There are a few things you can take for granted on a TGIT show. Everyone will be ridiculously attractive and competent. There will be many sexy, shirtless hookups. And, the heroine is always right. Even when she, say, murders a well-meaning foreign leader and his innocent niece, you should still be rooting for her. Because, she will eventually be proven right. TGIT is wild, friends.
The Shondaland playground’s latest addition, Grey’s Anatomy spin-off Station 19, also lives by this ethos. Our fantastic leading lady is Andy Herrera (Jaina Lee Ortiz), a firefighter at Seattle's Station 19 with a passion for the profession running through her veins. After all, her dad Pruitt (Miguel Sandoval) was the titular firehouse’s captain until he was forced to leave his post due to cancer. As Pruitt steps down, his daughter decides to step up and fill her father's shoes. But, following Thursday night’s “Contain The Flame,” it’s time to question whether Andy should actually be captain of Station 19. The answer is much more complicated than anyone could have thought.
From the surface of Station 19, it seems pretty obvious Andy is meant be in charge. She and BFF Maya Bishop (Danielle Savre) are shown to be the most capable people around within the first few minutes of the series premiere, “Stuck.” During our introduction to the eponymous fire station, it’s obvious Pruitt can only manage his daunting responsibilities because his daughter is carrying any and all slack, all while supplying kale smoothies for her papi. Then, there’s the simple fact Andy spearheaded an ingenious, risky rescue in “Invisible To Me” featuring formerly invisible-turned-bright, hot blue flames. Andy is a badass.
Yet, “Contain” starts to poke holes in the idea Andy is a super-powered firefighter and the only person for the job. Her competitor for the captain’s office is co-worker and secret boyfriend Jack Gibson (Grey Damon), who originally seems like a hotshot with many symmetrical features and very few critical thinking skills. Then, he goes and dives into a pool filled with liquid nitrogen to save a little girl hidden in the water, which is asphyxiating everyone. The only reason Jack knew another child was caught in the liquid death trap? He counted the flip-flops lined up by the pool and realized someone was missing from the rescue line-up.
Resident truth-teller Travis Montgomery (Jay Hayden) explains to Andy that kind of 10-steps ahead thinking is “why Jack’s ready for captain.” Andy on the other hand might not be, Travis muses. “It is a skill to do what he does. A skill you haven’t figured out yet,” he tells Andy. “Jack’s been a lieutenant for years, you’ve had less than two days. You’re good, Herrera, but you’re still green. I lost a husband under a captain that was still green.”
Now, that is a good point. And, it’s far more feminist to question Andy’s credentials and experience for the kind of life-or-death decision-making of a captain than to simply say she should get the gig because she’s the woman at the front of a TV show.
From first glance, it’s obvious Andy is amazing at her job, and amazing at managing Station 19. But real issues arise at two points: when she’s trying to prove her competency to those around her — likely a habit from being the captain’s kid for years — or when her near-obsessive adherence to protocol puts everyone at risk.
While both tendencies would usually help on the job, because who doesn’t want an ultra-adept rules-followers when there is literal fire everywhere, they actually become handicaps in the field. We saw as much in “Invisible,” when Andy, on her first day as acting co-captain, dismissed a first-aid car so quickly at the scene of a false alarm fire, Victoria Hughes (Barrett Doss) and Grey’s alum Ben Warren (Jason George) had to deliver from a bathroom floor. Similarly in “Contain,” Andy insists on sticking with a “heat hole” during a top-floor fire even when it appears not to work, endangering the mission. In both situations, her defense was, “It’s protocol.” In the latter emergency, Andy also refuses to listen to Jack’s advice simply because she didn’t seem incompetent against her competition.
Unfortunately, these moments are likely products of the “You need to be twice as good…” wisdom we all learned from Papa Pope (Joe Morton) on Scandal and parents of color everywhere. Oftentimes, when someone like handsome white guy Jack makes a mistake, it’s, well, a mistake. When someone like Andy, a Latinx woman, makes a mistake, it can turn into an indictment of everyone who looks like her. So, she has to stick to those time-honored protocols to cover her reputation. That way, if something goes wrong, it’s the rules’ fault, not Andy’s. Although all of this makes iron-clad sense, that kind of constant anxiety is crippling when faced with the high-tension conundrums of a captain.
While it might be uncomfortable to reckon with the fact Andy isn’t the perfect captain’s candidate — Jack, for the record, isn’t either, with his ridiculous laissez faire managerial style — it sounds like her portrayer Jaina Lee Ortiz is happy to explore these layers. “I’m really excited to see Andy fail,” Ortiz told Refinery29 last week. “She’s not perfect, she’s flawed. No one is perfect. If it’s not messy, it’s not worth watching.”
Thankfully, Station 19 also suggests Andy is capable of using Jack’s signature jazz-like “skills” and nimble, adaptable problem-solving. The woman led a fire truck into a 10-foot-wide wall of blue flames to save her people and an injured civilian, all to a chorus of “Girl, are you out of your minds?” And, just to prove how much she believed in the plan, Andy was the one standing on the back of the truck during all the death-defying. That, my friends, certainly isn’t protocol. But, it is the kind of stunt that has the markings of a great leader.
So, no, Andy isn't ready to be captain right this moment. Yet, Andy will be once she's more “Get in or get out of the way,” and less “But, protocol says...”
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