‘9-1-1’ Chief on Maddie and Chimney’s Finale Surprise, Abby’s Return and Athena’s Choice

Tim Minear says Buck’s “train hasn’t come off the tracks, it just hasn’t reached a destination”

911 finale Season 3 Connie Britton Abby

(Warning: This post contains spoilers for Monday’s Season 3 finale of “9-1-1.”)

“9-1-1” went off the rails in the final episode of its third season on Monday, an hour that saw the long-awaited return of Connie Britton’s Abby during a train wreck disaster that brought her face-to-face with Buck for the first time since she left at the end of Season 1. The finale also threw fans for a loop by revealing Maddie and Chimney are expecting and that Athena will be taking some time away from the force following her attack.

TheWrap spoke with “9-1-1” showrunner Tim Minear about the many twists and turns in the episode (titled “What’s Next?”) and about what’s in store for the Fox first-responder drama in Season 4.

Let’s start with Buck (Oliver Stark) and Abby, who were reunited when the 118 was sent to the site of a train derailment and Buck discovered Abby safely off the train, but found out her fiancé — who he definitely hadn’t known existed — was stuck inside. Thus began Buck, Eddie (Ryan Guzman) and Bobby’s (Peter Krause) ultimately successful attempt to save both Abby’s new love and a young woman who was also pinned inside the train, because Buck promised Abby he would get him out safely.

Minear says the idea to bring Britton back came about when the “9-1-1” writers were thinking through how interesting it would be for Maddie (Jennifer Love Hewitt) to get a call from someone at a disaster who clearly knew what they were talking about — and for that person to be Abby. Then it was just a matter of Minear asking her to come back, a request she said yes to on the spot at the 100th episode party for “American Horror Story” last fall.

“We had been very careful and meticulous in Season 2, even though we knew Connie couldn’t come back in Season 2, we’d been meticulous to not drop that story or forget about Abby,” Minear told us. “We created the off-camera Abby who is on her ‘Eat Pray Love’ tour of Europe and how that affected Buck. Him living in her apartment, him acting like he was in a relationship with her long after everyone else realized she probably wasn’t coming back. She was a key figure in the beginning of his development, but for me, her return here was for two things. One, if you can get Connie Britton to be on your show, you do that. The second thing would be, I really felt like because of the way the story had progressed and that she almost kind of ghosted him in the show, that it was important for Buck to have a moment to look at her and go, ‘Why didn’t you call me? Where were you? What happened?’ He kind of needed that moment to express that that wasn’t OK.”

That “what the heck?” moment came a day after everyone had been rescued from the train and Buck and Abby finally sat down to have the talk they never had when she left him hanging to go on her travels.

“I think it’s important for his character to look her in the eye and realize, ‘OK, this is done and it was a good thing’ and that his growth is not predicated on somebody else,” Minear said. “She may have been the thing that helped open his eyes and he may have been, similarly for her, the thing that allowed her to leave and find herself. Of course, when you leave to find yourself, the person who comes back may be a different person. And that was, in fact, the case with her. But it allowed him to then continue to grow. So if you take the metaphor of the disaster of the train coming off the tracks, Buck may have felt like his train had come off the tracks when he ran into Red a couple episodes ago and saw a future that might be his end destination. I think what he can take away from his meeting with Abby is that his train hasn’t come off the tracks, it just hasn’t reached a destination. He’s still on his journey.”

Now on to Maddie (Jennifer Love Hewitt) and Chimney (Kenneth Choi), who received the best news of the entire episode: they are pregnant. While the couple wasn’t trying, Minear says this development shouldn’t come as a total surprise.

“I don’t know if it entirely came out of nowhere because we definitely highlighted a very sexy night for them, they got their hotel sweet comped! And he had also expressed to his little brother Albert that he was, in fact, having a very full relationship with Maddie,” Minear said. “So that was definitely in the water. And I think that their relationship reached a place that even Maddie acknowledged, even though she couldn’t quite say the words at first — they were there, they were in a stable, loving place. There’s no cuter couple on TV than Maddie and Chimney. There’s no nicer actors, but also no nicer characters than Chimney and Maddie on TV, who have been through so much and deserve something wonderful, so I’m giving it to them.”

But just because Maddie and Chimney have skipped a few traditional steps (getting engaged/married) before getting pregnant, doesn’t mean you won’t see them go through those experiences in Season 4.

“Oh, we’re not going to skip anything,” Minear said. “That story is going to continue to be told. It may be told in a sideways fashion, it may not be told in the way you completely expect it, but we’re not just going to move off it. That’s the beginning of a story, not the end of a story.”

Meanwhile, Athena (Angela Bassett) made a big decision with the help of a victim advocate played by guest star Brooke Shields: she’s not sure she’s ready to go back to active duty any time soon after being attacked by the serial rapist she was hunting down.

“Athena has some grappling to do and has some healing to do. And I love Brooke and I would love to bring that character back, maybe not even to serve in Athena’s story,” Minear said. “I think the responders responding to the first-responders, we’ve explored it a little bit with our therapist who helped Maddie and took her back to Big Bear and I think a character like Brooke’s character is valuable to the show. I thought she was very compassionate, very believable and she brings some star-wattage, which we always like.”

Minear says that even though Bobby and Athena can rest easy knowing her ex-husband Michael (Rockmund Dunbar) is in the clear after his brain scan came back showing a shrunken tumor, there are going to be new issues that test that relationship in Season 4.

“Going forward, we want to see more sides of that marriage, we want to see it get stronger, we want to see it get challenged,” Minear said. “[‘9-1-1’ writer] Kristen Reidel and I have talked about this one thing that happens on the show, we haven’t seen it a lot, but when Athena and Bobby get together like ‘The Thin Man’ and start solving crimes together. So we want to do a couple stories like that too. But more will be revealed for Bobby as well. There are other parts of these people’s lives that we haven’t explored yet, Bobby would be among them.”

And speaking of parts that haven’t been explored and unanswered questions, what was up with May (Corinne Massiah) telling Maddie she needed to talk to her when the topic of USC came up at May’s graduation party?

“You’ll find out in Season 4, but what I will say is also check out that first scene with Athena where she’s giving Michael hell about busting up her fireplace,” Minear said. “May keeps going, ‘We don’t need to have a party!’ You can see there, something is going on with May where she maybe doesn’t feel so comfortable about having this big celebration about going to USC.”

“9-1-1” Season 4 will premiere at midseason on Fox.