The Tarlos engagement, Gywn's return, Owen's 9/11 PTSD — Tim Minear opens up about the avalanche of drama on his Fox first-responder series, and what to expect from season 4.

Leave it to 9-1-1: Lone Star to make a long-awaited proposal the least dramatic thing to happen in the season 3 finale.

Yes, we're all happy for Tarlos — none more than the actors playing T.K. and Carlos — but there was plenty more we wanted to hear about from Lone Star co-creator Tim Minear after Monday night's epic finale. Here, Minear opens up about the engagement, the return of Lisa Edelstein's Gywn, Owen's 9/11 PTSD and health scare, and what we can expect from the newly confirmed season 4.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: What was your goal going into Monday's finale?

TIM MINEAR: I was very interested in revisiting 9/11. So the question became, "How can I tell a story that's about that without breaking the bank, but also without it turning into something that isn't really an episode of the show?" The real cost would be de-aging all the characters and spending all this money on making them look like they did 20 years ago, which I couldn't really afford to do. So I had to find a way to let the audience know that we're in a [past] moment, but do it in such a way that it's a combination of the present and the past.

So after I saw that horrible tragedy in Florida where the condominium just collapsed, it felt like there could be a story that could be told with a building collapse that could then shift into something that may have happened after one of the towers collapsed on 9/11. We were able to backdoor the audience into a reveal of an impressionistic version of what happened 20 years ago. That allowed us to sort of have our cake and eat it too.

I also wanted to say something about everybody moving forward, and about how you only have the moment that you're living in. That moment may feel like a perfect moment which you feel slips away, or it may feel like a traumatic moment that you just keep opening up like an old wound that you won't let heal. You can't live in a perfect moment, and you shouldn't wallow in a traumatic moment — but you can't forget any of those moments, because it is kind of the culmination of all those things that make you who you are today.

Rob Lowe and Julian Works on '9-1-1: Lone Star'
Rob Lowe and Julian Works on '9-1-1: Lone Star'
| Credit: Jordin Althaus/FOX

Did that play into your decision to make us think Owen (Rob Lowe) may be re-entering his cancer battle?

I wanted to bring back the idea of his cancer without actually giving him cancer again. I didn't want it to all feel like BS. Like, "Okay, well here's some fake drama at the beginning that we're just going to resolve at the end of the episode." You want it to kind of have a slightly deeper meaning, so that's why he kind of packs away what they call the "holy relic" on his desk. It's not that he's forgetting 9/11, because the watchword of 9/11 is "Never forget," right? So he's not forgetting it. He's just not making it into a fetish, because you need to move forward. You can't just live in the past.

Though I guess you can, with Lisa Edelstein's Gywn making an appearance. I know you said you were excited to figure out ways to get Gywn back posthumously.

Oh God, Lisa is just so great. When she appears in that hospital room, when I see those two together, it's so effective for me because obviously I love her and I love that relationship. She's obviously T.K.'s mom, and she was so powerful in "In the Unlikely Event of an Emergency" this year. So seeing Lisa again I just think just buys you so much emotion, and it was a way to do it that felt honest to me.

Judd (Jim Parrack) also has quite a dramatic storyline this episode, capping off a season of a lot of growth for him. When Owen says he's the heir apparent to the 126, that felt earned — like maybe Owen was going to be gone — and Judd was ready to step up.

Judd and Grace [Sierra McClain], to me, are the foundation of everything, and they have been since the pilot. When you see that relationship… It's funny, when we were working on the Wyatt story initially, I know a lot of people were like, "Wait, what's this?" "Wait. This feels like a soap opera." But to me it never did. It always felt real to me. And Judd's journey is that Judd is Judd, right?

In other words, when Wyatt [Jackson Pace] shows up to the firehouse early in the season, Judd is obviously put back on his heels a little bit. But he never tries to hide it from Grace. He says, "We're going to talk about it now. I don't hide things from my wife." I wasn't interested in something that felt like fake soap drama with the introduction of Wyatt. I wanted to tell the story of actual people who didn't know about each other and how they would navigate that. I think with characters like Judd and Grace it's far more satisfying to see them handle it well, not to see them not handle it well.

Speaking of expanding families, should we read anything into Catherine (Amy Acker) only sending flowers to Owen and not being at his hospital bedside or the one he reveals his true health status to at the end of the episode?

The thing you should read into it is that Amy was in Canada doing another show. But you know what? For me it actually worked out… Catherine and Owen, I think, is a successful pairing. Amy and Rob have fantastic chemistry. They really love each other, they love working with each other. But I'm quite glad that by the end of the finale, when Owen sits down at that bistro to tell somebody that he doesn't have cancer, that it's Gina Torres [as Tommy] and not Amy Acker. Not that I'm putting them together as a couple, I just think that those two captains and those two actors have great chemistry together. And if you look back on the episode "Red vs. Blue", when they were both kind of scheming to win that softball game, they're just fun together.

Rafael Silva and Ronen Rubinstein on '9-1-1: Lone Star'
Rafael Silva and Ronen Rubinstein in the '9-1-1: Lone Star' season 3 finale.
| Credit: Jordin Althaus/FOX

Let's talk about the Tarlos engagement. Was that always in the cards?

At the beginning of the season if you had asked me if T.K. [Ronen Rubinstein] and Carlos [Rafael Silva] were going to get engaged this year, I probably would've said no. But what I always find over the course of the months that you make 18 or 20 episodes of a show, the story is kind of telling you things along the way. And by the time we got to this stage, I knew probably a few episodes back that's where the story wanted to go. And I just wanted something joyous. I wanted a happy ending for everybody. But I didn't just plug in a proposal in order to get a happy ending — to me that all felt incredibly organic, that T.K. would kind of go through the wringer this year.

And it's a message that we revisit on both the 9-1-1s: These are people who run toward danger and who are there on the worst day of other people's lives, and they realize that nothing is certain. And Owen reiterates that here. I have this sort of funny thing at the beginning of the episode where T.K. doesn't have a will because he's weirdly superstitious about it. I think he learns by the end of the episode that the end is going to come no matter what, and you can't govern your day based on that. You have to live, you have to grab the moment while you can. Carpe diem.

What can we expect from next season?

Well, I have to think about that because literally I finished the finale at about 7 p.m. [on Thursday]. Especially as you get to the end of the season, it's just a mad scramble to try to get it done before Monday night at 9 p.m. So the sky's the limit, right?

I'm very interested in finding a way to just drill down into everybody's stories more. It's quite a challenge when you have this many characters, and you're not just telling a straight-ahead drama. There have been a few episodes this year that have been light on cases, that have sort of more character scenes. But that's really not the show, right? But these cases take up sometimes a third or half of your 44 minutes of screen time. It's just always a challenge to try to find a way to advance everybody's stories and tell the procedural emergency stories at the same time. It's a lot of plate-spinning, let me tell you.

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