'FBI: Most Wanted' Boss Breaks Down Julian McMahon's Bittersweet Exit and Show's Next Chapter (Exclusive)
By Philiana Ng
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Spoiler alert! Do not proceed if you have not watched Tuesday's episode of FBI: Most Wanted.
FBI: Most Wantedsaid goodbye to its leader, Jess LaCroix, in devastating fashion on Tuesday's episode, marking the end of Julian McMahon's three-season tenure on the CBS drama.
McMahon's early departure from Most Wanted was made official in late January, with Dylan McDermott later announced to be stepping in to fill the void. With McMahon's exit looming, executive producer and showrunner David Hudgins and the writers faced a tall task in how to respectfully and logically write his character off. Do they kill him or send him off on a long out-of-town assignment? After many lengthy discussions, they opted to go with the former.
The latest episode, titled "Shattered," saw Jess and his team racing against the clock to catch an abuser who was on a warpath, killing everyone in his way, as he desperately searched for his ex-girlfriend, who had given birth to their baby and given it up for adoption. To make matters worse, he discovered their child was very ill. The hour culminated in a tense standoff in the hospital parking lot between Jess and the culprit, with the two exchanging gunfire. The suspect was fatally shot, but so too was Jess as the final image of the character is a heartbreaking one as he lay lifeless on the ground.
The aftermath of Jess' sudden death will have major reverberations for both the team and FBI: Most Wanted, which focuses the next two episodes on how his inner circle, loved ones and family members cope with their loss. "On a show like this about a job like this, the ever-present risk of being hurt or killed in the line of duty, it happens," Hudgins told ET. "We felt like it was something that was dramatic. It's obviously tragic and we felt it would generate a lot of story that we could explore our characters as they grieve, and then ultimately, it would ramp us up into the new person coming onto the team."
Hudgins spoke with ET about the decision to kill off Jess, how McMahon's departure reframes the show moving forward and previews McDermott's anticipated introduction in the April 12 episode.
ET: This is a major turning point for FBI: Most Wanted in that it's the end of one chapter and the beginning of another. When you were crafting this episode, what was most important as you were getting ready to say goodbye to Julian and his character?
David Hudgins: We knew that this was coming. [Julian] had approached producers and said that he was interested in pursuing other things, so we started talking in the writers' room about what this exit would look like, what it would mean for the show. And the way you just put it is great. I do think it is both the closing of one chapter and the opening of another. In deciding how to exit it, we considered every alternative and ultimately what we decided was, look, the premise of the show is Most Wanted. We are chasing the worst of the worst out there and most dangerous of the most dangerous, and there's always the risk that you can get hurt or killed in the line of duty in this job. We decided that in honoring the premise of the show that this is how we were going to exit Jess. He's going to get shot and killed in the line of duty while trying to protect a woman that we were rescuing. That decision was made and part of that decision was also, we're not going to do this and have Jess go away. We want to play the emotions, essentially the team grieving and dealing with his loss, which is something we're going to do in the next two episodes.
We also wanted to make sure that it played out, not only through his work family, but his real family, which is why we have [Jess' father] Byron [played by Terry O'Quinn] in this episode and upcoming episodes. And Jen Landon is so great, so we had to set them up in a good place, Jess and Sarah, and the shock and the tragedy of what happens, we wanted to play the emotional aftermath of that by ending the episode with Sarah getting the news and ultimately having to go with Byron to tell [Jess' daughter] Tali. In terms of the opening of the new chapter, we looked at it as writers as a great opportunity. We have a chance to shake up the dynamic and bring in somebody else and really propel the show off to its, as you said, next chapter.
It's always a difficult decision, I'm sure, to kill off a major character in this way. Were there other routes you toyed with?
We just felt like, on a show like this about a job like this -- the ever-present risk of being hurt or killed in the line of duty -- it happens. We felt like it was something that was dramatic. It's obviously tragic and we felt it would generate a lot of story that we could explore our characters as they grieve, and then ultimately it would ramp us up into the new person coming onto the team.
