[Warning: The following contains spoilers for the latest episode of 9-1-1, "Christmas Spirit." Read at your own risk!]
As is custom for 9-1-1, this week's episode, which also served as the fall finale, was an eventful one. Brimming with crazy calls, it featured a holiday shopper who lost it and pepper-sprayed Santa, a runaway airport luggage car that sent a man into the engine, and a woman who turned blue from downing too much tooth gel. Fun stuff! Beyond the wild incidents of the week, though, there were also some major character developments and tender moments to be seen in "Christmas Spirit."
As the title indicates, the episode took place during the winter holidays, but it was hardly a break for our favorite first responders. Maddie (Jennifer Love Hewitt) decided to confront her past at last and stayed focused long enough to help a boy save his mother. Athena (Angela Bassett) got the good news that Bobby (Peter Krause) was doing well with his health screenings, but then we found out that Michael (Rockmond Dunbar) wasn't just sleepwalking and getting dizzy for no reason — he has a tumor that he doesn't want to tell his ex-wife about just yet. Meanwhile, Hen (Aisha Hinds) and Karen (Tracie Thoms) found a new way to share all the love they have to spare for children.
TV Guide spoke with executive producer and showrunner Tim Minear about everything that's happened on 9-1-1 so far this season, and we got some goods on at least one marquee call that fans can expect to see when the series returns from winter break. Take a look at what Minear had to say below.
When was this episode filmed? I ask because in September there was a runaway cart incident at O'Hare that looked almost exactly like what happened here.
Tim Minear: We based it on that, actually. We shot that a couple of weeks ago, within the last month.
What gave you the idea to spin off of that with the running motor part?
Minear: We're always looking for viral videos to inspire us. We've sort of made a habit of that. A lot of cases, particularly the ones that look too crazy to be true, are the ones we've found going down viral video wormholes. For example, the flyaway bouncy house or the floor collapse at the wedding reception, all of these things were things we were inspired to do from viral videos. So, we saw that, and it was hilarious, the runaway cart. So, we all loved it, and the question was, all right, so how was that a 9-1-1 call? You can start there, but you need a reason for somebody to call 9-1-1 and for our people to respond. So, it just seemed like a really fun way to get to the guy getting sucked into the jet engine — which, by the way, is also something that we based on a real incident. You can even find that online. It was a fighter jet that this person got sucked into the engine of ... and I think his helmet is what stopped the blades, and he was, I think, ejected to the other side. Probably a different kind of engine.
I always sort of liked the image of someone getting sucked into an engine jet; I did it on the first episode of Firefly, where Nathan Fillion kicks a guy into the engine of Serenity, and the CG was so bad 18 years ago or whenever that was, I just felt like we could probably do a better job of it with the technology that we have today. Interestingly enough, when you see that guy fly backward, that's actually the stuntman being pulled backwards on a wire, so it's mostly not even CG. It's mostly practical [effects].
It kind of reminded me of that movie Game Night. There was a big GIF that came out of that movie that was like, "Oh, no, he died!" after a guy got sucked into the engine.
Minear: I did see that movie! But I didn't steal it from that. I stole it from myself.
Moving on to a more serious subject, the women of the show have been dealing with a lot this season — a lot of trauma in the past and going on now. Why was it so important to you to explore all of this hurt for these characters?
Minear: We started Jennifer Love Hewitt's story as an abused woman being on the run. That gave us a jolt of drama and energy for her introduction, and it told you who she was and what her personal emergency was. What I wanted to do was to make sure we didn't handle that cavalierly or exploit it, or just use for TV fodder. I wanted to try to do something a little more thoughtful. So, the idea was to always revisit that as needed to try to paint it as accurate — as accurate as a show like mine can do — a picture of what that is. I felt that was important that she not be magically cured. She had to kill a man she loved in self-defense. I think that taking a year or so to resolve itself on the show felt about right to me.
As far as what Hen's been going through, Tanya Kong, who came on the show this year as a writer-producer, had pitched that idea when we met with her. She was a lawyer, and she had family who worked with EMS workers in Hawaii. She talked about how these accidents would happen sometimes, where an ambulance will get into an accident on the way to or from an emergency, and that just struck us as a very interesting and dramatic element to play. You're out there saving a life, you have a life in the back of your ambulance, and you need to get to the hospital, and on the way, you become the emergency. It just felt like a very rich area to mine. And of course, I wanted to give Aisha Hinds a tour de force moment because she's so brilliant.
