The news that Chicago P.D. is losing Jesse Lee Soffer’s Jay Halstead has been out for a week now, and yet it would be impossible to say that fans have processed it. Most of us are still in the denial phase, and it feels pretty good here. Or, okay, at least it doesn’t feel as horrible as it does in the real world. There are already petitions to bring the actor – who has yet to actually leave – back (and you can find them here and here if you want to throw your support there), and numerous hashtags about the character, or the ship he has been half of – Upstead – have trended in the past few days (including #BringBackJayHalstead #Upsteadforever #weloveyoujesse #noJaynoCPD and #bringbackjesseleesoffer).
If anything, the fan reaction proves that an exit for Jay Halstead isn’t just not what anyone wanted, it’s something no one expected could happen. Jay isn’t just half of one of the most popular ships in One Chicago, he’s also half of one of the few real connections the greater One Chicago universe has, other than “hey, these people know each other enough to say hi on the street,” as his brother Will Halstead, played by Nick Gehlfuss, is a series regular on Chicago Med.
That’s not even the only reason the situation we find ourselves in doesn’t make sense. Jay Halstead has been around since the beginning of the show and isn’t just a replaceable piece of the puzzle at this point, but a character integral to the fabric of the show. Whether it is because he’s the only one standing up to Voight – and the only one who could one day take over the unit – or because he and Hailey just got married and were about to start living their lives together, everything was pointing towards another full season of Detective Jay Halstead on the show.
We won’t even speculate what might have happened behind the scenes, but whatever it is, it’s not just disappointing for fans who have followed this character – and this actor – for a decade, it’s disappointing for the continuity and coherency of a show that seemed to be turning a corner and moving in the right direction after trying to grapple with having a dirty cop like Hank Voight as the lead in the year of our Lord 2022.
Jay Halstead was the future of Chicago P.D. And with him gone, all we’re left with is a show with brilliant parts, but that has no way of making those parts into a cohesive unit. And there really isn’t any way to salvage that other than …well, not write Jay off. But there is still one way the show could make a terrible moment even worse, and that’s by choosing to write off the character in a permanent way.
Don’t kill off Jay Halstead, Chicago P.D. Don’t add insult to injury.
The decision, and the reasons behind the decision, can be whatever they are. But for fans who have followed Jay Halstead’s journey for ten years, there is no bigger slap in the face than choosing to kill the character off, particularly when many other satisfying options remain. Chicago Fire wrote off Jesse Spencer’s Matt Casey and allowed him to continue on a long-distance relationship with girlfriend Sylvie Brett – which then allowed Spencer to guest star in the final episode of Season 10, an episode that absolutely needed him.
If anything, Jesse Lee Soffer’s Jay Halstead deserves to keep that door open. Well, if we’re honest, he deserved to stay on the show till the end, but if we can’t get that, we’ll at least take this. Hope. A job heading his own unit, still in Chicago. His relationship with Hailey continues off-screen, with the possibility of reappearances if any big cases need him. Who knows, that could even be a way to introduce a possible spinoff, one that doesn’t rely on bad cop turned sorta good but still mostly bad Hank Voight.
That’s the best-case scenario, but there are worse ones that still work. A return to the military, perhaps. More dramatic, and slightly less believable, but if it means he’s alive and could one day come back, fans will take it. Especially if it’s not written in a way that has him abandoning his wife Hailey – something Jay has proven time and time again he would never do – but as a decision she understands, and one she supports.
Worse options than that exist. There’s the aforementioned “he’s just leaving the unit and Hailey,” which makes so little sense I almost cannot even consider it. There’s writing off a character and then there’s trashing ten years of character development, and Jay making a decision like that would surely fall in the second category. But this isn’t an option we can completely dismiss – considering that’s pretty much what happened on Chicago Fire when Monica Raymund left. Beat for beat.
And, of course, there’s just killing him off, which effectively preserves his character, while still being a slap in the face to everyone who has ever loved the character – plus, would require extensive mourning storylines for both Hailey and Will. You can’t just handwave away the grief of losing your husband or your brother. Or, at least, you shouldn’t if you have any respect for the character or the viewers.
Neither option, even the best ones, are actually good for fans who just want Jay Halstead to stick around. But there are better ways to handle this moment in time we find ourselves in than killing off the character. Ways to honor what he’s brought to Chicago P.D. and the One Chicago universe in general. Ways that allow fans a glimmer of hope that there’s still a happy ending in the cards, for his character, and for a ship they have followed and loved for seasons.
Please, Chicago P.D., as a fan, I’m begging you. Don’t make a heartbreaking situation even worse. Don’t kill off Jay Halstead – and don’t make him act completely out of character to justify a decision that has no real storytelling justification anyway. Hope isn’t all fans deserve, but if it’s all they can have for now, let them have it. We’re not asking for much here. In fact, we’re basically asking for scraps. Don’t take them from us. Please.