On Monday's season 3 closer, titled "A Bright and Cloudless Morning," the folks at the 126 were faced with a scare when Judd was unexpectedly caught in disastrous building explosion, which then called upon Owen and the others to report to the scene for the dramatic rescue. Though they were successful in bringing Judd to safety, Owen found himself in a near-death situation when the portion of the building he was in suddenly collapsed.
Caught in deep rubble, he was seamlessly transported to a similar circumstance during 9/11 -- a day he still felt the weight of -- and where he had a deep heart-to-heart with another fellow first responder, Manny. The conversation was both heartbreaking and eye-opening, as Owen -- who, at this point in the story, was unsure if he had a recurrence of cancer -- was given permission to let go of the past and start living in the present. And at the end of the episode, he took the 9/11 relic he relished on his desk and placed it inside a box.
"I wanted something at the end of the episode to show that this experience has had some effect on him, that it wasn't just an exercise in drama. That somehow he's going to grow and move forward from it," executive producer/showrunner Tim Minear tells ET. "And I think that the message here for Owen is, you can't just live in the worst moment of your life, just like you can't hold onto the best moment of your life. All those moments put together cumulatively make you who you are today."
Owen's reawakening, for lack of a better term, was the catalyst for his son, T.K.'s spontaneous early morning proposal to Carlos. After all the couple had been through, an engagement seemed like nothing for what they had already been through. So is a wedding in the works for the just-announced fourth season? Following the finale, Minear breaks down the biggest moments from the episode (and the season), the impact of Owen's near-death experience (and cancer scare) and why it was time for T.K. and Carlos to take the next step in their relationship.
ET: How are you feeling creatively this season? What you felt like the season did well?
Tim Minear: It might be too soon for me to figure out what my postmortem thoughts are. I just literally finished cutting the finale a couple days ago, but I was really happy with the season. It felt like we did a lot of things really well. One of my favorite episodes this year was "Red vs. Blue." I love, love, love a little rivalry. I love to see Owen and Tommy team up, put together a softball team. I love meeting [9-1-1 call operator] Dave. And probably the high point for me was "In the Unlikely Event of an Emergency," the episode where we see T.K.'s mom helping him get to rehab. I'll probably have to go back and watch the whole thing from beginning to end to see if it made any kind of sense at all.
But every once in a while, I'd get a little bit frustrated. As the year goes on, you're rushing to keep up and you're trying to keep up the quality and tell the stories that you want to tell. There were a few times that I had to take an entire story thread and move it into a different episode because I'd get a cut back that was 90 minutes long. Like that Matteo-Nancy story that you saw in episode 17, we had shot all that stuff for a couple episodes before. In fact, Tommy's first date in the scene of the grief group was originally in the episode of "The Bird." That got moved into another episode. As a consequence of that, I added one brief group scene in "The Bird" with T.K. that wasn't in the original version of that. The scenes where she meets Morris at the grief group, I reshot with Blanca, because originally T.K. had been her date to that grief group. There's a lot of plates spinning as you're going forward. I will pat the cast and crew on the back because we have an amazing crew that can literally make it snow in Texas [when it's] shot in California.
The finale saw Owen reliving the trauma he faced as a first responder during 9/11 after he's caught in rubble when he went in to save one of his own following a building explosion. The transition in and out of present day to that day 20 years ago was seamless. Can you talk me through how you put that together?
Creatively, I reverse-engineered it. I knew I wanted to play a set piece in the rubble of 9/11, but what I didn't want to do was 45 minutes of a flashback to 9/11. So what I give you is the morning of 9/11, and you see Owen and you see Gwen in a perfect moment. He doesn't want to let go of that moment. But outside, under a bright, cloudless morning sky, a plane is flying toward the World Trade Center. And we know without ever seeing any impact what that means, that everything is about to change. And then we come in and he gets his possible re-diagnosis. There's a spot on his lung. It may be cancer. They don't know. And all these things are now churning in his psyche, in his brain. When he shows up at an emergency that has some of the iconography of those collapsed buildings, I was laying the groundwork to make it seem seamless.
Those whole first two acts, even though they are about Judd getting out and everybody responding to this emergency, really on a technical level what those first two acts are for is to distract you with Judd's rescue so that I could get Owen into the basement and have the building fall on him so that I could play out that two-man drama in the rubble of 9/11. And the reason it feels seamless to you is because I have taken you into a collapsed building and I have made him disappear. When I reveal him to you on the floor in rubble, you're still in that same story. And you're not in a news story until I turn the card over.
You're speaking also to the flashbacks to Owen and Manny. Their scenes were particularly heartbreaking to watch unfold.
I'm glad you had that reaction because that tells me that it works. Because that scene between Manny and Owen was the sand in the oyster that is turning into the pearl. That scene was the first thing I thought of, and I built everything else around it from the end of episode 17 on to get to that moment. In the same way that in the episode with T.K. and his mom and the plane, I had an image in my head of Gwyn saying to T.K., "I have traveled with you as far as I can go." And then he walks through some doors. When he turns around, she's gone. That was the first image that I had in my head. And then I broke the story around that to get to that moment. So what you're picking up on is the heart of the idea.
