Chicago Fire hasn’t really said goodbye to Gabriela Dawson

Chicago Fire still has a strong Dawson presence after Monica Raymund’s exit.

This week’s Chicago Fire rerun was the most-talked about episode of season 8—because it included another return appearance by Monica Raymund as Gabriela Dawson.

In “Best Friend Magic” Dawson re-appeared at Firehouse 51 to ask her ex-husband Matthew Casey (Jesse Spencer) to be her date for a charity event. The two then slept together afterward, and Dawson left Casey a very fond voicemail before once again leaving Chicago.

The episode was proof that even though Monica Raymund left the series two seasons earlier, the show has yet to truly let go of Gabriela Dawson.

Raymund has reappeared on the show twice since she left to pursue other opportunities—once at the start of season 7 and then in the middle of season 8. And she said earlier this year that she’d be open to returning again in future seasons, too.

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Usually when an actor chooses to leave a TV show, they don’t come back right away. Some of them don’t come back all. But because her story needed to be wrapped up, and then the effects of her exit played out, so much time has been spent on Dawson since season 6 that she’s never really been gone..

She still has a significant presence on the series, even as Monica has moved on with both her acting and directing careers—and that’s something else that Chicago Fire has done differently from other TV programs, even those in its own universe (look how quickly Chicago Med forgot Sarah Reese).

Haas had to bring Dawson back for the Chicago Fire season 7 premiere, given that her last scene in season 6 was never intended to be a permanent exit. He’s freely admitted that he didn’t expect Monica Raymund wouldn’t renew her contract, and so he needed to write Dawson a better ending. It wouldn’t have been fair to leave her story as open-ended as it was at the end of season 6.

But then the seventh season needed to have Casey and Sylvie Brett (Kara Killmer) dealing with Dawson’s departure—an absolute must the impact that she had on both of their lives. And that went on for the whole first half of the season, until Casey’s ill-advised rebound fling ended with his apartment being burned down.

And then in season 8, when the show had gotten its closure and could have turned the page, Haas brought Dawson back again—while adding an extra layer of complication by having her sleep with Casey, reigniting the Dawsey relationship. That put Dawson right back in the middle of everything, even though she wasn’t physically around.

Casey has clearly not moved on from Dawson in two seasons and vice versa, and the show hasn’t either. Gabriela’s professional replacement, Emily Foster (Annie Ilonzeh), was just written out. Chicago Fire has been teasing a Casey and Brett romance since the middle of season 7, but taken no significant steps toward actually getting them together.

It’s hard not to keep thinking of Dawson when there hasn’t been anything to completely fill the void she left behind. And that’s created an interesting balancing act for Chicago Fire as it goes into season 9 and beyond. How do you keep Dawson relevant while also moving the show forward?

If the writers want Dawson to continue to be part of the show, that’s great, but they have to realize that there’s only going to be so much they can do. Monica Raymund is committed to her new series Hightown, which was recently renewed for season 2, and that could limit her ability to do any future guest spots.

Even if she’s able to come back, they’d only be able to write Dawson-involved plots where she’s around for an episode here, maybe two there. They can’t do the bigger storylines that they would when Raymund was a series regular. There just wouldn’t be enough time.

And then how does that affect characters like Casey and Brett? Casey won’t be able to move on with a new relationship if his ex-wife keeps popping back into his life, and they can’t get back together since Dawson won’t be staying—the show already established in season 7 that long-distance doesn’t work for them—so he’d be in a sort of weird emotional limbo.

That then affects Brett, who has apparent feelings for Casey, plus Dawson is/was her best friend. Will the show go and explore that friendship again (the way it didn’t in “Best Friend Magic”)? Will Brett compare her new partner to Dawson, the way that she did to Foster when Foster first came to 51?

Chicago Fire has to find something that honors the character of Dawson and makes good use of her, but that adjusts to the fact that she’s not a regular anymore—and if the show can’t do well by her and the characters that love her, then it needs to let her go. Not having a guest spot or a story is far better than having a terrible story.

Gabriela Dawson and Monica Raymund will always be huge parts of the One Chicago universe, but neither one can stick around forever.

Next: Chicago Fire's 5 best Dawsey moments

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