‘9-1-1’: Tracie Thoms on Karen and Hen’s Future and the ‘Joy’ of Portraying a Queer Relationship on Network TV

“Finally, they can let all those things go and move forward as a very strong fortified family unit,” Thoms tells TheWrap

Tracie Thoms
Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty Images

Spoiler alert: The following article discusses the entirety of “9-1-1” Season 6, Episode 6, titled “Tomorrow.”

After a fiery cliffhanger in “9-1-1” Season 6 last week, which saw Tracie Thoms’ Karen get caught in an explosion at her lab, Monday night’s episode extinguished all concerns for her health. In Episode 6, titled “Tomorrow,” Karen and Hen’s (Aisha Hinds) story bifurcates into the past and present, unwinding via flashbacks to some of the trials in their relationship and their current struggle to remain together as Karen brushes against death. Having endured exes and a heartbreaking IVF journey in seasons past, the episode closes with Karen healing in the arms of Hen and their son, Denny (Declan Pratt), who was with her at the time of the accident on a school assignment.

“It really solidifies the importance that they hold in each other’s lives,” Thoms, who is also known for playing Lily in “The Devil Wears Prada,” told TheWrap in an interview. “They’ve gone through so much turmoil, so much uncertainty with exes in the past and things like that. Finally, they can let all those things go and move forward as a very strong, fortified family unit. Who knows what’s gonna happen? They’ll probably go back to fostering and maybe add some more members to the family, now that we’re gonna have some stability there, raising our teenager and I have to rebuild a lot with my job.” (In Seasons 3 and 4, the couple adopted Nia Gonzalez, who later reunited with her birth mother.)

Initially, the workplace accident was supposed to kick off Episode 6, rather than serve as the shocking conclusion to Episode 5, “Home Invasion.” Thoms said she knew something was up with her character when she was called in to film for 10 days on the episode, as opposed to her usual one- to two-day shoot in a recurring capacity.

“I knew something big was happening, but I had no idea what it was,” the actress recalled. “And then I started hearing rumblings about flashbacks and I was like, ‘OK, wait, what’s going on now?’ I was just overwhelmed when I read the episode. I thought it was beautifully written by Nicole [Barraza Keim], and I was so proud and honored and humbled to be part of it.”

While devotees of the Fox procedural know of Karen and Hen’s backstory, the episode dives deeper into the inception of their love story, tracing the former’s “growth” as she shed her workaholic tendencies to open up to a new romance, despite its complications.

“When we first meet Karen, she’s dealing with Henrietta’s ex, the mother of Denny coming back into her life, and that’s been a recurring theme, the past coming back to haunt you. And Karen has had a difficult time letting that go, really, and fully trusting that Henrietta is fully here with her all the time because it seems like every time they get comfortable, here comes Eva. Here she comes, here she comes back again!” Thoms said, laughing.

While the actress said that the couple will continue to deal with Eva in the future, given that the duo is raising her child, she’s “looking forward” to exploring the characters’ journeys with motherhood and each other, especially as Hen and Denny take Karen’s healing — mentally and physically — in stride.

“My son thought, perhaps, I was dead, and not only was he there for the explosion, he was there for Karen’s collapse. So it’s very terrifying for him,” Thoms said. “There’s a line at the end where he’s like, ‘Are you gonna hug me every time I walk in the room?’ Yes, I am. When things like this happen, it just makes you so grateful for what you have in a way that you may not have been before. It just puts everything in perspective for you.”

In the upcoming episodes, Thoms said she hopes the family can “find some peace and normalcy in their lives.” Hen has now chosen to remain a firefighter despite passing her medical exam, and Denny is soon to enter adolescence, which Thoms said is likely to bring some “challenges.”

“I just look forward to them having some happiness,” she said, adding that it’s been a “joy” to portray one-half of a “loving, queer relationship on network television” and crediting her scene partner, Hinds, who she has known for two decades, for creating an “easy and supportive” environment on-set.

“That representation is really important, particularly for it to be two women of color,” she continued. “You don’t see it very often. So I’m just proud to be able to bring that story, and I’ve met people on the street, who come up to me and they tell me how much that representation means to them and how it fortifies them in their lives. It really, really means a lot to me. I don’t take that lightly at all.”