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9-1-1: Lone Star Finale: Rafael Silva and Ronen Rubinstein Break Down the Historic Tarlos Wedding

And also the tragedy that preceded it

Max Gao
Rafael Silva, Brian Michael Smith and Ronen Rubinstein, 9-1-1: Lone Star

Rafael Silva, Brian Michael Smith and Ronen Rubinstein, 9-1-1: Lone Star

Kevin Estrada/Fox

[Warning: This story contains spoilers for the 9-1-1: Lone Star Season 4 two-episode finale, Episode 17, "Best of Men," and Season 4, Episode 18, "In Sickness and in Health." Read at your own risk!]

After four seasons of ups and downs, including numerous near-death experiences, multiple comas, and a short-lived breakup, Carlos Reyes (Rafael L. Silva) and T.K. Strand (Ronen Rubinstein) tied the knot in the final minutes of the Season 4 finale of 9-1-1: Lone Star. But on their way to the wedding altar, the happy couple was dealt one last blow that could have further delayed the nuptials: the tragic death of Carlos' Texas Ranger father, Gabriel (Benito Martinez), who was shot and killed on his own doorstep by an unknown assailant.

Tuesday's two-hour finale of the Fox procedural drama began with Gabriel paying Carlos a surprise visit to extend an invitation to join the Rangers after he helped bust a black-market organ trafficking ring in Austin. The offer was met with resistance, with Carlos voicing his reluctance to join an agency that has a painful history of targeting Tejano and Indigenous communities in the state. With tension building between Carlos and Gabriel, T.K. staged a one-on-one meeting between Carlos and his mother, Andrea (Roxana Brusso), who revealed that Gabriel helped spearhead an initiative to diversify the Rangers. That revelation led Carlos to not only reconsider Gabriel's perspective but also to ask him to be his best man, an honor that his old man gratefully accepted.

But after Gabriel was murdered, Carlos, having asked T.K. to postpone their wedding indefinitely, discovered a secret drawer in his home office containing evidence of corruption across Texas law enforcement, leading him to believe that his father was the target of a powerful criminal organization. Carlos' personal investigation led him to a man named Pablo Martinez, but before he could make a potentially career-ending decision, Carlos learned that Gabriel weeded out corrupt officers over 15 years ago, and the man he tracked down is actually a D.A. who called to warn Gabriel that his life would be in danger if he testified in a cartel case. (He didn't testify, so Carlos doesn't have a lead to follow anymore.)

After Owen told him that he needed to make peace with the reality that he may never find Gabriel's killer or he'll never be able to live his own life, Carlos returned home and asked T.K. to marry him, because "it's the only thing [he's] sure of right now."

On a recent video call from Los Angeles, Silva and Rubinstein — who said they had yet to watch the final cut of the finale — reflected on the dramatic journey to the long-awaited "Tarlos" wedding, the emotional experience of shooting the nuptials and reception, and the controversial decision to kill off Gabriel, whose shocking murder will certainly lead his son on a quest for vengeance in subsequent seasons. (Lone Star was renewed for a fifth season at Fox earlier this month.)

Rafa, when we spoke a couple of weeks ago, you told me that showrunner Tim Minear pitched you and Ronen a few ideas about what the Tarlos wedding could look like, but you didn't get a chance to read the script all at once since you were given different "packets" of scenes to read and memorize during production. How did you all arrive at the conclusion that the tragic loss of Gabriel was going to be the last roadblock that T.K. and Carlos would face this season?

Rafael Silva: So here's the thing: The finale became the tragic passing of Gabriel, because certain storylines were passed on, so we [originally] had a different storyline with a different situation. Because of our schedule, we were going back and forth, and unfortunately, we did not get to do those scenes, but knock on wood, [we'll see them in] Season 5. But the way that we shot the Gabriel scenes was very much intentional to focus on the relationship between Carlos and Gabriel, and going back through their history.

The entire occasion is so bittersweet, and I think it just adds a different layer to the wedding. I think it allows the audience to be closer to these characters and not so far away; it's almost like we want to hold them tight. [With] T.K. having lost Gwyn [Lisa Edelstein], and now Carlos having lost Gabriel, they're now connected in a way that is extremely specific to them, and I think that makes their bond even tighter. I think that's just a brilliant way to interlock these two characters, not only with the wedding, but with one of life's biggest losses.

