'Station 19': Jaina Lee Ortiz and Boris Kodjoe on Season 4's Roller Coaster of Emotions (Exclusive)

The stars of the ABC firefighter drama talk to ET about how the pandemic affects the firehouse and the shocking return of Andy's mom.

Station 19 kicks off a three-hour crossover premiere event with Grey's Anatomy on Thursday, with the firefighters weeks into the pandemic. In the first episode of season 4, titled "Nothing Seems the Same," the Station 19 crew lean on each other for support as they navigate COVID-19 and as Lieutenant Andy Herrera attempts to make sense of her mother's shocking return (from the dead). 

"When we pick up in the beginning of season 4, you'll get to see the very beginning stages of the pandemic. Right when it hits, the complete adjustment we all have to take, the harsh reality of so many people dying and how hard the first responders are working to combat this crazy, crazy [virus] which has affected the entire world," Jaina Lee Ortiz, who plays Andy, tells ET. "You'll get to see how it affects everyone's lives."

But in true Station 19 fashion, it won't be all doom and gloom. Instead, the firefighters will turn to each other for emotional support. 

"Automatically, you'll think it will be super dark and depressing and sad, and yes, we'll see that and we'll see how everyone deals with all the deaths. But despite the darkness, you'll get to see how the team leans on each other and connects much closer together to see the joy out of this dark time," Ortiz promises. "It sounds depressing just talking about it, but yet we're reflecting the real world."

Boris Kodjoe, who plays Battalion Chief Robert Sullivan, hinted at how the firefighters of Station 19 react to the pandemic, saying that "everyone deals with it differently." 

"They hold onto each other. They try to power through but there's anxiety, there's trauma, there's stress -- just like in real life. And that's what makes it fun and great," Kodjoe explains. "Shonda [Rhimes] and [showrunner] Krista [Vernoff] have never been afraid to tell the truth and be authentic and real with their storytelling, whether it's Grey's Anatomy or Station 19. That makes the crossover as a premiere so fantastic because you get to really address all those issues. The stakes are high, everybody's scared and there's a whole brand new world."
And with the pandemic a part of everyone's new reality, expect that to be reflected on Station 19 all season. "COVID is our life. This is what's going on, so you will see masks, you will see face shields, you will see people having dialogue about the pandemic and what needs to be done in order to keep the people safe that we are trying to help," Kodjoe says. 

Aside from the pandemic, Andy has a lot to contend with following the surprise re-emergence of her once presumed dead mother, Elena (Patricia De Leon), especially after the death of her father, Pruitt (Miguel Sandoval). 

"I can't give you any details!" Ortiz says coyly, before offering a clue. "She checks herself into a psychiatric hospital. It will be extremely intense and shocking, and I feel like her personal life, her family life on top of the pandemic will definitely [be dramatic]." 
Add to that the newness of Andy and Sullivan's marriage, and the complications that come with Sullivan's struggles with opioids. (The couple wed right before Pruitt died, fulfilling one of his last wishes.) 

"I think it starts out with his drug abuse. That's a challenge in itself, and then her trauma and sadness and rage about her father leaving her, and then her finding out her mother is still alive, that alone is a lifetime worth of drama," Kodjoe teases. "So we'll see how they handle it. I think we all know that they love each other very much and they want to be together. I think it's interesting when you explore relationships from the perspective of not giving up rather than letting obstacles break you apart. It's more fun and interesting to see what couples do when they decide not to give up on each other."
"Right, because if Andy and Sullivan had the perfect relationship, if it was all rainbows and butterflies and cotton candy, it would be boring. It wouldn't be interesting and the fact that we're faced with traumatic challenges, it makes you appreciate how they come together and how they work through those hard times because what doesn't kill you makes you stronger," Ortiz adds. 

"But I still want some rainbows and butterflies too," Kodjoe chimes in. 

"You get a combination platter of both," Ortiz says. "It would suck if it was nothing but problem after problem. but yeah, it's a roller coaster of a relationship which makes it much more appealing."

Station 19 returns Thursday Nov. 12 at 8 p.m. ET/PT on ABC, followed by a two-hour premiere of Grey's AnatomyFor more on the three-hour crossover premiere event, watch the video below.

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