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How ‘FBI: Most Wanted’ Wrote Out Julian McMahon’s Jess — Interview

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SPOILER ALERT: Do not read if you have not watched “Shattered,” the March 8 episode of “FBI: Most Wanted.”

“FBI: Most Wanted” has officially said goodbye to Jess LaCroix: Julian McMahon, who has led the CBS drama for three seasons, made his final appearance on Tuesday night when his character died on the job.

In January, the actor announced he was leaving the show, saying in a statement that he met with the producers months prior about leaving the show “in favor of additional creative pursuits.”  In the statement, McMahon thanked executive producers Dick Wolf and Peter Jankowski, and said that the planned exit would “orchestrate a seamless and productive way for me to leave the show.”

During the episode, the team attempted to track down an abusive man and his ex-girlfriend, who was trying to escape. Jess found the woman, who was fighting for her life, in time. Unfortunately, so did her ex, who pulled a gun on her, prompting Jess to stand in front of the woman in order to save her life. Jess was shot and killed after taking a bullet to the neck.

Variety caught up with showrunner David Hudgins about McMahon’s exit, the choice to kill Jess and what’s next for “FBI: Most Wanted.”

Let’s go back to the beginning. When did the conversation begin around Julian leaving?

The conversation had been going on as the season started. Once it sort of reached a place where, “OK, this is going to happen,” we started, in the writers’ room, trying to figure out what this would look like, how would he leave the show? We had multiple conversations about it with every option on the table, and we just kept going back to this idea that the premise of the show is that we chase the worst of the worst — the most dangerous fugitives that are out there. And inherent in that premise is the idea that it’s risky, it’s dangerous and there’s always the chance that you could get injured or killed in the line of duty. We felt like that was the exit we wanted to have for Jess.

Were there discussions of having Jess survive to keep the door open for the future in case Julian wanted to return?

Well, we talked about everything, every potential option. At the end, Julian being the very gracious person that he is, said, “Look, I trust you guys to do what you think is best for the show and best for the story. I’m good with whatever you guys decide.” So we did consider all those options, but we felt like this was just a very emotional, shocking and dramatic way to do it. We also decided that we’re not just going to have him get shot and killed in the line of duty. You want to keep playing out the emotion of that, which is why we have the ending where Hana [Keisha Castle-Hughes] and Barnes [Roxy Sternberg] go to tell Sarah [Jennifer Landon]. Then we get to dad [Terry O’Quinn], and we end up having to go tell Tali [YaYa Gosselin]. We just felt like that ending of them having to knock on the door and tell Tali was so powerful.

I’d imagine filming those last scenes with Julian were bittersweet.

Bittersweet is a good word — extremely emotional. It was a night scene; it was the last scene up for the day. Julian was a total pro. It was emotional is what I will say, and I thought everybody did a great job with it, and I was happy. The fact that it happened literally in the heart of New York City was something that I thought was perfect for the character. It’s like he died saving the town he loved.

Does Jess’ death mean we won’t see Terry O’Quinn again?

No, I love Terry! He’s a great actor; he’s a great guy. The story is not just going away. Over the next couple of episodes, we’re going to be playing the fallout from his death. We’re going to play the grief. We’re going to play the absence. We’re going to do episodes where we see the team dealing with it each in their own way. Sarah and Byron are still around for a few more episodes as we sort of process Jess’ exit. We definitely want to play into the emotion of it, and the loss. These people are professionals in the show, and they have a job to do and they have to go forward — but they’re also human beings. So, that’s a lot of what we’re exploring in the next couple of episodes: How do you carry on when you’ve experienced such a horrible loss like that? People deal with grief differently. Some people lash out, some people withdraw. It doesn’t always happen at the same time. It’s just a very complicated thing.

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Now you are bringing in Dylan McDermott as your new lead. What can you say about his character?

I don’t want to say too much at the moment, but he’s already filming. He’s fantastic. As part of planning Jess’ exit, we had obviously talked about who the new person coming aboard would be. We spent a lot of time in the room drafting what that character could look like. When we got word that Dylan was available and then potentially interested, we were thrilled. We were through the roof. We really are looking at it as an opportunity to invigorate the show, to reinvent a little bit. It will always be a fugitive man hunt show — that’s the bread and butter — but with with Dylan coming in and having a different style, different background and different way of dealing with the team, having to get to know them and vice versa, there’s just a lot of story to play there. We think it’s gonna be a lot of fun.

Can you say when we’ll meet him?

His first appearance is Episode 17, which I think is scheduled to air Wednesday, April 12. We’ll have a couple of episodes where we’ll see the team trying to find their way without a leader. Sort of hanging in the background of those episodes is this idea of “Who’s it gonna be? Who’s it gonna be?”

I have to ask. Dylan is already part of the Dick Wolf universe, playing Elliot Stabler’s enemy Richard Wheatley on “Law & Order: Organized Crime.” Was there any worry at all that bringing him over as a new character may confuse people?

It came up. My feeling about it was it was our job as writers to create a character that’s so distinct and different from this other one, that hopefully there wouldn’t be any of that trickle over or whatever it is. Dylan’s so good. He’s such a natural leader. He’s got a great way about him. I think it’s going to be terrific.

This interview has been edited and condensed.