Did 9-1-1’s Three-Episode Ship Disaster Sink or Swim?

At times, 9-1-1 can be spectacle television.

What other show do you know that’s been able to have a tsunami, landslide, and sinking cruise ship disaster happen throughout its run and pull it off with such aplomb?

But that’s never been all there is to 9-1-1. The characters are the heartbeat, which is so often not the case on standard procedurals, and that mixture of spectacle, found family, emotional warmth, and humor has always set it apart.

9-1-1 Season 7 returned from the strike-induced elongated hiatus like it had something to prove.

Moving from FOX to ABC breathed new life into a show that will conclude this season with over 100 episodes to its credit, a feat that’s very rare these days.

Choosing to usher in its ABC run with perhaps the biggest spectacle of all could have been seen as a gamble, even though it’s something the series is historically known for doing.

In trying to court new viewers, you have to nail your introduction, and there’s no guarantee going big will pay off.

For starters, beginning with a big disaster means fewer character-driven stories, though they did their best to establish all the characters and their dynamics during 9-1-1 Season 7 Episode 1.

And they succeeded there, for the most part. I’d never say no to more Hen Wilson, but she was established as the acting captain, a role that showcased her importance to the 118 team and the overall 9-1-1 narrative.

Bobby and Athena got the most personal arc during the opening hours, with their marriage teetering on a precipice right when their ship starts to go under.

Again, this was an ambitious move for the series, and while ambition is woven into their DNA, they haven’t always been able to pull off everything they’ve set out to do flawlessly.

While the tsunami arc that began on 9-1-1 Season 2 Episode 1 remains forever unmatched, there were some misses over the years, like the heat wave and ransom attack that launched with 9-1-1 Season 5 Episode 1 and wasn’t the most memorable.

Some spots hit more than others, but if you asked someone right to run down the events of those episodes, it would be difficult.

We don’t even talk about the blimp disaster (using the term disaster loosely here) that opened 9-1-1 Season 6 because it wasn’t on the level of the large-scale emergencies we’re used to. And again, it didn’t leave a lasting impression.

Where does the cruise ship disaster fit in amongst those past opening hours? And more importantly, did it live up to the crazy promotional hype?

Nothing will touch the tsunami arc, perhaps because it came first but also because it was just unlike anything you’d ever see on television. It could have easily been a movie, and it still stands up some years later.

But the ship disaster easily ranks right behind the tsunami and was every bit as entertaining.

While the tsunami arc had Buck and Christopher right in the middle of the natural disaster (and Oliver Stark and Gavin McHugh were mesmerizing), the cruise ship put Bathena front and center, and it was absolutely the correct call.

Pushing Angela Bassett and Peter Krause to the forefront will always leave you in good hands.

This story had them playing emotional moments, humor, action, and everything in between, as only two seasoned actors can do.

They had to anchor this story, and not only did they knock it out of the park, which, of course, they did, but they added new depth to the Bathena love story. It’s not as if the story was stale, but it was sparked back to life in a way.

Bobby and Athena have been together for so long; it’s a relationship you could take for granted. But just like in real life, relationships go through ups and downs and need nurturing and communication.

This disaster allowed both them and the audience to see a new side of their union.

Having this relationship strife mixed in with the two taking up their natural roles as leaders and taking over the rescue of a ship was masterly in the way it came about.

It was off-the-rails, very fantastical, and every bit as passionate as 9-1-1 can be.

Even the secondary characters, who admittedly didn’t always get much time to shine, were particularly endearing when their names were called. From Wes’s heartbreaking plea to his family as he was at death’s door to Norman and Lola’s conversations as they tried to exit the ship.

Not only did everything work, but it was compelling.

And while the cruise ship dominated the three-parter, as it was meant to, that didn’t mean those not on the ship had nothing to do.

Back in Los Angeles, there were still emergencies the 118 had to navigate, and the subplot involving Hen’s suspension, her disappointment in her friends, and subsequently seeking Maddie’s help was well done.

And that’s 9-1-1, right? It’s cool to blow things up and have boats flip upside down, but it’s also not pioneering.

What sets the disaster apart and makes 9-1-1 among the upper-echelon television series is weaving together the action and the characters into something worth caring about.

You’re invested in these people and what they’re going through, allowing the story to leave a greater impression on you in the long run.

You’re invested in Hen finding a way to get over the top of those waters in 9-1-1 Season 7 Episode 3 to look for her captain and dear friend. You’re invested in Bobby rescuing Cory and then seeing them rescued by Buck and Eddie.

If there’s a grip to make with the overall emergency, it’s within the final hour, which feels rushed but also necessary at the same time.

To achieve all those things I just rambled about, time is needed. And by putting that time into those left on the boat making their way out, it leaves little time to see the 118 actually rescue anyone.

They’re on the Coast Guard boat, and everyone is safe, and that’s that.

And the pirates are just in the wind, I guess? And all those on the lifeboats are presumably safe?

There are still questions when the hour ends, but even some out-of-reach answers don’t negate what you just watched or make it less impactful.

Even with an abrupt ending, the hour will go down in the 9-1-1 history books of one of the best opening emergencies.

At this point, it’s just a matter of figuring out what could top it in future seasons.

And it’s okay to think big because 9-1-1 continuously proves they can take something that absolutely should not work on paper and spin it into gold.

Alright, fanatics, what did you think about the cruise ship extravaganza? Were you impressed? Underwhelmed? Perhaps somewhere in the middle?

Drop into the comment section with all your thoughts, and maybe throw out some ideas for what emergencies you think the series should tackle next.

You can watch 9-1-1 on Mondays at 9/8c on ABC.

Whitney Evans is a senior staff writer for TV Fanatic. She is a lover of all things TV. Follow her on X.

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