Spoilers ahead for the Season 4 premiere of 9-1-1 on Fox, called "The New Abnormal."
9-1-1 made its Season 4 return to Fox later in the season than usual but packed no less of a punch than the premieres that came before. "The New Abnormal" picked up where Season 3 left off the characters while also pitting them against an almost apocalyptic disaster against the pandemic backdrop. The Hollywood Reservoir dam broke, with the massive flooding leading to dangerous mudslides that took out the iconic Hollywood sign and left at least Athena's life in jeopardy. After this episode, though, I was left considering: was this better or worse than the Season 3 premiere tsunami?
Now, of course both of these disasters would be devastating in real life and I wouldn't want to consider one of them "better" or either of them great, but coming at this from a TV perspective, both the mudside and the tsunami were pretty awesome. So, let's break down what makes them epic before picking a favorite, starting with what the Season 4 premiere threw at the 9-1-1 first responders:
The Mudslide - Season 4 Premiere
As far as 9-1-1 disasters go, the mudslide was actually the end result of a series of smaller crises that allowed the show to pack in all kinds of danger before delivering the biggest blow. There were microquakes, there was mass flooding, there was a physics-defying bus crash several stories up into a building, all before the dreaded mudslide finally happened. The iconic "HOLLYWOOD" letters were destroyed, and a residential neighborhood may have collapsed. Unfortunately, even though most of the residents had evacuated, Athena was inside a house with a woman who didn't want to leave, and the cliffhanger saw the mudslide seemingly collapse the house down a cliff and take Athena with it.
And all she had wanted to do was ease her way back into work! The mudslide was an effective disaster to start a new season, not least because it leaves the life of a major character (albeit one unlikely to die) in very real peril and came at the end of an episode already packed with disaster. 9-1-1 could have just gone with the dam breaking as the main disaster, but the Season 4 premiere went above and beyond for the cliffhanger. This is a crisis that will have to be fought on multiple fronts, potentially on dangerous terrain.
There was a sense of looming danger building throughout the episode, and the payoff was scary and thrilling and sets the stage for what could be an intense next episode. But how does it compare to the tsunami at the end of the Season 3 premiere?
The Tsunami - The Season 3 Premiere
Unlike 9-1-1 setting up the mudslide throughout the Season 4 premiere, you wouldn't have known that a tsunami was headed for the Santa Monica Pier in the Season 3 premiere if not for the trailers that released ahead of time. It wasn't until the final moments that Buck realized that his great day with Christopher was about to be very, very ruined by the giant wave heading their way. The wave didn't actually hit until the second episode of the season, but the image of the tsunami about to hit the packed pier was as great a cliffhanger as I've seen on TV.
Of course, the episode was a little frustrating at the time. The tsunami coming in the premiere was by far the most hyped element of the third season, and it was beginning to feel like 9-1-1 wouldn't actually deliver it in the premiere after all until those final moments of Buck realizing something was wrong with the ocean. The episode ended very abruptly, and I can remember that it was a very long week waiting to see what would happen next for Buck and Christopher, as the only two known characters who were in danger.
So, does the mudslide or the tsunami stand as the better 9-1-1 premiere disaster?
Personally, I have to go with the tsunami. While I can appreciate the escalation of danger throughout "The New Abnormal" culminating in the house collapse with Athena inside, Buck's realization that something was wrong at the pier followed by the image of the tsunami speeding toward shore packed a strong punch after he'd spent the episode on a fun adventure with Christopher, and the stakes were immediately sky-high since Buck was still recovering from his injuries at the end of Season 2 and had to protect a vulnerable young boy.
I can imagine how Athena will survive; I couldn't figure out with any certainty how Buck and Christopher would make it out, and that made for great TV. Admittedly, I'm cheating a little bit here by taking the events of the next couple episodes of Season 3 into account as well, when 9-1-1 quite literally went Titanic to film the aftermath of the tsunami. All things considered, 9-1-1 might have peaked with the tsunami and aftermath, because that was downright cinematic and surpassed anything I've seen on shows of this nature.
Will I change my tune a couple episodes from now, after 9-1-1 has revealed the aftermath of the mudslide in Season 4 like it did with the aftermath of the tsunami in Season 3? Possibly, but the tsunami reveal was such a killer cliffhanger that kicked off such an awesome arc to the point that I, veteran TV watcher that I am, was on the edge of my seat. And even Eddie said in the Season 4 premiere that at least this wasn't a tsunami!
Which premiere crisis do you think was a better way to start a new season of 9-1-1? Be sure to vote in our poll below to weigh in, and tune in to Fox on Mondays at 8 p.m. ET to find out what happens next for Athena and all the others with this mudslide. For more first responder action, you can find new episodes of 9-1-1: Lone Star on Mondays at 9 p.m. ET on Fox, and our 2021 winter and spring premiere guide can point you to more options as well.