Sunday, May 22, 2022

‘9-1-1: Lone Star’: How Tarlos Is Changing the LGBTQ+ Narrative

Mild spoilers ahead for season 3 of 9-1-1: Lone Star!

FOX first responder drama 9-1-1: Lone Star is not all about the crazy calls the 126 are on. The other half of the series focuses on the personal lives of the first responders and their own relationships. One relationship that has been at the forefront since before the series even premiered is Tarlos. Paramedic Tyler Kennedy (T.K.) Strand and Officer Carlos Reyes immediately hit it off when they met each other in the pilot episode. Since then it’s been a whirlwind for the two of them. As the leading, and only, LGBTQ+ couple in the 9-1-1 spin-off, they are changing the narrative when it comes to the representation of the LGBTQ+ community.

Kevin Estrada/FOX

Even before Lone Star, Tarlos was a hit

Before 9-1-1: Lone Star premiered in January 2020, Tarlos was getting plenty of recognition. Thanks to one of the first trailers that aired, the relationship between T.K. and Carlos was seen by the world. Soon, they became the #1 ship of a show that had yet to premiere. Over the next few weeks leading up to the premiere, FOX started to get an idea of what the fans wanted, and Tarlos was used pretty frequently for marketing.

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When Lone Star premiered, the series did the right thing by not just throwing us into the Tarlos relationship immediately, it was gradual. T.K. had gone through a “nuclear bad” breakup in New York and Carlos was willing to wait after he found out the truth that T.K. struggles with addiction and he’s in recovery. He understood. The two of them still had fun. But it wasn’t until after T.K. got shot that made Carlos admit his true feelings for him. They finally got together at the end of the first season and yes, there have been multiple near-death experiences and near-breakups — even an actual breakup — since, but it just brings them closer than ever.

Why being an LGBTQIA+ first responder couple is so important

The Big Chill
Jordin Althaus/FOX

As it’s already been established, T.K. and Carlos are both first responders. T.K. is a firefighter-turned-paramedic while Carlos is a cop (hopefully-turned-detective in the future). Portrayed by two actors in the LGBTQ+ community, T.K. and Carlos are unique, to say the least. While doing an Instagram Live last year, Ronen Rubinstein and Rafael L. Silva were asked what they love most about portraying LGBTQIA+ first responders and their answers were completely on point.

Silva responded:

“As a queer person, you kind of look for characters, you look for queer characters, to admire, to fall in love with, to befriend on TV because you want to feel seen. And playing an LGBTQIA+ character in itself, for me feels very imperative to utilize my voice to… almost to make me feel like I am enough to be doing the job that I am doing at the moment. Now that I get to portray that character it’s like, ‘Yes, this is my own personal ownership. This is my comeback to that little kid in the past who felt like it wasn’t enough. This is my like, no I’m enough. So much so that I’m on TV.’ And I’m portraying a first responder, a cop. And what that environment is like for an LGBTQIA person and the history of being that type of fist responder and what does my character look like in that environment and how much he cares and how much he doesn’t care. Not afraid to banter with his now-boyfriend in front of his colleagues. There needs to be that ownership. For me, it feels liberating.”

Jack Zeman/FOX

Meanwhile, Rubinstein had this to say:

“Not only are we underrepresented and these characters are underrepresented on television, especially primetime network television. What I think is so beautiful about our show is that it was completely normalized. There was no dramatic coming out story with any of these characters, and the most important thing I think is that we’re showing it in the first responder world, which you rarely see, especially with firemen and police who have this sort of stigma of being manly, macho and there’s a machismo element to first responders that no one would ever think there’s gay men in these communities. But there very much is. I’ve had so many people not only come out of the closet to me but also reveal their pain about being gay in these communities for decades. Grown men. They’ve been firefighters, they’re police officers and they still feel like they have to hide their true identity because of this weird stigma that’s going on in the community.”

“So the fact that we’re portraying this in a truthful, honest, beautiful way and not overdramatize or this thing that we’ve seen before, it’s been completely normalized. So I think that’s the beauty and the importance of our characters and the importance of these writers giving us this chance to even portray these characters on primetime network television, which more people have access to than any streaming or cable program out there. It makes it more accessible so that way more people are able to see themselves on screen, feel heard finally, feel represented, and feel understood. I always say a lot of people for the first time ever are seeing themselves on our show. Which is crazy. It’s the greatest honor you can ask for as an actor, as a writer, as a director. That’s why it’s so crucial to show these characters and I think sort of we can be the blueprint of shows in the future to see that not only does it work but people want to see this, people want to see themselves. They don’t want to feel like they’re not represented.”

