Let’s establish two facts: Jesse Spencer chose to leave Chicago Fire. And Chicago Fire is not going to end because he left.
One Chicago fans have been in an uproar since it was confirmed that Spencer had exited the series in last week’s 200th episode, with his character Captain Matthew Casey moving to Oregon. Many have been criticizing the show, saying it “got rid” of an original character and/or that they’ll never watch again. But after nine-plus seasons of the hit NBC franchise, and almost a decade of House before that, Spencer was ready to move on to other things.
“It was a difficult decision because I’ve loved the show from the start, but there are other things I’d like to do in the future,” the actor told members of the media last week. “There’s family I need to take care of, and 18 years is a long time.”
So like his TV spouse Monica Raymund a few seasons ago, Spencer informed Chicago Fire co-creator and showrunner Derek Haas that he wanted to leave the show. And like many long-running series, this venerable procedural is having to adapt to the loss of one of its biggest stars. Possibly the biggest, because Spencer was the most well-known when Chicago Fire debuted in 2012.
With the show on the air through at least 2022—it was renewed for season 11 last spring—it’s now Haas and company’s challenge to move on after him. And while it certainly won’t be easy, it can be done.
The obvious question is who fills Casey’s spot on Truck 81. Does the show introduce a new recurring officer who then becomes next season’s series regular, like we’ve seen numerous times before in the One Chicago world? It would have to be a pretty sizeable casting to live up to fans’ high expectations. Not necessarily a known name but someone who has great presence and plenty of experience, because they’ll be in a leadership role and have to have a lot of screen time.
Or here’s another, more convenient option: keep the cast the same size and make Stella Kidd (Miranda Rae Mayo) or Christopher Herrmann (David Eigenberg) the new commander on Truck 81. Stella is already assigned to 81, and the whole dilemma last season was that she didn’t have a position; well, there’s an open spot now. The only pitfall there is it would tilt an ensemble show pretty heavily in one direction. Stella’s relationship with Kelly Severide (Taylor Kinney) is already Fire‘s primary couple and then they’d be paired together professionally in a way as well.
That lends itself to the argument of not adding anyone new. Chicago Fire has a large ensemble so rather than introduce another newcomer, why not focus in on someone who’s already here? While there’s nothing wrong with Stella taking over 81, it would be more interesting to give that job to Herrmann, because Eigenberg has traditionally been used as a supporting actor. He would benefit from additional screen time and the writers could no doubt have a field day with the guy who didn’t expect to be promoted in the first place suddenly thrust into filling Casey’s seat.
The bigger issue, realistically, is what happens to the Brettsy ship. Chicago Fire spent perhaps longer than it should have—literal years—putting Casey together with Sylvie Brett (Kara Killmer) and Spencer’s departure comes just a handful of episodes after the two became a couple. That’s something Spencer acknowledged in his remarks, too. “It was difficult because I really like Kara and we’ve established a really nice relationship,” he said. “I really liked working with her.”
Casey and Brett will be involved in a long-distance pairing for the time being—but how long is it logistically feasible? There’s a reason that the One Chicago shows have their series regulars often hook up with each other; it’s easier to write a long-term ship when both characters are seen every week. While Spencer is open to making guest appearances, and should be allowed to do so as much or as little as he wants until Chicago Fire ends, it’ll be a dawdle to write Brett in a healthy relationship when she doesn’t often see her boyfriend, and the audience doesn’t see him at all.
But the alternative is Sylvie Brett having yet another failed relationship. With two broken engagements in her past, ending the Brettsey relationship would just be a disaster for her character; this is one of those cases where what’s on-screen is directly in conflict with what’s happening off-screen. So Chicago Fire, at least for the season, needs to commit to keeping that pairing alive—and moreso than they were able to with Dawsey once Raymund bowed out. Brett has to be given the time to get to a space where she can move on.
Maybe as she moves forward, Chicago Fire fans will be able to do so, too. Her adjustment process can mirror the feelings that the audience is going through. Of course the show won’t be exactly the same without Jesse Spencer; every series changes when a star leaves. There are absolutely going to be viewers that say they liked it more when he was part of it. But the series is here for at least one more season and so we have to see where it goes. Casey wouldn’t want Firehouse 51 to close just because he moved, after all.
Chicago Fire airs Wednesdays at 9:00 p.m. ET/PT on NBC.
Article content is (c)2020-2021 Brittany Frederick and may not be excerpted or reproduced without express written permission by the author. Follow me on Twitter at @BFTVTwtr, on Instagram at @BFTVGram.