Stella Kidd (Miranda Rae Mayo) has a lot of explaining to do when Chicago Fire returns from its holiday hiatus on Jan. 5. The lieutenant has been M.I.A. from Firehouse 51 for several episodes, ostensibly helping set up her "Girls on Fire" youth program at fire stations across the country. In addition to straight-up ghosting her fiancé, Kelly Severide (Taylor Kinney), Kidd also missed a major development at 51: the station had a vacant lieutenant post after the exit of Matthew Casey (Jesse Spencer), but Kidd was gone so Chief Boden (Eamonn Walker) appointed newcomer Jason Pelham (Brett Dalton) instead.
"I'm so happy to be back. Honestly, that is like my second home," Mayo told TV Guide ahead of the show's winter return. "It just feels so good to be back and in the swing of things. I'm so happy with what they're doing with Stella's storyline. When she comes back, she definitely has a lot of explaining to do because like me, Stella also took a huge hiatus and so that leaves Kelly feeling insecure."
The ramifications of Kidd's "hiatus" will reverberate both personally and professionally throughout the rest of the season. Below, Mayo discusses the future of "Stellaride," whether there's still hope for the lieutenant job, and what it was like to return to set without Jesse Spencer. Chicago Fire airs Wednesdays at 9 p.m. on NBC.
Real talk: Where the heck has Stella been?
Miranda Rae Mayo: Basically, you'll see in Episode 10 that essentially it's easy, I think, for [Severide] and for viewers to think that she's nervous about getting married. But I honestly think that Stella loves that man so much. There's no one that she would rather be with. It's just a lot of pressure, getting married. Stepping into a leadership position, especially after Casey. I think the pressure got to her. She just kind of leaned into what felt like home, doing Girls on Fire and being surrounded by women and really excelling with that project that she started that was like her baby.
To me, it felt like when you get an email and you're like "Oh, I'll respond to that later" and then you never do and it crosses the line of being rude.
Mayo: And then you get all this extra anxiety because you're like shit, I didn't have the answers and I was waiting. And now I still don't have the answers, but now I'm rude, what do I do? She just kind of got paralyzed.
While Stella was off doing this one project she really cares about, this other thing she really cares about - getting a lieutenant position - came up. But she didn't come back, and Boden filled it. How is she going to react to Pelham?
Mayo: I think a big part of her going after the lieutenant role was stepping into this vision that her mentor had for her, and it was something that she put off into the future. But the fact that a mentor and her now-fiance were so adamant, like, you've got this, gave her the actual evidence that that was possible. But I think in her heart what she really cares about is family and having a positive impact on her community, especially the young girls in her community. I think what she hasn't realized yet is that her stepping into the lieutenant's position is her being able to have a positive impact and even more access to helping out the community. But I think there's just a part of her that is scared about going into the unknown, and that's happening in a couple of ways. That's happening in her agreeing to get married again, which is I think very scary for her. I mean, she doesn't care as long as she is with Kelly. And then also stepping into this position.
If, for example, you were Severide and your fiance went away for a couple of months and just decided to stop calling you back. I'd be pissed. How is he going to react? What does she possibly have to say for herself?
Mayo: I know, I think she's just honest. She's just honest and authentic about what happened for her. If I were Kelly I would be terrified. I think Severide has done similar things when he needs to get away or when life is too much for him he shuts down. And that might make it even more triggering. Like, you know how hard it is for me to open up and what a journey we've had in opening the lines of communication, and then you turn around and don't communicate? That would be really scary. It just would feel so, so challenging if I were him.
He is definitely the stews-in-silence type, brooding handsomely in the corner instead of talking about his problems.
Mayo: And America swoons!
We really do.
Mayo: It is interesting, though, I'm super curious because I even notice within myself this judgment of Stella, like, damn. Because that's also what I do to myself when taking too long to answer an email. It was difficult for me to have grace and so I'm curious if the audience's grace factor extending to Stella, what that is going to look like for her versus for Kelly.
What's it going to be like as Stella settles back into the house and tries to get back to her old life? Obviously, she has these really big reckonings she has to face with Kelly and about the lieutenant job but what else can you say?
Mayo: I mean, that's a big chunk of it - her coming back in, meeting Pelham, I think she definitely feels very protective over 51. And even though we have seen in the episodes that Pelham's solid, Pelham's a good dude, Stella hasn't seen that. Her being kind of leery, she's just waiting to see for herself. Everybody else has had their own experience and that's great, but she's like hm, I'll wait and see if you really deserve this position. Even though I froze. She still feels protective over the family.
Chicago Fire airs Wednesdays at 9/8c on NBC.