Chicago P.D. Showrunner Breaks Down The 'Many Different Versions' Of The Fall Finale's Shocking Twist And Upton Going 'Very Dark'

Spoilers ahead for the fall finale of Chicago P.D. Season 10, called “Proof of Burden.”

Chicago P.D. has a knack for fall finales that can range in intensity from bloody cliffhangers to vows being exchanged, and the last episode of 2022 closed on a very dark development… and it was one that could have gone in several different directions. Showrunner Gwen Sigan opened up to CinemaBlend about the shocking twist at the end of the hour, and what’s up with Upton after Sean O’Neal spent several episodes trying to get into her head. 

The Intelligence Unit was stuck in a bad situation for most of “Proof of Burden,” as they knew that Sean was guilty of sexual assault and trafficking but just couldn’t get the evidence they needed in time to hold him. Chief O’Neal kept himself willfully blind for as long as possible, trying to protect the son he loved despite everything. Voight finally forced him to look at the evidence and see just what his son truly was, while Upton paid Sean a visit. 

It initially seemed like either Voight or Upton would have to cross a line all over again if they wanted to get him behind bars, but his fate turned out to be much darker. Sean went to his father, but was out of luck if he went there for sanctuary. The chief shot his son in the head and then shot himself, dying on the scene. Sean, however, somehow survived the shooting, and Voight began to render aid. Upton didn’t leap into action right away, but ultimately made the choice to help him rather than let him die. 

So, the misguided but fundamentally decent chief is dead while Sean survived. When I spoke with Gwen Sigan about “Proof of Burden,” I asked if there was ever any consideration of keeping Chief O’Neal alive, and she shared: 

So much! I mean, because we liked Michael [Gaston] so much as an actor, we wanted to keep him forever. We had so many different versions, and I think as soon as we landed on this dilemma of, do you save a monster? Do you save the guy that is the most irredeemable and has basically told you 'I will not change, I know I can't change,' and has done all of these horrific crimes? I mean, I think he's maybe one of the worst criminals we've had on the show just because they're children, and he's been so prolific.

After ten seasons of bad guys, it takes a truly horrifying villain to rank as one of the worst in Chicago P.D. history! According to Gwen Sigan, there were some possible versions where Chief O’Neal didn’t successfully kill himself in a murder-suicide, which could have meant Michael Gaston reprising the role again in the second half of Season 10. The showrunner went on to confirm that Jefferson White will be back as the chief’s son, and explain further why the decision was made for the father to die and son to live: 

We have to live there, to have the good man die, and this bad man be able to live and still be out there in our universe – and we are having him come back, so his story isn't completely shut yet – just felt so interesting. And also that dilemma for our characters of what it meant for Voight and Upton in that moment. It's a decision I think that would have been different a couple seasons ago, would have been different even at the beginning of this season… In my mind, it was based on so many things. It was Voight wanting to sort of save Upton, wanting to make the moral, ethical choice because he could tell that she might not in that moment, and knowing that you can't live with that.

If the first half of Season 9 proved anything about Upton, it was that living with the secret of taking a life wasn’t easy for her. She was only in the whole Roy mess because of Voight, so it’s fitting that he tried to keep her from veering off of the moral highroad as much as possible in Season 10. After all, they no longer have Halstead around to be there for her and try to stop him from going too far. Gwen Sigan continued:

I think it was an echo of what the chief said earlier in the episode, that you are responsible for the people you choose to have in your life and the people that you love, that you owe a responsibility to them. That for me was a big moment of growth for Voight as a character. They made the right, the ethical decision for themselves in a great way, but it does not mean the fallout is going to be good. You know, you saved a monster, so we're gonna see that complication.

Sigan didn’t reveal when Sean will return or what the state of his health will be. After all, even though Upton and Voight saved his life, he was still shot in the head. Whatever his health, it seems safe to say that his life as a man free to commit his horrible crimes is over. When Upton and Voight found the girls alive, they also found witnesses as the means to put him behind bars. 

Of course, it’s possible that Sean’s words and actions will continue to affect Upton even now that the case is seemingly closed. He took every opportunity to comment on her darkness and claim that she was broken, which was extremely bad timing in light of Halstead’s departure. When I spoke with Gwen Sigan, I asked if his mentions of darkness and brokenness were referring to what fans have already seen with Upton or something that still needs to be explored, and she shared:

I think we have seen it. We’ve certainly seen that she can go very dark. I think we established a couple seasons ago that she can't live with it. Last season, we saw her guilt over what had happened with Roy the season before, and that I don't think she has the stomach for it that she thinks she does.

Upton was literally scratching herself bloody from the guilt of Roy’s death, and that was when she killed him to save Voight’s life! She even said at the time that she couldn’t live with it while in the middle of a panic attack, so Voight prompting her to help save Sean may be for the best. She saved a man after considering letting him drown last season, but needed some help doing it this time after everything she has been through. The showrunner went on:

Then the other piece of that was he constantly was telling her how broken she was and that he could see it, especially in the headspace that she is now with Halstead being gone, and I think she just carries around a lot of that from her childhood and from issues with her family. So that is interesting, because I think in some ways she might believe she's broken too... He was using it to trigger something in her. He could see that that was there.

Well, at least it sounds like Chicago P.D. isn’t about to unearth a whole new long-buried layer of trauma in Upton’s past! The show has only touched on her experiences as a child without introducing any members of her family on screen, but viewers have seen how she’s processing (or not processing) her husband abruptly leaving the country with no hard date of when he’d be back. (Actor Jesse Lee Soffer will be back to P.D. in 2023, although not as a star!)

See what’s next for Intelligence now that they’ve closed the case on Sean O’Neal when Chicago P.D. returns in the 2023 TV premiere schedule on Wednesday, January 4 at 10 p.m. ET, following Chicago Fire (which ended its fall finale on an explosive cliffhanger) at 9 p.m. and Chicago Med (which dropped a big reveal for the future of the hospital in its fall finale) at 8 p.m. You can also revisit some past P.D. action streaming with a Peacock subscription

Laura Hurley
Senior Content Producer

Laura turned a lifelong love of television into a valid reason to write and think about TV on a daily basis. She's not a doctor, lawyer, or detective, but watches a lot of them in primetime. CinemaBlend's resident expert and interviewer for One Chicago, the galaxy far, far away, and a variety of other primetime television. Will not time travel and can cite multiple TV shows to explain why. She does, however, want to believe that she can sneak references to The X-Files into daily conversation (and author bios).