On Thursday’s winter premiere of Station 19, titled “Crash and Burn,” both firefighters survived the traumatic accident that left them stranded with a critical patient over a cliff, but came out of it a little worse for wear. While Andy was awarded with the medal of valor four months later for her heroic actions that saved Sullivan’s life, the death of their patient, Shannon, as a partial result of the violent Seattle windstorm, weighed heavily. And for a good period of time, it appeared Sullivan may have been significantly hampered due to the spinal injury suffered during the ambulance accident. But the harrowing experience they went through together brought Andy and Sullivan, who is in the middle of aggressive physical therapy, unexpectedly closer. Could this shift the dynamic within Station 19?
Following Thursday’s winter premiere, ET spoke with creator and showrunner Stacy McKee about the biggest moments, from Andy and Sullivan’s new bond and Ben’s shocking declaration that he’s intending on quitting firefighting to Jack’s ongoing PTSD struggles and if Dermot Mulroney will return as Ryan’s father.
ET: I’ll start with the Andy and Sullivan of it all. Obviously, they survive. The big thread for me was not knowing if Sullivan was going to suffer paralysis or be impacted in a significant way from a serious spinal injury. We see him walking with a cane in the end of the episode, four months after the accident. Why did you decide not to kind of go that route, and having him kind of explore that?
Stacy McKee: There’s something kind of fantastic about having that looming cloud of a spinal or a nerve injury because a lot of times you can recover. We wanted to see him come out the other end. Plus, we knew we had to organically work in the time jump, just based on when we were gonna air. But I was like, “Great, we get to skip over the stuff that he would have gone through and get him back up on his feet.” Once you have a vulnerable spot, you can always re-injure it and you never know when it’s gonna suddenly rear its ugly head, and when it might come into play. That’s the kind of thing that I think is always a helpful thing as a writer to have in your arsenal. Because you can then lull everyone into a false sense of security, and then you just never know when little twinge of something might come into play. It was very helpful to have the potential for this guy, who seems like this pillar of strength and infallible in all ways, to know that he has an Achilles’ heel.
Now that Sullivan is no longer that “pillar of strength,” what kind of struggles will he be facing moving forward?
The Captain Sullivan we’ve gotten to know is a very closed off kind of guy. Now that’s he been through this experience and he’s shared it with Andy, it was a really important step toward the two of them becoming a little bit closer and a step toward him opening up to the other people in the station. It felt like he was this person who was really, really careful, and not necessarily willing to let the other people at the station in. I wanted to peck away at that just a little bit and show vulnerability. If you watched the flashback [earlier this season] and he was just lying there laughing, gregarious and this totally different guy tonally. I really worked with Boris about how we want to show how he was once upon a time, so that we can slowly work our way back to that person. This is a really strong piece in the puzzle of working our way back to this guy who loved life and lived it fully and be willing to let his guard down.
You mentioned Andy and Sullivan. They toasted to new beginnings. What are you looking to explore with them together now? Are there sparks forming romantically?
There’s history there. I was mostly looking for a journey, given where they started, that could become something genuine and real. Like, a real friendship between these two people who have every reason to not like each other. As far as will it become romantic, this is Shondaland. You never know. We’ll always play with those kinds of things. But even more important to that, I really wanted these two characters to grow because of each other. That felt like a really important piece of their arc for the season.
Andy has a hard time embracing the medal of valor she was awarded for being her heroic actions during the windstorm. What can you say about kind of where her mental state is?
It’s still raw for her. At her core, she’s a perfectionist and she’s also a person who — I mean, nobody wants to lose a person, but I think she especially — because she lost her mom in the past. It hits her that much harder on the occasion when she’s faced with a patient or a victim that’s she’s unable to ultimately save. This is a situation where, even though the world thinks of her as a hero, she feels like she failed. That’s really hitting her in her core emotional place. It’s a thing she’ll struggle with and it’s a thing she’ll need to figure out how to grapple with because it’s not going to be the last time she loses somebody.
Ryan’s dad peaces out in the middle of their conversation, after Ryan tells him he has to turn him or he’ll look the other way. Ryan chooses to look the other way. Will Dermot Mulroney still be around? Where does that storyline stand?
