Shonda Rhound-Up: Black women save themselves, everyone on ‘Grey’s,’ ‘HTGAWM’

Shonda Rhound Up
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Last week, the doctors on “Grey’s Anatomy” treated a patient who quickly died of injuries as a result of police violence. A 12-year-old Black boy named Eric Sterling (Kai Chamar Williams) was killed after police believed he was attempting a break-in — when in fact he had just forgotten his keys and was trying to climb in the back window of his own home.

The episode, in conjunction with the season’s return — which centralized narratives of domestic violence — demonstrates a trend which has come to the forefront of the series this season: “Grey’s Anatomy” is uplifting survivors’ stories through its characters.

This week, the series continued in that vein by highlighting the physical toll of emotional labor.

‘Grey’s Anatomy’

This week’s episode opens with a sweet family scene between Dr. Miranda Bailey (Chandra Wilson), her husband Ben (Jason Winston George), who has just begun training to become a firefighter, and Miranda’s preteen son Tuck (BJ Tanner). As the family laughs together and Miranda offers her son words of encouragement before he gives an important presentation at school, Miranda’s voice is heard adding nuance to the old turn of phrase that says, “On their deathbed, no one wishes they had worked more.”

“Tell that to people who love their work,” she says.

As soon as Tuck’s out of the car, Miranda and Ben scuffle a bit — it seems Miranda still hasn’t forgiven for his last-minute career change, especially since it will soon require him to put his life in danger on the daily.

Frustrated and stricken with indigestion, Miranda asks Ben to pull over in front of Seattle Presbyterian Hospital, a smaller hospital near Grey-Sloan. She walks straight into the emergency room, right up to the nurses counter and proclaims with staggering calmness, “My name is Miranda Bailey, I am chief of surgery at Grey-Sloan Memorial, and I believe that I am having a heart attack.”

Soon after, she’s placed in an ER bed and doctors run tests — but all return negative for symptoms of heart attack.

She’s clearly frustrated by the doctors’ dismissal of her self-diagnosis and physical symptoms — including chest pain and nausea. When the white male chief of surgery at Seattle Presbyterian, Larry Maxwell (Mark Moses), approaches her condescendingly and asks what stressors have changed in her life recently, she responds: “Do not go down that road with me.”

He’s confused, so she clarifies: “The road where a woman shows up with physical symptoms and you decide that it must be that she’s not able to handle all her feelings.”

Of course, Miranda has been experiencing an increased workload lately, after the hospital literally fell apart, Dr. Harper Avery died in her hospital after trying to fire her, a hacker cut off access to all computerized systems in her hospital and her husband has begun training to become a firefighter.

All of these are obviously valid reasons to be stressed — but they’re not what’s causing Miranda’s symptoms. She demands a full cardiac work-up and refuses to leave until she’s treated for what she knows she’s having: a heart attack.

While she waits for her tests to run, Miranda flashes back to scenes of her childhood. First, her mother chastises her for reading outside during sunset as a young child, then for riding her bike without training wheels in junior high.

Moments later, Larry returns, and he’s no more helpful than he was before. He’d rather talk about Miranda’s diet and stress than run tests.

Miranda points out to him that women’s heart attack symptoms are much different from men’s, which makes them harder to catch — especially when doctors dismiss the symptoms women describe directly to them.

When she mentions that she takes medicine to keep her obsessive compulsive disorder in check, he seems to write her off even further, so she has to push back yet again.

She reminds him of everything in her life, particularly the life-saving work she does at Grey-Sloan. She reminds him that her OCD is “just one piece” of her story. She asks for a cardiac stress test, and when he refuses to give her one, she asks for a second opinion.

Instead of a cardiologist, Larry sends a psychologist — a white male psychologist.

Miranda calls Maggie Pierce (Kelly McCreary) at Grey-Sloan and asks her to come to the ER at Seattle Presbyterian.

While she waits for Maggie to arrive, Miranda speaks with the psychologist who, she notes, doesn’t even acknowledge that she’s a doctor herself. He speaks softly but patronizingly to her, arguing that she’s under immense stress (which is true) and that he doesn’t see a support system around her (he makes this assumption without asking questions, and his assumption is false).

While his intentions may have been good, they’re not good enough if he can’t see past his own assumptions to give her the medical care and respect she needs and deserves.

