[Warning: The below contains MAJOR spoilers for Season 2, Episode 6 of 9-1-1: Lone Star, “Everyone and Their Brother.”]
Firefighter Paul Strickland (Brian Michael Smith) gets a visit from his mother, Cynthia (Cleo King), and estranged sister Naomi (Regina Hoyles), and it leads to a conversation that needed to happen for quite some time.
After his fellow firefighters witness a chilly greeting from Naomi, he tells them they haven’t been on speaking terms since he transitioned (she doesn’t even call him Paul). But her problem isn’t that he’s trans, she explains, but that in her mind, her big sister left, no one explained why, and she didn’t get to say goodbye. The siblings do talk it out, in the hospital, where Paul learns Naomi has MS.
“She never existed, not really,” Paul says, and Naomi knows that, now.
Smith takes TV Insider into this important episode for Paul.
This episode really dives into Paul’s family. What did you think of the script when you first read it, especially those important conversations between him and his sister?
Brian Michael Smith: I had a conversation with the writers about life experiences I’ve had and the reality of people with trans experience when it comes to having conversations with the family. It was really cool to see what they came up with and the journey Paul takes to reconcile with his sister after he discovers the impact his decision had on her. I thought it was an interesting way of looking at coming out in a way that hadn’t been presented before. The coming out is usually centered around what the trans person is going to have to experience when they decide to have the difficult conversation and you’re open to rejection. But oftentimes it’s not necessarily an open rejection, sometimes it’s just a changing of the dynamic of a relationship and then it’s hard trying to figure out what caused that shift and is there anything anyone can do to remedy it? You end up having these relationships that go cold and it can be painful.
Paul’s walking around with this idea his sister doesn’t accept him because he’s trans, and what was really great about the dialogue he ended up having with his sister was it wasn’t just because he’s trans. His sister felt a sense of grief that Paul wasn’t aware of. This sense of grief is something that is really experienced by families and loved ones of people who are trans or LGBT in general: They have an idea of who this person is and when that person comes out and shares their truth, they feel like they lose someone. But really all they lost is this idea of this person and it takes time — you have to give people space — to let go of that. That’s something Paul had to give Naomi.
That blowout over dinner really informed the two conversations at the end, in the hospital and before his sister and mother left.
It’s a great way of tying the episodes together. The [one] that preceded it was “Difficult Conversations,” all about how no matter what kind of relationship it is, sometimes you have to suck it up and have the difficult conversation, you have to address the issue. The sooner you address it, the better it is because when you avoid talking about something because you’re trying to protect somebody’s feelings, you end up making it worse.
Because Paul and his sister avoided having [that] talk, they lose years. They could have come to some healing and understanding because as soon as he understood where his sister was coming from — it wasn’t just bigotry — he instantly forgave her. His heart opened up and he totally understood where she was, and the same thing for her. Once she recognized he didn’t realize how much she was hurting — her anger and her resistance and her attitude were covering up her pain — and once he sees that pain, he was able to understand and be there for her and see how much she missed his support.
Will these events inspire him to stay in touch more with his family?
Definitely, now that the fracture’s healed. They had the talk and they’re able to see eye-to-eye. Paul has recognized time is precious. He doesn’t want to lose another moment with [them].
I liked how happy his mother was to see her kids making up.
Yeah, and I loved working with Cleo and Regina. They really brought this sense of realness of a family dynamic to the table. The mom cares and wants to patch things up but knows, as a mom, this is something they need to work out amongst themselves. I love you could still tell how much this affects her and that’s just the brilliance of Cleo King as an actress.
Why was it the right time for where Paul is in his own life for him to reconnect with his family like he did?
What he’s experiencing in Austin — having connected with his chosen family — is something he wished he could have experienced during his time as a firefighter in Chicago, but there was resistance. He faced a lot of animosity and felt a lot of alienation. In Austin, finally at this point in his life, he’s fully accepted for who he is. He doesn’t have to hide or protect or justify any part of who he is. He just gets to be Paul and experiencing the love and acceptance and camaraderie fully.
Now that he has that stability, it’s the perfect time to deal with the fractures within his birth family. He has to face the negative impact of something that was very positive for him — him coming to know who he is and accept his truth about who he is and then live that out. That’s something that took a lot of bravery. You need to feel safe and secure to do that. Now that he has that security with his chosen family in Austin, he can be more introspective and take responsibility for some of the unexpected negative consequences of his life choices.
T.K. (Ronen Rubinstein) is moving over to Tommy’s (Gina Torres) team. Does the dynamic at the 126 change?
Definitely. The firefighter calls are going to be differently shaped now so you might get to see different characters in different positions and roles in the rescues. I’m really excited to see more of Brianna Baker’s [paramedic] Nancy. She really brought it home in Episode 2, after Rosewater died. I love they’re giving her more to do, especially now that T.K. is going to be [working] with her and Tommy.
9-1-1: Lone Star, Mondays, 9/8c, Fox