At one point in the 9-1-1 series premiere, resident hotshot, sex-obsessed rookie fireman Evan “Buck” Buckley (Oliver Stark) blasts a gun-wielding perp with a firehose, sending the criminal, and the motorcycle he’s riding, flying onto a nearby patch of grass. It’s the action sequence at its finest, created specifically for the folks watching at home to yell “Damn!” in unison. Buck has a lot of those moments, as does his boss Bobby Nash (Peter Krause), a stand-up guy trying to make amends after a decade-long battle with addiction. While Bobby and Buck might star in the sequences you’ll breathlessly retell your friends — “And then he chopped the head off of a snake!” — these day-saving heroes aren’t the true stars of FOX’s latest Ryan Murphy collaboration. No, that honor goes to the leading ladies of 9-1-1, Athena Grant (Angela Bassett) and Abby Clark (Connie Britton).
There is one perfect moment in the emergency responder drama’s opener, “Pilot,” I truly hope no one missed the subtleties of. To set up that scene, Bobby, Buck, and their coworker Howie Chimney Han (Kenneth Choi) saw a premature baby out of a sewer pipe; Buck then runs the in-critical-condition infant down five flights of stairs to a waiting ambulance. At the same time, Athena, a policewoman, tracks down the extremely young mother of the child, who flushed her baby down the toilet and is now bleeding out. Despite this possibly fatal fact, Buck still tries to bar the girl from the ambulance, screaming, “Screw her!” When Athena forces him to let the dying young woman, who is just a child herself, into the ambulance, he seethes, “If this baby dies, it’s on you.”
It’s official: Buck’s behavior is obnoxious as his name.
Now, this is where Athena’s big moment comes in. The ambulance arrives, and mother and baby are rushed inside. Bobby and Buck are standing on the sidewalk when Athena’s police cruiser screeches onto the scene. The policewoman hops out of the car to give Buck the tongue lashing he deserves. “You do not get to choose who lives or dies,” she reminds him. Buck responds with an over-sized God complex and narcissistic humor. With her warnings falling on deaf ears, Athena leaves with a death glare.
Friends, Athena furiously followed an ambulance and hopped out of the car only to tell an arrogant, rude, and seemingly unqualified young white man off. She had absolutely no further business on that sidewalk other than publicly dragging Buck. There were no statements to take, no hangs loose ends to wrap up, only unadulterated shade.
While Athena’s power obviously shines here, she is equally as vital in the quieter moments of 9-1-1. During “Pilot,” we get a peek at her home life, which is its own form of brewing chaos now that her husband Michael Grant (Rockmond Dunbar) has come out as a gay man. During a cold war kitchen exchange, Athena begs her spouse not to forever obliterate their family life just yet by telling their two children his news, which she has only known for a few weeks. Michael ignores his wife’s request and spills the beans. The devastated rage Angela Bassett plays over the prematurely delivered bombshell will stay with you for quite a while, as she wails, “Don’t you touch me!” at a man who wants to blame Athena for his own lies.
Speaking of real family issues, Connie Britton’s Abby, a 9-1-1 dispatcher, has a mountain of her own as she deals with her aging mother’s rapidly worsening memory. While this kind of true-to-life misfortune grounds a show filled with increasingly wild emergencies, Abby’s greatest scene arrives when she receives a chilling phone call from a 9-year-old girl named Lily (Alyvia Alyn Lind). Lily is alone in a house she just moved into, and armed robbers are violently bashing in her door to break it. Eventually, they succeed. Not only does Abby manage to keep Lily alive by talking her through every step to eventual safety, she also outsmarts the robbers.
When Lily is caught by the criminals, Abby realizes the only way to stop them from killing the little girl is by pretending to offer the thieves an escape route. They follow Abby's every word, only to find themselves in the backyard, staring down the barrel of none other than Athena’s gun. One of the robbers, named Petey (Charles Baker), tries to escape, but fails due to that firehose stunt we were talking about earlier. Buck might have stopped Petey, but, he was only in the right place at the right time thanks to the ingenious quick thinking of Athena, Abby, and firefighter Henrietta Wilson (Aisha Hinds), who loaned Buck and his firetruck to Athena for the case.
A finally-contrite Buck couldn’t be more correct when he tells Abby over the phone, “You’re the real hero here.” Abby is simply happy someone in the field is recognizing all the hard work she does. So, men like Buck can keep all their GIF-able rescues, since the women of 9-1-1 are just fine checking the true heroics off their to-do list.
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