It's extreme crisis mode on the set of Canada's beloved police drama, "Flashpoint." On location at the Toronto International Marina, a frazzled man named Harold ("CSI: NY"'s A.J. Buckley) is standing on a ferry, screaming frantically. Turns out this shotgun-wielding guy has separated from his wife, is schizophrenic and off his meds. Worst of all, Harold has abducted a baby girl he mistakenly believes is his. In other words, Harold is a walking time bomb waiting to explode.
Also on the scene are Constables Ed Lane (Hugh Dillon), Sam Braddock (David Paetkau) and Julianna "Jules" Callaghan (Amy Jo Johnson) from the Strategic Response Unit (SRU), who are doing their best to diffuse the situation. Obviously, things aren't going well. Harold's confusion is turning to anger and rage as he yells, "Liar! Liar! I would never hurt her!" Before somebody actually does get hurt, Jules slowly inches toward the oblivious infant nestled in a black duffle bag. As she tentatively reaches out ... boom! The director shouts "Cut!" Apparently, it's time to lock it up, reload and do another take.
As the crew resets, a grinning Dillon is texting while Johnson and Paetkau are sitting on the sidelines talking and laughing. The atmosphere is surprisingly relaxed and jovial considering what an intense series "Flashpoint" is. More importantly, this is technically the beginning of the end. After five seasons and 11 Gemini Awards (including Best Drama Series, Best Direction and Best Actor), "Flashpoint" will be closing up shop. Dillon, Paetkau, co-star Enrico Colantoni and executive producer Bill Mustos spoke exclusively to Huffington Post Canada TV about "Flashpoint's" final season.
"Flashpoint" is the little TV series that could. Not many freshman shows get picked up, let alone renewed for multiple seasons, and "Flashpoint" has exceeded all expectations. Originally conceived as a Canadian production on CTV, CBS added it to their slate as well. Eventually, that American network dropped it, only to have ION Television snatch it up. Now, despite consistently strong ratings, creators Mark Ellis and Stephanie Morgenstern are taking a cue from "Lost" and ending "Flashpoint" on their own terms.
"We felt that we hit a high-water mark creatively and we set this goal for ourselves to exceed season 4 in season 5," says Mustos. "We really are trying to pull hard in the same direction to achieve that. Part way through the season, when we felt we were achieving that goal, we said 'You know what? This feels like a really good time to bow out, when we're at a good apex and we can go out with the fans wanting more.'"
Colantoni, who plays Sergeant Gregory "Greg" Parker, has almost been down this road before. Both his long-running comedy "Just Shoot Me" and his cult-favorite TV series "Veronica Mars" were unexpectedly axed. For Colantoni, "Flashpoint" feels notably different.
"'Just Shoot Me' and 'Veronica Mars' were cancelled without us knowing anything," explains Colantoni, sitting in his trailer. "It was like being taken out back and shot in the head. Having the opportunity to say goodbye with 'Flashpoint' is the greatest gift we could be given. I don't know what the real reasons are, but to be given that opportunity to say goodbye, to really tie a nice little bow around this show, the five seasons and call it a capsule ... Here it is. Five seasons of 'Flashpoint.' There is no wondering what could have been or what happened to these characters. No, this is it. That feels great."
Initially, "Flashpoint" received an early 18-episode order for its fifth season. Before production even kicked off, that number was slashed to 13. The shorter season didn't derail any plans, though.
"We were never sure it was going to be 18," offers Mustos. "I would say in the fall it was getting complicated to line up both of the networks about that 18-episode plan. There was discussion about CBS possibly being involved. The whole thing got so complicated around the 18 that we began to shift in our minds, well before pre-production, that we were only going to do 13. We actually mapped out a 13-episode arc that would take us to a place that if we did think was the right spot to end it, it would be right, as opposed to having to adjust or scale back at the last minute."
Go Big or Go Home
Fear not, faithful viewers. The series is still going out with a bang rather than a whimper. Expect plenty of bomb threats, hostage situations and heavily armed lawbreakers. In fact, some of the crimes will be ripped straight from the headlines. And there's so much to cram into the finale that Mustos has a special announcement.
"Because the finale had so much that we wanted to say in it, we recently made the decision to expand it from one hour to two hours," explains Mustos. "That's not out there yet. I know Mark and Stephanie, who are writing it, have been sequestered in a dark room somewhere hammering away at it. It's a big-scale finale."
