Chicago Fire Explained Taylor Kinney's Absence As Kelly Severide, And There's Good News And Bad News

Taylor Kinney as Kelly Severide in Chicago Fire Season 11 midseason finale
(Image credit: NBC)

Spoilers ahead for Episode 15 of Chicago Fire Season 11, called “Damage Control.”

Chicago Fire fans have known since January that Taylor Kinney would be stepping away from the long-running drama at some point in the new year, although he had filmed enough episodes to appear in the first six of 2023. “Damage Control” was the first without Kelly Severide, which meant the long-awaited reveal of how the show would say a temporary goodbye to the character while the actor takes a leave of absence. The reveal wasn’t the worst-case scenario by far, but I see good news and bad news in how he was written out. 

The first clue that this would be the first Severide-free episode came when Stella was looking despondent in the loft before heading to Firehouse 51 alone. The explanation came minutes later, when Van Meter dropped by Boden’s office with some exposition: there was a last-minute opening in the world’s best arson investigation training program, and he recommended Severide. 

Severide could have said no, but evidently agreed off-screen, and 51 is currently without its Squad lieutenant. Boden wasn’t thrilled about Van Meter recruiting Severide away, but given how serious Stella and Severide looked when he got a text from Van Meter in the last episode, I was just relieved that Severide wasn’t missing for worse reasons than heading to Alabama for some arson investigation training. So, now that we’re facing an indefinite future without him, let’s look at the good news and the bad news!

The Good News

Well, the worst-case scenario for Severide’s absence was always that he’d be injured on the job and too hurt to actively serve as Squad lieutenant for a while, and him landing a spot in a prestigious arson investigation program in Alabama is pretty great! It’s also a specific scenario that few people probably saw coming, even if Severide taking a break for OFI was a popular guess. 

Plus, this isn’t a situation like Dawson going to Puerto Rico and Casey going to Portland – there’s no expectation that he’ll be gone for years, or even forever. Fire didn’t state exactly how long he’d be out of Chicago, but it’s presumably not a multi-year program. Van Meter told Boden that Severide would return with expertise that would benefit the whole department, and that bodes well for his return. 

The Bad News

As Brett pointed out in “Damage Control,” long distance relationships are hard. I doubt that there’s any reason to fear that – like Dawsey and Brettsey in years past – the distance will split the good ship Stellaride, but Stella is clearly sad that her husband is nowhere to be seen. Plus, the promo for the next episode (which will air on March 22) indicates that she’ll be at gunpoint, and might have appreciated having her husband around afterward! They had to ultimately lean on each other following the explosion that could have killed her not too long ago. 

Selfishly, I also see it as bad news that Severide going for some extra OFI training means that he didn’t head out west to hang out off-screen with Casey for a while. Was it ever the most likely way for Fire to say a temporary goodbye to Severide? Maybe not, but it was my personal best-case scenario. If I couldn’t get some good old-fashioned Casey/Severide bromance on screen, off-screen was the next best thing! 

Another piece of bad news is simply that there’s no confirmation of when he’ll be back, which of course could be in service of Chicago Fire giving Taylor Kinney as much time away as he needs, and therefore not giving a hard date to expect Severide back. Kinney getting the time away that he needs would be good news, though, so there’s a silver lining! 

The rest of 51 may need a silver lining of their own in the next episode, based on what the Truck crew seems to be facing soon. Take a look at the promo:

Sadly, fans may need to hit up a Peacock Premium subscription for the foreseeable future if they want a Chicago Fire fix, as Season 11 is going on a mini hiatus until returning to NBC in its usual 9 p.m. ET time slot on March 22. Chicago Med (which is exploring an emotional triangle that actress Jessy Schram explained to CinemaBlend) and Chicago P.D. will both return on March 22 as well. For some viewing options over the next few weeks, check out our 2023 TV premiere schedule!

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, but will sneak references to The X-Files into daily conversation.