Exclusive Interview with ‘Chicago Fire’ Showrunner Derek Haas
*SPOILERS AHEAD. DO NOT READ IF YOU HAVE NOT WATCHED CHICAGO FIRE 8X01*
We’ve been waiting all summer to find out what happened after the boiler exploded as a result of the fire that broke out at the mattress factory in Chicago Fire‘s season seven finale. And now that we know, we wish we could go back in time and stop it from happening.
The season eight premiere, titled “Sacred Ground“, was a heartbreaking hour of television that personally caught us entirely off-guard. Showrunner Derek Haas was gracious enough to take some time to answer our most pressing questions. Here’s what he had to say:
The obvious question: why Otis and why now?!
We needed to put some teeth back into the show and remind people that dangerous situations can actually be life-threatening. It felt like we’d pulled the football too many times and had miraculous saves or recoveries, so it was time to have a real loss with lasting effects. As far as it being Otis, we love him and knew it would hurt and so it felt right creatively. Plus, I know deep down that Yuri is on the rise of an incredible career and I’m grateful we had him as long as we did.
Were there any lessons learned in writing 3×01 (when Shay dies) that you carried over into writing this episode?
Dick Wolf always said that if your writing is honest, the audience will go on the journey with you. I just tried to keep the emotion honest and the consequences lasting and make it impactful and meaningful and the genesis of storytelling rather than the end point.
There is a time jump to bring everyone into the present, but the firehouse has had three months to grieve where as viewers barely had three minutes. How do you balance letting viewers mourn and moving the story forward?
Well, even with the time jump, the house is grieving right through the end credits and beyond. We did a firefighter funeral last year and we’ve done the badge on the wall so I wanted to try something different with the memorial dedication.
We learn in the last few minutes of the episode that the last words Otis said to Cruz translated to “Brother, I will be with you always.” When you came up with the Otis death storyline, did you always know it was going to end with him telling Cruz these words or was that something that came as you started writing the episode?
After I started writing the episode actually. Arthur Forney, our Head of Post who has been at Wolf Films for decades, came to me and said, “What if Otis said something cryptic in Russian as he’s dying?” I’m just smart enough to know a brilliant idea when I hear one. So I took it and ran with it…
Shay’s name was put on the side of the ambo after her death and Otis got the memorial. Did you always know that whoever was killed off next was going to get a memorial at the firehouse, or was that something you specifically picked as a tribute to Otis?
No, I thought about it this summer when I was driving home from Universal. I pass an LAFD academy on the way home and they have a firefighter memorial. That gave me the idea.
Casey has clearly taken Otis’s death to heart and the guilt seems to be eating him up. How will this play out over the next couple of episodes?
He’s going to be very careful about finding the right fit for 51. Otis’s death will have lasting consequences to everyone. They will all deal with it differently and at different speeds. This is not something that is gone after the first episode.
Brett does not seem like herself. Is this a result of Fowlerton or what happened inside the mattress factory?
I like the theme of “You can’t go home again.” You’ve changed, the town you’re from has changed, the memories you have don’t match the present. Plus, I mean, come on… I got to bring Hope back (Evil laugh.)
Foster’s new partner Chad Collins is… eccentric to say the least. Should we expect him to stick around for a little bit?
Yeah. My description of him was always, “He’s very confident beyond even what is merited.” Like Hope and Gorsch, he joins a long list of my favorite guests.
Stellaride seems happy… what does the first half of season 8 look like for them?
This year’s giant One Chicago crossover takes place in episode 4, and for the first time, you’re writing all three episodes. What do we have to look forward to there, and how has the process been? Is it stressful writing all three at once?
Well, I have to amend that. I was going to write all three – that was the plan. But then reality set in. Dick and I wrote the story for all three. I wrote the first hour and then once we got up and running and had to cast and produce this giant behemoth, Andy and Diane stepped up to write the Med hour and Gwen Sigan wrote the PD hour. Remind me next year when I think I want to do it again (if there is a next year).
Chicago Fire airs Wednesdays at 9/8c on NBC.