That’s part of what’s so powerful about this episode. The doctors that see Miranda don’t seem out of the ordinary. They aren’t particularly rude or unkind; they speak as any doctor might speak to any patient — but that’s just their tone (which many folks will likely recognize as patronizing, even if it’s not as overtly condescending). In their actions, they are dismissive. They fail to recognize Dr. Miranda Bailey’s own medical expertise. They seem to deny the fact that symptoms of heart attack manifest much less dramatically for women than they do for men. Because of their biases, implicit or explicit, they fail her as doctors. Miranda has to call in one of her own doctors for help — and it should be noted that Maggie Pierce is also a woman of color.

And there’s where the additional and overwhelming power of the episode surfaces: in Miranda Bailey herself and in Wilson, the actor who plays her so forcefully and has done so for more than a decade. Miranda is one of the most influential characters in television history, and so much of that is thanks to Wilson’s performance. She brings strength and vulnerability, humor and force to the screen. Miranda and Wilson are unstoppable.

When the psychologist asks Miranda to reflect on her own situation — in doing so, he assumes she hasn’t already — she notes that 63 percent of women who die of a heart attack had no prior symptoms, and the risks for women of color are significantly higher.

“If I were consulting on the patient you describe, I would take into consideration statistics that would never even occur to people who look like you,” she states before affirming her strong support system.

Later, Maggie and Dr. Richard Webber (James Pickens Jr.) arrive at Seattle Presbyterian to help Miranda. Upon arriving, they’re almost sent to the waiting room. In order to learn Bailey’s whereabouts, they must pose as her husband and child.

They soon find Miranda helping to save a patient in the bed next to hers, a woman with a broken femur whose airway closed not a moment before. Soon, other doctors surround the woman, and Bailey can turn her attention to Maggie and Richard.

Miranda faints upon seeing her friends and colleagues.

Moments later, Maggie runs the same heart test and finds evidence of a heart attack. Larry arrives just after the knick of time to find that Miranda, his patient of several hours, is having a heart attack. Before checking on her, he defends himself first, arguing that her tests came up clear earlier. Maggie and Richard push to help Bailey, but Larry pushes past them and says he’ll help Miranda.

More flashbacks appear throughout the episode. We see the moment Miranda learned she was accepted to Wellesley, to her mother’s chagrin. We see her laughing with her husband Ben about where they’ll be in 60 years. We see Richard encouraging her on her first day as an intern at the hospital, back when he was chief of surgery; that day, Miranda had called out one of her superiors for not providing proper care to a patient. Richard told Miranda she would make “a hell of a surgeon.”

In the present, we see Miranda on an operating table, with Larry threading a catheter to her heart.

Miranda lays awake for the procedure and says, “Why is it that men only listen to women after they’ve done something wrong?”

After the procedure, Richard attempts to convince Miranda to transfer her care to Grey-Sloan so that Maggie can properly treat her. She refuses, arguing that because so many people know her there, she doesn’t want them to treat her. She cites Maggie’s perfect attendance record and the fact that she herself has never taken a sick day. Maggie’s the youngest cardio surgeon and Miranda herself is the first woman Chief at Grey-Sloan.

“We didn’t get to where we are by getting sick,” she says. She follows up with comments that demonstrate the exceptionalism expected of women, particularly women of color.

She also notes that Richard was able to return to work after several extenuating circumstances — he almost lost his vision once, he recovered from alcoholism and severe electrocution. She worries (read: knows) that, if people see her in her sickness, then she’ll have to work to earn their respect again, which was hard-earned in the first place.

In another flashback, teenaged Miranda learns that her mother’s controlling and anxious tendencies are, in part, a symptom of her grief and her guilt — her parents had another daughter before her who died of sudden infant death syndrome at only two months old.

Miranda decides not to move to Grey-Sloan or to call her husband, who’s still unaware of her condition.

A moment later, Miranda nearly crashes again and struggles desperately to breathe.

Larry arrives on the scene and once again (unsurprisingly) demonstrates his ineptitude. Despite being asked by Miranda to run a cardiac stress test hours ago, he still hasn’t run the test even after she collapsed and required a catheter. If he ran the test earlier, he would have seen this new round of emergent symptoms coming and they could have been prevented, says Maggie.

As she struggles to catch her breath, Miranda flashes back to intense moments in her medical career: the birth of her son, saving a friend’s baby, the death of one of her patients and the infamous shooting during season 10.

Back in the present, Larry prepares Miranda for an invasive surgery. Maggie, thankfully, becomes an advocate for Miranda’s care, arguing that he should do a far less invasive procedure. His silence indicates that he can’t do the procedure, so she once again asks for surgical privileges so that she can perform the procedure herself.

