Shonda Rhound-Up: Poetic retribution, systemic injustice on ‘Grey’s Anatomy,’ ‘How to Get Away with Murder’

Mitch Haaseth / ABC/Courtesy

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Last week, Shonda Rhimes’ Thursday night (#TGIT) series “Grey’s Anatomy” and “How to Get Away with Murder” returned with gutting plots.

Dr. Meredith Grey (Ellen Pompeo) supported her friend Jo (Camilla Luddington) when the latter’s abusive husband — soon to be ex-husband, Paul Stadler (Matthew Morrison) — arrived in Seattle seeking a divorce. By episode’s end, things were tense and just barely resolved — that is, until Paul returned to the hospital on a gurney with injuries from a hit-and-run that left fans asking: Did Jo and her boyfriend Alex (Justin Chambers) try to kill him?

Meanwhile, attorney Annalise Keating (Viola Davis) began picking up the pieces of catastrophe left by her students: a classmate shot and Laurel’s (Karla Souza) baby delivered early, then taken from her by her father soon after. Last week’s climactic return implied no one was safe.

‘Grey’s Anatomy’

This week’s episode opens with April (Sarah Drew) leading the charge to treat Paul’s injuries. April also has other fish to fry: She runs Grey-Sloan Memorial Hospital’s trauma center and last week, Richard (James Pickens Jr.) convinced her to judge the hospital’s upcoming surgical competition — which nobody wants to run, because it would bar them from competing. Just after April makes this realization, she’s distracted by a pregnant patient in labor, whose baby has a tiny heart defect. Moments later, April helps the woman, Karin (Collette Wolfe), deliver her baby.

When the father of the baby finally arrives, he has a familiar face: He’s a paramedic named Matthew (Justin Bruening) — aka April’s ex-fiancée, the one she left at the altar to run away with Jackson (Jesse Williams).

Across the hospital, Chief of Surgery Miranda Bailey (Chandra Wilson) and her husband Ben (Jason Winston George) are debating childcare and Ben’s recent career change — which, let’s be honest, is likely an excuse to tie the latest Shondaland show about firefighters to the doctors of “Grey’s Anatomy,” so that the former can be called a spin-off.

Nonetheless, Ben’s busy schedule of paramedic training throws a wrench in the couple’s pre-secured childcare plan. (Though it’s hardly a childcare plan, given that Miranda’s son, nicknamed “Tuck,” is now a pre-teen.) The problem is that Tuck (BJ Tanner) was meant to attend a science camp, and now neither Ben nor Miranda have the time to take him — so it’s a good thing that Maggie (Kelly McCreary) is excited by the prospect of taking Tuck to the camp herself.

In another wing of the hospital, Paul is recovering from his injuries, including a concussion, and Meredith is put in charge of his care. Meanwhile, Alex and Jo wait down the hall, desperate to maintain their innocence — even though Jo said she wanted Paul dead last week and Alex once fantasized about kicking the crap out of him. Meredith advises the couple to speak to a lawyer; they speculate that it was in fact Paul’s fiancée, Jenny — who Jo spoke to last week — who attempted to kill him.

Later, though, Jenny approaches Jo to thank her — it seems none of them was involved in the crash, Paul was hit by a drunk driver. This leads to a critical conversation: Jenny is frustrated and confused as to how she, a “scientist” and “feminist,” could have believed the narrative their abuser spun to keep her in his grasp. Jo explains that Paul was kind in the beginning and made them “feel seen.” He’s “charming” and “persuasive” — he made them fall for him and then spun lies to isolate them from their loved ones, gaslighted them and made them question their own experiences. This conversation overtly, yet tactfully, tackles the question of why survivors sometimes stay in abusive relationships.

