Dick Wolf series’ are no stranger to ripped-from-the-headlines stories, and tonight’s FBI: International joins the Wolfpack’s lead with an episode in which the team investigates an American journalist’s death by poison after his attempt to meet with an anonymous source in Poland.
“Journalists have been in the press so much in the last five years with American politics, the way we treat journalists, and the way journalists have been targeted,” showrunner Derek Haas tells Monsters & Critics in this exclusive interview by way of explaining the episode.
“This also has to do with the poisoning that has been in the news when there’s been some evidence that perhaps the Russians have been poisoning. So, we just thought that it was a good chance to do an episode centering on those couple of things, and it turned into a really good, action-packed, well-constructed episode.”
The “The Soul of Chess” episode also continues the exploration of the recently revealed secret romantic relationship between Special Agent Scott Forrester (Luke Kleintank) and Special Agent Jamie Kellett (Heida Reed).
“Well, it’s funny because one thing that we found out when we were doing a lot of research on the FBI is how many FBI agents marry other FBI agents,” Haas said. “We thought that was really interesting because it must say something about sharing a profession that no one else can understand as much. And so, we just thought that was an interesting way in.”
The two characters were in bed when Kellett revealed to Forrester that she had accepted a job in New York City and would be transferring shortly, but then she was shot and almost died, and everything changed.
“When our show started, the backstory, neither one of them planned on this [relationship] happening,” Haas continued. “She had already put in motion the idea that she was going to transfer to New York. She hadn’t forgotten about it but just didn’t think it was going to happen so quickly. And so, she says to Forrester, ‘I didn’t plan on you and me becoming you and me when I put in for that.’ So, now, of course, she has second thoughts.”
Tonight, Kellett is back to work, but finds it annoying, and a little smothering when Forrester becomes overprotective, and Kellett needs to set him back on track to treating her the same as his other agents on the team.
“I think he would be overprotective of any team member that had been shot, but even more so because he’s in love,” said Haas.
The FBI: International showrunner talked more about the episode’s storyline — the importance of a free press, but also about the other members of the team and how the season will shake out.
Monsters & Critics: This is is an episode that deals with the issue of how important it is to have a free press. Is any of it an homage to what happened to Khashoggi? He wasn’t poisoned but was allegedly injected with a large amount of a drug that resulted in an overdose.
Derek Haas: That’s different. The Khashoggi thing we did on Season 1 of FBI. But FBI: International, no, this is more about journalists trying to get a story and trying to break a story and having to deal with these giant political players and being heroic in the face of how dangerous it can be, especially on some of these hotbed stories.
M&C: We’ve seen a lot of stories about what happens to whistleblowers. So, this takes the other side of it — what happens to the press person?
Derek Haas: Yeah, this is the investigative journalism side, exactly. There is a whistleblower element, but it’s not as much a whistleblower as it is somebody in the inner circle of some of these politics that could access some documents.
M&C: This episode also explores more of the relationship between Kellett (Heida Reed) and Forrester (Luke Kleintank). What does her decision to leave and choose the job over the man say about her character?
The other thing that we read a lot about was the idea that FBI agents as they get further into their careers, and we always forget because on TV a lot of times you see older FBI agents, but the majority of FBI agents are in their late 20s and early 30s, and they look for what they call their landing spot.
They want to end up in the office where they’re going to end their career in the city that they want to live in, which informed Kellett’s decision to try to transfer to New York. We just thought that idea of landing spots was interesting, too, so that was the dynamic that went into that.
M&C: One of the other possible reasons why they might marry each other is then they would be able to discuss their job. They actually can share their day.
Derek Haas: That’s true, that’s true. We just thought it was an interesting way to go. We hadn’t done that before on these shows. You’re always trying to, as we say, launch these pilots out of a cannon. And we thought that would be a really cool way to just say, “There are personal stories going to be told on this show, not just crime stories.”
M&C: Raines (Carter Redwood) and Vo (Vinessa Vidotto), they’re part of the younger group of agents that you’re talking about. They seem to be very competitive. Both have said their goal is to become the FBI director. Is this competitiveness something that they can bond over and that makes them a better team? Or is becoming the FBI director too far in the future to make a difference at this point?
Derek Haas: With Raines and Vo, the thought there is that we love the competition and that these two will spur each other on. I think just drawing from our own lives as writers when we first start, you meet all these writers that are in your peer group. And then as you progress in your career, you do both: You feed off of each other, you look for advice from each other, but you’re always kind of keeping one eye on, “Oh, I want to outperform him or her this year.” So, I think they’ve got a little of that going that will inform them and make them good team members.
We’re trying to do this show a little different, where you don’t just have only Kellett and Forrester go off and do some business, or only Raines and Vo go off and do business, and it’s a delineation of who the two teams are. We like the idea, which I think is true in life too, of you mix and match each episode. Okay, this episode, we’re going to team up Forrester and Vo, this episode we’ll team up Raines and Forrester. Within this team, any team can form.
M&C: Right, maybe based on their skills and what the case calls for?
Derek Haas: Yeah, in the episode coming up, because Raines’ back story, which we really haven’t gotten to, and it’s true of a lot of FBI agents, is he came up through accounting. And so, we’re going to have an episode coming up where he says to Forrester, “I’m not just a numbers guy, you’ve got to use me more.” And then he has a kickass episode.
M&C: The one thing still not clear is really why they need Europol Agent Katrin Jaeger (Christiane Paul). Do her intros really make that big of a difference?
Derek Haas: In real life, there’s a liaison because we’re dependent upon other countries’ law enforcement, you have to have a liaison with Europol. And we just thought that was a fun, interesting dynamic that we could play, which is that she really likes Forrester and this flight team, but she’s exasperated by them constantly.
It gets a little cheeky with them and I just love the actress too, Christiane. She’s got this great gravity and presence, but she also always has a little twinkle in her eye. And that just felt like a great way to handle this portion of the show that they don’t have to do on the other two FBIs, which is really work with the others.
And we’re mixing it up. Sometimes it’ll be antagonistic with the other country’s law enforcement, like in our Spanish episode. But then in this one in Poland, they’re invited, and their expertise is asked for. So that makes it cool, too.
M&C: What has the experience been like filming a show overseas? What are some of the challenges? It has to be very different from Chicago Fire.
Derek Haas: It was a lot harder than I thought, mainly because of the time difference. I just didn’t factor that into my brain on how to make a show overseas when the writers’ room and the editing is over here.
I’m in Los Angeles, and it’s a nine-hour difference. And what I found is there is no time that I’m not working anymore because I’m also doing Chicago Fire. So, that day will end, and they’re just waking up in Budapest, and I’ll get 40 emails at 10 p.m. Or vice versa. I had a production meeting at 7:30 in the morning today. That wasn’t how we used to do it on Chicago Fire.
So, it’s just taking some getting used to in terms of the rhythm. That said, the Hungarian crew has been phenomenal. I feel like we’re making giant episodes even bigger, I think, than a lot of shows that are on television, and we’ll continue to get bigger.
And we haven’t been afraid to go shoot in other countries, which I really like. We shot in Austria for the Swiss mountains, which was really cool to actually go and do that in the Alps. And we got to Paris for a Paris episode that you’ll see coming up. We got to Prague for a Prague episode. And that’s really exciting because, in Chicago, we pretty much don’t leave Chicago even when Casey went to Portland. We just faked Portland, but for FBI: International, we actually go and do it.
FBI: International airs Wednesday nights at 9 p.m. ET/8c on CBS.