Chicago Fire wrapped Season 11 back in the spring with Kelly Severide nowhere to be seen, as actor Taylor Kinney was still on the leave of absence that began in January. With the WGA writers strike and SAG-AFTRA actors strike delaying the 2023-2024 TV season for most of network television's biggest shows, Fire hasn't been back for Season 12 to reveal the future for the Squad 3 lieutenant. Now, Kinney is reportedly set to return, but there are enough questions about how it's happening that I'm flashing back to Chicago P.D....and not in a good way.
Severide's fate was one of the cliffhangers in Fire's Season 11 finale, although not the most disastrous, with Stella leaving the Windy City to track down her husband after he went radio silent about not coming home following the end of his arson training. Now, TVLine reports that Taylor Kinney will reprise his longtime role for the beginning of Season 12, but it's currently unknown if he'll return as a series regular or just a limited number of episodes. NBC has not officially commented at the time of writing.
Normally, I'd just be bummed at the very idea of losing Taylor Kinney as Kelly Severide after so many years, but reassured by the fact that Chicago Fire handled Jesse Spencer's departure as Matt Casey in a respectful way that left the door open for him to come back. He has in fact returned as a guest star a couple of times since leaving as a series regular, and Fire took several episodes to build up to why Casey would leave instead of abruptly writing him out in the span of one hour. Even Dawson was written out at the end of Season 6 and beginning of Season 7 in a way that Monica Raymund could (and did) come back.
So, with no confirmation that Kinney is even leaving as a series regular, why am I worried about what an entirely different show did with an entirely different character? For that, we have to look back to the first few episodes of Chicago P.D. Season 10 and the farewell to Jesse Lee Soffer as Jay Halstead. News that Soffer would be departing his longtime show broke over the summer hiatus following Season 9, and he was set to return for three episodes before P.D. would have to say goodbye.
And P.D. didn't spend much of those three episodes building to Jay actually leaving the Intelligence Unit behind, let alone leaving Chicago. Plus, thanks to his marriage to Hailey Upton, there was really no way that the show could say goodbye to Jesse Lee Soffer and hang onto Tracy Spiridakos without some Upstead heartbreak. The result was Halstead abruptly deciding to return to the army after being traumatized one too many times, and it definitely wasn't as triumphant as how Casey left Chicago Fire.
Like Halstead, Severide is married, so there's no way for a clean break if Taylor Kinney leaves and Miranda Rae Mayo stays as Stella Kidd. Severide arguably has more in common with Halstead when he left P.D. than he does with Casey when he left Fire. Plus, former Chicago Fire showrunner Derek Haas – who was still in the top job when Casey bowed out in Season 10 – left One Chicago and FBI: International following the end of the 2022-2023 TV season. It'll be up to former co-showrunner and now sole showrunner Andrea Newman and the writers to explain Severide's return.
Potentially unfounded worries about Fire following P.D.'s example with Halstead aside, I'm really just hoping that Taylor Kinney will be back as a series regular, or at least recurring. In fact, I'm so hopeful for more of Kinney as Severide full-time that I won't even tempt fate by repeating my joke about One Chicago characters moving to Puerto Rico whenever they need to be written out a la Monica Raymund's Gabby Dawson and Jon Seda's Antonio Dawson. There may well be no need to write anybody out at all.
For now, we can celebrate the good news that Kinney will be in the mix when the show returns. Honestly, I may just have Halstead-esque worries whenever another One Chicago character's future is uncertain after how that went down.
With no news of when Chicago Fire will even premiere Season 12 in light of the ongoing SAG-AFTRA strike, you can always revisit earlier episodes via Peacock Premium subscription and check out our 2023 TV schedule for shows that did manage to return/premiere this fall.