By Rosy Cordero
November 20, 2019 at 10:00 PM EST
Adrian Burrows/NBC

Chicago Fire

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WARNING: This article contains spoilers about Chicago Fire‘s fall finale “Best Friend Magic.”

Chicago Fire didn’t pull any stops when planning their season 8 fall finale, giving audiences lots of emotional rollercoaster moments and a seriously intense cliffhanger. Fans knew to expect the big return of Monica Raymund as Dawson, but a better-kept secret was the shocking return of Yuri Sardarov in the role of deceased firefighter Otis Zvonecek.

The bittersweet storyline weaved throughout the episode, showing Cruz (Joe Minoso) trying to fix a curious drone. With a little help from a couple of new recruits, the high flying recorder was back in working condition. And it was only a matter of time before Cruz discovered hilarious video footage of him and his buddy Otis as they tried to figure out how to use their new gadget.

Adrian Burrows/NBC

The story was inspired by the life of series creator and showrunner Derek Haas, who asked Sardarov to return for the flashback, which also served as a tribute to a friend he lost but never forgot.

“I had a really good friend from college named Tommy Michaels, who died in a car wreck right after we graduated,” Haas tells EW. “I stayed [at the same school] for graduate school and took time to grieve the loss of my friend. About two-and-a-half years later, I was leaving and as I was packing up my apartment, I found this video camera that I carried with me throughout most of college.

“I wondered what could be on that tape so I plugged it into the TV and it was this poker night, and everybody was talking to me as I was holding the camera. And then the camera swung over and there was Tommy’s face just right there and of course, I burst into tears. I carried that memory with me for 20 years and knew I was going to use it at some point in something.

“So when Yuri and I were talking during the summer, I told him that story and said, ‘Why don’t we do this in the winter finale?’ He agreed, and it was so great to have him back.”

Sardarov admits it was “an honor” for him to be able to help good friend Haas commemorate his friend Tommy. And as happy as he was to work with Minoso again, the reunion was bittersweet.

“Derek and I have been close for a long time, and as a writer, he’s always been generous in using his own experiences to fuel his characters,” he says. “The words feel more powerful when they have real-life resonance. We understood how powerful the scene was going to be when we filmed it. The chemistry with Joe has always been effortless, and it was nice that the characters could be happy together one last time. The imagery of the drone taking off, seeing the firehouse, seeing Chicago; it’s beautiful to end with hope.

“Putting on the costume that day was bittersweet. I keep thinking about that ‘final’ cup of coffee. It’s all so simple, and so momentous, and I’ll cherish it forever.”

The surprises didn’t end there either. When Dawson and Casey (Jesse Spencer) finally reunite at the firehouse, there’s an exchange of pleasantries and a conversation about her brother Antonio (Jon Seda). The last time fans heard an update on him, he had run away from his sponsor after he relapsed into his opioid addiction.

“When I knew I was going to have Dawson back, Rebecca McGill, who is our NBC executive, said we had to give an update on Antonio,” Haas explains. “And I was like, ‘Oh, great!’ So I walked down to [Chicago P.D.’s executive producer] Rick Eid’s office and just said, ‘Hey, we got Dawson coming back. We’re going to put it a little update on Antonio.’ He was like, ‘That sounds awesome!’

“I just didn’t want to step on their toes if they had any other plans. But he said, ‘No, that’s exactly what we had in mind.'”

Adrian Burrows/NBC

Things finally got hot and steamy for former spouses Dawson and Casey, but where does that leave the pair in the future? Haas shares that the situation is left open-ended intentionally.

“For me, it’s left open. No regrets on either of their behalf,” he says. “As Brett [Kara Killmer] said, ‘As long as you’re both clear-eyed about this, [go for it].’ And I think Casey does go to Dawson clear-eyed about her just being there a couple of days because he wants to see her. They had a great love story and romance for six seasons that we got to watch.

“So when he’s at the bar and he finds out that she was fibbing about being sent to Chicago, and the fact that they’re both dressed up and the band is playing romantic music [neither of them stood a chance].

“The next morning, as he’s walking away from the room quietly to let her sleep in, there’s this little smile on his face. Then the voicemail that she leaves says to me, ‘You know I’m leaving my door open.’ And we, the show, are leaving our door open.”

Speaking of Brett, with all the flirtation between her and Casey, it was mighty ballsy of her to encourage him to follow his heart. Even if that meant potentially losing out on a really great guy that she’s interested in.

Brett has always been a character who puts others’ feelings ahead of her own and will push down her own feelings if she thinks it’ll affect the happiness of somebody else,” Haas says. “She’s a really selfless character and I think in that moment, she’s telling Casey what she thinks, which is that he’ll regret it if he doesn’t go see her. Who wouldn’t? As the season continues, their friendship’s going to grow. There’s a conversation about what happened this weekend that is is going to happen.”

It wouldn’t be a fall finale worthy of Chicago Fire if it didn’t have a hot, hot, hot, cliffhanger and Haas really came through. Severide (Taylor Kinney) is in the basement of a building and he’s face-to-face with the arsonist they’re searching for, Jimmy Conrad.

“We wanted to do differently on this one, we’ve had arsonists before but they’ve always been mentally deranged. So we thought a different kind of twist on the arsonist would be one of these career criminal, contract-for-hire, arsonist-for-hire, type of guys who is a cornered rat — and cornered rats bite. And Severide isn’t afraid anyone, as we’ve proved many times. So we started this season in the basement, and we ended the first half of the season in the basement by design. Usually, bad things happen in basements.

“So, Severide, Jimmy Conrad, and a flare, plus combustible chemicals, and six people above them — it’s going to get nasty.”

Fans won’t have to wait long to find out what happens, Haas promises the first episode of 2020 will bring resolution to the case.

“We’re going to pick up less than a millisecond from where this story ended, so we’re going right back into that basement where Severide is standing between Conrad, who would destroy anyone and anything to keep from going to jail. So we are going to pick right back up with that, and the fireworks are about to fly.”

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