*** Please note: this article contains spoilers for the episode of ‘Chicago Fire’ entitled “Two Hundred.” ***
As Chicago Fire aired its milestone 200th episode on Wednesday, October 20th, the series also said goodbye to one of its original cast members.
Jesse Spencer, who has played Captain Matt Casey, since the series debuted in 2012 exited the series when his character left Chicago to move to Portland. He left the windy city to to care for the sons of his best friend, Andy Darden, another firefighter who was lost in a blaze in the show’s pilot episode.
After spending eight years as a regular on the series House, and spending nearly a decade on Fire, Spencer says that after approximately 18 years of doing weekly episodic television, he felt it was time to move on. But, he and series creator/current showrunner Derek Haas felt it was important to get his character to the 200-episode mark.
“It was a difficult decision, because I’ve loved this show from the start,” says Spencer, “but there’s other things that I would like to do in the future, and there’s some family that I need to take care of, that’s a long stretch.”
He says that he came to the series because at the time, coming off a medical series, doing a series about firefighters looked like fun, and was a complete departure from what he was doing at the time. Plus, he reasoned, “90% of [shows] don’t make it past the pilot, and then [most] of them don’t make it past the first season.”
Laughingly he admits once he was involved in the series on a daily basis and wanted it to continue that he didn’t actually buy a winter coat for four years because, “maybe I’m super silly – I’m really not superstitious – but I felt like if I bought all the [winter] gear, then, you know, it’d be over and then you’re going home.”
Haas says that he’s happy he was able to bring back a season one storyline to use as a send-off for Spencer. “[He] was excited when we pitched it to him to bring back the Darden boys and really tie in the pilot to [his] leaving [the firehouse].”
The story, “felt so organic, for me, and a perfect full circle,” says Spencer. “I think, [it’s a] really reasonable way for Casey to leave the show.”
About crafting the episode, Haas says, “We write emotional episodes and it’s impossible not to get invested as a writer. You feel it intensely, and sometimes you picture what it’s going to be and then it’s better than what you thought it was going to be.”
Christian Stolte who has played firefighter Randall McHollan (also known as Mouch) for the run of the series, says about Spencer, “sometimes I’d just watch Jesse during a take, and I’d think, ‘man, I don’t know how I would handle this moment if I were him,’ He’s the consummate pro. He just does it – makes it look effortless.”
Having played firefighter Christopher Herrmann since the pilot, David Eigenberg says the actors welcome the changes their characters go though, “you have to go to another place for your character, kind of doesn’t matter exactly what it is, but the change is always great.”
Looking back, Joe Minoso, another original cast member who plays firefighter Joe Cruz, mentioned that, “every once in a while, we’ll look at each other and we’ll say, ‘10 years!’ Or, like, recently I’ve been going down memory lane and looking at a bunch of old photos and it just blows your mind when you see the passage of time on everyone’s face.”
What keeps the series drawing viewers week after week, says Stolte, is, “our writers keep finding ways to give our audience the familiar thing that they want from our show, and also to subvert their expectations and catch them off guard and surprise them.”
Eigenberg, Stolte, and Minoso also spoke fondly of other cast members who have left the series, including Lauren German who played paramedic Leslie Shay, Yuri Sardarov who played firefighter Brian Zvonecek – also affectionately referred to as Otis – and Monica Raymund, who’s character Gabby Dawson, a paramedic and firefighter, was married to Spencer’s character prior to her departure. Shay and Otis lost their lives on the job, while Dawson left town to to pursue humanitarian work in another locale.
In the case of Captain Casey, it was important to not send him out in a casket says Haas, because it leaves the door open for a return visit, whether it be short term or long term.
Summarizing his journey, Spencer says that he would relate this message to his younger self at the start of his Chicago Fire journey, “I’d say, ‘get ready for the ride, kid. It’s a marathon, it’s not a sprint.”
Haas echoes with similar sentiment saying that he’d tell himself to, “’enjoy it because it’s been really an amazing. It just keeps going beyond what your wildest dreams were.’”
As for what Spencer feels like he’s leaving behind, he says, with a smile, “I’m going to miss ordering everyone around. Yeah, I like yelling like a firefighter [telling others what to do].”
He admits that while he’s wrapped up his time on the series, “It hasn’t really sunk in that I’ve left really. I sort of feel like I’m just like on hiatus for a little bit. It probably won’t kick in until next year, probably.”
Although Spencer’s last scene on screen took place in front of the firehouse, as everyone at Firehouse 51 said their farewells to Captain Casey, the actual last scene he shot was on the burn stage, putting out a fire, which he feels is quite appropriate.
“I finished and they wheeled out a cake and [several people] gave speeches and I gave a speech, and I don’t give speeches. But it’s been a great – a great crew, a great cast. I couldn’t have asked for anything more. And, it was kind of a fitting way to finish it – on the burn stage – because we started with a fire and I ended with a fire.”
‘Chicago Fire’ airs Wednesdays at 9/8c on NBC. Episodes are also available for streaming on Peacock.