Were you guys warned about Gabriel's death ahead of time, or did it feel like the rug had been pulled out from under you like in the show? How did Tim justify the decision to kill him off?

Silva: There was this one night when I was just sitting at home, maybe in March or February, where I turned off the TV and I thought about Carlos. There was a genuine voice that came out: The only way that Carlos' storyline will go forward is if it can only top being held as a hostage, and what tops being held as a hostage is losing someone really close to him, and I immediately thought of Gabriel. The next day, I was in the gym, and Tim started texting me, "Hey, when are you free to talk?" I was like, "What's going on?" He said, "I have something to pitch for you." So I said, "Is something happening to Carlos?" And he said yes. And I said, "Is Gabriel going to get hurt?" And he immediately replied, "Who told you?" And I said, "Nobody. I thought of this last night."

Ronen Rubinstein: It sounds like you felt it.

Silva: I did, yeah. But genuinely, Benito is a fantastic actor. He is an example of true professionalism, talent, and consistency. It has been my absolute honor to share a screen with him, and this is not gonna be the last time. I have faith that it's not gonna be the last time we're gonna see Gabriel. But naturally, I was sad.

Ronen, how did you want to play out your half of these last two episodes, where T.K. is trying to figure out how to be there for Carlos while giving him the space he needs to process the loss on his own?

Rubinstein: I think that's been a recurring theme for T.K. this season. I think being Carlos' rock, being Carlos' shoulder to lean on, being whatever he needs in that moment, T.K. has shown a different side of his progression as a character this season. He will do anything and everything in order to make sure that Carlos is okay. Whether it's giving space, being overbearing, being a neurotic fiancé, we've seen a lot of different sides to that this season, and the thing that I was thinking about most of the time [while shooting this arc] was, "How do I sort of support Carlos in this time?"

Carlos was there for T.K. when T.K. lost his mom, but that was a tragic accident. Somebody murdered Gabriel. It's a big difference. [T.K. was] seeing his fiancé in the middle of the night rummaging through evidence, trying to figure it out, seeing his head spin, and seeing himself start to lose himself and not get sleep. He's just laser focused on finding his father's killer. It's sort of like, "What's T.K.'s role in this?"

It's, for example, being okay with not going through with the wedding. I think there was a very true moment there. That scene where he says, "We're not gonna use the word 'canceled,' we're gonna use the word 'postponed,'" was so brutal and beautiful at the same time, and it's sort of like, "I will do whatever you need." He can't really relate to what Carlos is going through — I don't think anybody can — and it's such an elevated way to put one more speed bump into this relationship, and [the writers] really didn't hold back. [Laughs.]

Ronen Rubinstein and Rafael Silva, 9-1-1: Lone Star

Ronen Rubinstein and Rafael Silva, 9-1-1: Lone Star

Kevin Estrada/Fox

Rafa, how did you want to show the early stages of Carlos' grief over losing his father? Do you think he buried himself in this investigation, which kind of became a dead end, as a way to delay the grief he felt?

Silva: Well, it wasn't a dead end for Carlos, right? It was a solution. He's not delaying anything. He wasn't delaying grief. He was trying to find answers. His father was murdered — it's something you can explain, but you have to go after it. … And there is not a doubt in Carlos' mind that he's going to find that person. The thing is that it's not gonna happen in two or three days, and I think Carlos' response to pain is action.

I think Carlos was just staying true to himself, and the writers know that. And when they write all these actions, you also have to dissect, "Why am I here? Why am I doing these things? Sure, I need to find the murderer, but it's also in the how. How do I do that?" And then that's when the character comes out. It's not just about connecting point A to B to C; it's about [what's] in between these dots. Carlos has a heart that's unmatched, as much as he tries to cover and shield it. This [puts his hand over his own heart] will always speak louder forever, and I think that's what makes him special.

What do you think Carlos sees when he sees his younger self pop up on that old home video with Gabriel, considering that he doesn't have much of a recollection of his oldest memories with his father?

Silva: I think there was a moment in time when they didn't spend much time talking [or] interacting. … Carlos is the youngest of three; he was the miracle baby boy of the family. And even when Carlos was five or six, I think he and Gabriel were best friends. Carlos becoming his full self and not really receiving the reaction that he wished he received from his parents drove him away, and honestly, it was more like, "Screw you. I'm gonna find myself and be myself."

