When a “viewer discretion is advised” warning pops up before Meredith’s opening monologue, you sit a little straighter. Your mind steels itself for a weighty topic. And when the focus is sexual assault, you pay close attention.
I think the Grey’s Anatomy team handled a controversial subject matter exceptionally well. Writer Elizabeth Finch and director Debbie Allen deserve a standing ovation their storytelling skills. Camilla Luddington (Jo), Khalilah Joi (Abby), and Michelle Forbes (Vicki) should receive all the awards for incredible acting. Hopefully, along with our cast of characters, real lives were changed tonight.
The writing team approached sexual assault from different angles. First, we have Abby, who wanders into the hospital in a daze. She literally runs into Jo, who immediately recognizes that the gash on her face isn’t the only thing hurting Abby. Jo escorts Abby to the ER and is startled when Abby grabs her hand in a death grip, willing her with her eyes not to let go.
As someone who knows the signs of abuse, Jo sends everyone away on errands and closes the curtains around her patient. When it’s just the two of them, Abby reveals choke marks on her neck and severe bruises on her abdomen.
Jo and Dahlia take Abby to a private room. Jo suggests they call Abby’s husband, but she insists that he is on a business trip and can’t be bothered. Teddy arrives to take an ultrasound and determines that Abby’s diaphragm has been torn. Abby will need surgery. She also knows immediately that the wounds are from sexual assault.
Abby is eager to get the surgery so she can get back home. All three doctors eye each other and Abby demands they say what they need to say. Teddy encourages Abby to tell them what really happened while reminding her she doesn’t have to say a thing. Jo takes a different approach: Did your husband sexually assault you? Do you want to press charges?
Teddy demands that Jo stand down and assures Abby that it is her choice to speak. Then Jo drops another bomb. If they take Abby to surgery, all evidence will be sterilized. Jo wants Abby to consent to a rape kit, promising they can seal it away until Abby is ready to use it.
Abby slowly breaks down, wondering if a judge and jury will blame her for wearing a skirt a little too short at the bar that night. Or drinking a little too much tequila. Does the kit convince them she wasn’t flirting? Or lying? Or asking for it?
Jo doesn’t back down. She shares that she had an ex-husband who hurt her for years. She lived her life in a constant state of terror, but what hurts the most is that she didn’t have a choice or a chance to hold him responsible. All Jo wants is for Abby to have everything she needs to get justice, should she want to pursue that route one day.
This reality hits Abby and she asks Jo to get the kit. With each step, under law, Teddy must ask Abby if she is ready. There must be an audible “yes” for them to proceed. For several excruciating minutes, the camera pans as Teddy and Dahlia work to collect blood samples, strands of hair, and fingernails. “Are you ready? Yes.” We see all the bruises, scrapes, and bite marks. “Are you ready? Yes.”
Jo holds her hand the entire time. “Are you ready? Yes.” Tears stream down Abby’s face. “Are you ready? Yes.” One envelope of evidence turns into ten which turns into twenty.
“Are you ready? Yes.”
Once Teddy has finished her exam, she instructs Dahlia to prep the OR. This sends Abby into a frenzy. She’s not ready. She can’t face anyone who may look like him. In fact, all men look like him. Even when she closes her eyes, she sees him.
So Jo takes care of it. She asks DeLuca to guard the door to the surgical wing. No man can enter. And when Abby’s gurney rolls down the hallway, she finds strength in all the female employees who have gathered to line up against the walls. Nurses, doctors, surgeons, janitors, and office workers all champion Abby with a slight nod of their heads. She’s got this. And she’s got an army of women in the trenches with her if she needs them.
When Abby wakes up from surgery, Teddy and Jo are there. Both encourage her to talk to someone about what happened, assuring her this is not her fault. Who cares that she walked down a dark alleyway? She didn’t ask for this. The rape does not define her. She is a survivor.
Even though Abby is nervous that her husband will see her as a broken person, she makes the call and tells him everything. She also tells the police.
