Earlier this season on 9-1-1, we were given a glimpse into how our Hen became the firefighter she is today. “Hen Begins” was a lovely episode that gave us a breather from the ridiculous rescues we’ve come to expect on this show, instead showcasing a more emotional side to the proceedings. Plus, the more we get to know these first responders, the more invested we are in whatever call comes in, even if it’s say, a shark in the middle of the freeway.
So, it’s not surprising that 9-1-1 is giving us “Chimney Begins,” a trip back to 2005 in which we learn Chimney’s firefighter origin story. It is, however, surprising that this would happen while Chimney is bleeding out in front of Maddie’s apartment building after being stabbed by her abusive ex-husband multiple times. Like, I get the whole “he’s dying, let’s look back on his life” thing, but there is no forward movement on that insane cliffhanger from last week. Chim is still there on the ground where we left him and we get absolutely no news on how Maddie is faring inside her apartment. This maneuver feels insane because, yes, of course, I want to know how this all plays out, but also because you’re messing with the storytelling momentum. Stretch this out too long and eventually people will just become annoyed. All I’m saying is: Give us something, 9-1-1! We deserve it!
If you take the timing out of this episode, it offers yet another illuminating backstory. I mean, did you know that Chimney (although he hasn’t yet earned that nickname back in 2005) invented the Snuggie? Well, almost. In 2005, Chim is working at a bar with his best friend Kevin and attempting to come up with the next great invention, but he’s getting turned down for bank loans at every turn. He’s going to be so pissed when he finds out Snuggies are a thing.
When his latest idea to help him become a financial mogul tanks, Chim returns to the bar to feel sorry for himself. He wants a calling bigger than running karaoke at a dive bar. Just when he’s at his lowest, a calling finds its way to him. A dink of a bartender tries to be a hot-shot and light a whole tower of shots on fire, but instead lights the woman sitting in front of him on fire and burns the whole place down. Ladies: Don’t stand right in front of flaming shots, okay? Thankfully, Chim doesn’t panic. He saves the woman, he gets everyone out of there, he is a hero. And just like that, he immediately goes and signs up to join the LAFD. The man has been called.
So has Kevin. Chim’s best friend felt the same calling. Since Chim lives with Kevin and his parents—Kevin’s mom, Mrs. Lee, was Chim’s late mother’s best friend, you guys, I KNOW, my heart is also warmed—they tell them together. It is right here that I went: Oh, so Kevin’s going to die. There’s no way he would be a firefighter and alive today without us having seen or heard about him. Sorry, Kev. Sorry, Mrs. Lee.
Just like we saw with Hen, Chim and Kevin go through rigorous training at the fire academy before being assigned to their respective stations. Naturally, they are split up and Chim ends up at 118, where he is today—none of our other current firefighters are there, FYI. Also similar to Hen’s experience, 118 is less-than-welcoming when Chim first shows up. He’s relegated to clean-up duty and is never allowed out on calls. At least he uses the downtime to bone up on his training. He’s very proactive that way!
We watch Chimney clean up dinner and practice getting into his gear and dominate a giant pile of flashcards until one day when a married couple plows through the station and Howie is the only one there to very calmly talk the man down from his panic attack. Still, no one cares. He’s practically invisible. It’s not until Eli the Paramedic takes pity on him and has him tag along in the Aid Car that things begin to change for Chimney. Sure, he spends the shift getting barfed and bled on, but it could be worse! I can’t think of how right now, but believe me, it could be.
Eli tries to explain to Chim that he shouldn’t take things personally in the station. Firefighters aren’t looking to make new friends unless they’ve proven they can trust them. People die on this job, so to get close to someone who has no chance of survival isn’t worth their time. What a way to live your life! Eli also explains that this job is much more than the thrill of the rescue and Chimney should learn that sooner than later. Eli is very wise and now I’m worried about what happened to him. Where are you, Eli?!
Chim is dealing with more than feeling degraded at work—he’s been feeling degraded most of his life. When his mother died, instead of staying with his father in Seoul, he moved in with her best friend and her family. His father married a younger woman, had a kid with her, and basically forgot about Howie. He tries to share with him that for the first time he loves what he’s doing and he feels like he has a purpose, but his dad is too busy tucking that other kid into bed. Thank the lord for Mrs. Lee and her what look to be excellent hugs.
And then it arrives. The huge apartment fire that’s so big, the captain can’t bench Chimney any longer. It’s also the one he probably would’ve wanted to sit out because guess who else is there? Kevin Lee.
In this instance, I’m very sorry to be right. A pregnant woman trapped inside ends up on the roof while the firefighters are trying to ventilate and they know the roof could collapse at any time (it’s basically like the one lesson we saw them learning at the academy — thanks, for planting that seed!). Kevin makes a choice knowing it will surely end in his death and runs across the roof to push the woman toward Howie, who is standing on the perimeter. Of course, after he does this, Kevin falls through into the fire below. Even though I knew it was coming, Kevin’s death is pretty awful to watch. It’s also not helpful that at the hospital with the Lees, they have to deal with the World’s Worst Doctor. You guys, he walks out, shakes his head, AND THEN LEAVES. That’s it! Was he even a doctor? We’ll never know. He is gone, like the wind.
After Kevin gets a hero’s funeral, Howie returns to work right away, surprising everyone. He’s definitely not handling his best friend’s death well. He plows forward. At a call soon after, it is Howie who recognizes that there is a gas leak and makes everyone move away from the soon-to-explode storefront while also running into the store to single-handedly carry out fellow firefighter Tommy. He saves that guy’s life even though Tommy had been a true dick to him earlier. That’s just the kind of guy Chim is.
Eli the Paramedic still has one more lesson for Chimney to learn. Even after that huge save, Eli can see Chimney is hurting. He reminds him that yes, Kevin died, but Tommy lived because Chimney was there. In this job, you need to “hand it off.” Meaning, you take care of one victim best you can, but then you need to move on—to be ready to deal with the next one. If you carry around too much guilt, you won’t be able to help anyone. Eli is basically a paramedic Oprah. Just spouting off truths, trying to make us all better people.
Mrs. Lee also helps ease the turmoil Chim is feeling. He’s moved out since Kevin died and apparently the Lees had been blaming him for getting Kevin into firefighting in the first place. Mrs. Lee swings by Chimney’s new place to apologize. Kevin was the happiest she had ever seen him, firefighting gave him a purpose. She loves Howie…and Mr. Lee will come around. Okay, now I also need to know where Mrs. Lee is. Can we get a welfare check or something on this lady? She is too precious.
And so ends the origin story for our everyday hero Howie “Chimney” Han. He has won over his firehouse colleagues, that pregnant lady from the apartment fire comes by to thank him and she gives her baby ‘Kevin’ as a middle name, and Chim is well on his way. Except, well, he’s not, because right now he’s still bleeding out on that sidewalk and we have no idea what’s going to happen to him. It’s like, one minute you’re getting over being impaled in the head with rebar, the next you’re getting stabbed by your almost girlfriend’s ex. Can’t a man just live his life?!