This entire near-death experience changes Owen. You see him letting go of the past and finding the strength to put away a piece of the building from 9/11 into a box at the end of the episode. Can you talk about the impact this experience has had for him?
That's an important question too because I wanted something at the end of the episode to show that this experience has had some effect on him, that it wasn't just an exercise in drama. That somehow he's going to grow and move forward from it. But what I didn't want to do was somehow have the story convey the idea that we can forget about 9/11, move on, it's over, get over it, which is why I have Owen even tell Manny, "I keep that on my desk to remember because the watch word here is never forget." And that's why Manny says to him, "No one's asking you to forget. You got to stop living in this day, though." You don't have to take something that they did to us and turn it into a holy relic. There's a difference between learning from something, remembering it, not forgetting and wallowing in it. And I think that the message here for Owen is, you can't just live in the worst moment of your life, just like you can't hold onto the best moment of your life. All those moments put together cumulatively make you who you are today. And then you have to be the person that you are today and live in the moment that is happening now, and not let that slip by, without taking advantage of the fact that you're alive. Which is what T.K. gets from Owen, which then leads to a proposal.
Let's just talk about the proposal. T.K. proposes to Carlos at 3 in the morning, which is the best time to do it, right?
Catch them when they're off-guard.
They've been through a lot just this season alone. What made this the right time for them to further solidify that relationship?
I didn't want to wake up on Tuesday morning and have all of Twitter surrounding my house. At the beginning of the year, I wasn't sure if we'd get this far, all the way up to a proposal. At the end of this season, that felt too quick. But it was probably around "In the Unlikely Event of the Emergency," then I saw the scene when Carlos and T.K. reunited on the tarmac. I think it's probably around that point in the season, I figured, "Okay. I think there's going to be a proposal by the end of this season." Literally, I was going off my instinct and what I felt like the story was telling me it wanted to be.
This leads to a whole series of situations for them to go through. They're stepping into a new stage of their relationship. What are you interested in exploring that you haven't seen portrayed yet? We've seen engaged couples on television going through the steps to get to walking down the aisle. What do you want to put them through to reach that destination?
That's a good question. I don't think we're going to have a situation where there's a terrorist attack at their wedding or something. But I'm not sure. I definitely want to play the planning. I want to play the build-up. I want to play the event. I want to play all that stuff. That can be satisfying just in and of itself. In terms of what married life means for these two guys, there's a lot to explore there. And in the same way that there's always going to be something new to explore in something as solid as Judd and Grace's marriage. They didn't know about Wyatt until this year. I think there'll be a lot to explore there. We could maybe see a little bit more of Carlos' family and maybe we'll see Chad Lowe [as Owen's half-brother Robert] again at that wedding.
Owen tells Judd that he's anointed him as his successor, should he leave or should something happened to him. Is there a finite amount of time for Owen at the 126?
I don't think there's a finite time necessarily. In that moment, you have to take that scene in context, which is Owen at that point in the story does not know whether or not his cancer has come back. And so I think he is getting his affairs in order in a way, in case it has come back. But it's also true what he said to T.K., that none of us are guaranteed anything. So it doesn't necessarily mean it's going to be cancer. It could be anything and it could be anyone.
It's revealed to be a fungal infection and not cancer. Is Owen's health concern something he's going to have to continue to think about? Are you hoping that this is the end of the "Is he going to be sick again" question?
I'm not really interested in jerking the audience around in terms of his cancer. It was a little bit tricky even to use it as a dramatic device in this episode. But I think we handled it as best we could, which was not to say, "You've got cancer. No, just kidding." At the very beginning [the doctor] says, "We don't know that's what this is," but it was a way to put 9/11 back into his bloodstream if not cancer. It was all in service of this particular story, but I'm not interested in playing the cancer card every time I run out of ideas.
The introduction of Judd's son, Wyatt, was a bit of a surprise this season. There was a moment where I was actually asking myself, "Is he actually Judd's son?"
I know. I've seen people wondering, like, "Oh no, I think it might be his brother's son." No, Wyatt is Judd's son. That's a completely fair speculation on the part of the audience. I'll just make it clear. In terms of the Wyatt story, I know people were a little wary at first, like, "Oh, is Tim just stirring up some drama for the sake of drama? Is he throwing a grenade into the Ryder marriage?" No. I was introducing a new character and a new element. I'm interested in seeing Jim Parrack play Judd Ryder as the father of a teenage boy. I want to see him, the father of his newborn daughter. I want to see that too. But this was just another interesting element. I wanted to see how Grace would do the right thing and be welcoming, like we know she would be. It was not to stir up fake drama. It was actually to do the thing that I think we do the best with the writers, which is show how healthy people who love each other and who are good and kindhearted do things well. There's something really satisfying about seeing that.
Anything you'd like to tease as we head into another season?
It's a little early, it's a little early. I need to decompress myself a little bit and regroup and make some choices. But I certainly haven't figured it out, not yet.
Can we expect a return to the large-scale crossovers with 9-1-1 next year?
I would love that. It's incredibly expensive to do it, but I would love it. I managed to, as you know, do this mini crossover with Athena this year. And there could be more things like that. I just don't know if I'm going to have the opportunity to do the big crossover like we did with the wildfire, which I thought was hugely successful. Never say no, never say no.
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