Back in the trauma center, a young man with self-inflicted wrist wounds arrives, and April helps treat him, too. The paramedics say the man attempted suicide, but he protests that doing so would send him “straight to hell.” Instead, he recites a line from the Bible — “If your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off.” Turns out he tried to cut off his own hand to keep himself from masturbating. Luckily, Dr. Carina DeLuca (Stefania Spampinato), an expert in the subject, later arrives to give a pep talk that relieves him of his guilt.

He’s not April’s first patient to mention God this episode. The new mother, Matthew’s wife, also questioned how God could have designed babies with such large heads to fit in birth canals.

By episode’s end, April’s faith will be tested in several ways. She seems resolute in the idea that the Bible is filled with metaphors that shouldn’t be taken literally, but when a patient asks her what it’s all for, if it’s just a bunch of stories, April is out of answers.

Moments later, another patient arrives, Eric Sterling (Kai Chamar Williams), a 12-year-old kid in handcuffs with a bullet wound. Cops shot and arrested him because they thought he was burglarizing a house, when in fact the house was his and he’d just forgotten his keys.

The boy’s name is particularly significant — a blend of Eric Garner and Alton Sterling, both killed by police.

When Eric’s family arrives and defends the fact that he frequently forgets his keys, the police hardly back off. April argues that they’re merely doing their job. Jackson rebuts that that’s what cops always say, before recounting a time when he was walking in his own affluent neighborhood, when cops stopped and handcuffed him for carrying home a stereo his friend had given him.

“They took his childhood today,” he sighs. “He’s never gonna be the same.”

April bounces between caring for Karin and Eric, while momentarily stopping to check in with Matthew. He kindly asks her how she’s been — she flinches at his mention of the baby she and Jackson lost three years ago, and again when Matthew says they’ve both found the loves of their lives.

Later, Paul wakes up and wants to leave the hospital, despite the fact that he’s still recovering from a concussion and broken ribs. Jo accompanies Jenny to his room so that she doesn’t have to be alone with him — Meredith stays so that neither of them have to. Paul orders Jenny to grab his things, and she refuses. He acknowledges that he’s not perfect, letting the audience see more of his manipulation.

Jenny advises him to call work to inform them he’ll be out for at least a few years — she’s going to inform the police of his abuse, and Jo agrees to testify, too.

“I’m a well-known physician, and you’re nobody,” he says. He tries to scare her out of reporting him, but she stands firm: “I’m never speaking to you again unless it’s from a witness stand.”

He tries to lurch at her, but the tubes entangle him. He jumps forward and slams his head on the hospital bed. He stops breathing and Meredith calls a crash cart.

Soon after, Amelia (Caterina Scorsone) arrives and confirms that the back-to-back head traumas mean he’ll soon be brain-dead. Because Jo is still legally his wife, she must decide whether or not to keep him on life support. The women concur that, because Paul never smoked or drank, his organs should be donated, and he’s taken off life support.

Meanwhile, both Karin and Eric require immediate help. Karin nearly bleeds out; Arizona is forced to remove her uterus. Eric needs emergency surgery, Jackson and Miranda fight to save his life. Ultimately, April loses all three patients — Eric, Karin and Paul.

Eric dies of his injuries, prompting Jackson to confront the cops on their biases. “Bias is fixable,” he says. They can choose to fix their protocol and make changes to save lives.

When the cops pressure April for a statement, she replies that they can’t go around shooting people out of fear. She asks, “How I am supposed to have any faith in a system like that?”

Eric’s death prompts a conversation in which Miranda tells Ben, “It’s time to give Tuck the talk.”

Moments later, the couple instruct young Tuck on what to do if he encounters police: Show his hands, recite his full name and state that he doesn’t have any weapons. If he’s detained, they tell him, he shouldn’t sign anything until they arrive.

“If your white friends are saying things and mouthing off, know that you cannot,” Miranda tells him. “We want you to grow up to be anything and everything that you want to be.”

The scene and the episode as a whole mark a turn for “Grey’s Anatomy,” which has often tackled cultural narratives long outside the scope of typical television. This episode, no holds are barred — the conversations are clear, nuanced and overt.

