Shonda Rhound-Up: Doctors compete to save lives on ‘Grey’s Anatomy’; lawyers fight the power on ‘HTGAWM’

JESSICA CAPSHAW, STEFANIA SPAMPINATO
Mitch Haaseth / ABC/Courtesy

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Last week’s episode of “Grey’s Anatomy” was one of the show’s best. It took a break from the drama at Grey-Sloan Memorial Hospital and turned its focus to Dr. Miranda Bailey (Chandra Wilson). In doing so, it made space for conversations about mental health and intersectional experiences within professional environments. Good on you, “Grey’s Anatomy.”

On “How to Get Away with Murder,” Laurel’s (Karla Souza) battle for custody of her newborn son turned south, and Annalise (Viola Davis) found the pivotal case for her class-action suit.

‘Grey’s Anatomy’

“Grey’s” took a powerful break from its usual form last week. This week we return to the pending surgical competition and usual cast of characters, but the show is not dropping its upward trend toward using the characters’ plots to introduce broader cultural conversations.

The doctors are all brainstorming potential contest-winning ideas — even Miranda’s at home preparing a project while recovering from a heart attack and subsequent surgery. The exception is April (Sarah Drew), who was tricked into organizing and judging the competition, so she’s out of the running. But she does get to decide the rules.

While brainstorming projects for the competition, the doctors are also treating their usual patients, and the interns clamor to work with Meredith (Ellen Pompeo) on her thus far, non-existent submission. A former patient of Meredith’s returns to the hospital after a splenectomy, while Alex (Justin Chambers) and Amelia (Caterina Scorsone) treat a young musical performer with cancer.

Jackson’s (Jesse Williams) mother Catherine Avery (Debbie Allen) brings a friend, Dr. Michelle Velez (Candis Cayne), to the hospital so that Jackson can join an innovative vaginoplasty research project. Michelle proposes using tissue from the peritoneum — the tissue which protects one’s internal organs — to construct or reconstruct the vagina to improve patients’ sex lives and for their overall health.

Michelle, one of the best plastic surgeons in the country and a transgender woman herself, wants Jackson to do the surgery so that she can undergo the trial surgery.

Jackson dismisses the project at first, saying that there’s already a procedure for vaginoplasty and that the surgery itself is purely cosmetic. But Catherine won’t let him off the hook that easily; she educates him in gender dysphoria and the life-saving potential of this project.

Meanwhile, Maggie (Kelly McCreary) comes up with a proposal that will allow patients with mechanical parts of their heart to recharge their machines without having to literally plug themselves in. Her idea is the make the machines magnetic so that patients can recharge them through their skin, without a literal charging port in their chests. Later on, when Jackson must decide whether to propose the gender affirmation surgery or his own “spray-on skin” project, he chooses Michelle’s vaginoplasty project.

Although Meredith’s attempts to brainstorm a surgical project came up empty at first, her former splenectomy patient sparks an idea for her. The patient returns to the hospital complaining of pain, and her scans show that leftover cells from her now-removed spleen have grown into many, tiny spleens. At the same time, Meredith is also treating a friend of Richard’s (James Pickens Jr.) whose liver is failing due to alcoholism.

The combination of both cases excites her into a revelation. She innovates the use of patients’ liver cells to effectively help them grow a new, working liver — eliminating the need for a liver transplant.

Arizona (Jessica Capshaw) is relatively uninterested in the contest. She confides in Carina (Stefania Spampinato) that she’s still still torn up about losing her most recent patient, only to learn that Carina has never lost a patient.

She leaves the conversation to find data on the number of women that die during childbirth because of preeclampsia and other treatable conditions. She quickly becomes invested in the competition after all.

Alex and Amelia, meanwhile, continue treating a 12-year-old budding musical theater actress  with a beautiful voice and effervescent spirit, Kimmie (Nayah Damasen). They had hoped that Kimmie would have finished her last round of brain surgeries and beaten her bout of cancer the last time they saw her — but sadly, that is not the case. They operate on her while she’s anesthetized but awake.

The young girl sings her way through the surgery, but Amelia finds that if they remove all of the tumor, the budding actress will lose her ability to speak. When the girl’s grandmother insists that living without being able to act or sing will destroy her spirit, Alex and Amelia work to find a solution that will rid Kimmie of her tumor and let her keep her speech. They make it the mission of their own competitive project, too.

By episode’s end, the contest results are announced. The first selections are: Arizona, Maggie, Meredith and Jo (Camilla Luddington), among others — meaning Alex and Amelia will have to treat Kimmie’s cancer without the extra support.

And that’s just the first round. As the weeks go by, successful projects will be given further funds — and others will have to make do.