"Flashpoint" may feature procedural elements, but at its core, the series has always been about the SRU members, their lives and what makes them tick. While the spotlight will shine on each character, it is Ed Lane who'll be taking center stage in a way that will send shockwaves throughout the rest of the season.
"The pilot started with Ed having to take a shot and being profoundly affected by what happened after when he thought he had hit the wrong person," explains Mustos. "We knew that given that the overall arcing theme of the series is the human cost of heroism, we felt in our hearts the right thing to do was to come back to an Ed Lane arc that was going to start off with something big and traumatic. Of course, you also want to further the character development of your other leads. We've been building a relationship between Sam and Jules that we wanted to see through. We're also doing stuff with Parker and his son. And there's a new twist with Spike (Sergio Di Zio). In Spike's story, we learned last season his father had died, his mother moved back to Italy and so Spike is really on his own for the first time in his life. We have an arc with the character that deals with that."
"My character goes through such a journey this year," agrees Dillon. "Ed questions what he does and has to come to terms with it. The writers have done an incredible job with how much depth there is. There's a lot on post-traumatic stress. They talked about it in season 1, but this year it's full-blown."
Sensitive hunk Sam Braddock is the professional sniper of the group. Often the go-to-guy for chasing down the crook or for getting physical, Sam earned the nickname "Badass Jr."
"There's definitely some gunplay for Sam," acknowledges Paetkau. "There are some back-and-forth exchanges with machine guns. I get to work with A.J. Buckley, who is a friend of mine. We just seem to be having fun this year because we know it's the end. When you're shooting a gun, this could be for the last time."
Sam has been particularly protective of Jules, and that friendship blossomed into a romance. Since it's against work policy for two teammates to become involved with each other, they've had to sneak around and overcome their fair share of emotional obstacles.
"I'm excited to see them explore Sam and Jules more," continues Paetkau. "How do you take the next step in a relationship when you have the jobs that you have? What sacrifices have to be made? I'm just excited to tell the stories we want to tell and wrap it up in a way that makes everyone happy."
"And I've liked that they've kept their relationship honest and realistic in the sense that it's not 'Oh, they don't love each other this week and then they do the next.' They kept it a nice slow burn and true to life."
As for the team's resident leader, Greg recently reconnected, and reconciled, with his estranged son, Dean. Despite a happier home life, Colantoni is hoping they kill off his alter-ego.
"To me, if you blow up the team, if everybody goes their own way, there's shame associated with that," explains Colantoni. "There's failure associated with that. But if somebody who's considered the heart of the team, to lose that, you move forward, but you really don't. Nothing is the same anymore. There would be a different feeling if Ed Lane died because he's the strength. He's the bravado. He's the guts. Parker is different in that respect. He's much more ethereal and to lose that, there's sadness."
This is a close-knit cast. There's no denying that. Ask any of them what they will miss most about "Flashpoint" and they aren't afraid to voice their love for one another.
"It's actually going to be tough not working with these people," says Mustos. "It's a tough show to make. It's so hard to fit into our seven-or-eight-day schedule. It has so much emotion, action and locations. We were on rooftops in the middle of winter freezing together. The actors have had to expose themselves emotionally in front of everyone. You really bond over those experiences and the hardships, as well as the victories. It's very hard for me to think once we wrap at the end of June, we won't be coming to work together."
"The camaraderie," offers Dillon. "I love working with them. I'd do anything for them. It's been an incredible experience."
"It's a family and a comfort," says Paetkau. "Five years with these people and doing something you're proud of ... People have gotten married and had kids. This is a big chapter in my life that I'll cherish."
"I'll miss my friends," concludes Colantoni. "Hugh is like a brother to me. All of these guys are family. When I was on 'Just Shoot Me,' it was an ensemble show in the purest sense. We had our lunch together for seven years. With 'Veronica Mars,' it was Kristen [Bell] and I. 'Flashpoint' was another 60-minute show [where] I thought it was impossible to achieve ensemble status and yet, we are. We're a team. Over five years, we have learned to function as a team on and off the screen."
Watch the final season of "Flashpoint" on Thursdays at 10 p.m. on CTV in Canada and ION on Tuesdays at 11 p.m. in the US.
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