On Monday's two-hour freshman finale, Captain Owen Strand (Rob Lowe) and the 126 faced a slew of their most dire emergencies yet when a rare solar storm took them across Austin, Texas, to a flurry of dangerous rescue missions, from unpredictable power surges to a traumatic accident at a major intersection to an AirMed plane stuck on active power lines to an astronaut suffering from radiation on the International Space Station(!).
At the end of the day, Owen and the firehouse persevered through every solar storm-related obstacle -- and even welcomed back T.K. (Ronen Rubinstein), who woke up from his coma after being shot, to the 126 after he went through an existential crisis about whether firefighting was his calling. And Michelle (Liv Tyler) was finally reunited with her sister, Iris (Lyndsy Fonseca), after years of desperate searching. But with Owen's continuing cancer treatments, is the drama just about to unfold?
To break down the biggest moments from Monday's season closer, ET hopped on the phone with showrunner Tim Minear to get the scoop on what this means for the 126 moving forward and plans for a potential season 2.
ET: The season ended on a relatively quiet, happy note. There was no big cliffhanger or shocking surprise. Why cap off the first 10 episodes this way?
Tim Minear: That's kind of what I do. When I started doing that on 9-1-1, the network was like, "But wait, where's the giant cliffhanger and the person with their neck bleeding?" I think it's more satisfying for the audience to feel safe at the end of the season. I'm not saying that you will always feel safe at the end of every season of every one of my shows, but on 9-1-1, that has been, I think, really satisfying, and for me, it was about these first 10 episodes -- getting the characters and the show up on its feet and forming a bond between them, because they had all just met one another in the first couple of episodes. I knew that I was going to at least answer the question of what happened to Michelle's sister by the end of the season and have some kind of reunion there. So to me, it was a satisfying way of going out.
You also can't get much bigger than the 126 going up against the solar storm. Was this a real-life situation that you felt was worthy of a season finale?
Yes, it was a real thing. It was pitched by some of the writers in the room, the idea of a solar storm. I'm pretty sure it was James [Leffer] and Molly [Green], who are our young story editors, who pitched that idea. I have friends who work at JPL, the Jet Propulsion Lab, and who hooked me up with some astrophysicists. We picked their brains about what would really happen in the event of a solar storm like this. And just like in the show, there was one in Quebec in the '80s and over a hundred years ago there was a very powerful one. But a hundred years ago, we didn't have cell phones and we were not as dependent on the electronic infrastructure as we are now. Everything that we say could happen in a solar storm, including seeing the Northern Lights in Austin, Texas, it's all real. All of that is plausible and based on a real thing.
How do you plan on upping the ante when it comes to the emergencies for season 2?
That is the key question every time. What do I do after I take out Santa Monica with a tsunami [on 9-1-1]? I'm going to have to come up with something, right? For me, the answer is: I'll think of something. (Laughs.)
It took T.K. a while to figure it out, but he commits to being a firefighter and to the 126 after nearly dying. What went into the decision to have him stay on board? Did you ever toy with possibly having him do something else within the first-responder field?
Yes. I'm not sure that T.K. found his exact place, but he knows that. What was important is to say that often first-responders is a legacy career. People's fathers and grandfathers and mothers and grandmothers, they have been first responders and it's sort of a family business. For T.K., 9/11 not only took fathers away from families through death, but also took his father away, because his father became obsessed with rebuilding the firehouse in New York when T.K. was 7 years old. He essentially lost his father to 9/11 as well -- not in the same significant way, although now that Owen's first-responder cancer has been diagnosed, that could still happen.
I think for T.K., he was having his own existential crisis about whether or not this was something that he chose for himself, if this was something he was meant to be or if he was joining the family that already had his father in order to gain a father. Which is why he needed a moment of being a hero by himself in that intersection in the last episode, but then also having that fire crew show up and, as a team, save those people. You realize that it's a choice he can now make through his own agency, and not based on whether or not he was doing it for different reasons.
But is this 100 percent the path he is set on now? Is that going to be an ongoing internal question that he'll be facing?
Look, he's very young, and I think that there are always new experiences and things to explore that one can't predict. I think that being a first responder is in his blood. I think that is what he is meant to do, whether he's going to be a captain of a firehouse or something else, that is an open question. I don't think he knows that.
T.K.'s opioid addiction comes back around in the finale, when he comes clean to his crew about his past. Are you interested in exploring that part of T.K.'s life in a season 2?
Owen's cancer is a big part of his journey. We saw him go through chemo, tell his son and later the crew. What are the challenges that you've faced in balancing the procedural element of the show with a story of a guy who is going through a very serious health crisis at the same time?
It is an interesting challenge, because you don't want to give short shrift to the seriousness of that medical diagnosis. The truth is that Owen's medical situation is on the upswing at the end of the first season, but it ain't over. So we will be exploring that again.
It really seems like this experience has illuminated a lot of things for Owen by the end of the season. Will he be cancer-free? Is that the direction you're going in?
