Why FBI: Most Wanted Ended Jess LaCroix's Story With That Twist For Julian McMahon's Exit, According To The Showrunner

Warning: MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD for the March 8 episode of FBI: Most Wanted, called “Shattered,” that said goodbye to Julian McMahon. If you haven’t watched yet, beware!

FBI: Most Wanted said goodbye to longtime leading man Julian McMahon in the latest episode, with a devastating twist that will change the series forever. Just when it seemed like the future was bright for Jess as he planned a dream vacation with Sarah and continued building their new life with Tali happily at boarding school, he was killed in the line of duty while saving a woman. Showrunner David Hudgins opened up to CinemaBlend and broke down the decision to kill off Jess and explore the immediate aftermath in “Shattered.”

Although Julian McMahon had already announced that he was leaving, and it was already clear ahead of time that the March 8 episode would be Jess’ farewell, few fans likely imagined him actually dying quite this way in “Shattered,” even knowing that Jess would always put himself in the line of fire to try and save lives. David Hudgins explained why giving Jess a heroic death was the way to go for McMahon’s exit: 

In the writers room, we discussed many different scenarios, but ultimately, we kept coming back to this idea that in a way it serves the premise of the show, which is on Most Wanted we are hunting the most dangerous of the dangerous, right? These are the most wanted guys. It's an extremely dangerous job. And you know, there's always the risk in the job, of getting hurt on the job. And so we felt like to honor that, that this was the way to go and to have this exit done in a heroic way. I mean, he dies [to] save the woman that they're rescuing. So that was part of it, and the emotional sort of gut punch of it, was also part of it. You know, the fact that we have Sarah in the show, the fact that we have Jess' father, Terry O'Quinn, and obviously we've got the team members and all that. They're still around in the ensuing episodes, and we play the fallout from it. The decision was, let's do this. It's a very real risk of the job and it happens to Jess and it's tragic, but we felt like it was true.

While Jess dying just when he was painting the house and planning a vacation and continuing to court Sarah may be one of the biggest tragedies in the entire FBI franchise, David Hudgins pointed out that it’s also realistic that sometimes the heroes aren’t going to make it out of their missions alive. And Jess did save the woman whose life had seemed all but hopeless when she was being hunted, so his tragic death also honored his life. Plus, Jess’ death is still going to be explored further on Most Wanted, with continued “fallout” on the way. 

Of course, Sarah suffered a horrible heartbreak with Jess’ death, and may have been the one least prepared thanks to her status as a civilian. David Hudgins went on to explain that Sarah finding out the bad news from Barnes and Hana also included some parallels to real life, and he was full of praise for actress Jen Landon:

She was amazing, wasn't she? That scene to me... I mean, look, maybe they're not obvious, but I think there are parallels to spouses of military. That moment when there's a knock at the door, and you see somebody there, and just that horrible, horrible feeling. And in the scene, she actually – I love the way she played it – she almost tried to push them away, as if she could somehow avoid what she knew in her heart was really coming. I love Jen. I think she's terrific. And I thought she was great for the show. And again, part of the tragedy and the bittersweetness of the whole thing was she and Jess were really getting to a good place, 'freebirding,' talking about taking the first vacation that Jess had ever taken since she'd known him. So it's just heartbreaking. But she was amazing.

The episode didn’t just end on the immediate moment of Sarah finding out about Jess’ death, but continued the sequence with her realizing that their trip to Bali will never happen, and Jess will never finish painting the room blue, and the life that they’d built together was over in one fell swoop. The showrunner explained the goal of spending the last few minutes of the episode on the aftermath of his death, rather than just ending on the reveal that he was gone:

When something like that happens, it's obviously shocking, and tragic, but also dramatic and emotional. I guess there's a version of it where you could have ended it with the shooting, but we didn't want to do that. We wanted to play the emotion and the reality of what happens in those situations. And the idea of processing all the grief and having to tell Tali, and wanting to do it in person, we just thought that was such good emotion and drama that we didn't want to skip over. And, you know, grief is obviously a very funny thing. It happens in the moment, and then it happens forever. You know, I lost my own sister to cancer and you think you're over it and two years later, it pops right back up. So it's an ongoing process, but we didn't want to skip past the import of the moment.

Sarah’s reaction to the terrible news showed the broad spectrum of grief, as she went from the initial denial to fretting about the tickets to Bali to facing the prospect of telling Jess’ daughter that her father was dead. Fortunately, she wasn’t alone, as both Barnes and Hana broke the news and then stayed at the house with her while she processed it. David Hudgins explained why those two characters were the right ones to break the news, as well as what Kristin Gaines and Ortiz were up to off screen:

Well, I think they've had the longest relationship with Jess on the team and on the show, and it just felt right. You know, there was always a dynamic between Barnes and Jess. Our reference to it would be 'work spouses,' in a way. They were the closest. And Hana's obviously Hana. Everybody loves Hana. We just felt like they were the right two people to show up at the door. And in service of the story as well because Kristen and Ortiz have gone to get Byron so they can bring him to tell the news to Tali. So it felt like they were the original team members, probably the closest to Jess, and that's why we had them deliver the news.

FBI: Most Wanted said goodbye to another original member of the team at the beginning of Season 3, when Kenny Crosby was injured to allow for the exit of Kellan Lutz, so it was down to Barnes and Hana from the original team. Julian McMahon previously spoke about the “extremely unique” relationship between Jess and Barnes, and it’s a good thing that Hana made her return to Most Wanted after her long absence earlier in Season 3. The entire cast of characters will have a lot to process moving forward, even before the arrival of a new leader played by none other than Dylan McDermott. 

The next two original episodes of FBI: Most Wanted won’t actually have an official team leader, and the rest of the team has proven that they have what it takes to handle cases without Jess when necessary. David Hudgins already confirmed that fans will see how the team deals with his absence moving forward. Not much is known about Dylan McDermott’s character at this point, but the show is undoubtedly heading into a new era in the wake of this tragedy. 

See what happens next on FBI: Most Wanted following Julian McMahon’s exit and Jess LaCroix’s death with new episodes on Tuesdays at 10 p.m. ET on CBS in the 2022 TV schedule, following FBI: International at 9 p.m. and FBI at 8 p.m. To relive some of Jess’ glory days in Most Wanted (or revisit the FBI backdoor pilot for the spinoff), be sure to check out the entire FBI shared universe with a Paramount+ 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. Resident of One Chicago, the galaxy far, far away, and Northeast Ohio. 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).