Post Mortems

9-1-1: Lone Star's Brian Michael Smith Explains How Paul's Latest Setback Relates to His Transgender Identity

9-1-1: Lone Star

Paul Strickland’s life is forever changed after Monday’s 9-1-1: Lone Star, a literal heartbreaker of an episode that ended with Brian Michael Smith’s character receiving a pacemaker — whether he wanted it or not.

Marjan was with Paul when his doctor explained that he would almost certainly die of a heart attack unless he had a defibrillator implanted, but Paul made it very clear that he didn’t want to do anything to jeopardize his career. (“I would rather die a firefighter than live any other way.”) But the heart attack did happen, and Marjan didn’t stop the doctors from implanting the defibrillator, much to Paul’s horror upon waking.

Besides the obvious wrench that this will throw into Paul’s life as a firefighter, there’s another layer of pain that Paul must now overcome, one that also relates to his journey as a transgender man.

“A lot of Paul’s identity is rooted in his body and what his body his capable of, how he can overcome limitations,” Smith says. “His body is something that has been completely reliable for him. People fall short, but he’s been able to carry the weight of the world on his shoulders. So to have this happen unexpectedly feels like a sense of betrayal. As we follow the rest of this storyline, he’s going to have to reconnect with his body now that it’s different. After he fought for so many years to have control over his body, this is huge.”

Elsewhere in the hour, Owen had a second (and third) date with Catherine, T.K. joined Tommy at grief counseling, and the bird left to Owen by Gwyn in her will… died. Even after Owen bought it presents and apologized for his past wrongdoings. (He and this bird go way back. Well, they went way back.)

Below, Smith takes TVLine deeper into this pivotal Paul episode, teasing a difficult road of recovery ahead:

TVLINE | I know firefighters’ jobs are dangerous, but it really feels like this show is trying to kill one of you — if not all of you — this season.
[Laughs] Everybody’s life is on the line this season.

TVLINE | Usually T.K. is the one on death’s door, but it was Paul’s turn this week.
I think when they try to kill you off, it means they like you.

TVLINE | Yeah, let’s go with that. How do you feel when a script comes along and it turns out to be this big, meaty Paul episode?
I feel excitement. I love this show, and I love how we came in swinging for Season 3. Not only was it a big, meaty storyline, but it’s the first time I’ve been challenged in this way on this show. Not only is Paul going through physical challenges, but also very deep emotional challenges. I’ve got a lot of internal work to do, as well as some external work as we follow the arc all the way through.

TVLINE | I got the sense that it was coming, but actually seeing Paul have the heart attack was pretty haunting, even without the skipping record.
A lot of things about this episode were difficult. We all know on a large scale that we’re all going to die someday. Death is a part of life. But I don’t really think about it [all the time]. Paul gets the news that his death is imminent unless he makes a change, like it could happen at any moment. I felt what it was like to walk around like a ticking time bomb, and what that does to you emotionally. As for what a heart attack is like, I haven’t personally experienced one, but one of my family members did have one in my presence before, and it isn’t the way I’d been exposed to it in TV and film. It’s jarring, it’s unsettling and it’s really scary. I wanted the whole performance to be grounded in truth, so that if anyone does experience this, they can recognize what’s going on in time to do something about it. If Paul had been paying attention to the signs and listened to what his body was trying to tell him, it might have gone differently.

TVLINE | Things would have also gone differently if Marjan hadn’t shown up and kicked in Paul’s door.
Right? That really shows the strength of their friendship. She knew he had a lot going on, and even though he was stonewalling her, she showed up anyway. That was so beautiful. If she didn’t understand who he was, she wouldn’t have been there.

TVLINE | By the end of the hour, has he resolved his anger about her letting the doctors give him the defibrillator?
That moment was him responding to a sense of helplessness, plus way more vulnerability than he’s comfortable handling. Something happened to his body while he was unconscious, which is really triggering for him. he put a lot of trust in Marjan as a friend and an advocate, so there’s a sense of betrayal that happens to him on a visceral, emotional level. Logically, he understands that she saved his life, but she’s also the only person physically there that he can give his anger and pain to. He can’t fight his heart or the doctors, but she’s there. That “thank you” moment was showing that he’s in a very different place mentally than he is emotionally.

TVLINE | I was also struck by Paul saying that he’d rather die as a firefighter than live any other way. Did you know he was that passionate?
I knew it intrinsically, but that’s his life statement right there. He really put it out there. It reminded me of what all first responders do. They truly put their lives on the line. Every call could be your last call, and you have to come to terms with that to do this job. It’s not just a job for Paul — it’s a huge part of his identity and who he is as a man.

TVLINE | Well, I’m glad that Paul survived this episode. Even if Owen’s bird wasn’t so lucky.
[Laughs] It’s Lone Star, you’ve go to have some balance. Really, though, I’ve never been that close to a real parrot before. It was a gorgeous bird.

Your thoughts on this week’s 9-1-1: Lone Star? Drop ’em in a comment below.