Death, drama, and dust: 9-1-1 and 9-1-1: Lone Star creator on both shows' tense season finales
Warning: This article contains spoilers about Monday's season finales of 9-1-1 and 9-1-1: Lone Star.
It's not been an easy ride for the 118 and 126 crews, though. There have been arsonists, snipers, breakups, deaths — and Owen (Rob Lowe) had to throw out his cappuccino machine. At least there was some relief in the season finale of 9-1-1 when Eddie (Ryan Guzman) pulled through after being shot by a sniper at the end of the penultimate episode. Still, it was a tense finale as the firefighters realized they were the targets of the sniper and therefore in danger at all times.
Down in Texas, things weren't much better as Austin was hit by massive sandstorm, causing plane crashes and general chaos. Meanwhile, Tommy (Gina Torres) was still reeling from the sudden death of her husband, and just when things were starting to look up, the 126 received the news the firehouse was being shut down permanently. Not unlike Owen in the episode's final seconds, we wanted to hit someone on hearing that news too.
Since it's going to be a while before we're reunited with our favorite first responders, we chatted with Tim Minear, who co-created both series, about everything that went down, and yelled at him (a little) for destroying us with Charles' (Derek Webster) death and scaring us like that when Eddie was shot.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Let's start with 9-1-1. I really thought Eddie was dead at the end of the penultimate episode and was very stressed about it. Did you tease Ryan Guzman with that at all?
TIM MINEAR: You know, we've been busy, we're making two shows, there's a lot going on. Then as you get later into the season, the scripts start coming a little bit later and a little bit later, until finally you're just really up against deadlines. So in fact that script did go out and I forgot to call him. He calls me and he goes, "So, um, are you killing me?" I was like, "Oh, well, let's see how you behave this week." He was a little concerned there for a moment. Then I started getting texts from the other cast members saying, "You're not killing Eddie, are you?" So they actually had the same reaction that the audience did — probably Guzman more than anyone.
Did you see much of the fan reaction online? People were spiraling over Buck [Oliver Stark] staring at Eddie as he lay there bleeding out!
Oh, yeah. I mean, it's all anyone can talk about that Eddie was shot in front of Buck. Those are some of my favorite moments in the finale.
Buck's been on an emotional roller coaster this season. How did Oliver respond to this episode? The scene with him breaking down talking to Christoper really got me.
Originally when we broke the story, there was a moment where Buck says, "I have to go talk to Christopher," and we weren't going to have a scene where we saw it on screen. I told Kristen [Reidel], I'm like, "I feel like we're being robbed of this moment. I really want to see that moment where he sits down in front of Christopher and Christopher consoles him." It was one of my favorite moments.
Where did the idea for a sniper come from? Was that something that had come up earlier and you saved for the finale?
That was Kristen's idea. We had been toying with actually doing a serial arsonist on 9-1-1. Then she was like, "What if we shoot Eddie in the penultimate episode?" and I'm like, "Tell me more." At that point we decided we won't do the serial arsonist on 9-1-1, we'll do this sniper who's targeting firefighters, and then I immediately swiped the serial arsonist story and plugged it into Lone Star.
Nice. How challenging was the 9-1-1 finale to shoot — especially that scene with the huge crane?
It was huge. Bob Williams — who produces the show, he's our line producer and he directed the episode last year "Eddie Begins" — will always at the last minute pull a miracle out of a hat. We didn't even have a crane. We couldn't find a crane. I think he got approval to shoot on that particular crane a day or two days before we actually shot that. So yeah, that was a big challenge.
Did Oliver have to run up a ton of stairs?
The other big story line is Maddie [Jennifer Love Hewitt] dealing with postpartum depression. Did it feel important to deal with that very real, human issue?
It's tricky. It's a heavy topic. A lot of these stories will come through Jennifer's character — the domestic abuse story line. On a show like ours, which is sometimes a comic book, sometimes a comedy, always pushed a little bit brighter and more poppy than reality, when you tackle issues like this, you want to be careful that you don't trivialize them, and with an actress like Jennifer Love Hewitt, you're not in a lot of danger of doing that because she's always playing the absolute truth of something. This is something that ain't a feel-good story, that's for sure, but it is, I think an important story. So it's just something that we want to do. I think it's important for us to tell the story, and we're going to continue to tell it into the next season.
Bobby [Peter Krause] and Athena [Angela Bassett] have really been through it this season too, but seem to be in a good place right now. Can we rest easy knowing everything's going to be okay between them?
They'll have their challenges, but I think they're coming out of this season stronger than they were at the end of last season. Even though it seemed like they were incredibly strong at the end of last season, Athena's trauma affected Bobby and it affected the relationship. So it's that thing where you break something down and when it gets put back together, it's stronger than the it was. I think that's where they are now.
Okay, phew. Let's talk Lone Star. The dust storm was wild. Where did that idea come from? Again, was that something you were saving for a finale?
