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9-1-1's Angela Bassett Breaks Down How a Cold Case Close to Home Became a Healing Venture for Athena

The case revealed more of why Athena became a police officer

Max Gao

[Warning: The following contains spoilers from Monday's episode of 9-1-1. Read at your own risk!]

For Athena (Angela Bassett) on 9-1-1, the past always has a way of coming back around. A few years after arresting the man who shot and killed her late fiancé in the early 1990s, the LAPD field sergeant cracked another cold case—this time in the Florida neighborhood where she grew up.

With her husband Bobby (Peter Krause) in tow, Athena had returned to her childhood home under unfortunate circumstances: She was coming to watch over her comatose father, Samuel (Henry G. Sanders), who had suffered a stroke behind the wheel and driven straight into the house where her mother, Beatrice (Beverly Todd), was staying. But after returning to the house one evening, Athena discovered an even more shocking secret: While digging up part of the foundation, Bobby and Reggie "Junior" Franklin (Kevyn Morrow), a longtime family friend, found the body of Tanya Kingston, the little girl from across the street who was supposedly snatched out of her bed one night and never found again… until now. "I promised myself that when I was old enough, I would become a policewoman and find that little girl," Athena told Hen (Aisha Hinds) in a flashback.

Monday's episode reveals what happened to Tanya (Kapri Ladd), and how her disappearance shaped an inherently inquisitive Athena (played in flashbacks by Ayaami Sledge) to become an officer of the law. Despite being warned against trying to solve an active police investigation, Athena and Bobby began looking for clues at Tanya's house, where they encountered her resentful older sister, Joanne (Donzaleigh Abernathy), who now lived alone and begrudgingly admitted that she and Tanya had snuck out on the night of her disappearance. Tanya had followed Joanne, who neglected to keep an eye on her, to a late-night bonfire with Joanne's friends, where she was chased, assaulted, and ultimately killed by Junior. Her body was then buried in the wet concrete foundation of Athena's childhood home by Junior's father, Reggie Sr. (Lou Beatty), who kept that secret for over 45 years. But needless to say, Athena was able to bring both of them to justice—and even chased down Junior in the same orange groves where he had once chased her and Tanya. And in the end, she was able to celebrate the closing of the case with her beloved father, who woke up from his coma by the end of the episode.

TV Guide spoke briefly with Bassett about the decision to revisit another key moment from Athena's past, the close connection that Bobby and Athena share as husband and wife, the scene she recently shot with the 118, and the other characters that she would like to see Athena interact with going forward.

Angela Bassett and Peter Krause, 9-1-1

Angela Bassett and Peter Krause, 9-1-1

FOX

What did you think of the creative decision to revisit the reason why Athena decided to become a police officer, and how would you describe where she is as a character at the end of this multi-episode arc?
Angela Bassett: I was very excited to see how the episode was written, because I thought, perhaps, that was one of those cold cases or unsolved mysteries that shaped [Athena] as a young person trying to decide what career path [she] was going to take. So to see it revisited is something that our writers do that I appreciate. When looking forward, sometimes there's a reflection, a looking back, and I appreciate that because as the audience, as a character, you're familiar with it. [Not revisiting it] is like putting on a sweater and not putting it on ever again.

So we revisited it, and we know that young Tanya shaped Athena as a person and as a career choice, and I think it has a lot to do with her empathy toward others and her desire to see justice done. Of course, she comes up against all of that high loftiness, because her father for now is very, very close to home [and could have been involved in the case]. She is struggling with that because she places her father on a pedestal; she is the quintessential daddy's girl. But I think, at the end of the episode, she lets out this big, big sigh of relief, but she also comes away with a better appreciation of [her parents]—the mother and the child who both love and share this man and want him in their lives.

