SPOILER ALERT: The following interview contains spoilers from the episode of Fox’s “9-1-1,” titled “In Another Life,” which aired on Monday.
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For “9-1-1” enthusiasts, the suspense is over—Evan “Buck” Buckley (Oliver Stark) has returned to the land of the living after his apparent demise due to a lightning strike in the episode that aired on March 6. However, before rejoining the 118 and us, Buck embarks on a cerebral journey within his coma, envisioning a world where his older brother, Daniel (portrayed by “Mad Men” alum Aaron Staton), was alive and Buck never pursued a career as a firefighter.
In the episode, Buck undergoes a transformative “It’s a Wonderful Life” experience, discovering how the lives of Bobby (Peter Krause), Maddie (Jennifer Love Hewitt), Eddie (Ryan Guzman), Chimney (Kenneth Choi), and others would unfold if that pivotal aspect of his life had taken a different course.
Variety recently interviewed Oliver Stark about Buck’s death and subsequent return to life on “9-1-1,” delving into Easter eggs hidden in Buck’s coma world for fans and exploring Buck’s trajectory for the remainder of Season 6.
When and how did the writers inform you about Buck’s death this season, and what was your initial reaction?
Oliver Stark: Kristen Reidel, our showrunner, gave me a call and started with, “So I have some news.” I replied, “Okay…” She continued, “You’re gonna die,” and I hesitated before responding, just in case there was more to the statement. She reassured me, saying, “Obviously, not forever.” I asked, “Is it obvious?” and she said, “It is to me.” It was comforting to receive that call before anything became public. What amused me most was that in the original version of the script, which changed by the time of shooting, it explicitly stated, “Buck is dead.” I had crew members who weren’t necessarily aware of the follow-up calling me, exclaiming, “No! You’re kidding me!” It was touching to see their genuine concern.
In Buck’s coma world, there are both positive and negative elements, such as his older brother being alive while Maddie remains with her abusive ex-husband. How does Buck navigate these conflicting aspects as he strives to return to his actual life?
Oliver Stark: It underscores the reality that in life, there are often sacrifices that come with certain choices. If you want one aspect of your life to be pleasant, you might be sacrificing another. In this case, having his older brother alive has left his sister in a challenging situation. Despite the positivity in that alternate world, he generally comes away feeling more at peace and fulfilled by his real life. If given the chance to choose between the two, and in a sense, he does have that opportunity, he consistently opts for his real life.
When Buck wakes up, he observes that almost everyone was different in his coma world, except for Hen. Why do you think, in Buck’s subconscious, Hen wouldn’t be any different without Buck?
Oliver Stark: I think it goes to show that Hen is a character who has always been a guiding light to him. As we explore in the episode, she has had a significant impact on all the other 118 members’ lives. While Buck has influenced Hen’s life, it’s more about him learning from her, rather than offering life-changing or life-altering advice in the other direction. It’s not necessarily a negative thing; in fact, it’s quite positive that he sees her as brilliant just the way she is. And that’s coming from his deep, dark subconscious.
Why do you think Bobby, who is dead in Buck’s coma world, is ultimately the one who pushes Buck to wake up?
Oliver Stark: I really see it as, and I know a lot of people do, a father and son bond. I had imagined scenes in the past, when I first knew that the Buckley parents were coming to town, of Buck telling his father, “You’re not my dad. This is my father figure.” I truly believe that’s how important that relationship is. So I think it’s only right that it’s Bobby who helps bring Buck back to himself. In episode 10, there’s a scene with Buck and Bobby, and Buck’s trying to work out the recipe for Bobby’s chili, and he says to Bobby, “You’re always the one that helps me figure things out.” And obviously, that is the case as we move forward.
The episode is peppered with many callbacks to important moments from Buck and the 118’s lives throughout “9-1-1’s” six-season run. Which were your favorites?
Oliver Stark: I loved that stuff. As a fan of the show, I think that’s such a fun thing to get to do. Maybe I shouldn’t say this, because you can’t miss what you don’t know about, but I know there were even more that they wanted to try and fit in, but for practical reasons it didn’t end up being possible. One of the ones that didn’t end up in the show that I most loved the idea of was of me and Bobby. We had a really fun scene in the first season where we delivered a bunch of babies at a yoga studio. I know there was an idea of us walking around the hospital and walking past three women, clearly pregnant and in yoga clothes.