That was something that we had in our folder of ideas, and then Juan Carlos Coto, who's an EP on 9-1-1, came over to help with the end of Lone Star this year to consult, and I'm pretty sure Carlos brought that we should do that. So kudos to Carlos. It felt like it could be a finale. I don't even know if we would have done it if Carlos hadn't brought it up again because we were looking for something that could be an event that could tie everybody together. For me, the metaphor was after the arsonist blew up and burned down the fire station and just after all the trauma that everyone's been through — that Tommy's been through, Owen's been out of commission — the idea that everyone was blown like dust in the wind, everyone's blown this way or that, and then the idea is, can they pull it all back together?
What did you do to make it seem like they were actually in a dust storm?
Brad Buecker, who is an EP who directed a lot of our episodes and often directs the big events, — he directed the tsunami, he directed the earthquake and the crossover episode — had used this smoke machine on American Horror Story: Apocalypse to give it this post-fallout haze. So it's actually a smoke machine that is pretending to be dust and there's some visual effects that are added in with that. But a lot of that is practical.
That's great for the cast. Was this finale more challenging than 9-1-1? Or pretty equal?
They're both very tricky. I would say, again, Lone Star was challenging this time because we had started a week or two on Lone Star after we had started shooting 9-1-1, and they aired at the same time. Lone Star was always a little bit behind in the postproduction for the air dates. Then we had two shutdowns on Lone Star because we had a COVID shutdown, we got some positive test results in the middle of the season, so we had to shut down for that. Then we shut down for about a week because we simply ran out of scripts. So there were a couple of shutdowns there that really put us behind the eight ball, but we managed to keep churning out the material for them to shoot often a day or two before, sometimes the day before they would shoot. It was incredibly stressful, and then the last day of shooting for Lone Star was on Tuesday and I finished cutting the episode on Friday. I pretty much cut that in three days. I had every editor on the staff working on the show. I think they're all credited on the episode at the end. We had these virtual editing rooms since COVID, so everything's happening online. I joked that it was like hosting the Jerry Lewis telethon. "And now we have our editor Christine, what have you got for us today?" We'd go through some scenes and then she would exit out of the application and in would come Julie. "Julie, what have you cut for us today?" I still feel I've been hit by a truck because we only finished mixing it yesterday.
Then I wanted to talk about it first thing Monday — apologies. How excited was Julian Works for this episode? Mateo gets a lot of screen time.
When we were breaking that this episode, what you want to do is find a point-of-view character for these things. It's like when we did the Judd/Grace flashback episode, it was Judd's [Jim Parrack] point of view; if you look at every scene in that episode, it's Judd's point of view, even though obviously Grace [Sierra McClain] is a huge factor in that episode. In this Rashad [Raisani, the writer] and I talked about — again because we were so far behind the eight ball, we couldn't really do a two-part thing where absolutely everyone had a full-on story — the idea of telling the middle of it right from Mateo's point of view was super-appealing to us because we love Julian. I have to tell you, I got the sweetest texts from him. The day before we shot the big sequence in the town square, where the storm hits and then he finds himself standing amidst plane parts, like a war zone, he texted me the night before he said, "I can't sleep. I'm so excited to be on set tomorrow. It feels amazing being me right now." The gratitude from him. The sweetness of that character is absolutely something that Julian brings because that's him.
That's so lovely to hear. Okay, I can't not ask about Charles' death. That was devastating. Why, Tim, why?
I saw a lot of that online, and I get it. The truth is that Derek got cast on another show, and it didn't necessarily mean that I couldn't bring him back next season, but I so rarely know exactly what I'm doing next that I didn't want it to be in a position where I had a whole story in mind for Gina [Torres] and I couldn't do it because maybe Derek couldn't be there. Because I don't have Derek as a regular on the show where I own his time and I always have the first opportunity to cast him in an episode, it just gave me an opportunity to create stories for Gina. I'd already this year gotten across what a great marriage she had and what a great family life they had now. Obviously some people feel betrayed and some people feel the loss very deeply of that character, particularly if they love Tommy and don't want horrible things to happen to her, but the way I look at it as a writer is that it suggests a story going forward for her, her coming through that and what that means. It doesn't mean I'm punishing him for being a great husband. It's just, how many scenes can I have of the supportive character cooking a great meal? I think the trick for characters on a show like this — and wonderful actors on a show like this — who aren't playing first responders, is that they end up sort of having to repeat the same beats over and over. It's very difficult to find a great story for them. It just felt like a way for me to give Gina a lot of story. I mean, just look at episode 13: Gina Torres carried that thing without speaking.
Yeah, she's incredible. I can see why you want to put her through it. Okay, the cliffhanger ending. What's going to become of the 126 now it looks like the firehouse it being shut down?
It's like telling the whole Enterprise [crew on Star Trek] that they're not going to get back on their ship. Forget about it. It's going to be the story of how they're going to not take no for an answer.