Since her arrival in Florida in the wake of her father's stroke, Athena has been forced to reckon with the heartbreaking reality of caring for aging parents.
Bassett: By nature of what she does, Athena is such an empathetic caretaker. And she also has this duality going on, in that her kids are out of the nest and doing their own thing, and her parents are aging, but they're still very, very independent and think that they can do it all. And I think it's universal. We hold on until we can't any longer. But I think the parents are given a little more time, but this [situation] was unfortunate and life-threatening. So I can't wait to see what the writers come up with, because that's just another part of life, and they don't shy away from the conflict and the messiness of it. [Laughs.]

In this episode, Bobby helps to assuage some of Athena's fears by reframing the situation in a more positive light: They're searching for evidence that could clear her father's name, rather than get him arrested. What do you love most about the close connection that Athena and Bobby share and the experience of working so closely with Peter Krause?
Bassett: It's beautiful. It's our sixth season, and I just consider that, when I show up on set, I'm happy to see him. We're glad and happy to see one another, and there's just this warm camaraderie that has grown over the seasons, as a relationship would. So I really have a really wonderful appreciation of who he is as a person and as an actor, and he plays Bobby [in a way that is] steady and grounded for all of us.

Yesterday, the other actors were so silly and they kidded him—and [Peter] has fun—but he's the grounding force. He is the real captain of the 118, and you can sense it. If you come to visit, you would see that and sense that. They are quite a hilarious family. I love that they're there for each other through all of these various life situations that can be so challenging: dealing with and handling his sobriety, or the relationship with the ex-husband and raising kids who are not your own, or the blending of families. These are storylines that I think are grounded in reality and that we try to handle it as best we can.

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As an executive producer on a show that is entering its sixth season, how much creative input do you have behind the scenes, and what are some of the storylines that you are personally most proud of?
Bassett: Well, I was particularly proud of how we blended the families with the ex-husband and how we dealt with his sexuality and how the family, as a whole, dealt with that. You're moving on, but there's that idea that you are still always family and you don't say goodbye or get rid of each other, that you love each other and that you have these kids together and these different relationships. There are relationships with Bobby and the ex-husband, with the son, with me, so I love how we have worked that.

[What] I'm most proud of, in this episode, is that [we honored] the life of this young, Black girl. She was buried in concrete, and yet we saw that we get some closure, that Athena never forgets her and never forgets this story. And it drives her in life, and it's driven her to solve this particular case. So I particularly like that, especially in light of Black Lives Matter. [The idea that] the lives of young people and Black people are important, are vital, and no one is forgettable or disposable. It's up to us to remember them, to say their names. Those are two situations that I'm particularly proud of. I think our writers do an amazing job, and they really fine-tune it, and work it and work it until they've got it just right. I help with suggesting a director here and there, but I leave the writing to the writers who do it well. [Laughs.]

What can you tease about where Athena goes from here?
Bassett: Unfortunately, we're not [shooting] episodes [well in advance] where we can read ahead and get a real head start, so I'm going to be just as surprised as our audience is when I see them. [Laughs.] I literally just got Episode 7, so I'm about to get into that one.

So let me ask you this: Are there any other cast members from the rest of the ensemble that you're really hoping to work with going forward?
Bassett: Oh, wow... Just recently, I had the opportunity to be with the 118, so I really enjoyed that, I think, more so for the camaraderie. People applaud their cast and crew, and we really have a phenomenal one. Our crew works extraordinarily hard, and they're so talented, and our cast—our cast—just makes it fun. We appreciate what everyone brings to the table. It was great to be around all of the members.

Usually, it's just the 118. I don't have so much with the call center, so the call center feels like a little island to itself. [Laughs.] I did have a brief opportunity to visit the call center and work with Jennifer [Love Hewitt], so that was nice. She's funny, nice and a pro. But it's wonderful to be with all of them. My relationship with Henrietta (Aisha Hinds)—[any time we can show] those girlfriends, that sisterhood, is always a beautiful thing. And days when I'm with Buck (Oliver Stark), Chimney (Kenneth Choi) and Eddie (Ryan Guzman), there's gonna be a lot of hilarity, a lot of laughs... [Laughs.] And just making up games while we wait.

9-1-1 airs Mondays at 8/7c on FOX. Episodes are available to stream the next day on FOX Now or Hulu.