Who says you need a bunch of rescues to have an intense episode of 9-1-1? “Fight or Flight” focuses on just one rescue call and it doesn’t even feature our first responders making a save—no, this one is all about Maddie saving herself. And it is intense as hell.
9-1-1 isn’t exactly known for its subtlety and this episode makes no moves to change that—I mean, Maddie’s ex Doug at times feels like a villain out of a cheeseball horror movie—but that works here. The subject matter is certainly heavy, and the flashbacks to Maddie’s marriage and the abuse she faced are a legit nightmare and not to be taken lightly, but Maddie’s escape from Doug in the present is a ride, you guys. Like a yell at your TV screen ride.
Things kick off with our patented 9-1-1 call, but this time you recognize the voice of the caller. It’s Buck, and he’s just found Chimney bleeding out on the sidewalk, I guess still deep into all those flashbacks of his life. His breathing is labored and he probably has a punctured lung, but Chim comes to enough to say two words: “Jason” and “Maddie.” Buck has no idea who Jason is (a refresher: Jason is the name Doug used when he befriended Chim to keep an eye on Maddie), but the realization that his sister could be hurt too sends Buck reeling.
Once the EMTs arrive to help Chimney, Buck goes flying into his sister’s apartment, hoping not to find her also on the ground, bleeding out. He doesn’t find that, but what he realizes is, I won’t say worse because bleeding out from stab wounds is pretty bad, so I’ll just say “equally as terrifying”: Maddie is gone, but none of her stuff—keys, wallet, phone—is. He took her.
As Buck pleads with Detective Marks, the lead on the case, to believe him when he says this is definitely Doug’s doing, Maddie—badly beaten up—is trapped in the car with Doug. He tells her this is all her fault for running away from him, that he didn’t want to kill Chimney (both he and Maddie assume he is a goner), that they are meant to be together, you know, typical murderous psychopath stuff. She can never run away from him again, he warns. And we get a glimpse of how he reacts when she broke his mother’s crystal wine glasses, so one can only imagine what he’d do to her for running away again. It’s a pretty awful situation that only gets worse!
They pull over at a gas station and Maddie grabs the rental car agreement from the glove compartment and tells Doug she needs to use the restroom—it’s either that or she’s going in the car. He cuts the zip-ties on her wrists and they ask the gas station attendant for the key. She swipes his pen and heads back. The attendant is a little uneasy—surely Maddie’s bruised face is a red flag. In the bathroom, Maddie starts to write a note but sees that she could get the window open and make a run for it. She doesn’t get very far. Doug finds her around back, and as she screams for help, that attendant shows up with a gun and tells Doug to let Maddie go. Oh, this attendant, you guys. Doug fights him for his gun and shoots him in the shoulder. When Maddie tries to help him and tells him they’ll call 9-1-1, DOUG SHOOTS HIM IN THE HEAD. Doug just leveled up as far as psychopaths go.
Maddie, not wanting to see anyone else die over this, tells Doug that she won’t run again. She also suggests they get off the road for a while lest they get caught by police—surely a run-in that will end in more bloodshed—and suggests finding an empty vacation home in nearby Big Bear. It seems like Maddie has given up, but if you believe that, you don’t know Maddie.
While that horror show is going on, Buck is in rescue mode. He’s the first to realize that Jason Bailey, Chimney’s new pool-playing friend, has to be Doug. And Chimney’s phone is right there at the scene, with Jason’s number in it! Marks won’t touch it, plus they need Chimney’s permission to open it. Athena and Bobby, there for support, tell Buck to cool down. But Buck has a plan! He steals the phone from the crime scene, goes to the hospital, and uses an unconscious Chimney’s finger to unlock the phone. I didn’t say it was a great plan! Athena is immediately on to him and he lands in her custody at the hospital. Although annoyed since Buck broke chain of custody and Marks can no longer use Chimney’s phone, Athena understands Buck’s motivation. She’s not good at sitting around and waiting either. This isn’t Athena’s case, which means she can go rogue—so she and Buck hit the road with the phone. Okay, so maybe I jumped to conclusions about the plan!
