Last week on 9-1-1, tensions ran high when Phillip and Margaret Buckley arrived in Los Angeles. In the final moments of the episode, Maddie finally told Buck the painful family secret — they had a brother named Daniel, and he died. Keep reading to find out what happened this week in the long-awaited episode “Buck Begins.”
We open with a flashback to the year 1996, in which Maddie is teaching Buck how to ride a bike without training wheels. At one point, Buck goes crashing to the ground … hard. Their parents are angry and upset as they come running outside to see what happened. The situation sours even further when Margaret sees that Buck was riding Daniel’s bicycle and she heads back into the house, on the verge of a meltdown.
Maddie tells Buck that when he was born, Daniel was seven, and he then died a year later from juvenile leukemia. He became sick right after the bicycle photo was taken and spent the next three years in and out of hospitals. The gears are spinning in Bucks head as he notes the fact that he was born in the middle of all of that, of Daniel being sick. He says that he’s surprised that the doctors didn’t try a bone marrow transplant, but Maddie says that neither her nor their parents were a match. The final puzzle piece clicks into place in a sad moment as Buck says, “They couldn’t find a match, so they made one. Me.” Buck was a savior sibling. And he was indeed a match, but the cells didn’t graft, and Daniel had a relapse. Buck leaves as Maddie tearfully apologizes for not telling him sooner.
Phillip and Margaret are unhappy, to put it lightly, to find out that Maddie told Buck the truth. We learn that the Buckley family chose to move after Daniel’s death because of the heightened judgement they had been receiving for the circumstances surrounding Buck’s birth.
We get a glimpse into the Buckley parents’ grief as Phillip pleads with his wife to defend his decision to keep the bicycle, “I just wanted one thing to remember him by,” and Margaret responds, “We live with the reminder every day. Staring us right in the face.” (My heart is breaking for Buck right now.) After Maddie patches her brother up, Buck is happy to find out that their parents seemingly aren’t mad at him after all. In fact, his father tells him that he’s going to take him to the store to get a new bike.
A montage follows of Buck throughout his childhood years in 1996 and beyond, pulling off various stunts, getting hurt, and then receiving attention from his parents as a result of his actions.
At the station, Buck has recounted everything he’s learned about Daniel and then also discussed his daredevil tendencies with Eddie, Hen, and Bobby. He tells them that his behavior was the only way he could get his parents’ attention, sadly. We’re reminded of how important the bond between the 118 is as they pick up on Buck’s detached, casual attitude toward the situation and offer words of comfort: “Hey, that’s not on you.” – Eddie; “Daniel wasn’t their only son. You matter too, Buck.” – Hen. Chimney then arrives at the station and asks Buck if they can talk in private, but Buck brushes him off.
Maddie and Buck are in her Jeep, and they pull up in front of a house. When he asks his sister where they are, Maddie tells him that they used to live there. Right when she’s about to tell Buck the truth about Daniel, her phone rings with a call from Doug. Buck asks her why Doug always has to know where she is and what she’s doing, but she brushes him off and tells him that it just means that he cares about her. In that moment, Maddie decides not to tell Buck the family secret after all. Instead, she tells him that Doug was accepted into a medical school in Boston, and she’ll be going with him. Buck is bewildered as he responds, “You’re leaving me?”
Maddie shows up at the station to talk to Buck because he’s not answering her calls. Buck doesn’t want to hear it though, he thinks Maddie has just come to make herself feel better. He spent his life believing it was he and Maddie versus their parents, but that’s not how it looks or feels to him anymore. Their conversation is cut short as the station is dispatched for a five-alarm fire in an industrial complex.
The team arrives at a hand sanitizer factory that’s engulfed in flames. In another timely nod to COVID-19 this season, we learn the building was originally a perfume factory, but they converted their business once the pandemic hit.
When Maddie drops Buck off at home, Phillip and Margaret storm out of the house. Doug called and told them about Boston, and they’re not pleased. Buck argues that they should congratulate Maddie because she’s going to nursing school. They rebuff him, and he angrily takes off on his bicycle.
The scene quickly transitions to an older Buck tearing through the neighborhood on a street bike, only to go crashing right into an SUV backing out of a driveway.
Buck and the other firefighters on the scene head into the burning building, and they soon come across a group of people bunkered down in a room waiting to be rescued. Meanwhile, Bobby calls out over the radio that they’re down two firefighters on the other side of the factory. Buck decides to go and assist them.
After getting patched up from his crash, Buck heads over to the hospital Maddie works at (she and Doug have moved back into town). He tells Maddie that he got himself kicked out of college because he blew his tuition money on bike modifications and keg parties, and now he really can’t go home after this latest incident on top of all that. He asks his sister if he can stay with her and Doug, but Maddie declines. Buck believes that it’s because Doug hates him, unaware of the full extent of the abuse that’s going on behind closed doors. Buck continues to break our hearts as he tells Maddie that their parents think he’s a total loser.
