Tonight, on Grey’s Anatomy, I witnessed, in my opinion, one of the most powerful moments of television in all of history. It may get missed, because we are in season eleventy hundred at this point, but it shouldn’t. It was an episode about abuse and assault, and there a million things to talk about about how masterful everyone involved was. The pivotal moment of the episode was a message of unity, a message to every single survivor of every single kind of suffering or trauma. “You are not alone.”
The episode begins with Meredith’s traditional monologue, this time about trauma, and how it can hide in the most banal moments of existence. Just as a memory of home can appear as quick as the wafting smell of apple pie, a flash of light at the wrong angle can send a person back to the moment they were dead, or wished they were. Immediately, Grey’s is letting us know that the episode may be about one kind of trauma, as we all know from the trailers and warnings, but it’s also about every kind.
Next, we see Jo in her aftermath of whatever she discovered with her birthmother, though we haven’t been clued in yet. She finds a woman who is clearly experiencing severe suffering, and helps her to the ER. This was the first life-changing moment of the episode. Jo looks in the woman’s eyes, and instead of telling her where the emergency room is, she drops everything, all of her own struggles, the busy-ness she is using to escape, and her work for the day, to help this woman to get to where she needed to go, and to keep her safe.
The story unfolds alongside the story of Jo’s discussion with her birth mother. Jo is angry at her mother because of the scars she has from feeling abandoned and unloved. Her mother is scarred in different ways but is just as strong, and just as wounded. She confesses to Jo that she was raped, and that Jo resulted from that rape. Jo fights back with the wounds that she has, trying to forge some sort of connection, but also clearly struggling with the tension of realizing that her suffering was not the whole story.
Whether you believe in abortion or not, the next conversation they have is a gut-wrenching one. She admits that when she saw Jo she fell head over heels in love with her, but that she couldn’t stop seeing her aggressors face whenever she saw Jo. She tells Jo she didn’t have her best to give when she abandoned her at a fire station. Jo responds by telling her that she had an abortion when she got pregnant by her abuser.
It is an uncomfortable moment. Jo’s mother looks away. The set-up of the conversation is all to real, in its awkwardness. There was a moment that all I could ask was, “Is she angry that her mother didn’t abort her?” There was a sense that Jo did think she should have, and the mother’s reaction was immediate and intense, but vague. Shonda Rhimes’ shows are consistent about this when dealing with abortion, she is very conscious of the differing opinions and the pain associated with it on either side, and in true Shonda form, they allow the uncomfortable moment to exist without answering the questions it brings up or tying it up with a neat little bow. It seems to me that the most important part of it was the divide between the two of them.
Meanwhile, Jo’s patient has been revealed to be a survivor of a sexual assault. She is covered with raw, realistic wounds, rivaling any film depiction I have ever seen. The aggressor himself is not given a single moment of screen time. That is reserved for the woman herself alone. Grey’s breaks the cardinal rule of film/tv,”Show don’t tell,” but in this instance, abuse/assault is all too often used for shock factor or to up the ratings, and I believe that they intentionally refused to indulge that.
Jo encourages the woman to do the rape kit, in a way that taught me things I didn’t know about rape kits. In the person of her character, Camilla Luddington told every survivor of every abuser ever, “You can fight this, and it is not your fault.” The way she said, “You did nothing to deserve this,” is still ringing in my chest, holding up a mirror to every time I blamed myself for every thing bad that ever happened.
“You did nothing to deserve this.”
Finally, it is time for her patient to go to surgery, but she is terrified to see the faces of the men who could be around her on the way. In a perspective altering, powerful moment, they reveal that they have asked every woman who worked in the hospital to line the halls so that she will see only their faces.
Now, I’m going to take a little detour here for a second because I can already here all the defenders of men pissed off because all men are not abusers. That’s not the point. As Meredith’s monologue said at the beginning, anything can set off trauma. The point is that this is what she was struggling with, no whether or not it was right or in her head, or whatever else. It was her struggle, and because it was her struggle, it was worth protecting her from it, while she was in a vulnerable state. I’m going to resist the temptation to go off about the “snowflake” mentality and people who complain about them, so I stay focused but that rant may come one day.
In that moment, when the women’s faces lined the halls, I felt the world move. Shonda Rhimes and the team that she assembled had just brought a new light into the world. In that moment, the entire team of Greys Anatomy told every single one of us, “You are not alone.” They also told, specifically those who have suffered any kind of assault or abuse, but especially sexual assault, “We see you, you matter. You are not alone.”
In this pivotal moment, Shondaland did what makes them great. They answered the pain in the world with hope, not a hope that is shallow and false, but a sure resounding hope in the power of the human spirit and community with others. They gave us the language to heal, and an example.
The episode doesn’t conclude with a pretty pink bow of how we are all happy now because we are not alone, but it does end with one character giving her honesty to her husband and another, not. Jo is not ready to talk to Alex and the pain in her is palpable, but while she is in pain and feels alone, she has given her patient the gift of not feeling alone. It’s a tragic truth that often the one who creates love and hope for others struggles to find it for themselves. I hope that we will see Jo heal, but it shouldn’t be surprising that she needs to.
I am an undying fan girl of Shonda Rhimes and what she has created in Grey’s Anatomy.moments like this are what make her the Mistress of Television in my opinion. She has healed broken spots in my soul more times that I can count, and I pray that she has millions more to come, and that in my own film career I will touch people half as well as she does.