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It is extremely important that Tarlos is being portrayed as a first responder couple. While yes, there are plenty of procedurals airing on network, cable, and streaming, with plenty of LGBTQ+ characters, there are very few that depict two leading LGBTQIA+ first responders. Firefighters, paramedics, police officers … these are the people that are real-life everyday heroes and they should be portrayed in a way that is so authentic and real and doesn’t make you question whether or not this can really happen. 9-1-1: Lone Star beautifully does this in a way that is so organic and takes time and doesn’t make the relationship all about T.K. and Carlos. You see them together, you see them apart, working individually or working together.

Carlos has grown closer to the 126, and he and T.K. host “126 hangs” at their place. He’s part of this family that is so special and so rare and even when they were broken up, Carlos still made sure that he was the one that arrested Marjan when she was trying to keep the 126 from getting demolished. Nancy, on the other hand, was badgering T.K. about why he and Carlos broke up because everyone loves them together. This relationship not only means a lot to T.K. and Carlos, but it means a lot to their friends and family since they are so happy with each other.

Tarlos helped one star come out

Kevin Estrada/FOX

T.K. and Carlos are portrayed by Ronen Rubinstein and Rafael L. Silva, respectively. Silva is an out and proud member of the LGBTQ+ community, while Rubinstein actually came out as bisexual last year. As highlighted in our 2021 Pride Month Spotlight article, Rubinstein did a very personal and open interview with Variety discussing his journey and why he chose to come out. He mentioned that it was because of the fans and their openness and acceptance of Tarlos and of each other, as well as his own girlfriend and Silva and so many other supporters close to him.

The fandom of 9-1-1: Lone Star is a very accepting one, always supporting one another and showing their passion and dedication for Tarlos and it’s so incredible. If an actor is that comfortable with being so open and honest with fans, it means that they care about the role and character just as much as the fans do. And Rubinstein has greatly insinuated that he, as well as Silva, take great care in portraying T.K. and Carlos and representing the LGBTQ+ community.

They make an awfully good team

FOX

Last but certainly not least, as stated before in our Tarlos season 1 moments article and the characters themselves, T.K. and Carlos make a pretty damn good team. Whether they are working on calls together, surviving a “fiery situation” together, or simply checking up on one another in the middle of the night and supporting one through a tough loss, they are always there for one another. They have gone through more in less than three seasons than a lot of couples go through during an entire run. They have gone through a shooting, their house being burnt down, hostage situation, an ice storm, a plane nearly crashing and likely more in the future. It’s the way that these situations affected the both of them in different ways. We see different perspectives and how T.K. and Carlos are handling whatever is going on.

They are there for each other, they support each other, they are understanding and patient. The show took time to build up this Tarlos relationship that we all know and love. T.K. didn’t open up to Carlos right away and Carlos didn’t want to be the one to do all the chasing. Like any couple there have been ups and downs along the way, but it just proves how well they work together. Even when T.K. was on his deathbed during the breakup, Carlos still stayed by his side the entire time, and couldn’t stand the thought of losing him. It was a heartbreaking way to get them back together, but it was a beautiful realization of what it means to be with your soulmate. That Carlos literally can’t live without T.K., and vice versa.

Jordin Althaus/FOX

In this day and age, it’s as important as ever to have leading LGBTQ+ couples and characters in general, on television, network TV especially. 9-1-1: Lone Star is turning the tide by having three LGBTQ+ actors (shoutout to Brian Michael Smith) portray three LGBTQ+ characters that are out. And not have their entire personality be their sexuality or sexual orientation. While at the same time, showing how important it is to have these characters on screen and going through stuff that is normal and that people deal with on the regular.

Tarlos is changing the narrative of LGBTQ+ representation on network television, and that’s a fact. It’s the way the writers aren’t afraid to try something new and how Ronen Rubinstein and Rafael L. Silva are dedicated to these characters and making sure that people can see themselves in T.K. and Carlos and feel heard. Hopefully 9-1-1: Lone Star goes on for seasons to come so fans can continue to watch their journey, even though it will come with some bumps in the road. But it’s nothing Tarlos can’t handle. As Rubinstein and Silva have both said themselves, Tarlos is endgame. They can withstand anything.

To get an even deeper look into Tarlos individually, read our 2020 Pride Month article on T.K. here and our 2021 Pride Month article on Carlos here. New episodes of 9-1-1: Lone Star air Mondays at 8 p.m. EST on FOX!

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