That was an act of rebellion [and] courage, but that also left an empty spot. In a way, I think he distanced himself from his father in order to not live so much of that pain of not having his father there. So when he goes back to his mother [in this episode], she tells him how much he's done for his own community. And his sisters are talking about dad as like this guy who was so loving, and [Carlos is] like, "Are they talking about our father?"

And then going back to the video, I think it's Carlos' moment of killing the image of the father he had in his mind and facing the truth of his father. This is a hardworking, loving man who's always loved him no matter what, and whatever was in between might have been Carlos's [own] creation. So there is not only the search for this guy who murdered the image of a father that I had, but also it's seeking vengeance for who my father truly was. So there could be guilt, and there's so much pain, but there's also so much hope and happiness and genuine satisfaction in: "I'm still getting to know my father, even after he's passed in this moment."

When you signed on to this show, you probably knew that T.K. and Carlos getting married was a matter of when, not if, but it's not lost on any of us that this is the wedding of a gay, interracial, interfaith couple that is being officiated by a Black trans man. What does this depiction of a beautiful same-sex wedding mean to you?

Rubinstein: I look at it as tremendous progress. I don't think we would've seen this even a few years ago, and to be able to represent that and embody that image, it's an honor of a lifetime, it's deeply humbling. Yeah, it was a matter of when, not if, but man, it's been a long time coming. I think a recurring theme is that we've earned this wedding, we've earned these storylines, we've earned this relationship. And trust me: The writers have put us through every single hoop imaginable.

And the sweetest cherry on top is to have Brian Michael Smith officiate the wedding. I was calling him Rabbi Brian. I think that image of the three of us up there is just so powerful, so beautiful and so needed right now. I think a lot of people could use an image like that, can use that sort of symbolism right now — to keep people hopeful, keep them motivated to keep fighting, and know that there are people out there that are pushing the boundaries and sticking up for the voiceless, let's say. A show like 9-1-1: Lone Star is really unique and really special because we're doing this on primetime network, on Fox. It's something I'm gonna look back on and be like, "Wow, we were part of history."

What specific memory sticks out — and that will probably always stick out to you — from shooting that ceremony?

Rubinstein: One of my favorite keepsakes is the morning of the wedding, which was April 19th, I was in my hotel room, and I wrote out the vows on a little piece of paper on a little notepad that came in the room, and that was my way to personalize it. And luckily, Tim had it that T.K. was reading from a page, so I didn't have to be off-book like poor Rafa and Brian were [laughs], because we got those scenes a day before or something. So I had the excuse of actually reading.

But in all seriousness, I wrote it on a little piece of notepad and kept that for myself, and that's what I use in the actual show. Even the prop department came up to me and was like, "Hey, we have your written vows." And I was like, "That's really sweet of you, but this has to be personalized. This is my way of making it real." And that's something that I've kept and I'll keep forever. The vows were so beautiful from both parties.

We shot the wedding the last two days of shooting, so it was very much a celebration of us wrapping a really long, tough season, and also in the show, everyone coming together and celebrating the unity of these two men. So it was really cool to have everyone there. ... We shot up in Calamigos, in Malibu, and it was a true celebration, and I think it was the perfect way to go out like that. It was a magical way to just wrap up the whole season.

I'm guessing Tim was the one who wrote the vows, which both end with T.K. and Carlos vowing to care for each other's heart.

Silva and Rubinstein: [Smile and nod.] Yeah.

9-1-1: Lone Star

9-1-1: Lone Star

Kevin Estrada/Fox

How much input did you guys have in the wedding, if any at all? Were there any things that you fought to include in that ceremony?

Silva: In terms of wardrobe, we had fittings, and we had a say in how we wanted to feel beautiful, because essentially that's what the characters would also do. But Max, this is also network TV, and it moves very fast. Even though we may not receive a full script [and] we may not necessarily know what's going on, this is a Tim Minear/Ryan Murphy world. It's well thought out, extremely competent people that arrange this and execute this, so what we have to do is just trust that whatever they give us is, first of all, what will be the best.

And also personally, I didn't want to have a f--king say in it. [Laughs.] The life of my character right now is to retract, and that's also what Rafael had to do in order to get that storyline accomplished. In a way, it's like life imitates art, art imitates life, but I think what we saw was truly like a genuine wedding between these two guys. It wasn't an over-the-top extravagant wedding — that would be so distracting. I think it was simple, it was detailed, it was so "Tarlos."

