By Samantha Highfill
Updated September 24, 2014 at 04:41 AM EDT
Credit: Elizabeth Morris/NBC
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[This post contains details from the third season premiere of Chicago Fire, which aired Sept. 23]

The Chicago Fire season 3 premiere picks up seconds after Boden yelled the words that have been ringing in fans’ ears for months: “Report! Anyone from House 51, report!”

Just like that, we’re inside the house, waiting to find out which character won’t be making it out alive. First up, we see that Severide is okay. Then the camera starts to pan around the burning room. We see Casey, Otis, Herman, Mouch, and others. But then someone utters those two dreadful words: “Man down.” The room stills as the men uncover Mills’ body. Could we be saying goodbye to our favorite cook?

No, Mills seems to have escaped the tragedy with only a broken leg. At this point, we realize that we need to be worried about Shay and Dawson. Where are they?

Then, as the camera rounds the corner, Severide finds Dawson already in tears, performing CPR on Shay, who’s suffered some major head trauma. Severide joins Dawson, as both work through silent sobs to save their best friend until Casey and the guys literally pull Shay away to get her to an ambulance. And from the lingering looks on Severide and Dawson’s faces, it’s evident that we’ve found the fire’s victim. We’ve lost Leslie Shay.

It was a heart-pounding and ultimately, heartbreaking opening sequence that resulted in a truly shocking farewell. Shay’s life has been on the line before, but the fan-favorite wasn’t expected to make an exit anytime soon. And by handling the death in such a swift manner, Chicago Fire made a bold move, and it was one that paid off by the end of the hour.

Moments after Shay’s body is carried away to the ambulance, we’re in a flashback to Shay’s first day at 51 and her introduction to Dawson. Within seconds, Shay already has Cruz and Otis drooling over her before, in typical Shay fashion, she introduces herself to Severide as a potential roommate who is “fully gay.” Oh, and her drink is tequila.

Throughout the episode, the house deals with business as usual, but not without a number of these flashbacks. They aren’t particularly significant moments, but rather, they’re moments that fully demonstrate the person that Shay was and the reason we all loved her.

Back at the house, six weeks after Shay’s death, Mills is back up and running, as is House 51. Well, everyone except for Severide, who now spends his days living in a log cabin, chopping wood, fishing, drinking beer, and generally not shaving. But after a visit from Casey, and an inspiring look at Boden’s handwritten book of all the lives they’ve saved, it’s clear Severide won’t be gone long. As for the rest of the house, Boden and Dawson are taking Shay’s death the hardest.

For Dawson, her day is filled with dealing with new EMT Sylvie—who seems harmless enough—and waiting for her transfer to the house from Hell. Then there’s Boden, who clearly blames himself for Shay’s death and tries to keep his mind off of it by double-dating with Mouch and Platt. But it doesn’t always work.

Boden’s flashback takes us back to Shay and Dawson’s final interaction, in which Dawson was preparing Shay for a life without her. After quizzing Shay on how to treat the patient, Dawson and Shay traded places inside the burning building. And just before the explosion, Shay uttered the words, “I’ll never get used to,” which we can only assume ended with something to the effect of “doing this without you.” But really, with Shay, the options are limitless.

But it’s that flashback that takes us to the heart of Dawson’s grief. During her “lunch with Antonio,” which really stands for “therapy,” Dawson reveals that she and Shay had traded places just before Shay’s death. “I told her to switch with me,” she says through tears.

As for Severide, he makes it back from the woods only to have to clean out Shay’s stuff from their apartment. Casey’s there to help, even offering him a new place to stay, but it’s an old video that catches Severide’s eye. Back when they started living together, Shay and Severide make a contract about staying out of each other’s business and all that nonsense. Their final promise to each other? To be there for each other always, no matter what. And as he watches the video and says goodbye to Shay, Severide’s tear-stained face is the last image we see.

All in all, it was an interesting choice for the show to kill Shay within the first minute, and then spend the rest of the episode six weeks in the future, only occasionally flashing back to pay homage to the beloved character. Some people might have wanted to see Shay’s ride to the hospital, to watch the house grieve. There’s an argument to be made for that scenario. But in the end, the risky choice worked because the balance of reflection and forward momentum kept things from feeling cheesy. Shay died in the line of duty, and just like she said in her video contract with Severide, what they do is way more important than anything else in their lives.

Plus, Shay would’ve hated a sappy tribute.

Episode Recaps

Chicago Fire

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