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Spoilers ahead for the November 4 episode of 9-1-1 Season 3 on Fox, called "Athena Begins."
9-1-1 is generally an action-heavy show that manages to pack in crises to keep the cops, firefighters, and 911 operators of Los Angeles very busy, but it did something different with "Athena Begins." Rather than continuing to explore the fallout of Buck's lawsuit, revealing more about Ronda Rousey's character, or even getting into more of the lingering effects of the tsunami, "Athena Begins" focused on Athena's origin as a cop. Although it was a tragic story for Athena, it was just the kind of story 9-1-1 needed.
The case of the week kicked off with the recovery of the gun that had been used to kill Athena's fiancé back in 1991, and it proceeded to tell Athena's story as a cop, beginning in 1989, via flashbacks throughout the hour. Athena tracked down evidence and crossed some lines in pursuit of justice.
Athena ultimately caught the killer after she spent nearly three decades blaming herself for his death. Throw in a closing montage to Andra Day's "Rise Up," and this was a much more emotional hour of 9-1-1 than viewers usually get. Most of the regular cast didn't even appear!
So, why was such an unconventional episode so essential to 9-1-1 Season 3? Well, 9-1-1 kicked off the third season in an epic fashion thanks to the tsunami that was quite literally of titanic proportions and took several episodes to be resolved. That tsunami is what, in my opinion, turned 9-1-1 into must-see TV, with scope and scale that were all but unprecedented for broadcast network TV.
But an ongoing TV show can't work based on scope and scale alone, and as breathtaking as the occasional cinematic event can be on the small screen, shows sink or swim based on whether their characters can carry the action. 9-1-1 shouldn't need a tsunami to be a compelling series, and "Athena Begins" proved that 9-1-1 can do it.
Of course, Angela Bassett deserves a large part of the credit for the success of the episode, as I can't exactly imagine Ronda Rousey delivering such a stirring performance.
Thanks to Angela Bassett's performance and the material she was giving, 9-1-1 delivered a killer episode on the opposite end of the spectrum as the tsunami event, and not many shows can excel in both character and action. The fact that 9-1-1 successfully produced an episode that omitted most of the cast, focused on a mostly new backstory, and relied on audiences emotionally attaching to some never-before-scene characters is a credit to the series.
Are episodes like this what viewers signed on for when they became fans of 9-1-1? Not quite, and I wouldn't be surprised if some fans are ready to go back to the ensemble first responder action with the next episode. Still, whether you loved it, hated it, or are ambivalent about it, "Athena Begins" is proof that 9-1-1 has range beyond a simple procedural and can pack an emotional punch. I know I wasn't expecting to tear up at the end of an episode of 9-1-1 at this point, but Athena collapsing in tears on Bobby's shoulder at the end got me.
Find out what happens next with both characters and action when new episodes of 9-1-1 air on Mondays at 8 p.m. ET on Fox.