Marina Squerciati, Jason Beghe
The long hiatus between season 10 and 11 that Chicago P.D. experienced due to the WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes led showrunner Gwen Sigan to institute a six-month time jump in the storyline when it returns with new episodes tonight.
“Coming back after the strike, it felt like so much time has passed for all of us,” Sigan told Parade in this exclusive interview. “Being off the air so much, we decided to lean into it. It’s a nice storytelling technique to be able to jump your characters a bit and set them in a new place and not have to do the typical first episode back, which is usually tying up loose ends from the finale. It just felt like we had that opportunity so why not embrace it.”
Sigan embraced it with a story that deals with new policing. Hailey Upton (Tracy Spiridakos) is tasked with shadowing a crisis prevention team but notices something is off on the first call they make. She reacts to seeing blood and her approach to policing turns out to be at odds with the team’s mental health clinician. Even as the case brings out Upton's personal struggles, Voight (Jason Beghe) stands by her.
“One of the themes that we’ll explore the whole season is new possibilities,” Sigan says. “That really came from what our characters are going through and what we want their storylines to be this year in their personal lives. As soon as we really grasped onto that, it opened up this new world of, ‘Okay, what does that mean for our police stories that we’ll be telling?’”
As mental health experts going out on calls is very relevant and very much in the zeitgeist in 2024, Sigan went for it.
“The reality is a lot of what came out of 2020 were programs that are now up on their feet,” Sigan continues. “We’re figuring out what’s working, what’s not working. We wanted to explore that as much as we could. This program is based on a lot of different crisis intervention team programs across the country, and so we wanted to put a little highlight on that and what they’re trying to do, a different way to police.”
That’s what’s happening in the premiere episode, but we got Sigan to share a bit more of what will happen this season character by character.
No. 1. Hailey Upton: Upton’s not doing very well in this episode. Her game is off, possibly because she has her divorce papers from Jay Halstead (Jesse Lee Soffer), but she seems to be stuck. Not moving on with her life. And then there’s the added fact that Sigan has to wrap up her storyline because Spiridakos is exiting the show.
“She will be with us the full season, which is wonderful,” Sigan explains, “We get to live with her all season long. This is definitely the start of a great arc for her. If you take seriously everything she’s been through -- what she went through last year and also what she’s gone through as a person, what she’s gone through in her childhood, who she is and how she deals with upsets and emotions, I think it’s very realistic that she is struggling in the way she is. She’s not quite understanding how she feels and why she feels it. I think she just knows that there’s anger there and something’s off.
“What we’ll discover is a lot of that is anger that’s facing inward and causing a bit of a depression and a bit of a struggle in her. We’ll be dealing with that this year and seeing her face it and confront it. And, also, what does it look like on the other side when you realize that maybe the way I’ve been dealing with things for so long is not the best way or the healthiest way for me? And once you acknowledge that, how you can move forward?"
No. 2. Hank Voight: Like Upton, Voight isn’t doing well. For one, he’s not interested in the new policing, but it’s more that he’s distracted because his team is falling apart. Upton turns to him for advice, but he doesn’t know how to help her, and Trudy (Amy Morton) is on his case to find a replacement for Ruzak (Patrick John Flueger).
“He’s stubborn,” Sigan says. “The man is a stubborn man. I love that the two of them go to each other, Hank and Hailey. A lot of times they seem to go to each other, those characters. It’s funny because neither of them ever really knows the answers, but they feel so comfortable and have a soft spot for each other and an understanding for each other that that’s why they’re drawn together.
“When we find Hank this season, he’s been trying to hold everybody together. He’s trying to hold the unit together. I think he’s trying to make sure that everyone’s all right and care for them in the ways that he knows how, which he’s not that well versed in it but he’s doing his best.
“Where we see him go this year, we’re definitely going to be taking small steps to see this man that’s been a lone wolf, this man that operates on his own and is an island, what that could look like if he wasn’t an island, if he let people in a little bit more, if he let the unit in a little more and how that care that we see starting in the first episode, what that sort of does to him when he’s trying to care for other people and letting them care for him.”
No. 3. Dante Torres (Benjamin Levy Aguilar): Speaking of keeping the team together, Torres is missing in the first episode back due to family issues.
“He’s returning,” Sigan reassures. “He’ll be back in episode four. Yes, his character has been helping his mother out. When we see him back in episode four, he’s very reinvigorated, he is excited to be back on the job and from dealing with his mother and from dealing with the events of last season, he’s in a place that he wants to double down on the police officer he wants to be, which is very moral, which is very by the book, which is very much gentle and sweet and doing things that he should be doing and helping people. And, of course, we’re going to put him in a wild situation and test that.”
No 4. Adam Ruzek (Patrick John Pflueger)/Kim Burgess (Marina Squerciati): The on-and-off again lovers were just getting back on when Ruzek was shot in the finale and was at death’s door.
“In the six months that we haven’t seen them, they’ve definitely been together,” Sigan teases. “They’ve been in this new part of their relationship of romantically being together and also being a family and living together and all of the things that come with parenting and doing it all. They’re definitely in it together; they’re each other’s rocks. I think they’re figuring out new ways to support each other in that capacity. Certainly, with what happened to Ruzek and his recovery, that has played a lot into their relationship and made them have to grow even more and be each other’s strengths. We’ll see that playing out in the first few episodes this season of how their relationship has transformed a bit.”
No. 5. Trudy Platt: Trudy, as usual, is trying to wrangle Hank and the rest of the Intelligence team, but she has her own drama to deal with. Her husband Mouch (Christian Stotle) had a life-threatening accident in the Chicago Fire finale, and it won’t be revealed until tonight if he survived.
“That is a sneaky little question,” Sigan agreed. “Well, how can I answer that? Yeah, she went through it last season on Fire. When we pick her up on our show I think since we’ve had the time jump, Fire is going to answer a lot of that. And then in our episode, we get to see her back at work and invested again in the job.”
No. 6. New Cast Members: No one has specifically been mentioned as joining the show but with so many positions opening up in Intelligence, it seems as if there has to be someone new showing up.
“We have so many fun guest stars, I’m very excited,” Sigan shares. “As far as cases go, we’ve got a really fun narcotics case that Torres is involved in. He’s doing an undercover case that’s going to test him a lot. There are some really fun guest actors coming for that. We also have some fun guest actors coming for a long-form investigation that centers around Hank Voight. He’s got a new white whale this season, someone he’s really becoming obsessed with finding and tracking down. And then we would love to get some new energy in the unit. So, you’ll see a few new cops coming in and helping us with cases and helping us with some very specific cases and giving us their expertise and new interactions with the unit, all the fun stuff.”
Chicago P.D. premieres its 11th season tonight at 10 p.m. ET/PT on NBC.