Throughout the entire episode, as Jo learns about Abby’s circumstances, there are flashbacks to Jo’s meeting with her birth mother Vicki. Obviously, things did not go well when Jo tracked her down. Especially when she knocked on Vicki’s door, heard her half-siblings arguing inside the gorgeous house, and sort of met Vicki’s husband and dog as they quickly passed by.
Vicki does not want Jo anywhere near the house. Jo invites Vicki to meet her at the diner down the street. She eventually shows up and immediately offends Jo when she assumes Jo needs money. Jo takes great pride in informing her mother that she is a doctor and is doing just fine.
What is annoying is that Vicki is doing just fine. Jo works through her emotions and realizes that it would be an easier pill to swallow if Vicki didn’t have a happy family, a great job, and crown molding. Sure Vicki gave her away to have a better life, but guess what? Her life was miserable growing up in foster care. No one wanted her. And when she did find someone who loved her, he beat her nearly to death.
Clearly, this is too much for Vicki to take, so she abandons the table, only to return when Jo mumbles, “At least you’re consistent.” Vicki tries to control her anger and sits back down to answer some “where did I come from” questions. Evidently, Jo isn’t satisfied with the “grew up in Kansas” and “Irish descent” and goes straight for the jugular. Who is her father?
Vicki quickly spouts that Jo’s father was killed in a motorcycle accident. She tops that startling news with a hearty, “That son of a bitch hurt me more than any other human being.”
Jo takes the news of his death and the disrespect of her father’s memory to heart. She deadpans that she’s so sorry Vicki’s high school sweetheart didn’t work out. Vicki skips the sarcasm and goes for her own jugular. Jo’s father raped her. She fought. She lost. And nine months later, she had a baby.
Vicki explains that she never told a soul. She went through a lot of therapy and learned how to qualify the word “rape” as more than just a woman running through the park at night. Luckily, she found a way to eventually move forward.
That’s great, but she chose to move forward without Jo.
Jo pleads with her mother to tell her why she never even tried looking for her. Vicki doesn’t hold back. She confesses that she did love Jo and wanted with everything inside of her to just be okay. Sadly, whenever she looked at Jo, all she saw was him. Jo’s entire being was a constant reminder of what happened and she resented Jo for it.
The night he held her down, with his hands around her throat, forcing her to say she liked it, she lost everything. She was numb. Dead inside. Of course, Jo deserved better than that. But she didn’t have better to give her.
Jo softens a little and makes her own confession. She was seven weeks pregnant when her ex-husband broke her ribs and threw her across the room. She couldn’t see a way out and believed that he would one day kill her. She didn’t want to raise a kid in that kind of danger, so she had an abortion. She did what she had to do.
It was a sweet moment of bonding. Mother and daughter connecting over pain. Jo reaches out to hold Vicki’s hand, and Vicki pulls away. This is when Jo realizes that she more than likely looks like her father. Vicki apologizes, stands up, and walks out of the diner leaving Jo in a puddle of tears.
On the flip side, we have Bailey and Ben discovering that Tuck has a girlfriend. It’s his first love and he’s getting to the age where someone is going to bite the bullet and have “the talk” with him. Ben volunteers and the first rule he lays down is, “If she says time out, you time out. No questions asked.” He follows that with, “She can change her mind at any time. It’s game over.”
For those who didn’t get the luxury of “game over,” they are left with pain. You can’t magically make it disappear, but you can talk to someone or ask for help.
This is where Karev comes in. Jo still hasn’t confided in him and he’s starting to worry. Jo blows him off, even suggesting he take Meredith to celebrate the end of his interim chief run. She just wants to go home and go to sleep.
Which is perfectly fine. We tell our truth when we are ready.
If you or someone you know has been sexually assaulted, it’s never too late to get help. Call 800.656.HOPE (4673) or visit online.rainn.org to chat anonymously one-on-one with a trained staff member.
Read more: ew.com