Before he can refuse, Richard leverages his friendship with Larry to get Maggie privileges. In other words, he leverages power that is being denied to his women colleagues.

In a flashback, Miranda stands up to her mother, who is ultimately supportive of her future.

Miranda wakes up in the operating room and asks Maggie to call Ben, who runs directly to Seattle Presbyterian upon receiving a call about her condition.

In the operating room with Miranda, Maggie snaps with fury at Larry’s arrogance and ineptitude. “I am grateful that Dr. Bailey fought for herself like she does for her patients every single day,” she says. “And I am furious that she even had to.”

Ben arrives at the hospital, triggering flashbacks to several of his dates with Miranda and his proposal to her in an operating room via crossword puzzle. While waiting for updates on Miranda, Richard goes and visits the woman whose life she saved earlier in the day.

In the end, everything goes well with Miranda’s procedure, and she wakes up to thank Maggie for saving her life. Still a little fuzzy from the surgery, Miranda smiles upon seeing her husband, who is terrified that he might have lost Miranda. He tells her he dropped his firefighter training, but she tells him to get it back, because even though the job is scary, it makes him happy.

Then, she asks him to build her a treehouse she can read her books in — a callback to her childhood. She calls her mother to inform her of the heart attack, reminding the audience that perhaps the reason why she’s so hesitant to ask for help today was because her mother was so fearful of her getting hurt. But her mother assures her that she knows Miranda will be OK.

Miranda’s voiceover returns to advise that the only thing that matters is getting to do what we love with people we love and overcoming any fears that might hold us back from doing both.

‘How to Get Away with Murder’

Mitch Haaseth/ABC/Courtesy

Mitch Haaseth/ABC/Courtesy

On last week’s episode, several of Annalise’s (Viola Davis) students were enlisted to work on her class-action suit. Bonnie’s (Liza Weil) alliances are muddied in the case, as she works for the district attorney (Benito Martinez), but still feels loyalty towards Annalise.

At the same time, the Keating Four are working to have Laurel (Karla Souza) released from the hospital’s psych ward and have her baby returned to her, after her father falsified documents that made Laurel seem like an “unfit mother.” Annalise seeks help from her former therapist, Isaac (Jimmy Smits), to have Laurel released.

Perhaps Laurel’s surprise call with her mother at the end of last week’s episode will provide some solutions to her predicament.

The episode opens with scenes already brimming with tension. Laurel’s still on the phone with her mother, and Connor (Jack Falahee) calls to inform Annalise that Nate (Billy Brown) — one of Annalise’s confidants and a former lover — has a father who’s been in jail for more than 30 years, after being convicted for murder.

Laurel hangs up with her mother to tell Frank (Charlie Weber) and Annalise that her mother has been in the know the entire time. Apparently, Dominic — hastily killed by Frank — was “like a son” to Laurel’s mother, and he’d informed her that Laurel was pregnant.

Laurel’s mother promises to testify at the custody trial for Laurel’s baby.

In response, and with the belief that Laurel’s mother will worsen the situation, Annalise gives Laurel an ultimatum: Laurel can have Annalise’s help or her mother’s. Laurel fights back, saying she can’t avoid having both.

The next day, the Keating Four — Michaela (Aja Naomi King), Laurel, Connor and Asher (Matt McGorry), plus Oliver (Conrad Ricamora) — meet at Michaela’s to help Laurel prepare for the hearing. When Laurel and Michaela depart, the boys get back to work on Annalise’s class action suit.

Meanwhile, Annalise confronts Nate about his father. Nate reveals that he was just a kid when his father went to jail, and Annalise agrees to try to help his father. Later in the day, Annalise learns that Nate’s father fits the parameters for her class-action suit, particularly because he’s had several public defenders.

At the courthouse, Laurel’s mother arrives at the courthouse, zooming past Frank and Michaela to introduce herself to Annalise. Inside the courthouse, Laurel confronts her father, Jorge (Esai Morales), face-to-face for the first time.

“I didn’t do it,” he tells her when she walks away. She questions him, and he confirms he was talking about Wes’ murder. “It’s a shame you’re destroying our family because of a misunderstanding,” he says with conviction twinged with painful irony — the irony being, of course, that it was he who is trying to have Laurel’s child taken from her.

During the trial, Annalise questions Laurel on the stand. Laurel testifies that she hadn’t done cocaine during her pregnancy, and Annalise provides evidence that Laurel tested negative for drug use while also providing evidence that the tests her father submitted to the contrary were from a clinic that has presented false test results in the past.

