After a brief hiatus, 9-1-1 did things a little differently this week, and not in a way you’d expect: Instead of upping the ante with an alien invasion or a whale swallowing a tourist whole or something, 9-1-1 did a character-driven flashback episode … set in 2010. Flashbacks episodes are fun—Riverdale just did one!—but an eight-year gap isn’t enough to seem like a complete change of scenery. 9-1-1, if you’re gonna [extremely Pitbull voice] go back in time, give us funky costumes and music from the ’80s!
But credit where it’s due: 9-1-1 delivered a genuinely solid episode, rather than an hour of pure, adrenalized chaos and haphazard character development. The episode, “Hen Begins”—which sounds like a Batman spinoff gone wrong, but let’s move on—showed us how Hen found her true calling in life as a firefighter and the obstacles faced joining the Los Angeles Fire Department as a woman of color. “Hen Begins” packed some emotional punches, buoyed by a captivating lead performance from Aisha Hinds (the 9-1-1 writers must’ve watched her work as Harriet Tubman on Underground, saw that she could capital-A Act, and given her a great opportunity to flex those muscles).
Of course, for the purposes of 9-1-1 Watch—The Ringer’s recurring blog detailing all the wild moments of this perpetually bonkers TV universe—that meant we were a little shrifted this week. But here’s the good news: In addition to breaking down a light week of chaos, we have an exclusive interview with actor Oliver Stark, a.k.a. everyone’s favorite reformed sex-addict firefighter, Buck. We’ll get to that in a bit. For now, let’s break down “Hen Begins.”
The Wildest Shit That Happened on 9-1-1 This Week
“Hen Begins,” well, begins with Hen having a business dinner as a pharmaceutical rep, an occupation that is just so clearly not as rewarding as firefighting. You can tell Hen’s just not feeling it—especially once one of the men tries to proposition her and she threatens to stab his hand with the steak knife. (Queen.) By the end of the night, she knows she needs to quit her job.
But that means Hen must find something new, so she has a meeting with her life coach to discuss her options. And before you can even think about how strange it is that an ostensibly long-time pharmaceutical rep has a life coach, she collapses onto the floor.
Life Coach had a heart attack, and it’s thanks to Hen’s fast thinking—calling 9-1-1 and performing CPR before the paramedics arrived—that saved the woman’s life. Yeah, I think Hen is going to be pretty good at this.
We flash a bit forward, as Hen joins the firefighter academy, and what follows is a brief yet uplifting training montage that culminates with Hen’s graduation. The montage is nowhere near Rocky franchise levels of good, but it did have me feeling like Hinds needs to be enlisted for a Widows sequel, were that ever to happen.
But life at the station turns out to be not all that great. Our wholesome fire chief Bobby (Peter Krause) is nowhere to be seen, and the current chief—let’s just call him the One-Dimensional Bad Guy—hates that the LAFD gave him a “diversity hire.” On top of that awfulness, he also doesn’t think a woman can do what he perceives to be a man’s job. Suffice to say, this guy sucks. The only person at the station who welcomes Hen is an Asian guy named Howie—which, yep, that’s the real name of fellow 9-1-1 firefighter Chimney (Kenneth Choi). The mystery of why he’s called Chimney, though, will apparently be saved for another flashback episode.
For Hen’s first big 9-1-1 call, she has to deal with a biblical landslide that really had it out for this poor woman’s house.
I suppose, since it rains in L.A. infrequently, she’d have never suspected that living in a home adjacent to a hill would be a problem. The woman is trapped in the mud and can barely breathe. Hen ignores the advice of the station chief and adds more water to the mud, which helps the woman break free. Because another house fell on her, the woman’s injuries were so severe that she still died in the hospital—and the One-Dimensional Bad Guy continued to treat Hen like shit, but she did the right thing and proved that leaving a life of pharmaceutical conferences for firefighting in what is apparently the most catastrophically dangerous city in the world was the right choice.
And really … that was it for 9-1-1 Watch. Seriously. Hen delivered an emotional speech at the fire station about wanting to feel seen—it was genuinely great—and ignored her captain’s orders on another call, which saved a kid’s life. By the end of “Hen Begins,” the One-Dimensional Bad Guy was fired because Hen’s coworkers reported his transparently misogynist behavior. And with that, the crucial backstory of one of 9-1-1’s heroes was complete. I was always rooting for Hen, but now whenever she’s rescuing a civilian I’m going to be on the couch holding one of those giant inflatable no. 1 fingers people wear at sporting events.
