Following Emotional Episode, Chicago P.D. Director Breaks Down The Upstead Update And 'Wildest Thing' About Tracy Spiridakos' Performance

 Tracy Spiridakos as Hailey Upton in Chicago PD Season 10
Tracy Spiridakos as Hailey Upton in Chicago PD Season 10

Warning: MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD for Episode 12 of Chicago P.D. Season 10, called “I Can Let You Go.”

In the latest episode, Chicago P.D. revealed that Upton putting Sean O'Neal behind bars wasn’t the end of their twisted dynamic. He volunteered to become her informant on the other prisoners in protective custody… as long as she kept visiting him every week. This was the last thing that she needed, especially on top of her fruitless attempts to get through to her husband. “I Can Let You Go” delivered a long-awaited Upstead update, but not the one that she was hoping for. Director Gia-Rayne Harris spoke with CinemaBlend about what happened, and Tracy Spiridakos’ performance.

Gia-Rayne Harris came to Chicago P.D. as part of NBCUniversal’s Female Forward program, which gives female directors the opportunity to shadow and then direct for a scripted TV show in the same season. Already experienced on a number of short films, Harris helmed one of the emotional episodes of Season 10 as Upton had to face a painful new reality about her separation from Halstead. After failing to connect with him, she finally called the major who could give some insight into whether he was okay, and when he was coming home.

While she did hear that Halstead is okay, she also learned that he’d chosen to extend his time on duty… without even telling her, let alone asking her. She had to fight back tears while trying to sound normal over the phone. When I spoke with the director about the episode, she opened up about Tracy Spiridakos performing the phone call scene with no scene partner delivering dialogue. Harris said:

I cannot speak more highly of Tracy and her character and just her as an actor. The only thing you really need to do with her is give her space. The only thing you need to do is make sure you are both clear on the goal and give her space to get there. It was right under the surface the whole day. To tell you the truth, it was my very first day shooting that we shot that. Talk about coming in hot! But she just delivered on all sides, and I was crying behind the monitor.

Gia-Rayne Harris also revealed that she watched every episode of Chicago P.D. that was available to her before directing “I Can Let You Go,” so she had seen what Spiridakos was capable of in emotional scenes. It was quite a scene to shoot for a first day, and I think it’s safe to say that there are fans who can relate to the director crying at seeing the performance of Upton missing Halstead so openly, and getting bad news. She went on:

I didn't want to do it again. I didn't want to go in and ask her to repeat it because it was just so amazing. But we were able to do it a couple other times and get different levels. She knocked it out every time because the emotions are real. I'm sure she misses her friend in real life.

Tracy Spiridakos and Jesse Lee Soffer shared a lot of screen time between when she joined P.D. as a series regular in Season 5 and his departure in early Season 10, with their characters partnered up for years before turning romantic. His absence has caused a huge shift in any episodes centered on Upton. When I asked if the other half of the phone conversation had actually been scripted for Spiridakos to react to, Gia-Rayne Harris revealed:

It was just indications. That's the wildest thing, and I didn't actually think about it until post-production because all of the sudden I was like, 'Would it be nice to have a voice in there talking back?' But there was something about the silence on the phone that was so effective, and you just have to be in her experience. You can't jump ahead or decide how you feel about it. You have to see how it hits her, and I think that was way more effective.

Just hearing Upton’s half of the conversation kept the focus entirely on her, which meant Tracy Spiridakos delivering a pivotal performance without a scene partner. When I noted that she’s the kind of actor whose emotions can make viewers feel emotional themselves, the director responded:

I'm getting chills thinking about it. That's absolutely [true], because she's very empathetic herself, and she's one of the most open people I've ever gotten to work with. I genuinely don't understand how she has chosen this particular career. Obviously, because she's incredible at it, but she has such a huge heart. I just hope that stays protected, both on this show and outside of the show, because she's something special.

Upton’s empathy came out in full force in the first half of the season when she went all-out to get justice for Sean O’Neal’s victims, even when it meant pulling all-nighters and letting him get too close for comfort. Of course, burying herself in her work started largely because going home to an empty apartment was hard for her in the wake of Halstead leaving.

The departure of Halstead has meant the absence of what was arguably the central romantic relationship of the show. When the time came for Gia-Rayne Harris to prepare for her episode to deliver the biggest update on what's up with Upstead since early Season 10, the director shared that she "followed fan accounts" and "looked at every TikTok of every Upstead union," and explained:

I wanted to see what the fans thought of this couple and how I could honor that. Also, I felt for this couple. I absolutely fell for them and fell for their particular love. Even the simple scene of her drinking wine alone in the kitchen, I was remembering episodes where they were standing together, kind of debriefing. So when I would talk to her, I was like, 'Think about those times, when you had him across the counter. Now he's not there.' It's just that little simple understanding of this emptiness now, I think was helpful. I'm grateful that I was able to dig and fall for them and also be heartbroken for her. I was reading the script and I was like, 'Oh, come on, man!' I knew it was coming because I'd read the outline, but I secretly wanted him back.

Chicago P.D. doesn’t always have the time to showcase the cops of the Intelligence Unit in their homes, even in the episodes centered on particular characters, so seeing quiet moments of Upton alone in her apartment stood out from the norm. Gia-Rayne Harris went on to explain that showing all the personal touches in the apartment while Halstead simply wasn’t there was a goal for setting the tone of the episode:

We all know what it's like to go through a breakup or lose somebody we love, and I think all of a sudden that space that you shared, it just feels like their ghost is there. I wanted to make sure that empty space was something that was represented repeatedly, and it's like we couldn't get away from it either. Because she goes out in the world. She kicks butt. She's taking names. But she goes home and it's just her. She's great, but she's hurting.

While Upton and Halstead are still married and haven’t broken up, she has definitely lost him as a constant partner by her side at this point. Whether Sean O’Neal’s final taunt in “I Can Let You Go” about Upton giving her speech to the wrong person affects her moving forward remains to be seen; the silver lining for Upton is that this episode at least seems to have convinced her to be done with dealing with Sean for good. On the Upstead front, there’s no sign that Jesse Lee Soffer is returning to Chicago P.D. in front of the camera, although he will be back as a director later in the season.

As for “I Can Let You Go,” you’ll be able to revisit Gia-Rayne Harris’ episode streaming with a Peacock Premium subscription. The director has several short films hitting the festival circuit, including Oh Spare Me, Cairn, and Before You, the latter of which is based on and inspired by her mother’s experience as a Black rookie cop in South Mississippi and being developed into a feature. She has also been nominated for an NAACP Image Award for her short Pens and Pencils, which will premiere on HBO.

You can also find new episodes of Chicago P.D. on Wednesdays at 10 p.m. ET on NBC, following Chicago Fire at 9 p.m. and Chicago Med at 8 p.m. in the 2023 TV schedule.