‘FBI: Most Wanted’ Boss on Jess’ ‘Emotional’ Exit & How the Team Moves Forward

    [Warning: The below contains MAJOR spoilers for FBI: Most Wanted Season 3, Episode 14 “Shattered.”]

    That episode title is a pretty apt description for how we feel after watching Julian McMahon‘s last episode of FBI: Most Wanted. It’s also fitting for Jess’ loved ones: the team members he worked with the longest (Roxy Sternberg’s Sheryll Barnes and Keisha Castle-Hughes’ Hana Gibson), his girlfriend (Jen Landon’s Sarah), and his father (Terry O’Quinn‘s Byron).

    While tracking down a man who abused his girlfriend and protecting her, Jess was killed in the line of duty. At his side as he bled out, from a gunshot wound in his neck, were Barnes and Hana, who were then the ones to deliver the heartbreaking news to Sarah, just as she was planning a vacation with Jess. Sarah and Byron were then the ones to go to see Jess’ daughter, in boarding school, and the episode ended with them at her dorm door.

    Showrunner and executive producer David Hudgins explains Jess’ exit and teases what’s ahead as the team grieves and Dylan McDermott comes in as the task force’s new leader.

    Why did you kill off Jess and do so in this way?

    David Hudgins: Julian had approached us about wanting to go to pursue and do other things, so in the writers’ room, we started thinking about how we could fashion his exit. We considered all different possibilities, and ultimately we came down to something that we felt in a way honored the premise of the show, which is that this is the most wanted Fugitive Task Force. We chase the worst of the worst, the most dangerous of the dangerous, and one of the risks of that job is getting hurt or killed in the line of duty. We felt that it was something that was emotional, something that was dramatic and shocking, and in a way, also honorable — Jess goes out saving the life of the woman that we’re trying to rescue — but it’s also sort of a realization of something that is a constant risk for people who do that job.

    Julian McMahon as Supervisory Special Agent Jess LaCroix in FBI Most Wanted

    Mark Schäfer/CBS

    What kinds of conversations did you have with Julian about that? Did anything change as a result?

    We had some general conversations, but Julian, true to his self, trusted the writers to handle the exit in the way that we thought was best for the show. I did tell him, “Look, we’re gonna exit you from the show. It’s gonna be in a big way, in an impactful way, in an emotional way.” I think the audience has invested obviously in Jess, but also in his family, so we definitely wanted to play the idea of family, both his work family and his real family, into the story as well, which is why the episode doesn’t just end with him getting shot. It ends with the emotional impact of that on Sarah, and then on Byron and Sarah, as they go to tell Tali.

    We didn’t see Tali find out. Was that due to availability or planned from the beginning?

    It was planned. We thought it was almost more dramatic to end with the knock and have the audience imagine how that terrible, terrible conversation would go. But Jess’ story doesn’t end. In the next few episodes, we will see his death play out at work amongst the team as they try to process it and also with Sarah and Byron.

    So we’re going to see Sarah and Byron again. What about Tali?

    We will see Sarah and Byron again. I don’t think we’re gonna see Tali.

    Jen Landon as Sarah Allen and Terry O’Quinn as Byron LaCroix in FBI Most Wanted

    Mark Schäfer/CBS

    It was fitting that Barnes and Hana were the ones with him given that Ortiz [Miguel Gomez] and Kristin [Alexa Davalos] are the newest members and then the ones to go to Sarah. How was that decided?

    You hit the nail on the head. Barnes and Hana were there from the beginning with Jess. There was a whole dynamic with Barnes on the show; we would refer to it in the writers’ rooms as they were almost work spouses. And so we felt like for somebody to deliver the news, it should be the two who knew him the best and knew him the longest. It worked out for story too, because Kristin and Ortiz go down to New Orleans to get Byron, to bring him to tell Tali the news. Plus, I just had a feeling that the combination of Keisha and Roxy and Jen Landon in that scene would be so emotional. They were fantastic in those scenes.

    How much will we see the team grieving? With their cases, they can’t take much time for personal matters.

