[Warning: The following contains spoilers for the latest episode of 9-1-1: Lone Star, "Friends Like These." Read at your own risk!]
Owen Strand (Rob Lowe) may have been hotly recruited to head up the 126, but now he's going to have to fight to keep that job on 9-1-1: Lone Star. On Monday night's episode, "Friends Like These," we met Billy (Billy Burke), the former captain of the firehouse who isn't sure his replacement is up to the job — or that he deserves to take his place within it — and thanks to his betrayal, Owen's job is now in jeopardy.
At first, Billy presented himself as a trustworthy confidante for Owen; after the two bonded over a spirited game of poker, Billy revealed that in addition to surviving the explosion that killed most of his team, he also overcame cancer. In turn, Owen divulged his own diagnosis and ongoing treatment, and Billy ultimately turned that against him by reporting Owen's health issues to their supervisor. Billy might have been given another significant position in the Austin firefighting community, but he still wants Owen out, and it's up to Owen to prove that he's still capable of running the station through a physical trial.
Making his screenwriting debut for this episode was John Owen Lowe, Rob Lowe's youngest son, and TV Guide caught up with the budding writer to break down some of the major moments that unfolded between Owen and his newfound foe and get a sense of what's ahead as Owen efforts to keep his post. Read on to find out what Lowe had to say about this week's big clash and the fallout which will follow.
What was your experience like working on this episode?
John Owen Lowe: It was so much fun and a total learning experience because I have worked in writers' rooms before but never written an episode and had to cover set for an episode. So, I was learning on the fly, and I was fortunate that I had such wonderful people around me to help. But I will say it's definitely a bit tricky when you're sitting behind a camera, looking at the lines you wrote, and you're like, 'Ah, this guy is not getting his lines right,' and it's your dad, and you have to go correct him.
Since this is your first episode [as the screenwriter], did you identify with what Mateo (Julian Works) was going through [as the rookie trying to pass his test]?
Lowe: Completely. I think that's why that character story took shape and felt so important to this episode. I wanted to highlight the pressures of being a young person in a working environment and trying to impress the people that were there before you and are looking for you to succeed, and that you look up to as role models, almost honestly father figures. So, I think I related a lot to that, so I liked that story a lot. And I think it also speaks to how we all learn in different ways. My brother [Matthew Lowe] has a learning disability, and I remember I would help him take tests in high school, and we would study together, and we'd have to mold how we would prepare different materials, so I got to pull from some real-life stuff there.
What did it mean for Owen to find someone who had been through what he'd been through with cancer treatments at first?
Lowe: It was a sigh of relief for him. For him, it felt like a safe space — he didn't immediately work with Billy, so when Billy put his walls down and revealed to Owen this really personal hurdle that he'd dealt with, with his cancer, it was an exciting event for Owen to finally open up to somebody in the same way that he did with Judd (Jim Parrack) in the first episode. I think Owen is just looking for connection with people, and he really wants to be able to share this with the people that he can because he knows that there are real-world consequences to something like that, being a firefighter with lung cancer.
There's some interesting paralleling going on between Owen and Billy with that poker game. Owen thought he had the upper hand and that he was the one who was able to fool Billy, but in the end, Billy [turned it around] and reported the health situation to the superintendent.
Lowe: I'm glad you noticed that. As we were sort of structuring the episode and trying to find appropriate themes and moments to mirror one another, that poker game served as our basis for Billy and Owen's relationship throughout the episode — can we tell when they're bluffing, whether it's a facade, when they're actually being honest with one another, is it always a competition, [and] is it friendly? That level of intensity is maintained throughout each of their actions and then mirrored in their final interaction where they have their stand-off. It is almost like a poker game of sorts; Billy's poker face is in full force at the end there. That was the intention for sure.
You mentioned the fact that there was a similar kind of friction with Judd in the beginning of the show. But Judd was willing to work with Owen as soon as he saw that tribute wall, while Billy seemed completely unimpressed with it. Did Billy always have that poker face, or was he ever willing to give him confidence to run the station?
Lowe: That's a good question, and I think it's two-fold. First, different people deal differently with tragedy, so in the way that Judd manifested PTSD and had to do serious self-work to recover, I think Billy has trauma that manifests in his competitiveness and his edge. Because at his heart, he's just a normal guy who faced some serious adversity in a job that he loved. And then, additionally, he didn't come in — it was not all part of a master plan. Subconsciously, maybe he was still seeking the job and was desperate to meet Owen, looking for an in. But I don't think he had a master plan to begin with, it just unfolded before him. And, like you said, he saw his opportunity, and he took it. At the end of the day, Billy is not a bad guy. He has a strong sense of connection to the 126, and he feels he's best serving them by dethroning Owen.
It's funny that they're foils because they have a lot of similarities. They both have a bit of survivors guilt, and then obviously, they both have been through their health scares. Is there any chance for them to be partners down the line?
Lowe: There's definitely a chance for that. I think that hopefully comes across that their level of edge and competitiveness, as much as they feel threatened by one another, there's also mutual respect. When we were first crafting the idea of this episode and a potential nemesis role for Owen, we really wanted to make Billy feel like the through-and-through Texas Owen, so his counterpart. Inevitably, with your counterpart, you're going to have clashes and tension, and you're also going to have a connection. That's what we wanted for this episode, and it was last hopefully for the future of their relationship.
What can we look forward to from next week's episode? Is Owen up for the challenge that he faces?
Lowe: The challenge that he presented is definitely bold. You're going to see Owen struggle and come to terms with what he's truly capable of and how much of a benefit he is to the 126 and where everybody's best role is there. Resolution-wise, we get to see Billy and Owen, the evolution of this relationship. I don't want to give away too much, but we definitely will follow them through the second chapter of this, and I don't think it's the expected outcome.
9-1-1: Lone Star airs Mondays at 8/7c on Fox.