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The Reality Behind '9-1-1': Is Karma Really A B*tch? It Is If You're An A**hole

By Tori Preston | TV | March 8, 2018 |

By Tori Preston | TV | March 8, 2018 |


Well, it’s official: 9-1-1 has apparently decided to just do themed episodes now. First there was the Valentine’s Day one, then the “Full Moon Craziness” one, and this week we’ve got a deep-dive on karma. It was… a stretch. Don’t get me wrong, it made for some fairly interesting emergencies, and I’m not saying I don’t believe in karma. But I feel like there’s a limit on how many times the universe can really stick it to the citizens of Los Angeles within, like, a day. I mean, they already have to deal with the traffic. And the people. And the earthquakes. What more does the universe need to bring to the table?

But it doesn’t matter if I buy the conceit — what matters is if any of the emergencies were based on real events. And surprisingly, they kinda were!

The Dude Who Got Shot By A Tree

In the episode, the team responds to a man who is bleeding from a mysterious gunshot wound to his chest. And they remembered him because they’d responded to him before — when his wife was found dead. Through flashbacks, we see that he was abusive toward his wife, and at one point she got a gun to defend herself. She even fired it, though she missed him and the bullet lodged in the large tree in their yard. After her death, the tree started to rot, so the man decided to take it down in the dumbest fucking way possible: by blowing it up. He straps explosives to the tree, takes aim with a rifle, and BOOM — the explosion launches his wife’s original bullet back out of the tree and into his chest.

The story of the patient bullet has been around for awhile, and even inspired an episode of Beyond Belief back in the day. All the iterations of the story seem to trace back to the tale of Henry Ziegland, who died in the late 1800s in Texas after blowing up a tree that held a bullet that had been intended to kill him 20 years earlier. It’s an unverified legend, from what I can tell, but a persistent one!

The Tanning Bed Disaster

So. Some ‘roided-up bro burns to death on a tanning bed in the gym he runs. It was gross. So, so gross. Like “skin melts off during chest compressions” gross. The emergency was called in by his former employee, who had arrived at the gym early to collect her last paycheck. The reason she was fired? She’d broken his truck window the day before, to rescue the cute dog he’d left inside it on a 70-degree day.


Look, we’ve talked before about assholes leaving dogs in hot cars, so we know that’s a thing that definitely fucking happens. And while I didn’t find any disgusting, skin-melting stories of tanning bed deaths, there was a man in New Jersey who died in a tanning bed at a Crunch Fitness in January, so that may have been the inspiration for the show.

Either that, or this:

Porch Pirate Takes A Tumble

This one is pretty straightforward. A woman cruises around a nice neighborhood, stealing delivered packages from the front steps of strangers’ homes. As she carries one large haul back to her car, she slips and falls — injuring herself badly enough that she can’t get away, and has to call 9-1-1 for help. The karma angle is obvious, and the writers didn’t have to work very hard to add this story to the show — it’s based pretty directly on this security video that went viral earlier this year.

This segment mostly serves to give Athena an outlet to be a total badass (turns out this thief is a wanted woman). And it’s worth it for the moment after they get the porch pirate loaded in the ambulance, when Athena and Hen have a lengthy heart to heart until Chimney sticks his head out to remind them that they, you know, have a patient to take care of.

Big Game Hunter Gets Hunted

Look, don’t throw pinecones at tigers in the zoo, OK? But especially don’t piss off a ferocious animal when your favorite pastime is hunting other large, ferocious animals. Because karma’s a bitch or whatever!

This emergency takes place in a zoo, where a man tries to attract the attention of a tiger via the aforementioned pinecone-lobbing method so that his nephew can get a great pic for his Instagram. A short while later, while the man is in the restroom, he hears screaming — and emerges to discover that the tiger has hopped the fence and is on the prowl. He calls 9-1-1 as he looks for a safe place to hide, and gives his name… which is how the responders realize that he’s a local dentist who had recently been in the news for killing a famous lion while on a hunting trip in Africa.

Sound familiar?

Well, this is the “karma” episode after all, so you won’t be shocked to learn that the tiger enjoys a very good meal that day. It’s a shame about his handler, though. Are you familiar with “degloving”? Yeah, I wasn’t expecting to see that last night, especially after the skin-melty gym rat. Honestly, I’d take a full hour of tapeworm shenanigans over 60 seconds of skin being torn off, but that’s just me.

But does karma impact our dear responders?

Oh, but of course! Bobby finds out that he’s got rare, special blood, which can be used to save thousands of babies from a terrible disease. But he hates needles and giving blood. Also, he admits that he’s suicidal and is just trying to save 148 people (the same number who died in the apartment building he set on fire) before he sets himself free to see his children in the afterlife. So now he is stuck giving blood every week and doing even MORE good in the world than he’d ever expected. Which has cured him of his suicidal tendencies, I guess?

Meanwhile, Hen regrets sleeping with her ex-con ex-girlfriend, and makes up her mind to tell her wife about it… only her wife already knows, because the ex-girlfriend is suing for custody, citing that Hen’s house is unstable. Due to, you know, the fact that Hen cheated. So that didn’t take long to come full circle.

Oh, and Athena’s kids convince her to just divorce their dad already. Fucking finally.

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Tori Preston is deputy editor of Pajiba. She rarely tweets here but she promises she reads all the submissions for the "Ask Pajiba (Almost) Anything" column at [email protected]. You can also listen to her weekly TV podcast, Podjiba