‘How to Get Away with Murder’

Eric McCandless / ABC / Courtesy

Eric McCandless / ABC / Courtesy

Last week, Annalise fought hard in court for Laurel to keep custody of her new infant son, but ultimately lost. Laurel’s mother, Sandrine Castillo (Lolita Davidovich), arrived to testify on Laurel’s behalf, but by the end of the episode, it seems like her mother may have ulterior motives — and a bigger hand in Wes’ death than Laurel thought. Towards the end of the trial, it was also revealed that the district attorney, Todd Denver (Benito Martinez),  is preparing to charge Isaac (Jimmy Smits) — Annalise’s therapist who testified to Laurel’s mental stability — with his daughter Stella’s death. By episode’s end, Annalise found the central case in her class-action suit against the DA: the father of her former friend and confidant Nate (Billy Brown).

Distressed after the trial, Isaac went back to his office and breaks his sobriety. As we saw last week, Annalise went to visit him but left when he didn’t answer the door. In reality, he was slumped in his desk chair, high and flashing back to Stella’s death.

Annalise returns to Isaac’s office the next day, and he reveals his fear that he’s being investigated by DA Denver. Annalise assures Isaac that Bonnie’s (Liza Weil) eyes are on it and that the DA will only be able to prove his innocence. He confides that he broke his 23-year sobriety with opioids last night. She encourages him to go to a meeting and goes with him for support. Afterwards, the two talk about their addictions over lunch.

Meanwhile, Frank (Charlie Weber) starts investigating Laurel’s mother, having learned that Wes went to visit her the day before his death. When Bonnie looks into the DA’s investigation on Isaac, she finds little evidence against him.

Annalise and Nate visit his father, Nate Sr. (Glynn Turman), in prison while the rest of Team Keating — Michaela (Aja Naomi King), Connor (Jack Falahee), Asher (Matt McGorry), Oliver (Conrad Ricamora) and Laurel — prepare the class-action suit.

Annalise prepares Nate Sr. for his testimony and learns his background, while the students create a story out of the case to entice the judge. They find, as did the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, that the incarceration rate for Black people is “more than 5 times the rate of whites.” Nate Sr. talks about being charged with court fees after he was released from prison, after which it was much harder for him to get a job to pay the fees in the first place.

But when Annalise goes to court to defend the suit, she finds that the attorney general is trying to have the case moved to the state supreme court, where it will be easier for the case to be thrown out. Instead of getting to defend her case powerfully in person, Annalise will have to submit a brief defending it.

Nate tries to tell his father about the change in the suit, but he doesn’t believe him — he thinks that his son and Annalise have given up on him. Nate promises the opposite is true.

Annalise’s students go back to the drawing board and try to decide who will write the brief and how. While at work on the suit, Laurel learns that she’ll get to meet her son at the hospital the next day.

Meanwhile, Frank finds that Laurel’s parents have been contacting each other — it’s likely they’re working together to keep Laurel from her baby.

He visits Laurel to let her know that he knows he was responsible for her early delivery. He knows her parents will be at the visitation tomorrow and volunteers to go with her. He doesn’t tell her that her parents are working together, but he tries to protect her from them anyway.

Later, Bonnie visits Annalise to share what she’s learned about the death of Isaac’s daughter. DA Denver is banking on the 15 minutes it took for him to call 911 after he found her, which she thinks can be explained by the fact that there’s evidence that he performed CPR to try and revive her. After a closer look at her autopsy, however, Annalise finds that Stella overdosed on the same opioid that Isaac had taken the night before.

She goes to his office to confront him. He cries, telling her that Stella had found his stash — he lied about being sober for 23 years. She died after taking several of the pills he’d hidden for himself. He came home to find her body and flushed away the evidence, then wrote a fake text to Stella’s mother — his wife at the time — using Stella’s phone.

Although Isaac didn’t  kill his daughter, he blames himself for her death — and hid the incriminating evidence to protect his wife. Annalise asks Bonnie to convince Denver not to charge Isaac for his daughter’s death.

While Annalise types away at the brief for her class-action suit, Laurel meets her son. Laurel’s father is nowhere to be seen, but Frank keeps a close eye on her mother, Sandrine. Later on, when they’re alone, he confronts Sandrine about having met Wes.

Laurel decides to name her baby Christopher, after Wes, whose real name was Christophe.

The next day, Bonnie learns that DA Denver has decided to charge Isaac with “death by delivery.” She runs to Denver’s office to blackmail him — she’s recorded every conversation they’ve had, including one which incriminates him. Denver accepted campaign money from Jorge Castillo (Esai Morales), Laurel’s father, during the trial for custody of her son.

Bonnie informs Annalise, who informs Isaac, that the DA isn’t going to reopen Stella’s case.

When Isaac tries to kiss her, Annalise finds that he’s high on opioids again. They fight, and he tries to blame his downward spiral on her, but she’s having none of it. She calls his ex-wife to try to help him and goes home feeling defeated about her class-action suit.

Meanwhile, in order to lift the students’ disappointed spirits, Connor announces his desire to re-enroll in law school and accept Oliver’s marriage proposal.

Michaela brainstorms ways to reinvigorate the class-action suit, leading up to the crossover we’ve all been waiting for: Olivia Pope (Kerry Washington) of “Scandal” is going to help take Annalise’s case to the Supreme Court.

Sophie-Marie Prime covers television. Contact her at [email protected].

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