You mentioned the next couple of episodes will explore the aftermath of how Jess' death affects the team, how it affects Sarah, his daughter potentially. Can you preview the impact this loss will have on these various characters? How do the dynamics shift or change or evolve following this?
There's a couple of things in play. One of which is in this job, you have to be a professional, right? You have to keep going, you have to move forward, you have to do your job. But, these are also human beings who have a long-standing relationship, professionally and personally, so the idea of having to move forward while you're grieving and stay working and keep on the case, we thought was very interesting. And we thought how the different members of the team react to that would be good for story. Everybody deals with the absence of Jess in their own way, in different ways. In a way, it exposes some fault lines between the characters, but it also brings them together in a very satisfying way. Hanging over all this, in the next couple of episodes is [the question] of who's coming in, who's it going to be. Watching Barnes and Hana deal it with it, and watching Kristin and Ortiz deal with it, it definitely affects what's going on as they work and also when they go home. And there's stories there on both.
Without a leader guiding them, at least for the time being, what can you tease in terms of how that looks?
Here's part of it. Isobel, [played by FBI's] Alana De La Garza, comes in the next episode to check in on the team and to shepherd them and guide them. But the writers' room, we thought it was a very interesting moment: When they head off to their first case, literally who does the file go to? Who's in charge? Who's taking over? Rather than shying away from that, we leaned into it and we play that as a story in the next episode. Who is going to step up? Who does the team think should step up? They're feeling each other out. Ultimately I think they get to a place where they realize, we can do this, we can get by, but who's coming? Who's coming in?
We know who's coming in: Dylan McDermott. He's been in the Dick Wolf family having recently been on Law & Order: Organized Crime. How did this all manifest, him coming in and why did you feel like he was the crucial pivot point in this new chapter?
First, Dylan is an amazing actor and we had been in the writers' room discussing a shape for this new character, who it would be. We had some broad strokes and ideas of what we wanted it to be. Leaning into this idea of, let's use this as an opportunity; this person should have a different style, a different way of doing things. We had a sketch of the character and then when I heard that Dylan was potentially available and interested, I got very excited. We all did in the writers' room, like, "Oh, he'd be great." We can do this, we can do that, so we had an idea of the character and when Dylan became a possibility and then a reality, we were thrilled. He's already started filming [and he] appears April 12, [episode] 17 is when he comes in and it's going to be great. The show is the show and it's never going to change. We're hunting fugitives, we're catching them and we're bringing them to justice and having a new person on board to help us do that is just going to be, again, I keep going back to what you said, it's a new chapter. Same book, but a new chapter.
We don't know much about his character. Are you comfortable giving a broad idea of his general makeup?
I think it's a little bit too early for that, honestly. Jess has exited, it's playing through the team is where we are in the season and where we are in the story. But Dylan coming in, I don't want to spoil any of that quite yet.
What are you excited to potentially explore now that this is a new beginning of sorts for the show and also the team?
I can't get too detailed because I'll get into spoiler-land in terms of Dylan's character, but it is going to be a new dynamic with the team. They're still chasing the worst of the worst and it's still going to be a manhunt [with] the show about getting justice for people, so that won't change. Certainly I think he can open us up to more personal stories with our characters just by virtue of the fact that there's a new person in the mix who doesn't know them nearly as well as Jess. We feel like it's an opportunity to unpack a little bit there on the other characters, as Dylan's character is getting to know them and vice versa.
Is it fair to assume that Sarah and Tali, the LaCroixs, will still be within the fabric of the show or is their story slowly coming to an end?
No, I think they'll always be in the fabric of the show because they're always going to be in the fabric of the characters that were there from the beginning and worked with Jess and knew Jess. It's not like they're just going to disappear, especially in the next two episodes. I think they'll always be there.
There are always ways of having a character come back to life, whether it be hallucinations, visions, flashbacks. Is that something that you're open to with regard to Jess, if it makes logical or creative sense down the line?
Never say never. There's not any current plan right now in this season to go there. Yes, there's always going to be this history of this team and this show that it started out with Jess. So you never know. Plus, I love all of the actors. I guess I will say, never say never.