Spoilers below for the latest episode of Last Man Standing, titled "The Two Nieces of Eve."

While Last Man Standing's Season 9 premiere did the commendable job of giving viewers Kaitlyn Dever's way-too-quick return as Eve Baxter via a family-wide Zoom call, that definitely wasn't going to enough to sate fans for the entirety of the sitcom's final season. Thankfully, everything fell into place in just such a way that Dever was able to finally return in person post-time-jump for Episode 914, but there was a very good chance that the increasingly popular actress wouldn't have been able to return at all.

CinemaBlend spoke with Last Man Standing showrunner Kevin Abbott about the episode "The Three Nieces of Eve" – whose title is an inspired pun on the '50s mystery The Three Faces of Eve – and I asked how hard it was to bring Kaitlyn Dever back to the set for the final season, especially considering all things pandemic-related. Here's how he answered:

Look, Kaitlyn is amazing. Just adorable. I've known her for 10 years now, starting on the first season, and we just see her blossom. She was always fantastic, but she just grown so much, and she's just an immensely talented actress. So we always want her back. The fact that she is such an immensely talented actress gets in the way, because she's got a lot of work. So, you know, the last couple seasons, it was always trying to make certain that we could get her in a couple of slots. She always wanted to come back, but she was working on movies and whatnot. This year was even harder because of COVID. And in actuality, the next episode with Aunt Eve in it, was supposed to be shot third. We'd actually written that to be the third episode filmed, and because we got pushed back – the city had COVID issues, and the original schedule got pushed back a couple of weeks – she was no longer available. So suddenly, I'm kind of looking at that like we may just lose the episode, much like we lost last year's season finale episode to COVID.

For those who might not remember, Last Man Standing had plans to wrap up Season 8 in a big way on Fox by bringing Kaitlyn Dever back as Eve for two fun episodes involving Kristin Baxter's pregnancy and more. Unfortunately, the show was in the final stretch of the episodes production when the call came down that filming needed to stop, and it remained halted for months. That delay forced showrunner Kevin Abbott and his creative team to frustratedly cut losses and shelve the episode entirely, which then led into the show introducing the two-year time-jump that optimistically set the Baxter family's current stories in a post-COVID world.

While Last Man Standing's bosses did a solid job of finding an interesting way to jump into Season 9 without the need for pandemic-heavy humor, they obviously couldn't rewrite real life in a way that allowed everyone to go all out for the final season. Instead, all the COVID protocols created a new normal in Hollywood that made it even harder for shows to utilize guest stars, since the self-quarantining period required for filming created even more of a time crunch for busy actors like Kaitlyn Dever. Here's how Kevin Abbott continued explaining the challenge behind securing Dever for Season 9:

So we just kept trying to figure out free dates. The fact that she was working on other projects – Dear Evan Hanson, and I believe she had another Netflix series – complicated things, because there had to be that 14-day quarantine window back at the time we were doing it. So it became very problematic getting her. We did finally manage to get the opening several months later. We kept trying to do it. We restructured the script so that it could be dropped in at any point in time, as opposed to, originally it was kind of more of an introductory episode with this first couple episodes, as we were trying to reset the show in the timeframe. But we took that out and just restructured a little bit so that it could be an evergreen and just dropped in any place. We got very lucky that we were able to get her, and that was almost the only time we were able to have. So that was really an extremely positive thing. And we almost didn't get her then, because when we had rescheduled it, that was when we had a couple of positive tests on the set. The only time that happened all season long. . . . But we had to reschedule it, and we were very lucky to be able to figure out how to get back in again. But, you know, this season was a lot of juggling.

Luckily, Last Man Standing isn't so serialized a series that the writers couldn't find a way to craft an Eve-centric episode that could essentially fit anywhere in the season where Kaitlyn Dever herself could fit into it. Indeed, it felt like a perfectly natural choice to have Eve going through her journey as an aunt this deep into Season 9, where her toddler nieces have developed personalities and are easier to latch onto, as opposed to trying to convince viewers Eve would become emotionally attached to screaming newborns/infants. I'm sure it would have worked, story-wise, but then fans wouldn't have been able to see Dever in dress-up mode, so we're better off as is.

Imagine if Last Man Standing's showrunner had worked that hard to build the house of cards necessary to guarantee Kaitlyn Dever's return, only to have it all fall apart over a legitimate COVID outbreak on the set. Thankfully, that incident was limited in nature and didn't derail the production much, allowing for just enough time to get Dever involved before she was needed elsewhere. While Abbott did make it sound as if this will be Eve's only in-person appearance for the final season, I'm hoping there will still be another Dever-shaped surprise in store for fans before the hour-long series finale concludes in May.

With seven episodes left to go, Last Man Standing airs Thursday nights on Fox at 9:00 p.m. ET. Here's hoping we can all make it through those episodes free from mind-numbing nightmares about Tim Allen's ventriloquist dummy.

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