This article contains spoilers for “The New Hotness,” Tuesday’s season premiere of “9-1-1: Lone Star.”
After getting engaged to police officer Carlos Reyes (Rafael L. Silva), paramedic T.K. Strand (Ronen Rubinstein) was hit with a shocking secret in the season four premiere of “9-1-1: Lone Star”: Carlos was already legally married to a woman. More specifically, Carlos was married — in name only — to Iris Blake (Lyndsy Fonseca), the younger sister of his best friend Michelle (Liv Tyler).
It’s a secret that, Silva said, has been gestating for years. During the show’s freshman run, co-creator and showrunner Tim Minear pitched Carlos’ marriage to Iris as an off-screen explanation for why Carlos and Michelle, who have a significant age gap, are close friends. But the writers were pressed for time in the first 10 episodes, and Tyler’s departure between the first two seasons meant they couldn’t address that connection right away.
“So the story behind Carlos and Iris has been brewing,” Silva told NBC News in early January in a joint video interview with Rubinstein. “And it’s finally come to fruition now that Carlos and T.K. are on their path to becoming a legally unified couple.”
In the Jan. 24 episode of the hit Fox procedural drama, which finds the first responders dealing with rare and extreme weather events in Austin, Texas, Carlos discovers that the couple’s dream wedding venue, which originally had a waiting list of a year and a half, had an unexpected opening in eight weeks, prompting him to meet T.K. at the firehouse and confess privately to his marital status.
“When I came out [as gay] to my parents, and the way that they never talked about it again, it felt like I disappointed them,” Carlos tells T.K. in an emotional scene. “We loved each other … and we tried to convince ourselves that we could make it work. We were wrong.”
Carlos and Iris — who has a history of mental illness and was last seen living in a tent city during the first season finale — went to high school together and knew everything about each other, including his sexuality. After Iris disappeared and then reappeared at the end of the first season, they never got a divorce, because Carlos believed he was helping her get treatment for schizophrenia with his health insurance. It isn’t until Carlos arrives at a shelter where Iris was seeking treatment that he discovers she is not only doing well now but is also working there — with health benefits — to better serve people with similar conditions.
Silva said he believes any decisions that Carlos made immediately after coming out stemmed from being told “in the culture that he grew up in” that “he was not enough” and from wanting to be loved and accepted by those around him.
“I think Carlos getting married was his way of trying to fix the uncontrollable — something that was completely out of his hands — and that’s extremely human,” Silva explained. “That’s something we can all connect to: Trying to find a way to communicate to the people that you love that, ‘Hey, I know I’m not what you expected, but I am still lovable. Love me for who I am.’ I think it coincided with the fact that Iris was also someone who was not accepted for who she was.”
He described them as “two people, in a time of need, coming together and being that support system for each other.”
Rubinstein said that scene, in which T.K. and Carlos realize they have only a few weeks to get Iris to sign divorce papers, is one of his favorite “Tarlos” scenes to date.
“At first, T.K. is confused and maybe a little bit put off,” he said. “What’s so beautiful about that scene is, [T.K.] can’t take it too personally. It was Carlos being a tremendous friend to Iris, and once T.K. figures out why it happened, it snaps back into T.K. supporting Carlos, and then we show that loving couple. … It comes back to: ‘We will figure this out. I got you. You got me.’”
That loving couple — affectionately dubbed “Tarlos” by fans — has effectively taken on a life of its own in virtual spaces. In the handful of fan conventions that he and Silva have done in the last year, including in-person events in Paris and Milan last summer, Rubinstein noted that “there’s been more new faces than familiar faces,” and people have formed close friendships and even romantic relationships through their connection to the characters on the show.
“When you do get to tell a story, it’s yours for that time [when] you’re shooting it. But then once it’s complete, the story doesn’t become yours. It goes out into the world, and you just have to let it be,” Silva said. “It’s beautiful how people have seen T.K. and Carlos together, and we saw that during the summer — people that connect from all parts of the world — and the only thing that I can do is just to say thank you.”
While much of the conversation surrounding T.K. and Carlos in recent months has centered around their impending nuptials, Silva cautioned that their journey to the wedding altar will be anything but straightforward.
“We’re talking about two people coming together to become one for the rest of their lives. Obviously, these are two people from very different backgrounds [and] upbringings,” Silva said. “And just like all of us, we need to, as characters, cure some things from the past, and that immediately starts from episode one.”
Silva said there are some stories “still being developed for both Carlos and T.K. “that will “assist in creating this beautiful wedding.”
“Needless to say, it has not been shot yet. It’s a wedding, man, and you can’t just have that in the middle of a season! It’s the wedding, so we’re walking together towards that,” he said.
With the reappearance of Iris, who insists on meeting T.K. before signing divorce papers, Carlos will be pulled into a mystery that will force him to reckon with his past and allow viewers to see him “flourish” in a new light.
“You’re going to be seeing a dedicated police officer tirelessly trying to get his answers, and he won’t stop until he does,” Silva said about his character’s arc this season.
Silva said fans will see a “side of Carlos that we haven’t ever seen before.”
“There’s a maturation that comes about,” he added. “You can’t run away from the things that have hurt you, because they essentially have taken away a power that you have, and in order to gain that power back, you need to sit down with it and face it — and we see Carlos doing that.”
Despite having fallen into multiple comas and experienced heartbreak and tragedy since the start of the show, T.K. will be more stressed out than ever, because “a lot of the stuff that happens to him this season is completely out of his control,” Rubinstein said.
“Mentally and physically, things start to not go right around him, and I think that’s really scary for him. It’s definitely the sassiest T.K. will be in four seasons,” he added. “Carlos has been the one worrying about T.K. for three seasons, and [T.K.] is constantly getting hurt and landing in comas and this and that, whether it’s physical or mental. So it’ll be interesting to see those roles reversed.”
Silva and Rubinstein, who are about halfway done shooting the 18-episode season, also revealed that Carlos’ parents, Andrea (Roxana Brusso) and Gabriel (Benito Martinez), will be around more often this year. T.K. will develop a closer relationship with his future-in-laws, and he will team up with Gabriel in the pulse-pounding fourth episode.
“I think the fans are going to be extremely, extremely excited, especially for ‘Tarlos,’” Rubinstein teased with a smile. “There’s a lot of ‘Tarlos’ in the first half of the season.”
“9-1-1: Lone Star” airs Tuesdays at 8 p.m. ET/PT on Fox. All new episodes will stream on Hulu and Fox Now after their initial broadcast.