Spoiler alert! Details from Friday’s episode of Blue Bloods follow…
Blue Bloods just hit a milestone—its 150th episode with Friday’s “A Deep Blue Goodbye,” which saw Frank (Tom Selleck) grapple with a peer: Chief Taylor Daniels (Isaiah Washington), who refused to retire despite having reached the age limit of 63. Danny (Donnie Wahlberg), meanwhile, investigated the disappearance of an ex-NYPD officer who had planned to do right by the woman she and her partner had wrongfully convicted years back. Here to unpack all that and reflect on making it to the big 1-5-0 is showrunner and executive producer Kevin Wade, who wrote the episode.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: How did you approach this big episode as a writer and showrunner, and what did you want to accomplish on a narrative and character level?
KEVIN WADE: I wanted it to be like the greatest hits of Blue Bloods in that it would have a compelling story for Tom’s character. It would have a little bit of a twisty mystery for Donnie’s character and a little bit of…humor, which ended up in the hands of Will Estes and Vanessa Ray. It was always going to be directed by our producer-director Dave Barrett, who’s done such a great job for so many years. It was really just trying to put together the best episode we could. At the same time, it wasn’t a season finale or a season opener, so it wasn’t going to be a big-scale, big-budget thing. It kind of had those elements going. I tried to harvest them all.
The season finale isn’t that far off (airing May 5), so how did you make this a compelling, standout episode, while still saving some for that big finish to the season?
Usually, the season opener and season finale have something to do with either the introduction or exit of a recurring character. That’s one thing we save for those, so I wasn’t going to do that, yet I wrote a role opposite Tom that I hoped would attract a really terrific guest star, and we got one in Isaiah Washington. It was his first time with us on the show, and he did a great job as the chief of the emergency services unit who is facing the mandatory retirement that hits for every cop on the eve of their 63rd birthday.
What did Isaiah bring to that role of somebody basically being pushed out, and why was he the perfect fit?
He was the perfect fit because he’s a really good actor, and he brings a strength and dignity that doesn’t get buried. He still has a light enough touch and a certain amount of personal charm and magnetism, but he can also bring the gravity and the dilemma. The role itself was a black American man saying, “This mandatory retirement feels like a violation. I can’t call it a civil rights violation, though I’ve seen those, but instead a violation that basically says your sell by date is up and that ain’t fair.” Also, addressing the idea that 63 now is not what it was 50 years ago, that we try to get better and better.
I think there’s a larger section of the population that isn’t dying to get the gold watch and start playing golf every day when they hit their early sixties, so for this character — who would advocate for himself and say, “Listen, I’m at the top of my game. I haven’t lost a step. Why am I being shown the bone yard?” — what we try to do is a story and a dilemma that reflects back on our characters and what they go through, and certainly for Tom Selleck’s Frank Reagan. He’s [asking], “What do I do after I give up the thing that I’ve done and loved every day?”
This gives Frank a ton to think about. Can you expand on how this affects him, and do you have any idea when he’ll retire?
I have no idea when he’ll retire, and he’s got a wonderful tool in his belt, which is basically he’ll deny things. He’ll deny things to his family, to his co-workers, and that’s what he does in this. He’ll basically say, “Yeah, you’re trying to read me, and I’m not going to let you.”
It’s interesting, though, when he and his family talk about what retirement might be like at dinner.
Right. I think for all those characters, and for better or for worse, this show is about a tribe whose job is also their hobby. It’s their avocation. It’s their self-definition. That’s something in our culture that gets criticized if you do certain things for a living. If you do other things, it gets glorified. For these guys, I think they think of it as “That’s what I do. That’s how I move forward every day. I don’t have a hobby that I’m dying to take off and just do.”
Speaking of family, what did you want to explore and how did you want to challenge Danny as he investigated the ex-NYPD officer who disappears?
There are a couple of things. There’s something inherent in the mechanics of the story that certainly Danny Reagan has done, which is to color a little bit outside the lines in terms of the process of an arrest and a booking. When the other detective says well look, she had a mole, and when we showed the photo array I forgot to ink in moles on the other six pictures we were showing the witness. That happens all the time. It’s not necessarily malice or forethought. It’s just, I forgot to do this stupid thing, but does that mean the entire crime should be white-washed because of one little mistake on my part?
When he asks that to Danny, Danny doesn’t really answer. In the case of the victim cop in this, who ends up in the East River, the pressures of the job got to the point where she had to leave the job because of pills and drinking. That idea of doing the 12 steps and going back to try to undo perhaps something you’d done wrong as a cop is both a noble thing and… you open up this can of worms. I don’t know how many worms come out kind of thing. So I wanted Danny to walk a line in as many of the scenes as possible where he basically could be saying to himself, “There but for the grace of God go I.”
Back to the 150th milestone, what does it mean to you to hit this big number? When you look back on everything, what are some of your favorite moments, onscreen or off?
It goes so fast in the sense that the nine-and-a-half months we’re doing this out of every year, we really don’t stop. We did at the 100th because that was another milestone. In this 150th, we kind of looked up at the scoreboard a little bit.
Last Monday night, at the 92nd Street Y, they held a screening of this episode for a ticket-buying audience of rabid Blue Bloods fans. The cast and I sat in the back two rows and watched, and it was one of those moments that was great because we got to do that thing that you get into this business to do, which is to entertain people and see them entertained by what you do. If you work in this kind of television, you never get to see that. If you’re a playwright or a screenwriter, you can always stand in the back of the house, make sure they’re laughing in the right places. Hopefully nobody is walking up the aisle and leaving, but we never get to see that.
So, for all of us sitting back there, watching them laugh, lean forward, all of a sudden go dead quiet was just great. We don’t get to watch 14 million people watch the show and react to it, so it was one of those rare moments where we went, “Oh, they reacted the way we hoped they would.”
You’ve covered a lot in seven seasons, but what would you like to do on the show that you haven’t done already?
What I want to do is keep doing a version of what we’re doing, which is to get stories out of research rather than headlines and to build in such a way that our main characters have to deal with those stories and dilemmas, have to look in the mirror and go, “Yes, this person is guilty. I wish it was more black and white.” Or, “Yes, this person is wrong, and I wish he didn’t have elements of right in being wrong.”
That’s really what we look for, things that end up being scenes for our actors to really sink their teeth into. It starts there because after a certain point the stories are less important, I think, to the audience. I don’t think the audience for Blue Bloods goes away going, “What a great car crash that was” or “What a vicious thug that cartel head was.” It’s really, “Oh, when Danny reacted that way” or :When Frank said such and such and walked out of the room.”
Absolutely, but the elevator shooting was very intense.
True story. Jim Nuciforo [the show’s technical adviser, who shares a story credit with Wade on the episode] recounted that. A couple of detectives canvassed a building that had been the victim of a lot of push-in robberies. They got in the elevator, and it stopped two floors down, and they still had mug shots out. The two people they were looking for stepped onto the elevator and everybody drew their gun.
What can you say about what’s ahead for the rest of season 7, the finale in particular?
In the finale, a character who’s been with us for a long time, there’s a straw that breaks that camel’s back, and that character bows out of his life in our fictional world of Blue Bloods.
Have you started talking about season 8 yet, or is that a ways away?
We were renewed. CBS picked up a number of shows. We started talking about it in terms of let’s talk about it when we’re done with season 7 [laughs]. Everybody’s kind of out of gas as we get to the 22nd episode, but lots of thoughts about putting characters in new situations, bringing in new characters. We’ll start getting up to speed soon, but first, everybody needs to lie on a beach for a couple days.
Blue Bloods airs on Fridays at 10 p.m. E.T. on CBS.