Welcome to the sixth installment of the 2020 Pride Month Series! Each day of the month of June, we will be highlighting a different member of the LGBTQ+ community who we think is a great example of representation and dynamic characterization. We will focus on fictional characters, celebrities, and activists alike — the positive voices within the LGBTQ+ community and in mainstream media.
Tyler Kennedy (T.K.) Strand, played by Ronen Rubinstein, has gone through quite a lot in the first season of 9-1-1: Lone Star. From overdosing to moving to a completely new city to getting shot and everything in between, all while being a firefighter. But he hasn’t gone through it alone.
When we first meet T.K., he and his dad, Owen — also his firefighter captain — are getting ready to save someone on top of a building in New York. T.K. brings up the fact that he’s proposing to Alex that night, pleading with Owen not to say anything negative. But all Owen was going to say is that he should think about moving in together first; however, he’s happy for him. Alex meets T.K. at a restaurant, and both are all smiles. Alex tells T.K. he wants to talk to him about something, but T.K. says he wants to go first. The following day, Owen’s at the firehouse, wondering where his son is. He gets to T.K.’s apartment, and after pounding on the door with no such luck, he fears for the worst and calls for backup. When Owen and the team get the door open with a battering ram, T.K. is found unconscious on the ground, pills beside him. After using Narcan and CPR, T.K. finally comes to as Owen grabs his son comfortingly, relieved, and T.K. sobs in his arms, apologizing. Owen wants to know what happened and why he relapsed, and T.K. admits that Alex is in love with somebody else. Knowing they both need a fresh start, Owen tells T.K. they’re getting out of town but not on vacation.
Once all settled in their new home in Austin and finishing the first call with the new crew of the 126, everyone heads to a bar to celebrate. Having met for the first time during the call, Austin police officer Carlos Reyes asks T.K. if he wants to dance. That sparks the beginning of what is known as Tarlos. It’s a back-and-forth with them over the next few episodes; are they just hooking up, or is there something more? In episode 3, after getting into a bar fight, T.K. opens up to Carlos at the police station about his substance abuse and what happened in New York. He opens up to Carlos because he wants him to trust him, and even though they just met, T.K. feels something for him. He just isn’t sure if he’s ready for it to be something more, so they start to take things slow.
Episode 8 is the next time there’s really a scene with T.K. and Carlos, but not in the way everyone would hope. After getting shot on a call, T.K. winds up in the hospital in a coma. Carlos visits, and Owen, who had been sitting next to his son, notices the heartbreak in Carlos’ eyes and tells him that T.K. would appreciate him being there. Carlos takes a seat by T.K.’s hospital bed and simultaneously strokes T.K.’s hair while rubbing his arm as the rest of the 126 stand behind him, hoping for the best for their coworker/brother. It shows that although things between them hadn’t been great, Carlos deeply cares for T.K.
As T.K. struggles with what he wants to do with his life, personally and professionally, after waking up in episode 9, the season finale starts off with T.K. and Carlos talking about their relationship: how Carlos was worried for T.K. when he saw him lying in that hospital bed, what the two of them are, anything along those lines. However, the conversation is soon interrupted when they’re caught in the middle of a solar storm, and they start helping people in the street after cars, scooters, and traffic lights go haywire. After a hectic day, T.K. talks to the 126 crew and then talks to Carlos, who shows up at the station. The two of them lay on top of Carlos’ car in a field, watching the Aurora Borealis, talking about how they make a pretty good team, and officially deciding to give it a try.
Throughout the season, you see T.K. struggle a little about what he wants in his life. He went through a horrible breakup that made him relapse and OD, nearly killing himself. But once he gets to Austin, he starts this fresh, new life, and although it’s rough at first, he gets a new family with the 126. He falls for Carlos after they were initially just hooking up, and he even opens up to him when he’s in a vulnerable place because he knows that Carlos is different. At first, T.K. wants nothing to do with commitment because of what he went through in New York. He wanted to focus on himself and his job, but after meeting Carlos, he thinks that maybe there is someone out there for him. And after getting shot, his whole perspective changes. He struggles with wondering what to do with his life; he doesn’t know anymore. He thought he wanted to be a firefighter his whole life, wanting to be like his dad, but then this traumatic event happens to him, and he doesn’t know what he wants. He ends up helping a woman during the solar storm, saving her life and risking his, and he realizes he’s exactly where he’s needed to be. At least for now, he wants to be a firefighter and be with Carlos.
You don’t see much of T.K.’s life in New York. All you know is that he’s a firefighter, his dad is a firefighter, he’s gay, and he had a drug addiction. But in just 20 or so minutes of the pilot, this perfect and happy life that he had comes crashing down on him. He and his dad start fresh in a completely different city, rebuilding a firehouse from scratch with a whole new team. They soon become a family, looking out for one another. Now comes along someone who catches T.K.’s eye, and it makes T.K. wonder if there really is someone out there for him who cares about him. He cares deeply about other people and being a firefighter. He wants to help people, but he needs to help himself first. When T.K. confronts Owen, telling him that he knows about his cancer, he’s upset that he didn’t tell him, but knowing that his dad needs him, he is still there for him; going to appointments with him and helping him pass a test to prove that he’s well enough to stay at the station.
T.K. Strand is vulnerable and sensitive. He relies on others, who rely on him, always there for his friends and family. He is unapologetically himself. Take his relationship with fellow 126 firefighter Judd Ryder, for example. The 126 had been Judd’s home for years, but after a tragic accident happens, he has to step away for a while. When he comes back, Judd doesn’t take any of T.K.’s “high and mighty” crap, saying that just because he’s the captain’s son doesn’t mean anything. After some fighting and wise words from Judd’s wife, Grace, and also Carlos, T.K. thanks Judd for putting him in his place; no one’s ever talked to him like that. Judd tells T.K. he’s his brother and family.
The reason why T.K. is part of this series is not just because he’s part of the LGBTQ+ community. It’s because he’s brave and strong, and caring. He opens up to Carlos because he cares about him and to the 126. After all, they’re family. He risks his life for people he loves and people he doesn’t even know because he wants to help people; that’s why he became a firefighter. He might not know if this is what he wants to do for the rest of his life, but he knows he wants it now. He knows he wants to do it with his dad and the 126. Even though his last relationship ended on a sour note, counting how many days since he proposed to Alex, who told him he was in love with someone else, T.K. still finds someone that makes him truly happy. He genuinely cares for Carlos, while Carlos genuinely cares about him and is willing to wait for him until he feels comfortable going all-in in a new relationship. One can only hope that T.K.’s backstory is explored even further in season 2, including his struggles, recovery, and relationships with his dad, the 126, and Carlos.
Although 9-1-1: Lone Star premiered last January, the show was making buzz late last year after the first trailers started releasing, all because of a certain couple — Tarlos. After this season, it’s clear why fans had been fixated on the two since before the show debuted. It may have been frustrating to some that T.K. and Carlos were a “Will they, won’t they?” couple for the majority of season 1, but it shows that the series wants to take time with this relationship, as do the characters, especially since T.K. is still reeling from his past. But it’s clear they care about each other, so there’s no doubt we will see the highs and lows of Tarlos next year.
Season 1 of 9-1-1: Lone Star is currently streaming on Hulu and the FOX NOW app. Season 2 is expected to premiere during midseason in January 2021 on FOX.
Stay tuned for our next installment in this year’s Pride series!