[WARNING: This story contains major spoilers from Tuesday's Chicago Fire. Read at your own risk!]
The pressure got to be too much for one of Firehouse 51's own on Chicago Fire. After struggling to become a firefighter candidate, struggling to find her place within the firehouse, and struggling to break free from her father's control, Rebecca Jones (Daisy Betts) gave up the fight and took her own life on Tuesday's episode.
The death of a major character is the series' second following the death of Casey's love Hallie (Teri Reeves) at the end of Season 1. "You have to keep the audience honest," executive producer Matt Olmstead tells TVGuide.com. "They can't be conditioned to think no one's ever getting killed on this show. ... You have to take the opportunity to show that there are risks on this job, there are risks in Chicago, there are risks on this show."
Olmstead spoke with TVGuide.com exclusively about the decision behind Jones' death, what almost happened to her character and how the loss will impact Firehouse 51:
How did the writers decide to take this direction with the character?
Matt Olmstead: We wanted to do an arc with this female firefighter, the Jones character, and we knew going in that she was going to be a bit of an antagonist for the Dawson character. She was going to have a little romantic connection with the Clarke character and then perhaps he was going t get injured in a fire and she, realizing that she wasn't cut out for it, would leave. But then Jeff Hephner, who plays Clarke, got a pilot so he peeled off, so then we looked at the Jones character fresh and that's when we were like — as we often times do — how can we get the maximum impact of this character leaving the show? As opposed to just, "I'm not cut out for it," hand in a resignation and leave, we started exploring options, and one of them was: What would it be like? What would the emotional ramification be for our main characters if her character was to die? That's what we started digging in on.
What was it in her life that pushed her to this?
Olmstead: There are a couple things that we dug in on, which was this complicated relationship that she has with her dad as the chief in the fire department, never getting his approval. We kind of turned one card over in tonight's episode where she talks to Herrmann about, and sort of casually relays this event where when she was a kid, there was a car accident where her mother died and she survived. In her mind, her dad is only reminded of that whenever he sees her. So this weird sense of disapproval and disconnect with her dad trying to perhaps overcompensate, get his affections or to rebel against what he wants for her to do. Then the following episode, it comes out that that character had actually attempted it was when she was younger, which our characters didn't know about. What was interesting was, as oftentimes happens with this, when we were doing this story line, it happened in the news. Tragically, it was a designer who was Mick Jagger's girlfriend [L'Wren Scott] who took her own life. Apparently, from what I read, it came out of the blue to people, so a lot of times, you don't see it coming. A lot of times, there is no logic to why this tragedy happened, and people struggle to find the logic to make themselves feel better to get some kind of order to what happened. Sometimes it's not forthcoming, so there's bread crumbs we put down there, but also we were willing to embrace the fact that sometimes it's just a tragic event that you may never wrap your head around.
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Female firefighters aren't represented a lot on TV and that's something you've really dug into in the second season of the show. Was there any hesitation about going in this direction and losing this character?
Olmstead: We certainly talked about it. We didn't want to wag the dog in terms of wanting, or not wanting, to go towards a story line because we wanted to turn it into a PSA. If we didn't have Dawson on the show, who has aspirations to become a firefighter, we may have been a little bit more reluctant to have Jones, the first female firefighter we've seen on the show, meet this end. ... Even though they were adversaries, Jones leaves Dawson a note which is played out in the following episode in terms of what's in that note. Is it encouragement? Is it advice? What is it? It's the big mystery playing the episode, which we reveal. In death, tragically, the character makes that last connection to Dawson as two female firefighters.
How will the firehouse be impacted by her death?
Olmstead: Instead of the character going off to be a pastry chef in Charleston, and then what do you really get? Her taking her life not only gave us the impact of an episode out and this next episode which is very emotional. ... It's Boden's first speech to the troops, which is, in that line of work ... you have to deal with loss a lot more than other lines of work and you prepare yourself or you toughen up your skin towards it. But when it comes to a fellow firefighter taking their own life, you're never really prepared for that. So, here they are having to deal with the loss of someone they didn't know that well, but still they knew well enough. Not only are you dealing with the grief but you're grappling with, "Could I have done something to prevent them from going down this road?" Which they're all separately trying to figure out and they're looking at [each other]: "Was that person too tough on them? Was that person too aloof with them?" So they're somewhat fractured in this event. The next episode, ultimately the house is galvanized and brought back together but not without fissures showing within the group for sure.
How will it specifically impact Dawson and her desire to become a firefighter?
Olmstead: It impacts her because she's, at first, knocked sideways as everyone else is and then looking to blame someone and in this case, it's Jones' dad. Then, she realizes that's not going to solve anything. So, for her going forward, she's recommitted to being a firefighter to, not only the memory of Jones but to prove to other people that a woman can do that job.
Will that bring new tension to her relationship with Casey? How does he feel about it?
Olmstead: It's interesting because we're embracing the idea that people react differently to those events and she will be more committed to being a firefighter whereas Casey sees it as another dangerous ramification of the job that they do. Keep in mind that his character's first relationship died in Season 1, so he's even more careful in wanting Dawson to be careful and perhaps overreaching a little bit when it comes to that. ... Can he let it go and let her be her own person and take her own risks and fulfill her own destiny without him hovering, which his initial instincts tell him to do for sure.
Mills also had a close relationship with Jones, so how will he react to the news?
Olmstead: It's interesting for Mills in particularly because he was the one who reached out to her the most because he was most recently a candidate. He dealt with the hazing. He dealt with becoming excluded a little bit so he was advising her along the way. It was never romantic because he learned his lesson that in-house romances can backfire so he had really pure intentions with Jones. So he in particular takes it very hard and in that initial impact that everybody's feeling when Jones dies, he's sort of looking to was it someone else's fault? In his mind, having gone through it, if they would have embraced her earlier, would this have been prevented? Which is faulty logic, but certainly understandable because of the grief he's going through. Even Severide, it's a case of the opposite. As a teacher of hers in the Academy, he wanted to kick her out. As he expresses to Shay, he thought she needed some tough love so he pushed her away so everybody's taking inventory.
Her father is obviously very high up in the Chicago Fire Department so should the firehouse be worried about maybe him placing the blame on them or taking her death out on them?
Olmstead: They're not worried about him being vindictive towards the firehouse. They're worried about Dawson going off on this guy. As she expresses in this next episode, she lays the blame at his feet because he was trying to take away her dream of being a firefighter and have her go work in PR. She's getting worked up and people are wondering if she's going to jeopardize her own career and certainly the prospects of being a firefighter going after Jones' dad. There's a nice scene in the next episode where she interacts with him and she just realizes it's a grieving father who had his own approach to it. As is oftentimes the case, you get worked up and you make yourself feel better by blaming someone else and then you realize that they're probably in the same boat as you are.
What did you think of Jones' tragic death?