‘How to Get Away with Murder’

Richard Cartwright/ABC/Courtesy

Richard Cartwright/ABC/Courtesy

Last week was all about the immediate aftermath of the Keating Four’s attempt to find evidence against Laurel’s father, Jorge Castillo (Esai Morales). There was more fallout from that night than just Simon’s (Behzad Dabu) accidental shooting — which he survived, despite all signs pointing to his death. In the midseason finale, Laurel gave birth to her son in an elevator and Annalise saved his life. Then, Laurel’s father showed up with falsified documents that spoke to her inability to parent her son, so Jorge had legal grounds to have the baby taken from her.

Meanwhile, the hard drive containing evidence against Jorge is missing — and Annalise thinks Jorge is trying to separate Laurel from her baby because he believed it was still in the Keating Four’s possession.

The episode is threaded with Laurel’s nightmares of her father.

This week’s episode opens with several snippets of the Keating Four, as well as Annalise’s former assistant Bonnie (Liza Weil), separately separately watching Jorge on television.

The D.A. criticizes Bonnie for trying to protect Annalise’s students once again, but she informs him that her argument against charging Asher (Matt McGorry) for attempted murder was actually to protect the D.A. himself. Not only would it look bad for Bonnie to charge her ex-boyfriend, but she’s also worried that, if pressured, Asher might inform police that he knew the D.A. tried to frame Annalise for Wes’ (Alfred Enoch) murder.

Frank (Charlie Weber), Annalise and her students take turns visiting Laurel in the hospital. On their way out, Frank and Annalise discuss a voicemail left on Dominic’s (Nicholas Gonzalez) phone, found after Frank killed him last week. The voicemail was from Wes — indicating a relationship between Wes and his killer, Dominic. Annalise orders Frank to destroy the phone, but he doesn’t. Instead, he leaves his car and Dominic’s body at a junkyard, leaving metal-smashers to do his dirty work.

Annalise enlists help from Asher, Connor (Jack Falahee) and Oliver (Conrad Ricamora) as she dives back into her class-action suit, and leaves Michaela (Aja Naomi King) in charge of Laurel’s care. In the meantime, Annalise returns to Wes’ apartment, leading to flashbacks of his life.

Once Laurel thinks she’s found a solution, she calls Annalise for help. Annalise lies to Laurel and soon reveals to Michaela that she’s worried about Laurel’s psychological state of recklessness. She says she’s trying to protect the baby, and given her growth over the season, it might be worth it to believe her.

Back with the boys working on Annalise’s class-action suit, Connor suggests that they go through the case files and find witnesses who might be able to be the face of the case — according to him, the person should be able to garner sympathy from a jury.

A moment later, Nate (Billy Brown) shows up to talk to Asher about the pending charges against him in Simon’s shooting. One of the witnesses at the party saw Asher knock a drink from Simon’s hand earlier that night and felt it was a sign of aggression towards Simon on Asher’s part, but they didn’t hear Simon’s insult to Asher and weren’t privy to his taunts against the Keating Five throughout previous semesters.

While the three of them talk, Oliver sneaks out of the room to go visit Simon at the hospital. When a nurse tries to bar him from visiting, Oliver says that he’s Simon’s boyfriend (which is particularly spicey given that Simon revealed romantic feelings for Oliver in the midseason finale). Simon appears to still be in a coma, but a tearful Oliver speaks softly to him anyway.

Soon after, Connor and Asher arrive and ask Oliver to leave. When he refuses, Asher offers to stay with Oliver and Simon while Connor visits Laurel down the hall. Asher ends up sympathizing with Oliver’s guilt, and tells him to “bury” those feelings.

Michaela is still keeping Laurel company, and asks her about the early delivery of her baby. Michaela hypothesizes that it was Simon stealing Laurel’s bag — the bag that contained the gun he accidentally shot himself with — which caused her to go into labor.

