Shonda Rhound-Up: ‘Grey’s Anatomy’ focuses on character growth, teases Arizona’s exit

John Fleener / ABC/Courtesy

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This week’s episode of “Grey’s Anatomy” epitomizes this season’s successful attempts to balance character growth with socially conscious plots. In recent weeks, the show has paralleled real-world revelations of sexual harassment in various professional spheres through revelations that Harper Avery (Chelcie Ross), a once famed and wealthy surgeon, was a serial sexual harasser.

Last week, Meredith (Ellen Pompeo) worked with Jackson (Jesse Williams) to propose a renaming of the Harper Avery Foundation to the Catherine Fox Foundation after Jackson’s mother (Debbie Allen). But they didn’t simply want a renaming — they’re striving for a reorientation. The Catherine Fox Foundation plans to retrain and rehire the women who were excluded from medicine and/or silenced by Harper.

At the end of the episode, however, further legal battles arose when a recently fired intern sued the hospital for wrongful termination. He was fired for knowingly operating on patients while intoxicated — he ate one of the “accidental weed cookies,” and then lied about being sober when other doctors informed him of the cookies’ contents.

Also during last week’s episode, Alex (Justin Chambers) discovered that his mother afflicted with schizophrenia (Lindsay Wagner) hasn’t been cashing the checks he sends her regularly. This week, fearing the worst, he and his fiancé Jo (Camilla Luddington) drive out of town to check on her. Upon finding her, Alex learns that she is not only thriving and independent, but that his presence stresses her.

He’s furious and hurt, so Jo brings him to some nearby batting cages, where he vocalizes his pain. He wonders why she’s suddenly well now, when he and his siblings no longer need a mother. Ultimately though, Alex recognizes that he’s not resentful of his mother, or even of her illness. Rather, he doesn’t want to be cut off from her now that she’s nearly symptom-free.

Alex later returns to his mother and tells her that he’s happy for her. They connect, indicating that a balance of space and interspersed visits will be good for the both of them. Alex introduces his mother to Jo, who invites her to their wedding.

Back at Grey-Sloan, Arizona (Jessica Capshaw) tries to keep a surgery-phobic and pregnant patient at the hospital for an in utero operation on her baby. The patient, Teresa (Julie Gonzalo), is so afraid that she leaves the hospital before she’s even given an IV. So Arizona goes to Teresa’s house to talk to her.

Arizona’s already struggling in this episode, as she has been for a few weeks now, with the fact that her daughter, a second-grader, doesn’t want to live with her. In fact, Sofia (Eva Ariel Binder) so desperately wants to move to New York to live with her other mother, Callie (Sara Ramirez), that she stole field trip money from her school to pay for a flight.

Needless to say, Arizona is feeling particularly motherly and empathetic this week. She shares her own amputation story with Teresa, and convinces her to return to the hospital for the surgery. Arizona performs Teresa’s surgery successfully in a scene that is tranquil and surprisingly beautiful.

Thus, this week’s episode isn’t as politically inclined as other recent installments, but it certainly maintains the series’ epic emotional depth and impassioned diatribes. That makes sense, given that the episode is bookended by narration from Meredith that encourages introspection, and an examination of one’s own mental health.

The episode doesn’t neglect the unfolding story of the hospital’s response to Harper Avery, however.

This week, while preparing to present her revolutionary liver cell research, Meredith must also face Marie Cerone (Rachel Ticotin). At first, Meredith resents Marie for trying to steal her research. But after a lengthy conversation with a surgeon from another hospital, Meredith realizes that Marie’s sense of entitlement to recognition was actually well-earned. Marie put in the work, but because she was blacklisted by Harper Avery, who sexually harassed her, Ellis removed her name from their surgical method.

Meredith corrects the unjust naming of “The Grey Method” by renaming it “The Grey-Cerone Method,” before speaking about her own research to a crowd of reporters and doctors — Marie Cerone among them.

John Fleener / ABC / Courtesy

John Fleener / ABC / Courtesy

Weaved throughout the episode are also scenes of Amelia (Caterina Scorsone) caring for Betty (Peyton Kennedy), the teenager with a drug addiction who she invited to stay with her in order to sober up. Betty is also the mother of Owen’s (Kevin McKidd) foster baby, and now the four of them — Owen, Amelia, Betty and the baby — all live together, even though Owen and Amelia are no longer “together” romantically.

When Betty runs away, Amelia goes to a group meeting for addicts. There, she admits to struggling with the fact that Betty’s addiction began with a prescription from a doctor not unlike herself.

This week’s episode ends with the revelation that Arizona has decided to move to New York with Sophia — an unsurprising twist, given the announcement that Jessica Capshaw will be leaving “Grey’s Anatomy” at the end of the season.

The episode is profound yet understated. It proves that “Grey’s Anatomy” doesn’t need excessive trauma to make its sentimental points or political arguments. This week, its characters’ self-examination and actions are enough to satisfy the series’ emotional quotient.

‘How to Get Away with Murder’
The last episode of season 4, “Nobody Else Is Dying,” aired March 15. Read our recap of the episode here.

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