I have not made that determination yet. I just know that that story is not over.
T.K. and Carlos make it official in the finale. What stories are you looking to tell with that couple that you haven't been able to explore yet?
In 10 episodes, with all these characters, you can't really get into the backstories of everybody. But for me, it was important to say that, at the end of the first 10 episodes, T.K. is being open to exploring something serious with Carlos, but we haven't really seen the courtship yet. Things moved very quickly, and then T.K. just wasn't sure. So now we get to actually see the courtship in season 2 and we get to find out who Carlos is and we'll meet his family and we'll start to see other sides to both of them.
Fans seemed engaged with those two characters together. Has that surprised you? Were you banking on this kind of response from viewers?
I expected that people would have a reaction to them. And I think that the audience was maybe a little bit split. People who loved those characters and love that kind of romantic relationship immediately were invested in it. For some of the audience, it maybe went a little bit too fast and they were maybe even a little bit uncomfortable with how fast it moved. I think it's just about finding the right balance and honoring what would really happen.
Speaking of romance, what is your game plan for Owen and Zoe? I'm assuming their relationship isn't quite over...
Natalie Zea is magic. She's also got another show, so just looking at it from the outside, of the realities of scheduling and if somebody is available, I don't know exactly where that relationship is going to go. I just know I absolutely love her and I love them together and I think there's a ton of chemistry. I thought there was a ton of chemistry actually, between Natalie and Ronen.
Michelle is reunited with her sister, Iris, after searching for her for years. Why was it important for you to reach this landmark for the two sisters at the end of the season?
That story is not over. In fact, it will ultimately change Michelle's life for two reasons. One, I didn't want to milk a mystery story with a character who wasn't onscreen for too long. I wanted to finally meet [Iris], and there's a real story to be told about mental health, and about the homeless disaster that's happening in every major city. I think telling that story from the point of view of somebody like Michelle is a way into really exploring something [big]. Like I said, it could change the course of Michelle's life.
What are you hoping to dig into when it comes to the others at the 126, like Marjan, Paul and Mateo?
There are multiple stories for every character and every possible combination. We know a little bit about Mateo's background. I'm really interested to start letting you meet the people who formed Marjan, and I have a whole story worked out for her that I think will be great. And I think Paul is... People seem to love Josie, so there's a chance she might have a change of heart.
The episode where Paul is trying to navigate the dating world as a transgender man was heartbreaking.
What I don't want to do is define Paul by that one aspect of himself. And so, I feel like I've told a bit of that story... Now, that element of him won't go away, but there's more to Paul than just his gender.
There have been some pretty crazy situations that the crew has found themselves in this season. What have you gotten away with that you've been pleasantly surprised by?
I really love the finale. The solar storm is a real thing and for me, it was a great way to transcend a bunch of people being impaled on things. I did love the bull semen factory explosion. And the food-eating contest... I was surprised, because in 9-1-1, they wouldn't let me show a stream of pee hitting a robot, I had to do it all off-camera and a whole bag of urine hits a wall. I don't really know what the standards are. I was surprised that we got away with that.
Looking ahead to season 2, with this world established, how are you looking to expand the world?
You would see new faces. But first, we got to get the network to pick us up for a second season.
How confident are you in getting another season?
I'm not worried. No one has said [it's a done deal], so I don't want to count my chickens. My Twitter handle is still @CancelledAgain, so let's just see what happens.
The show has mentioned Owen's ex and T.K.'s mother a lot, and we haven't met her yet. Is that on the agenda?
Yeah, it certainly is.
Since this is a spinoff of 9-1-1, is a crossover in the plans, potentially?
I think it is inevitable. It's not unusual for firefighters from different states to join in. Firefighters from the United States went to Australia this year, so you never know where they might cross paths and you never know where a case or a story might cross state lines. We might be seeing some of the 9-1-1 crew in an episode of Lone Star if there's a season 2, just by virtue of a case.
The world is on high alert amid fears over coronavirus -- could we see an episode or multiple episodes dedicated to a global or national pandemic?
You know, it's interesting, because I almost did that for the finale and I'm quite glad I didn't, because I'm sure they would've probably pulled the episodes. Pandemics are tricky because first of all, just based on what the country's going through right now, one doesn't want to turn that into entertainment. But also, it's tricky, because you basically put your stars in these spacesuits and you can't see their faces. It's just not that interesting to look at.
Rob Lowe's son, John Owen, is part of the writing staff. What insights or personal anecdotes has he shared about their real-life relationship that you've worked into scripts?
I don't know that I've worked John Owen's relationship with Rob into scripts. I will say that, a couple of weeks ago, there was an accident in West Hollywood and a woman was trapped in her car. And who went into that intersection and pulled that woman out of that car? John Owen. He was on the news. I sent the clip to Rob and he's like, "He didn't tell me about that!" So it's like, "Wow. OK."
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