Rubinstein: And everyone was there!

Silva: Yeah.

Rubinstein: Even [T.K.'s] mom made a guest appearance as a ghost. [Laughs.]

Speaking of Gwyn, there's a very touching tribute to her after the nuptials. By the end of their wedding day, T.K. and Carlos are both in tears while watching Tommy sing "Being Alive," Gwyn's favorite song, at the reception. Was that the moment when everyone on set was struggling to keep it together?

Rubinstein: [Silva nods.] Yeah, that scene really f----d me up, man. I remember Tim was like, "Hey, I have an idea, and it's gonna be connected to your mom. I'm not quite sure how I want to incorporate Gwen in all of this, but what if your work mom dedicates your real mom's song to the grooms?" And I was like, "Oh God, this is gonna be brutal," because I have a very special connection with T.K. and Gwyn. That's always my most sensitive trigger. You bring up Gwyn on set, and I am a mess.

So I knew that was gonna be really, really hard to shoot, and that first take, man, [my crying was] just uncontrollable. I had to step away a couple times. Sometimes, when you're on set, it's kind of like Rafa says: If that faucet is turned on, sometimes it can be turned on a little too much, and you have to step away so [that] you don't have a breakdown on set. And that really pulled all the heart strings for me.

And man, Gina's voice is insane. Holy s--t. That moment was so beautiful, and with the lights around her, she looked like a goddess up there. There wasn't a dry eye in the cast and crew. I saw crew members crying too! And for that to be the last moment of Gwyn being like, "This is for you. I love you guys"... [Sighs.] I can't believe she couldn't be there, but that was a hard one to shoot.

At the end of last season, you both joked to me that T.K. and Carlos could go to Hawaii for their honeymoon. The last time we see T.K. and Carlos in the finale, they're getting out of a pool together and holding hands over lounging chairs. Did Tim ever tell you where they're supposed to be? Was there a specific location written in the script?

Silva: [They both laugh.] Oh, we're more interested in hearing the fans' theories of where we are. I don't know. We could be anywhere!

How would you say Carlos and T.K. have evolved in the time they've been fiancés? What have they learned about themselves and each other during this season-long engagement that may carry over into this next stage of their lives together?

Silva: For Carlos, it's [about] being honest with himself, following his heart. The essence for Carlos is like, "You cannot, no matter how hard you try, deny who you are, and you're stronger, but life will start to make sense once you stop hiding yourself." And I'm not just talking about being queer; I'm talking about the essence of just simply being a human being — who you are, how you live your life, how you experience your life. The more you invest in trusting that, the more present you're going to be, and I think for Carlos, every day is a step towards that truth.

Rubinstein: Being officially engaged and knowing that he very much has another person to look out for, [T.K.] is very much now one half of a unit. The big thing that we can't overlook is that they're still both first responders, and at any moment, their life could end. We touched on that in the finale and even [in] episode 16, when Owen [Rob Lowe] tells T.K., "Son, we all have a death sentence hanging over our head."

More than anyone, I think T.K. and Carlos are very aware of that, of how quickly things could change. Knowing he could at any moment lose the love of his life, his soulmate, and also his own life, makes him appreciate life so much more, makes him appreciate this [gestures between him and Silva] so much more, makes him appreciate all of his relationships. I'm very proud of the man that T.K. has become, and I think now he's truly ready to share it with someone else, because I don't think he was before. [There's] a tremendous level of appreciation, and I'm sure we'll see that carry over into the next season as an official married couple.

Where do you think we will find your characters next season?

Silva: Clearly, Carlos's life has changed, and what I'm really excited about is to see how that's changed on the page. Okay, what are we gonna do next? What does it look like? How does that sound? What are the words coming out of his mouth? Right now, there is an anger there, and I think it reached parts of Carlos that I didn't even know he realized existed. I want to see what that looks like ... and where does that take him in his professional life? How does it affect his relationship with all of the other characters? In what world does he live in right now? [T.K.] is also in Austin, Texas, but [Carlos is] living in Austin, Texas, in a world where [his] father was murdered. That's a different f--king world. We can share a space and not be living in the same world. So I'm excited for that.

9-1-1: Lone Star airs Tuesdays at 8/7c on Fox. Episodes are available to stream the next day on Fox Now or Hulu.