Ryan was being pretty leading in the stuff he was saying to his dad, essentially saying, “My back is turned. I’m not paying attention right now. I’m letting you know the buses could be running. You could go now.” And his dad takes the opportunity, which is both very bittersweet for Ryan and also par for the course. He isn’t completely surprised by it, and in this case, maybe he feels a little good about. But we also know that his dad always shows up at the most inopportune times. A really strong piece of that is the fact that Ryan was willing to look the other way — this straight-laced cop, who has always been by the books. It really informs Ryan and his story moving forward; maybe he’s willing to occasionally bend a rule here or there. And it shows the crack in his armor, and how the world isn’t black and white for him anymore.
It sounds like the story isn’t over and Dermot will be coming back?
Yes, I would say that story isn’t over.
Jack has been in therapy these past four months for his PTSD, and he hasn’t spoken to or seen anyone outside of Maya. What do you want to say about where he’s headed?
More than anyone else, Jack feels betrayed by Dean, who as we know, they’re such good friends. And to feel that betrayal from someone that you feel so close to, especially someone like Jack who doesn’t have a whole lot of extra family floating around out there, [it hurts]. We definitely looked at this an opportunity, not just to explore some of Jack’s struggles, but also his struggles with some of his friends and how they come around or don’t. And how they reconcile or don’t. We really were interested in looking at people’s support systems because it’s so important in the world of first responders that you have a strong support system, and really looking at how you nurture those relationships and how those relationships can sometimes surprise you.
Is that something that he’s going to strive to be better at? How does he navigate these rocky waters?
it’s a real journey for Jack, there’s no question. And we definitely wanted to test his limits. We even have an episode coming up pretty early in the back half of this season, where we watch his limits really be tested in a way that we’re going to worry about. The great thing is seeing what he does with that and how he reacts and if he reacts badly, then we know that he has a station full of people who are going to be there for him no matter what. If they’re willing to have an intervention, then they’re willing to try and do other things too. If he’s able to weather that, then that’s a testament to his strength and all the work he’s done, which is really commendable.
Is there a timeline for him to kind of get back into the firefighter suit again?
We’ll see him back at the station pretty soon.
Travis is now single. What are you looking to tell with his story?
We needed to take a minute because he had this relationship, and it was clear from the start that there were certain pieces that weren’t quite completely falling into place. Part of it was because he has some unresolved things in his past he’s still holding onto. He still wears his wedding ring. To honor that, we wanted to give him a minute to think about what that means. And he’ll — through some of the other stories that we’re gonna tell this season — come to a really emotional and satisfying conclusion to that piece of the story, which I think will be really, really beautiful.
Vic and Ripley’s secret relationship seems to be heading to that next level. Are they going to go public at some point within the department?
Eventually. It’s sort of inevitable. These things rarely can stay under wraps for that long, but we also really love the twisty awesomeness of the secret romance. There’s a lot to explore there — not just on whether or not they go public, but also what they could potentially wind up meaning to one another and what does that mean for their different jobs. Sullivan has this friendship with Ripley that’s just starting to mend and if he finds out, [will this affect that]? We’ll definitely be leaning into all the different ways in which that romance could complicate other things.
Do we ever find out if Maya kind of takes that lieutenant position at Station 23?
Yes, we will find out if she takes the position at 23. And we’ll find out early-ish in the next few episodes. That will be resolved. And it might surprise some people.
Ben makes this offhanded remark at the end of the episode, where he tells Dean he’s thinking about quitting fire-fighting, which came out of the blue. Is he going to be met with a fork in the road at some point where a decision will have to be made?
Yes, he will. When he decided to transition over to firefighting, he was thinking about his world and himself, and everything that he knew he needed to feed his soul. Because of what he’s been through with Bailey, he’s trying to keep that in mind and to try and figure out a solution that will help keep his family together. There’s part of him that feels like he his own happiness isn’t worth sacrificing Bailey’s health. It’s just another piece of their really beautiful love story and how you have to make complicated decisions about your life when you are sharing it with a partner. I don’t want anyone to feel scared that we’ll lose him from Station 19 because that really isn’t the idea. The idea is to show a very realistic, a very complicated and messy, but ultimately very beautiful story behind a married couple,and how you try and navigate those waters.
That was the first thought that I had when Ben made that comment, like, is he transitioning out of Station 19? Will he come to a decision about where he stands with firefighting and his current life?
He will definitely be making a decision. And I’ll just say that there are many different aspects to being a first responder. So, you just never know what he’s going to be the most excited about by the end of the season.
Station 19 airs Thursdays at 9 p.m. ET/PT on ABC.