[Warning: The following contains spoilers for the latest episode of 9-1-1, "The One That Got Away." Read at your own risk!]
Buck (Oliver Stark) was in for quite a wake-up call on Monday night's episode of 9-1-1. After tag-teaming with Eddie (Ryan Guzman) to save a deaf woman from a burning apartment building, he found himself celebrating the successful rescue at a bar alone while the rest of the 118 spent time with their loved ones. There, he met Red (Jack McGee), a retired firefighter who was happy to call Buck out for his foolhardy maneuvers in the news-making moment before buying him a round.
Buck and Red hit it off right away, but Buck soon discovered that Red was a lonely man who'd let his work get in the way of his chance to marry the love of his life. He was also distraught to learn that Red had been all but forgotten about by those he used to call friends at his old firehouse. Buck's efforts to bring some joy into Red's life were hit and miss; while his attempt to reconnect Red with his former flame left Red more miserable than before, Buck also set up a generation-spanning salute line to Red before the older man succumbed to his terminal illness.
The experience raised some serious questions for Buck about his own priorities and whether he was destined for the same future. TV Guide caught up with Oliver Stark to talk about what Buck could take away from this brief but meaningful friendship and what else we can look forward to from the final stretch of 9-1-1 Season 3.
Let's start by talking about the fire rescue sequence at the beginning. This was Buck and Eddie at their best -- they're the first to jump into the most dangerous situation, and they have a lot of fun with it. When you're playing scenes like this, do you get the same kind of rush that Buck has here? Oliver Stark : Oh, absolutely. If you're ever around the set during one of these action shots, you'll hear a lot of, "Oh, I want to do that," "Let me do this," "I want to do it!" Many times over. We love that aspect of it. It's really, to me, one of the biggest perks of the job that we get put into these situations that are made very safe for us by a really great crew, but we still feel danger and get an adrenaline rush. You know, we've never really done a big fire episode, so it was just a new element that we got to learn about together and kind of suffer through together in some moments, and it worked really well.
When Buck first meets Red, what do you think is upsetting him more? Is it that this man is single and broke at the end of his life, or that he's been forgotten by his firehouse? Stark: I think it actually is a mixture of both, and more than anything, it's the fact that Buck can see himself reflected in him. And if you go back in Buck's life at the moment, his biggest fear is -- because they are all he has -- being left by his friends and family at the firehouse. I think that is probably, at the beginning, the kind of jarring thing for Buck: these people that he thinks will never leave him, while all those counterparts in Red's life [did].
That brings up another point about his final conversation with Maddie (Jennifer Love Hewitt) at the end, about her leaving him before. How important was it for him to clear the air with her about his sense of abandonment? Stark: As close as they are, I think there's some small level of resentment there -- and not even consciously. They've obviously in some respects had to lean on her in the past. I can only imagine her then disappearing from his life and how much of an effect that has had on him. But I don't think he consciously holds anything against her. When you say abandonment issues, maybe there's some kind of issues that slowly are being rectified.
At the end, when we see that lineup of the firefighters who are saluting Red, it's a touching gesture, and this time he didn't upset the guy like he did with the ex-girlfriend. But then, it's like Buck feels guilty about it because he thinks he made the relationship about himself. Why do you think he defaults to feeling guilt right then? Stark: I think we've seen it already this season, after the tsunami and the whole lawsuit thing, and it was kind of put to him then by Eddie in the grocery store [saying], "You make this about you -- you always think it's about you." So I think, especially having someone as close to him as Eddie is, to have that sentiment towards him, it certainly could still be in [Buck's] head. And that crossed his mind where he thinks, again, "Well, have I made this whole thing about me? And Red's just a tool that I've used to do that?"
What can we expect to come of this experience for Buck, particularly as it pertains to Abby (Connie Britton)? Stark: When it comes to Abby, more than anything, Buck just needs closure on the situation. Because I think you can see a lot of unrest and sadness in Red. It's not that Buck needs to get back together with Abby, he just needs answers. There are a lot of doors that were opened when she left, and he was left idling. It's hard to move on and start the next chapter before the previous one is fully closed. So, I think it's just a case of learning a few things before he can ultimately try to move forward.
What you just said made me curious: Is Buck projecting any of those feelings of rejection onto Maddie? Stark: In general, if somebody has had those kind of abandonment issues, they don't necessarily manifest themselves in one particular person. They carry over into other relationships. So I think these are all feelings that are jumbled up together and just intimate wounds sticking out at the other people in his life.
As for what else he's learned from Red, do you think this experience will affect his bravado at all, after Red called him an "idiot"? Stark: [Laughs] I don't know about that one because he's pretty hard-headed when it comes to that stuff. I think he's always going to want to run into trials -- as much as he's learning through Red that it can't be his entire identity, it is a huge part of who he is at the end of the day. He will put himself on the line for people ... he needs that to be his job. [For] me, as an actor, having spoken to real firefighters, there's an element of this that is, "This the rulebook, these are the rules," but then you have to improvise and try and stay within this box of what you should do in any moment in time and do what you think is right.
I'm glad you brought up real-life first responders. What is it like for you to be on a show like this right now, when we're seeing the importance of first responders of all kinds? Stark: More than ever, I just hope that we're doing them justice and trying to portray them in the right light. The whole show really is a tribute to the work that they do. People ask questions, like, "So what do you think about what first responders are doing?" and I'm not informed enough to comment on it. We love what we do, but I could never do what they actually do. That's a whole different level ... I just take my hat off and thank them for everything that they do.
Can you tell us a little bit about what's ahead for the rest of the season? Are there any big events ahead as we near the finish line? Stark: Absolutely. Our finale, just in terms of scale, is going to be bigger than anything we've done in the past -- we're doing a train derailment that causes all kinds of destruction and chaos and brings some really interesting challenges with gravity, which will be really fun to watch on-screen -- the way we fight some really challenging angles. So, there's that kind of physically [demanding aspect], but also we throw out some real big emotional questions. So, yeah, something to look forward to!
After the episode's airing, Fox announced that Connie Britton will indeed return to her role as Abigail Clark, and she'll be a part of the train derailment event! See the above teaser for more.