First stop is Maddie’s place of work: 9-1-1 dispatch! They ask Maddie’s colleague Josh about tracking the location of calls that come in. They show them “Jason’s” number on Chimney’s phone and ask hypothetically if a 9-1-1 call came from that number, could they hypothetically trace the location after the fact HYPOTHETICALLY. Josh picks up what Athena and Buck are putting down and yes, in fact, he “recognizes” that number from “an earlier 9-1-1 call” and he will “request” a trace on its location. Obviously, none of this is on the up and up but Josh is an angel and a hero and he doesn’t care. This could save Maddie! The trace leads them not to Doug and Maddie, but to a truck driver who is unknowingly carrying Doug’s phone—Doug must have put it in there at the gas station. And so they head to the gas station! Where they find one dead attendant and, thankfully, Maddie’s note on the rental agreement. NOW THEY CAN TRACE DOUG’S CAR. This is a huge lead!
Well, until it’s not.
They find the car ditched outside of Big Bear, so now have no idea where the two of them could be. There are over 300 rental properties in the area. That’s a lot of searching to do and neither they—nor Maddie—have that kind of time.
This is all getting very intense, so let’s take a quick pit stop to the goings on at the hospital. Everyone’s there waiting to hear if Chimney pulls through his surgery. By everyone, I mean Eddie’s family is there! And they seem to be doing great! So that’s nice. Harry and Michael stop by to drop off some food and Michael tells Bobby just how worried Harry’s been about him. Harry loves his almost-step-dad! That’s also nice! Chimney wakes up from surgery—the man has nine lives, apparently—and is racked with guilt over how he could’ve been fooled by Doug, and how that’s put Maddie in danger. Okay, so that part is not great and we need to move on from the hospital before I start tearing up. Poor Chim!
Over in Big Bear, Maddie is fighting for her life. In a heartfelt moment, as Buck and Athena head on their search and rescue mission, Buck tearfully asks Athena what she thinks they will find when they finally get to Maddie. He promised to keep her safe and he failed. He is terrified of what might happen to his sister. But Athena’s not worried. She knows that not only did Maddie rebuild her life here, “she rebuilt herself.” She’s tough. YOU GUYS. I love this Buck and Athena pairing with all of my heart. And you know what? Athena is right about Maddie. She and Doug are sitting in the vacated rental home in Big Bear and as he goes on and on about how much he loves her and that they can start over as new people, Maddie is like HELL NO. So she grabs a fireplace poker, slams him in the face with it and runs.
Doug follows soon after, and now armed with the gas station attendant’s gun, he’s more dangerous than ever. Running through the snowy woods for a while, Maddie realizes something: She’s tired of running. Metaphorically-speaking. Okay, probably literally too because she has been running for a while. Anyway, Maddie backtracks leaving some confusing footprints in the snow for Doug to find and then jumps out from behind him, walloping him again with the fire poker. The two proceed to beat the hell out of each other. Doug’s out of bullets, so he uses his knife, but eventually, Maddie gains control of it and goes to Stabtown on her ex. Finally, mercifully, Doug is dead. But Maddie’s severely injured, and she could just give up right there and die next to her ex. Maddie remembers one of Doug’s cruelest threats from their past: There’s no leaving him because they are meant to be together forever. They’ll die together. Again, Maddie says hell no. She’s not dying today. And she picks herself up and runs in search of help, as best she can with multiple stab wounds.
Doug and his gun do one thing helpful: The gunshots alert the local police to a disturbance, leading Athena and Buck to the rental house Maddie and Doug had been in. It seems like another dead end when they don’t find them there until someone spots blood in the woods. Buck runs in search of his sister. There’s so much running in this episode! They find each other out there in the woods and, reader, I cried. I cried! It was very moving. And then their little moment in the ambulance? Buck has been crying so much and is trying to keep his sister awake with jokes and the good news that Chimney is actually alive (Maddie weeps for joy at that), and it’s just a great moment. Listen, I will always treasure Connie Britton, her calming dispatcher cadence and, obviously, her hair, but I do so enjoy having this sibling dynamic on 9-1-1.
Athena and Marks are dealing with Doug’s body over in an area of the woods that legit looks like red snow-cone, but, like, blood flavored. As Marks looks over all the carnage, he remarks that it’s truly a miracle that Maddie survived this, but Athena puts him in his place: It’s not a miracle, Maddie is a badass tough lady who fought her way to survival. It’s all Maddie. You tell ‘em, Athena!
Maddie eventually gets transferred to Chimney’s hospital. The two reunite and share a kiss and I’m very happy for them, but man, did they have to go through a lot for a first date.