    That’s true. One of the things that was interesting when we were breaking those stories is on the one hand you’re a professional, and you have a job to do and you want to do your job. On the other, you’re a human being and you’ve lost not only your boss, but also a very good friend. The idea of that and how that plays into each of the characters’ mindset and psyche and attitude as they’re handling the next couple of cases we thought was very interesting. There’s gonna be some real raw emotion and even discord as everybody works through it.

    Keisha Castle-Hughes as Special Agent Hana Gibson and Roxy Sternberg as Special Agent Sheryll Barnes in FBI Most Wanted

    Mark Schäfer/CBS

    Who has the hardest time balancing work and grief?

    Do I have to pick one? They all do. Hana in particular had an attachment to Jess that was very strong, and so we’ll see Hana dealing with it in a very poignant way. Barnes as a parent is dealing with it also from the standpoint of poor Tali. So it’s fair to say that it hits the two of them the hardest, which is not to say that Kristin and Ortiz aren’t dealing with it either.

    You brought up discord. Which team numbers will there be conflict between?

    It’s Hana trying to deal with the loss of Jess and how it filters out. Everybody handles grief differently. Some people internalize, some people lash out, not everybody goes through it at the same pace and at the same time.

    How is the team going to be operating until Dylan’s character arrives? Who’s in charge?

    You’ve raised a very good question, which is part of the story: Who is gonna step up? Who is gonna take charge? In those two episodes, it’s the team figuring that dynamic out, working through their grief and figuring out a way that they can work together and hanging over all of that is sort of this idea of who’s the new person gonna be.

    Alexa Davalos as Special Agent Kristin Gaines and Roxy Sternberg as Special Agent Sheryll Barnes in FBI Most Wanted

    Mark Schäfer/CBS

    At first, I’m thinking Barnes, but then there was the moment of Kristin running things at the beginning of a case and Jess complimenting her on it.

    Yes. And Isobel [FBI‘s Alana De La Garza] makes an appearance in the next episode to talk with the team and check in on them and make sure they’re OK. The issue you just raised is part of the story in the next episode: What do you do when you have a leadership vacuum like that? Ultimately these people are professional enough to get the job done and they work through it and it’s actually a nice story of them figuring out how to do it.

    When will we meet Dylan’s character and what did you want to do with his introduction and character? He’s coming into a team that just lost its leader.

    Dylan’s [first episode] is April 12. He has started filming. I don’t want to give too much away about it, but I will say when we started down this road, obviously it wasn’t just a question of how do you exit Jess, it’s how do you bring in a new person and who is that person? We started developing an idea for the new character. We looked at it as an opportunity to reinvigorate, to shake up the dynamic. And so by the time he comes in in [Episode] 317, the team is eagerly awaiting to see what happens when he gets there. He shows up, and we’re off to the races.

    What kind of leader is he? What can you say about that shaking up of team dynamics?

    Everybody has a different style and again, the idea of bringing in somebody new as writers, we were thinking, well, then, it should be somebody who does have a different style than Jess, somebody who has a different outlook, maybe approaches the cases in a different way, but ultimately just like Jess, is motivated by justice, by getting the fugitive in every episode. We felt like here’s a chance for somebody to do things a little bit differently and watching the team adjust to that is interesting.

    Does anyone on the team have a history with him?

    I don’t want to get too far into spoiler land. The answer to that is no at this point.

    Did I catch a Clinton [Nathaniel Arcand, who left in Season 2] reference when Jess mentioned his brother-in-law in Florida? Was that something you wanted to make sure to do with Jess’ last episode?

    Yes, that’s a very good catch. Yeah, when they’re painting and he mentions that when he was in Florida, he was deep sea fishing with Clinton.

    What else is coming up? You’re balancing grief, these cases, and then also building to the end of the season.

    The next stretch of episodes is mostly about the upset in the dynamic, the processing of grief from the loss of Jess. And then once Dylan comes in, I think that’s six episodes ’til the end of the season and we’re building out an arc for his character and an arc for the team and the other characters that will hopefully all intersect by the time we get to the finale in 22.

    FBI: Most Wanted, Tuesdays, 10/9c, CBS

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