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Major spoilers ahead for Episode 2 of 9-1-1 Season 3 on Fox, called "Sink or Swim."
When 9-1-1 premiered as a midseason series back in early 2018, there was a stacked cast on board to deliver the stories of first responders in Los Angeles, and the scale and scope were already impressive for a show airing on a broadcast network. Still, it was a procedural, and I was already watching intense procedurals with the NBC Chicago series. So, for the first two seasons, 9-1-1 was an interesting enough show I would watch if there was nothing else on. Now, thanks to Season 3's big tsunami episode, I can't wait until next week.
9-1-1 fans knew well ahead of last week's Season 3 premiere that the show would deliver a tsunami hitting the Santa Monica Pier, but the premiere held off on the massive wave even approaching shore until the very end of the episode. The second episode, perfectly titled "Sink or Swim," saw the tsunami finally hit the pier, and the rest of the episode featured the characters dealing with the devastating aftermath.
As if that wasn't enough for the cops, firefighters, EMTs, and 911 phone operators to deal with, the recently unemployed firefighter Buck had been at the pier for a fun day with Christopher when the tsunami hit, and he was tasked with fighting for their lives and trying to help others in the affected area. "Sink or Swim" introduced Ronda Rousey's character, although it looks like she'll have a larger part to play next week.
Basically, the stakes were immensely high, but aren't they always? So what set this episode apart and sucked me into the action and drama unlike any other episode I'd seen of 9-1-1?
Where "Sink or Swim" won me over from a casual viewer to a fan is how the characters reacted to the situation and the use of incredible practical effects to depict the aftermath of the tsunami. 9-1-1 went to a great deal of effort to use practical effects for the episode, including using the tanks from Titanic to build city streets, sink a ferris wheel, and go the extra mile to sell that the lives of the people in the area were genuinely in very real danger.
To look at, this wasn't a handful of actors splashing back and forth in a pool; this was the Santa Monica Pier and surrounding area devastated by a tsunami. While that obviously would be a very bad thing in real life, it was incredible in the episode.
I didn't have to suspend my disbelief. If you had told me I was watching the first half of a movie about a tsunami hitting Los Angeles, and if I had never seen an episode of 9-1-1 in my life, I would have believed you and been engrossed.
Of course, 9-1-1 isn't going to be delivering Titanic effects on a weekly basis, and even the heroes of this series won't be able to handle a catastrophic tsunami Monday after Monday, although 9-1-1's Los Angeles will still be dealing with the effects of the wave next week. I don't intend to turn 9-1-1 into my own must-see TV because I'm expecting crises of this scale every single time. I can be reasonable!
9-1-1 will deliver these characters on a weekly basis, though, and characters are what make procedurals stand out from one another. The tsunami was the hook; these characters and how they react to an emergency of unprecedented scale are what will keep me on the line. "Sink or Swim" featured victories and losses for the heroes, and it showcased Buck in a way that he really needed after how he quit his job in the Season 3 premiere.
The episode even ended on both a cliffhanger of massive scale and a cliffhanger on a more personal scale, as the tsunami began drawing back out to sea and creating a whole new level of danger. Everybody in the affected area was in renewed danger, and Buck lost sight of Christopher. Lives are still in very real danger, and that's very exciting for next week on 9-1-1.