It’s already been said: This season of “Grey’s Anatomy” is holding nothing back when it comes to tackling important cultural narratives. Several recent episodes have contained an important discourses on identity, racialized and gender-based violence, representation and politics — and we’re here for it.
Last week, “Grey’s Anatomy” focused on deportation.
This week’s episode explains a recent trend in outside doctors refusing to work with doctors from Grey-Sloan — first Marie Cerone (Rachel Ticotin) and later Rebecca Froy (Jessica Steen) — and does so alongside a rather comical sub-plot.
At the start of the episode, the doctors begin presenting their research for the hospital’s surgical competition. The event goes haywire when the doctors learn that the cookies given to them by Arizona (Jessica Capshaw) that morning were accidentally cooked with cannabis butter.
In other words, the doctors ate edibles.
The “weed cookies,” given to Arizona by a patient, leave her and several other doctors out of commission for the day. Most of them realize their state before going anywhere near patients — except for Miranda (Chandra Wilson), who doesn’t know she’s high until she’s in the operating room.
Meredith arrives to save the surgery but injures her hand in the process. As a result, rising surgeon Jo (Camilla Luddington) must perform the procedure.
Somehow, Meredith and Jo avoided the cookies in question.
Meredith sits by Jo’s side, refusing to even give advice because she believes Jo can handle it. Jo proves that she can — she’s grown in self-confidence, and Meredith’s grown in her ability to trust her students.
While Meredith and Jo look out for their inebriated colleagues, Jackson and his mother hash out an argument that’s been a long time coming.
Last week, Jackson asked his family’s lawyers to waive a nondisclosure agreement, or NDA, that they’d negotiated with a doctor from another hospital. That doctor, Rebecca Froy, refused to help Alex and Amelia (Caterina Scorsone) with their research after learning that they work for a “Harper Avery hospital.”
This terrified Jackson’s mother, Catherine (Debbie Allen), who feared a watershed moment was upon them. She was right.
This week, Catherine informs Jackson that his grandfather, Harper Avery, was a serial sexual harasser. Dr. Froy wasn’t the only woman who signed an NDA involving Harper Avery — 13 other women did too.
Jackson is rightfully livid that his now-deceased grandfather was a sexual predator. He’s also angry that his mother helped cover up the abuse because she organized the response protocol when women came forward with allegations: After signing an NDA and agreeing never to work in a Harper Avery hospital or be in the running for a Harper Avery award, the women received financial compensation.
Catherine defends her actions, saying it was a different era. Fighting sexual harassment was even harder back then, and she felt that she was helping the women the only way she could: by giving them financial compensation. Though she doesn’t regret her own actions because it was a “different time,” she’ll take responsibility for them now.
Later in the episode, Meredith, too, is angered by Harper’s loathsome behavior — especially because she won a Harper Avery award so recently.
When Catherine confirms that Marie Cerone was also abused by Harper, Meredith realizes that her mother took credit for “The Grey Method” and removed Marie’s name because Harper’s NDA would disqualify their shared research from the Harper Avery competition.
Jackson and Catherine decide come clean about Harper’s abusive past, but they soon realize that the press has already gotten hold of the story.
While the two narrative threads may seem quite incompatible — one reflecting the long-awaited revelation that powerful Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein serially harassed more than 70 women and another involving doctors accidentally consuming edibles — they are both independently well done.
The first promises to interrogate Hollywood’s response to Weinstein through an important figurehead in the “Grey’s Anatomy” universe. The other serves as comic relief for a show that frequently deals with trauma (see the show’s history of plane crashes, fires, attacks on doctors by patients, shootings and numerous character deaths as evidence).
One could argue that placing these two tonally dissonant narratives side by side trivializes the more serious argument that “Grey’s” is trying to make or that it gives the viewer a sense of emotional whiplash to flip back and forth between the two.
However, this week’s episode demonstrates that events like the Harvey Weinstein/Harper Avery revelations don’t happen in a vacuum. Even though life moves forward as allegations are uncovered and more abuses are brought to light, we must make space to address them, oust the abusers and hold them accountable.
The episode makes clear that the Harper Avery narrative isn’t over. It introduces important discourses about past abuses, including how institutions and those close to both the accused and survivors responded to allegations when they were made years ago.
Furthermore, the combination of plots highlights the need for catharsis and healing in times of crisis. To that end, the comedic edibles subplot doesn’t take away from the more central plot of the episode, but it enhances it instead.
The centralization of the sexual harassment narrative is further illustrated by the lack of emphasis on the episode’s third plot: Owen (Kevin McKidd) is fostering a baby.
As a well-established televisual powerhouse, “Grey’s Anatomy” is using its power and security to engage its millions of viewers in important conversations.
“Grey’s Anatomy” is certainly rising to the occasion of the present sociopolitical moment.