The Buck Talks Here With Oliver Stark, 9-1-1 Actor Who Plays Buck
And now, instead of weekly awards, here is our wide-ranging interview with Stark. This has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Your character, Buck, is constantly jumping between emergencies. What’s it like when you first sit down to read the 9-1-1 scripts and they’re full of all these ridiculous emergency scenarios? Two seasons in, do you get numbed to the craziness at some point?
Pretty much every time a script comes through, I read it and think, “How are we going to do that?” Because some of the scenarios are so extreme and seem so big and ambitious. And then every single time, we have such a good crew here that make it happen. Like, I propelled down a cliff in Malibu the other day, climbed up a roller coaster in the first season. I’m getting to do all these cool things that are being set up for me to be safe, but there’s still an adrenaline rush from doing it. That’s just a perfect job, as far as I’m concerned.
Is there a particular emergency sequence that stands out as being especially fun to film?
I think the earthquake at the beginning of the season—it was so big and it was a lot of hard work to pull off. We were building these huge sets, and the crew had to tilt them 30 degrees, which doesn’t actually sound like that much, but that’s a lot. You can’t even stand up on that tilt, so we were building these huge things on this big, turning set. It was such a huge effort.
The 9-1-1 writers base a lot of these emergencies on real-life incidents. Were you or any of the other actors surprised about some of the backstories?
The one that was most surprising to me was probably from the first episode of this season where, for YouTube hits, somebody cemented their head into a microwave. Reading it, I thought, “Nobody’s that stupid,” but no, that’s a real thing.
The biggest change for Buck this season is Abby leaving the picture and your sister Maddie showing up. That also means replacing one TV icon, Connie Britton, for another in Jennifer Love Hewitt. How’s the experience been getting to work closely with these two actresses?
I can’t believe my luck. I had a lot of fun with Connie last year. We had a really great relationship. And then with Jennifer coming in this year, we have a very similar relationship off set where we make fun of each other a lot. She’s actually become a really important person in my personal life. She’ll call me and give me a pep talk when I need it, so that’s really nice to have someone with the experience that she has.
What’s the best piece of advice that one of the veteran actors on the show has given you?
Talking with Peter Krause, he’s making sure that I enjoy every day. I remember him telling me about Six Feet Under and saying when he had to pull his car out of the parking lot on the final day, what a moment that was for him. That hit me, thinking that at some point this show will end. I thought, “Wow, yeah, I really need to make the most out of every moment.”
Another newcomer this season is fellow firefighter Eddie. Your characters had a bit of animosity at the beginning, but now Buck and Eddie have developed a bit of a bromance. The 9-1-1 fans are even ‘shipping them as a couple.
Yeah, I know. I’ve seen a lot of it, and again I’m like, “Sure, if that’s what you are taking from their relationship.” Any piece of art is put out there for people to interpret in whichever way they want. If that’s what people pick up on or see, then good for them.
Buck’s turned over a new leaf this season. It’s a massive change from the start of Season 1, when he was self-professed sex-addict, to the point that he once used a fire truck to pick up a woman. What do you think’s been the biggest factor in Buck moving away from those sex-addict ways?
It’s a number of things. The most obvious is his relationship with Abby and discovering what real intimacy is, and the fact that what he’d been doing before—as fun as it felt at the time—was a little empty. But also, I think it’s just a case of him growing up and learning from the people around him, realizing what to prioritize in life.
Buck just went on a date with Ali, the woman he rescued from the hotel, and obviously 9-1-1 is always gonna put your character in some type of danger with these emergencies. What should fans expect from the rest of the season with Buck?
I can’t answer that because I don’t know yet. We’re still shooting, but from what I know, it’s just continuing down the path that we set out on of almost self-discovery. There will be slipups and there will be recoveries from that, and then he’ll probably slip up again. I think there’s a roller coaster still ahead for him, which is very true to life in your 20s. My life kind of mirrors Buck’s life, so it’s quite therapeutic. So yeah, we’ll see what comes, but I think there are plenty of ups and downs still ahead.
Come back next week, as 9-1-1’s midseason finale doubles as a Christmas special, featuring an emergency call from a guy trapped in a giant present and another person inadvertently knocking themselves off the roof of their house while inflating a giant Santa Claus. I need it to be Monday night again already.