With Chicago P.D.'s Surprise Finale Cameo, Did Season 11 Set A Fun New Precedent For Returning Characters?

With Chicago P.D.'s Surprise Finale Cameo, Did Season 11 Set A Fun New Precedent For Returning Characters?

Another season of Chicago P.D. has come to an end, and "More" on May 22 doubled as the farewell episode for Tracy Spiridakos as Hailey Upton. Fans knew that Upton's exit was coming; what nobody could have foreseen was the return of a former series regular who has been gone for years, and the cameo made me wonder if the door is open for other unconventional character returns down the line in the 2024 TV schedule and beyond.

First things first, as summer hiatus begins and gives rise to speculation: here's what happened and what the Chicago P.D. showrunner told us about what went down!

How Chicago P.D. Brought Back Olinsky

As longtime fans will remember, Alvin Olinsky was Voight's close friend and confidant for the earliest seasons of Chicago P.D. before he was repeatedly stabbed in the penultimate episode of Season 5 and then ultimately died in the Season 5 finale. That seemed to be the end of the line for the character in a show as grounded in reality as Chicago P.D. No magical resurrections or hauntings in One Chicago!

So it came as a fun surprise in the Season 11 finale when Voight opened his eyes and suddenly saw his friend in the room with him. Now, this wasn't Chicago P.D. delving into the supernatural to bring back Olinsky, but Voight was so seriously injured that he was hallucinating his former friend. Still, with Elias Koteas reprising the role, it felt like a Voight/Olinsky scene of old.

When I spoke with showrunner Gwen Sigan about setting up Upton's exit (without Halstead), she also shared how the P.D. team made it happen to bring Elias Koteas back:

I'm so grateful to him because he was open. He was excited about it. I think it felt really special for him to be able to come back, and of course to work with Jason [Beghe] again. Those two are really bonded, and he's close with everyone on this show. That's what's so nice about these shows, right? Like, you're always still in it. Like even though Olinsky is not in the unit anymore, his desk is still there. His hat is still hanging on the wall. In our minds, he's still there and he's in all those characters' minds. So I'm really grateful to him that he was willing to do it, and it was just so special. It was so nice to see them both in a scene together again.

Of course, the only reason why Voight could have this pseudo-reunion with his late friend was because he was on the verge of death himself after being kidnapped by a serial killer, and surely would have perished if not for a timely rescue from Upton. I shared with the showrunner that the surprise of seeing Olinsky the first time I watched the episode was great, but also meant that Voight had to be in very bad shape, and Sigan responded:

I know, right? You're like, 'Oh, God! It's really bad!' [laughs] Yeah, that's the only way it would have happened. Like we had to make it [bad]. It had to be the most vulnerable he's ever been for this kind of moment to occur.

Fortunately for fans of the Intelligence Unit with Voight in charge, the sergeant did stop seeing Olinsky and survived instead, leading to the scene that set up why Upton decided she needed to leave CPD and the Windy City itself. The cameo wasn't essential for the plot of the episode, but did some emotional heavy lifting that was more than welcome.

Did Olinsky's Return Set A Precedent?

While I'm not going to wish for the Chicago P.D. characters to wind up on death's door on a weekly basis on the off-chance that a former star could appear, I do feel like the arrival of Olinsky via hallucination kind of opens up the possibility of P.D. branching out from its more straightforward and grounded procedural roots if it means emotional payoff. Within reason, of course!

P.D. has always been the most procedural of the three One Chicago shows, with less of a focus on character on a week-to-week-to-week basis, and characters can feel forgotten once they're gone. (I still want to know what happened to Rojas between Season 7 and Season 8, dang it!) Erin Lindsay was barely mentioned (and Sophia Bush is presumably unlikely to return), the latest update on Antonio came from Gabby's return on Chicago Fire, and even most of the mentions of Halstead came in Upton episodes when she was dealing with his absence.

Could Olinsky's return via hallucination during the tenure of Gwen Sigan as showrunner mean more fanciful opportunities for characters to return, even if only for cameos? Now, I really only mean "fanciful" in terms of hallucinations, dream sequences, and flashbacks rather than anything too wild, but it's a fun possibility to consider as summer hiatus begins and there are months left to wait before Chicago P.D. Season 12. Do I think it's going to happen? Maybe not, but this is what break is for.

Whether or not seeing Olinsky again is a sign of what could come, it was a standout part of the Season 11 finale and I'm glad P.D. stepped out of its usual grounded bounds to make it happen. For now, you can always revisit the end of Season 11 or any previous season streaming with a Peacock Premium subscription, along with every season of Chicago Fire and Chicago Med.