And then, as far as Athena goes, it was [executive producer] Kristen Reidel who came up with the backstory to that, literally on the drive into work. She got into her car, and by the time she landed at Fox, she was like, "I think I just came up with the next episode." And she pitched me out this whole Athena backstory of the fiancé and the Rodney King incident happening when Athena was a young cop, deciding whether or not to stay on the force. It just felt like the right story to tell, and weirdly, it kind of sets up the episode "Rage," even though "Rage" comes before it in the airing order. The episode where Michael and the kids get pulled over by the racist cop, it really helps you understand her conflicted point of view about that.
Are we done with Maddie's story, or is the woman that she's been trying to help going to come back? Has she made peace with that, too, as she made peace with her own past?
Minear: Whether or not we'll see Tara again, I don't know for sure, but for me, that story did what it was supposed to do, which is ... Maddie [was] trying to save a moment in her own past, the killing of Doug, by trying to save Tara, and realizing that you can't save somebody else. You can only save yourself in that way. That story has served its purpose. And I believe that now that she is through her darker period for this season, and she's coming out of the hole, there is now some sunlight for Maddie.
This may seem like a silly question, but are we going to find out what she does with that money?
Minear: I believe you will.
We also got to see Hen and Karen seemingly come to terms with and put a pin in their infertility issue when they decided to foster some of the group home children. Are we past that pain, too, and are we going to see them open up that door in their lives?
Minear: You will see them open up their actual door. ... It's very healing.
It seems like Athena has a lot of trouble ahead. She's already dealt with a lot, with the traffic stop and her backstory, but now she's facing Bobby's uncertain health and Michael being diagnosed with a tumor. Is she gonna get a break or what?
Minear: Well, no. [Laughs] Look, there will be — as always in life, there are high points and low points, and [they] often happen at the same time. I think Bobby's health scare is pretty much in the rearview. All of his tests have been clear so far. Except for any unforeseen complications, I think that we can rest pretty easy about Bobby for the moment. It's really Michael that we have to worry about. And it's complicated. It's complicated not just for Athena and Michael, but it's complicated for Bobby, too, who has lost his own family and has found this new family and has grown very close to the man who will be looking to him to support that family should it come to the worst.
That reminds me, he took that family photo ornament. What did he end up doing with that?
Minear: I'm sure he's just got it in his apartment.
What made him feel the need to take it? Was he protecting Athena or protecting himself?
Minear: I think when he looks at that photo, and what that photo is is his kids when they were younger and with Athena, in an earlier Christmas, and I think he just had it in his hand, in a moment of being overwhelmed with emotion and realizing that was a part of the past and that this really isn't the family that it was, he puts it in his pocket. It's a talisman for him.
This season has also presented some interesting colors for Buck. He obviously went through a lot of trauma in the tsunami, and a lot of grief with the lawsuit, but he still seems like he's a little bit insensitive and clueless, like when he was with the kids and told them Santa wasn't real. I would've thought it would soften him up to have gone through all of that.
Minear: I think it softened him up. I don't think he told the kids Santa isn't real, he's telling them that Santa isn't the real Santa, and it's Buck putting his foot in it, which he often does. I think Buck is also in a way, that's his moment of confusion. There will be some resolve to the blood thinner problem, but I think that he's found his way back to the family at the firehouse. But I do think Buck is a little bit rudderless. He's at the moment single. I think he puts a lot of stock into how he fits into the people around him, but if you look at the people around him, they all have a foundation of a home life and a personal life. And Buck is still in a little bit of transition. Ever since Abby left, he's been in transition.
Obviously, 9-1-1 is notorious for its crazy moments in the premieres. Is there something like that we can look forward to in the spring premiere?
Minear: Yeah, there'll be a few things! There is going to be a very harrowing rescue of a skydiver who has not hit the ground, but who has also not left the plane. It's a very interesting case where a skydiver gets caught underneath an airplane, and it can't land because if it does, it will kill him. So they have to get under him and cut him loose from the top of the firetruck while everything is moving.
So, you're having to do Mission Impossible shots for this one.
Minear: It was so Mission Impossible it was insane. So we'll get those big harrowing ones. And you'll see our hilarious ones and our "what the hell" ones, too.
9-1-1 will return in 2020 on Fox.