Laurel knows, though, that it wasn’t Simon — it was Frank, who accidentally hit Laurel in the stomach during a scuffle with Connor earlier that night. She asks Michaela not to tell Frank, as it would cause him too much guilt.

Meanwhile, Annalise and Frank try to brainstorm ways to help Laurel, when Frank’s pocket containing Dominic’s phone starts buzzing. Annalise is frustrated by Frank’s disobeyal of her order to destroy the phone at first, but he gives her an idea that might prove helpful despite his impulsivity.

Annalise visits Bonnie, intent on apologizing and asking for help with her class-action lawsuit, based on Frank’s advice. The two clash a bit, but ultimately Annalise apologizes for alienating and hurting Bonnie, who replies by admitting that she’s not in love with Annalise. Their shared stories are “more complicated” than romance, she says. They agree that they’ve needed each other for a while, but Bonnie feels that their relationship has also been about Annalise’s guilt for invalidating Bonnie’s abuse on the stand so many years ago.

In response, Annalise talks about the many ways she’s been made to suffer in recent years — the death of her baby, her husband’s murder and everything with the Keating Five. When pressured, she says helping people fills an emptiness within her. But helping people also makes her angry, so Bonnie says she should let go.

Annalise responds that, if Bonnie had allowed her to kill herself several years ago, then everyone would have been free to begin with.

Later, Bonnie informs the D.A. that she wiped evidence of Jorge’s contributions to his campaign from Simon’s computer — but, she voice-recorded her interaction with the D.A., implying a muddled alliance with Annalise’s class-action suit. If Bonnie can deliver evidence of corruption in the D.A.’s office, then Annalise may have a better chance at winning her case against them.

But, by episode’s end, it seems the D.A. has a contact that can get him out of trouble: Jorge. The pair are seen in a car together, discussing the latest threat, Bonnie.

Meanwhile, the question of whether Tegan (Amirah Vann), Michaela’s boss, had been fired from Caplan & Gold is settled when Nate pays Tegan a visit at the office. He’s looking for information on Jorge’s company and Tegan, citing attorney-client privilege, isn’t willing to give it. But Michaela doesn’t yet know that Tegan still has her job.

The Keating Four (plus Oliver) are reunited in Laurel’s hospital room. They brainstorm ways to help Laurel, and Michaela silently resolves to ask Annalise and Frank for help in getting Laurel released from the hospital’s psych ward. But Annalise is worried that Laurel may have caused her own early labor, and fears that she might hurt herself again, causing Michaela to reveal that Frank caused the baby’s early arrival.

So, Annalise visits her ex-therapist, Isaac (Jimmy Smits), and asks him to help Laurel. At first, he ardently refuses, but Annalise asks him to picture Laurel as his own daughter. She also admits that saving Laurel would help her save herself as well — no doubt also a reflection of the fact that Laurel’s baby is also Wes’ baby, and Wes was like a son to Annalise. Her relationship with Wes was steeped in her own guilt; he became a maternal figure in her life after her baby died and his mother killed herself.

In any case, Isaac agrees to see Laurel. She’s articulate, calm and rational. He’s able to have Laurel released because she shows no signs of hurting herself, her hormone levels are all normal and she seems psychologically healthy. While Isaac and Laurel talk, Michaela goes to visit Tegan, who warns her that they’re all in danger.

Connor, Asher and Oliver return to work on the class-action suit. It seems Connor is on a hunt for justice against a justice system that systematically abuses people of color — he recognizes that they’ve evaded the legal system both because of Annalise’s help and because of their racial and financial privilege.

While Connor pontificates, Asher finds a case file with Nate’s name on it.

When Laurel arrives home with Annalise and Frank, Frank plays Wes’ voicemail from Dominic’s phone, in which he asks for help. When the phone rings, Annalise and Frank warn Laurel not to answer it — they think it’s her father, but she knows they’re wrong. She answers the phone, “Hi, Mom.”

Contact Sophie-Marie Prime at [email protected].