Grasping at straws, Jorge’s lawyer argues that Laurel was exhibiting “hypomania” after the birth of her son. Annalise defends Laurel, of course, to state that Laurel was distressed when she woke up handcuffed in a psych ward to learn that her father had taken her baby from her.

Laurel has the chance to say she was “devastated” to learn that her baby was gone and that her father never had her or her family’s interests in mind. Not only does she want the chance to mother her son, but she also wants him kept away from her father, who she sees as dangerous.

Finally, things are looking promising.

At the DA’s office, Bonnie discovers that someone’s watching her computer activity. She calls the boys working on Annalise’s case and warns them, revealing where her alliances lie for now.

Back at the trial, Laurel is being questioned by Jorge’s lawyer, who shows her absolutely no respect. He pulls from her history with an eating disorder to demonstrate past cocaine abuse, which Laurel admits to having done in the past. Then, he asks her how many men she’s slept with as a roundabout way of getting her to admit to seeking a paternity test.

He then pontificates further, using Laurel’s appointment with her doctor to argue that Laurel, in fact, wanted to end her pregnancy. She responds that it’s her legal right to be informed of her options.

He then argues that Laurel took cocaine while pregnant to try to harm her child.

Based on what we know of Laurel, we know this is false. We know she was unsure of what to do when she learned about her pregnancy, and she’s right — she has the legal right to learn about her options, in terms of abortion and birth control.

Annalise defends Laurel, as does the judge. But the damage may have already been done.

When the trial takes a recess, Annalise goes with Nate to visit his father in prison and ask him to join her class-action suit. She outlines that the goal of the suit is to hold the legal system accountable for systemically inflicting harsher punishments and not providing legal support to Black folks. When she tells him that his son, Nate, asked her to help, he rebuts that Nate stopped being his son when he became a cop.

He bursts into a fit of rage, prompting Annalise and Nate’s exit. Later on, Annalise notes that Nate’s father clearly has untreated mental health issues — likely caused by his extensive time in solitary. The fact that his past public defenders had him testify despite his clear lack of stability is paramount to Annalise’s case. She wants Nate’s father to be the face of her class action suit.

That night, Connor and Oliver, as well as Michaela and Asher, commiserate over all the stressors placed on them in the fallout of Simon’s shooting, Laurel’s baby and Annalise’s class-action suit. Back at Wes’s old apartment, Laurel and her mother talk about their health and their relationship. Meanwhile, Bonnie and Frank make promises to protect each other after whatever comes next.

The next day, Laurel’s mother almost battles with Annalise outside the courthouse before testifying during the custody trial.

Annalise tears into Laurel’s mother on the stand, asking her whether she was “the mother that Laurel deserved.” Laurel’s mother then testifies that Laurel helped her through her bipolar episodes, and that’s how she knows she’ll be an “excellent mother.” At first, the tactic seems harsh, but it’s eventually effective, and it seems there’s a mutual understanding between Annalise and Laurel’s mother — they each want to protect Laurel, and they both want the best for her.

Jorge’s lawyer has declines to question Laurel’s mother.

Next, Isaac testifies to Laurel’s mental wellness. When he’s cross-examined, Jorge’s lawyer brings Isaac’s personal history to the table, his past addiction and the death of his daughter, Stella.

He then announces that the DA’s office is going to reopen Stella’s suicide case, with the hopes of charging Isaac with murder. He then moves to have Isaac’s testimony removed from the record.

Annalise later goes to Bonnie, only to learn that the DA’s office is planning to charge Isaac and that the evidence against him is substantial.

The result of Laurel’s trial is announced that afternoon: The judge ruled in Jorge’s favor. Laurel’s son will stay with him, pending future custody trials.

Laurel is devastated. Later that night, she questions whether she was wrong about her father’s involvement in Wes’s murder.

Later that night, Nate arrives at Annalise’s apartment and informs her that his father is on-board with the class action suit. The two kiss, but Nate leaves before things can go any further.

Annalise goes to visit Isaac, who doesn’t answer the door because he’s in distress, either from the day’s ordeal or because he’s back on heroin. Annalise leaves without seeing him.

The episode ends with Bonnie’s revelation to Frank: It wasn’t Laurel’s father, but Laurel’s mother who met with Wes through Dominic — meaning Laurel could be in grave danger, and she may have pursued the wrong culprit in Wes’ murder.

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