But every time we say that number 12, those of us that have been around for a while, are like “What? That is not possible!”
What do you think keeps viewers tuning in and coming back, especially amid the Peak TV era and with so many options of what to watch?
I think you want to be surprised. You don’t want to feel like you you’ve been there, done that, especially once you get past a certain season. And I think we work really hard to always surprise people. And part of that is cast coming and goings. And people get mad and they don’t want to lose people, but the truth is that at the end of the day, you got to shake it up a little bit and keep the roller coaster going. And also, just have characters that people have fallen in love with and want to see. We always say that the 51 team always call themselves a family, and we always write in mind that the audience is part of that family.
New episodes of Chicago Fire air Wednesdays at 9 p.m. on NBC.