“The way they look at me … through me … I can’t live with that anymore.”
A message comes over the radio that all teams are being ordered to evacuate the factory. Buck argues over the fact that one person still has not been located. The Incident Commander makes it clear that Buck is to evacuate immediately, but Buck — being Buck — doesn’t listen and continues his search.
Buck goes home after all, and Margaret is on the verge of tears as she scolds Buck for being reckless. At the time, Buck doesn’t understand why her emotions over seeing him a bit banged up and in a sling are so over-exaggerated, but now we know it’s because of Daniel. He just narrowly avoids telling them the truth about the whole college debacle when Maddie pulls into the driveway to rescue him.
She eventually pulls over and tosses the keys to the Jeep to Buck and tells him she’s giving him freedom, a way out of there and away from their parents. She encourages him to go as far away as he can and be happy. Buck tells Maddie that he knows things aren’t okay with Doug and, though she’s reluctant at first, eventually convinces her to come with him. “Just you and me against the world.” Later, Buck arrives at the hospital to pick Maddie up for their getaway. Her co-worker gives him a letter that she left for him, stating that she couldn’t leave with him after all. Buck angrily storms out of the building.
Buck has found the last victim, Saleh, who ended up lost due to the amount of smoke in the building. The two are attempting to find a way out, but things aren’t looking too great on that front. It only gets worse when a forklift explodes as they’re trying to cross a gantry and they go flying.
Maddie arrives at work one day to find that Buck has sent her a postcard from Georgia. He’s been traveling up and down the East Coast, picking up odd jobs. A fun montage follows, in which Buck continues to send her postcards from all of his travels: he became a mixologist in Virginia Beach and learned how to surf; he started working in construction in Florida; a desert rat in Arizona; a Navy SEAL in California; a dude ranch in Montana; Oregon; and eventually a mixologist in Peru.
After experiencing most of Buck’s travels through the narration of his postcards and a couple of photos, we’re finally treated to an actual sight indeed — bartender Buck with highlights, a tan, a cheesy button-up shirt, and a puka shell necklace (and he was even a “fun fact nerd” back then, too). It seems that a conversation that he had on that particular day is what then led him to Los Angeles.
Unfortunately, a vat fell top of Saleh’s legs during the explosion. Buck tries moving it with no luck. Bobby, Hen, Chimney, and Eddie reconvene outside to find that Buck is missing.
Buck arrives for his first day of work as a probationary firefighter with the 118. The mystery around the nickname “Buck” is finally revealed — there were three other Evans in his class, so they began calling him Buck.
Buck continues to try and free Saleh. He manages to get ahold of a fire extinguisher to put out the fire that’s in their immediate vicinity. Frustrated yet refusing to give up, Buck rigs a pulley to attempt to move the vat once more. He cries out in desperation as he pulls as hard as he possibly can. 9-1-1 has a knack for having beautiful and emotional music cues, especially in the “Begins” episodes, and this is one we won’t soon forget: “So Far” by Ólafur Arnalds. As the music swells, the rest of his team finally rushes in to help him.
Outside afterward, Buck seems tired and defeated. And even though his relationship with his biological parents may not be the best, we’re reminded that he still has parental figures like Bobby and Athena in his life as they (along with Hen) give him a pep talk.
Later, after getting a clean bill of health, Buck returns to the station and Eddie tells him that his parents are waiting for him upstairs. In a very important moment, Buck’s parents tell him that they never blamed him. Buck was born to save someone … and now that’s what he does for a job, every day. And he finally gets to hear something that he’s needed to hear for a very long time — his parents are proud of him.
Chimney approaches Buck afterward and finally bridges the gap in the latter’s understanding as to why Maddie didn’t run away with him in the first place. He’s been angry about it for so long, but he had no idea that Doug had just given her a terrible beating to show what would happen if she left him.
Maddie is surprised to find Buck standing in the doorway behind Chimney when he comes home from work. The two finally reconcile, and Buck asks Maddie to tell him about Daniel. And although their parents sadly didn’t make a baby box for him, Maddie shows him that she saved all of his postcards. When she left Doug, she only had two suitcases … and everything that mattered the most was inside of them. The episode ends with a beautiful and heartfelt montage of moments between the Buckley siblings over the years. No matter what happens, Buck and Maddie will always have each other.
After an intense and emotional build up these past few weeks, “Buck Begins” was absolutely worth the wait. Though Buck has always been a fan favorite character on the show, Oliver Stark has truly brought an impressive new depth to the character this season. Stark’s performance in the last two episodes in particular was nothing short of spectacular, and we look forward to seeing what else this season has in store for Evan Buckley.
Catch new episodes of 9-1-1 on FOX on Mondays at 8 p.m. ET/PT.