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‘9-1-1’ Showrunner on Athena’s Literal Cliffhanger, Maddie and Chimney’s COVID Pregnancy Problems

Plus: Tim Minear tells TheWrap the metaphorical significance of the Hollywood Reservoir breaking

(Warning: This post contains spoilers for the Season 4 premiere of “9-1-1.”)

“9-1-1” left fans hanging Monday when its Season 4 premiere, “The New Abnormal,” ended with Athena Grant (Angela Bassett) stuck inside a house that has fallen off a cliff due to a micro-earthquake caused by the Hollywood Reservoir’s dam breaking. Yeah, as showrunner Tim Minear put it to TheWrap, it’s “not a great place” for the Fox drama’s leading lady to be — especially on her first day back to work following her assault at the hands of a perp last season.

And while you’re left to wonder what happens to Athena until next week’s episode, Minear told us that, while she’ll survive this emergency, Athena’s got a rough road ahead of her this season, as her husband, Bobby (Peter Krause), has correctly surmised she’s not fully healed yet.

“That is going to play out throughout the season,” the “9-1-1” showrunner said. “Even though Athena is protesting that she’s fine, she’s fine, she’s fine — she’s maybe not as fine as she thinks she is. And she’s kind of forced back into active field duty, I think even before she would say she’s ready.”

Meanwhile, Maddie (Jennifer Love Hewitt) and Chimney (Kenneth Choi) will be dealing with the stress of a pregnancy amid a pandemic this season, which has kept Chimney from even coming home to be with Maddie over the last few months, out of fear that it might not be safe for her and the baby — amid other worries.

“I think that there absolutely is more to it than just — I’m not saying that it’s a convenient excuse for him,” Minear said. “And it’s not that he doesn’t want to be with her and it’s not that he’s having any kind of commitment issues. I think that Chimney is afraid. If you think back to his experience with Kevin, who he went to the academy with and who ended up dying in the field, I think Chimney is just afraid that if he gets too close to this thing, he’ll break it. I think that’s really what’s operating with Chimney. But it’s not going to be long before he’s going to have to confront that and kind of shape up. Not long at all.”

And if you’re wondering if the pandemic has also affected Chimney and Maddie’s relationship planning — as in an engagement and a wedding — then, yes, of course it has.

“Just like all of us, they’re having to kind of rethink the things that they would just normally be doing in this situation,” Minear said. “So it’s not like I’m doing, like, big giant COVID stories, but I am acknowledging it and putting it into the water and the world of both shows because our characters have been through what our audience has been through. It just means that, not unlike us, they have to kind of consider it when making a move. So it’s like, Maddie is not going to get to have a traditional baby shower where it’s a room full of people. She’s not going to be able to do that. So there’s kind of a sadness to that and there’s kind of a sadness to having to do it in this situation. And that’s something that they have to overcome. They have to find other ways. These stories are aspirational — they are not about how a pandemic stops people from living, but how they decide to keep living and not let it put them into hibernation.”

Part of that “9-1-1” journey will focus on the introduction of Maddie and Buck’s (Oliver Stark) parents in an upcoming episode, a storyline that is going to affect Buck in a serious way.

“We’ll meet the parents while she’s still pregnant,” Minear said. “And what they’re going to be bringing to town is a family secret that is going to force Buck to kind of view himself in a way that he hasn’t before. It’s a secret that Buck doesn’t know.”

For now, things are nice for Buck, who has some kind of virtual relationship going on, and “you will discovery who it is he’s talking to in pretty short order — and it may not be who you think,” Minear told us.

Monday’s premiere also revealed things are going pretty well for Athena’s daughter, May (Corinne Massiah), but not by Athena’s standards, as the field sergeant isn’t thrilled with her daughter’s decision to take a gap year and work with Maddie as a 9-1-1 operator.

“I think Athena’s objecting is just, ‘Why are you picking something that is potentially a career path? You were going to go to college,'” Minear explained. “Like, it was Athena’s dream for May to go to college and she maybe had what some might consider more lofty dreams for her daughter. But her daughter is doing this for a reason, and that reason will become extremely clear by the end of the next episode.”

As for tonight’s big disaster, the Hollywood dam breaking, Minear explained the very specific reasoning behind the choice, which you can see in full below.

The dam breaking was like, there’s sort of a metaphor there for how all of us were feeling when we were writing these episodes, which was, everyone had kind of been locked up in their house. It’s sort of manifest in the character of Janelle, who is the woman on the bike. You see her at the beginning of the episode, she’s the one who calls 9-1-1, and you meet her and see the months that have gone by where she lost her husband to COVID. We all sort of felt like the world had ended, but there was so much pressure that people felt like they were about to burst. And in fact, they did burst. There was civil unrest. There was just a pressure building up nationwide, worldwide, really. So that around summertime, ‘the dam’ had broken. So for us, it’s a little bit of a metaphor for just how we were feeling about the lockdown and the pandemic and just the state of the world in general. And then we all felt like at some point, we’re all going to be able to open the door and go back out into the world in a way that hasn’t happened yet. But the idea was, you go back into the world and you feel like you can finally breathe, and then all hell breaks loose, ’cause it’s “9-1-1” and that’s what’s going to happen. So the moment you let your guard down, a dam is going to break, a house is going to fall off a cliff, a bus is going to come through your office window. I’ve been saying this a lot, but since March, the world itself has become more pushed than my shows, so how do my shows make enough noise that you can hear it over what’s actually happening? Normally it would be like, the world is crazy, but I flush a baby down a toilet or I hit Santa Monica with a tsunami, and you’re like, “Well that seems ridiculous.” But suddenly it’s like, “Let’s watch that calming ‘9-1-1,’ because it’s so much simpler because of what’s happening outside my window.”

“9-1-1” airs Mondays at 8/7c on Fox.