Who knows why 9-1-1 decided to plop a character origin story in the middle of the season apropos of nothing. Who knows why 9-1-1 does anything, honestly. But let’s not question a good thing: This trip down memory lane, showing us how Henrietta Wilson becomes the Hen we know and love today, is a stand out episode. It’s clear, focused, emotional, and has a whole lot of Aisha Hinds being a badass. What more do you need?
We already know a little bit about why Hen joined the L.A.F.D.: She was shot in the leg as a 16-year-old and was inspired by the paramedics who saved her life. But her road to becoming a paramedic and firefighter wasn’t so straightforward. When we first come upon Hen in “Hen Begins” she looks very different from how we know her: She’s wearing a dress and heels and a wig. She’s a pharmaceutical rep who is very good at her job, but very clearly hates it. And although she looks different from our Hen, when one of the doctors she’s meeting with makes a pass at her she puts him in his place by threatening to stab his hand with a steak knife — so we know our suffer-no-fools Hen is in there somewhere.
Hen quits her job that very same evening. She’s had enough. She meets with a life coach to help her figure out what to do next. Surprise! Her life coach has a heart attack, Hen helps save her life with some quick thinking and CPR, and then boom — Hen realizes exactly what she wants to be doing with her life. Serious question: Is this how life coaches work? If so, never become a life coach.
At this point in time, Hen is still very much dating Eva, who I guess has not yet become The Worst. Eva is a little wary of Hen’s sudden change of life plans and she reminds her girlfriend that being a gay black woman in the L.A.F.D. isn’t going to be easy. Hen likes a challenge. Plus, this is her calling — she can feel it. She wants to help people. She wants to protect the vulnerable.
So off to training she goes! As hard as that training looks, Hen will soon learn that passing that course and getting her badge would be the easiest part of this whole “becoming a firefighter” thing. She learns this because she gets assigned to Firehouse 118 and meets Captain Girard.
Captain Girard is no Bobby Nash, you guys. Captain Girard is as much a misogynist as any human can be. From the moment Hen walks in the door, he makes it very clear that she’s a “diversity hire” and he’s pissed his house has been saddled with her. She’s incapable of being a firefighter and she’s going to get them all killed. He says all of this out loud during a house meal. So, yeah, Captain Girard is a trash person.
But you know who is also at 118, nestled between a whole slew of bros who make offensive comments? Chimney! Well, he’s still calling himself Howie at this point, but Chim is there and he is the only person who treats Hen like a firefighter. She brushes him off because she thinks she needs to handle everything alone, but Chim doesn’t give up. He wants her to know she isn’t alone here and he, as an Asian man in the firehouse, understands what she’s going through. Hen stops him: Chim might be invisible. Hen is a threat to Girard’s (and men like him) entire way of life. Those things are very different. And yet, Chim won’t stop making an effort. He’s there for her, should she need him.
Things only get worse at 118 as time goes on. Hen can be smart, quick, and strong in the field and she can clean the house from top to bottom — it doesn’t matter. Girard doesn’t hide that he wants her to quit. Eventually, it gets so bad that Hen takes a patrol cop she met on a call-up on her offer to meet for drinks and a little support. This cop is Athena Grant, and she and a few other marginalized people on the force — another female cop and a gay firefighter — meet up to blow off steam and to be there for each other. The evening does wonders for Hen, who, after Athena makes a big speech about not letting them “determine who you are,” leaves feeling more empowered than ever. I mean, is it even really a night out with Athena if you don’t leave feeling like you are special and brave and can take on the world?
Hen goes back to the firehouse and makes an emotional speech about them needing to see her for who she is — a proud member of the L.A.F.D. The whole thing is great, but she ends it with “if any of you have a problem with me being here, I suggest you ask for a transfer because I’m not going anywhere” which is the most badass. Of course, it only pisses Girard off more (dude, stop it with your condescending slow cap).
They head off to a call in the pouring rain involving a party limo accident on a sketchy road near the woods. Almost immediately, Hen notices some yellow paint on the limo and knows another car must be involved. They need to go searching down below the road, at the bottom of the hill, near the river. People could be in trouble. Girard refuses to divert firefighters based on Hen’s hunch, so she goes off on her own. Well, not totally on her own — Chim follows her down the hill, in the dark, in the rain, because he believes she’s right.
And she is! They find a car submerged in water and in a matter of seconds, Hen dives in. She pulls out a young boy and after several harrowing minutes of CPR, he comes to. Hen and Chim cry together. It is wonderful!
Hen returns to the house for her next shift and things have changed. Some of the bro-iest bros are shaking her hand and telling her she’s an excellent firefighter. The bros, you guys! Chim finds her and tells her the captain wants to see her. Hen fears the worst and even says goodbye. But of course she’s only receiving good news: There’s a new interim captain in town (no, sadly, it’s not Bobby yet). Apparently, since Hen started there’s been a flood of complaints about Girard and how he’s treated her. Her colleagues had her back. Her colleagues also had only good things to say about Hen’s work. They see her. They see that she’s the future of the department.
Chim knew she was going to be commended and not fired the whole time — revenge for her making it so hard to be friends, he tells her. She thanks him for following her down that hill and he responds, “first of many, I’m sure.” YOU GUYS. Hen and Chim always and forever, this friendship is too much for my tiny heart to take.
And that, my friends, is the story of how Hen willed herself to succeed at house 118. She found the thing she is most passionate about in this world, and she wasn’t going to let the Girards of the department get in her way.
Okay, so more of these origin story episodes, right?