‘Grey’s Anatomy’ returns with an ‘Orange is the New Black’ inspired episode
On Thursday (Jan. 26), “Grey’s Anatomy” returns with its Season 13 winter premiere — and if audiences are expecting any kind of closure from all those November cliffhangers, get ready for something else entirely.
“You Can Look (But You Better Not Touch)” does not say for sure what will happen to Karev (Justin Chambers) — although in the episode’s closing moments Bailey admits that he’s taken the plea deal and will be going to prison, as far as she knows — or if Owen (Kevin McKidd) and Amelia (Caterina Scorsone) are officially heading for a divorce. It didn’t give us any time with Meredith or Maggie — in fact, it featured just a quarter of the ensemble cast.
Instead, we got a high-tension bottle episode, with touches of “Orange is the New Black,” as Jo (Camilla Luddington), Bailey (Chandra Wilson), and Arizona (Jessica Capshaw) head to a high-security women’s prison, to care for a 16-year-old, highly dangerous prisoner.
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Kudos to this long-running medical drama: After thirteen seasons, it can still pack a punch. Picking up the day after we left off, Arizona’s none too excited about going offsite to help a convicted felon. Bringing along Bailey and Jo to assist, she examines the very pregnant teenager Kristen — who’s so volatile, she must remain chained to the hospital bed.
After Kristen’s savage attack on the in-house prison’s head doctor (Klea Scott), our Grey-Sloan Memorial visitors are visibly shaken. While Arizona remains masterfully even-keeled, repeatedly reminding everyone this is still just another patient who needs help, Bailey is not so forgiving. Underage or not, she’s not willing to give in to this girl’s violent demands… And it’s a rare to see the always tough and pragmatic Chief so skittish with fear and uncertainty.
Jo, perhaps feeling a kinship with Kristen because of her sordid past — and well aware there’s horrible things kids will do, like anyone, when they feel pinned into a corner — demands everyone give the girl the benefit of the doubt. Kristen is still a child, she wants nothing more than her mother at her side, holding her hand while she gives birth. But Kristen’s mother refuses to see her: She’s adopting her grandchild, and she’s only there to retrieve the innocent baby. What Kristen has done is unforgivable, in her eyes, and she has no desire to see the daughter she claims to no longer recognize as her own.
It’s easy to feel compassion for Kristen when her own mother refuses a seemingly simple request. But in a “Good Wife”-esque twist, we never find out what heinous crime landed Kristen in prison in the first place, so it’s impossible to know if the mother is a monstrous person for staying away, or whether we might make the exact same decision. Kristen might’ve committed the most unspeakable kind of crimes. What this episode argues: Does that even matter?
Jo thinks not. She can’t possibly imagine anyone could be a total loss. Bailey remains apprehensive, but in the end, joins in pleas to remove Kristen’s arm restraints so she doesn’t suffer needlessly in labor, and has the chance to hold her baby before saying goodbye. As a viewer, our palms are sweaty the entire time Kristen is free from her cuffs: Any moment, we half expected Kristen to throw the baby on the floor, or against the wall. Our imaginations, like those of the the doctors, ran wild with the most terrible possibilities. We hated Jo’s trust in the moment — after all, doctors on “Grey’s” have treated criminals, and we’ve seen moments of sympathy literally blow up in their face.
The episode seemed to preach that no matter the crime, a person deserves equal care and medical treatment as any other human would receive. But by not telling us what she did, being unable to judge her prior actions, it’s hard to feel sure. “Grey’s” argues none of that matters: The focus is on the derangement of Kristen’s relationships with her mother and newborn daughter, and the profound loneliness it inspires. Whether or not the girl — manipulative, highly intelligent, quite broken — deserves leniency or forgiveness isn’t on the table: What the show’s concerned with is her effect on these three women over the course of the hour.
If Kristen were a cannibalistic serial killer (we told you our imagination was running wild), a mass shooter, a terrorist, would such an unpredictable, unstable person deserve to hold her child free of restraints? To put every doctor and prison worker in the room in danger? Does Kristen deserve forgiveness from her mother? Was it even right for Arizona to ask her for such? It’s a debatable argument, case by case. But ignoring a person’s past transgressions, if extreme enough to earn her a life sentence in prison — especially considering she got 30 to life for her crime, which would have taken place when she was 15 or younger — seems naive, one with possible dangerous repercussions.
Jo, Bailey, and Arizona are very lucky things worked out. The transfer of the newborn baby into their custody could’ve been a disastrous situation. And we can’t help but think of all that could’ve happened, and just how awful this situation could’ve turned out. It’s a beautiful and noble thought to think a person, no matter how heinously they’ve acted, in some way still deserves compassion. Watching Meredith slowly forgive Penny over their year together was stunning and affecting: But without knowing all the details, it will never truly fit together — and knowing we probably won’t just makes it all the more upsetting and frustrating.
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On Feb. 2, Richard starts his war and Meredith goes looking for Alex, so it seems we’re back on track — but we can’t help wondering what exactly these themes, as presented and underlined in a special bookend episode beginning the winter season, might be foreshadowing. There’s been a lot of behavior this past season or so that was terrible — but was any of it unforgivable?
And if it’s not that, was this planting the seeds for a change of course? Is Bailey going to recruit the prison doctor, take on prison reform, or pull some other Bailey move? Or is this a mother-daughter forgiveness thing, maybe? Jo’s mother shows up out of the blue? Or does this have to do with Robbins’s daughter being across the country? The three particular women in this situation seem like an odd mix — beyond intense connections with Karev, we’re not sure what other emotional touchstones they really have in common — and while it was wonderful to spend more time with them, we’re ultimately left wondering what brought this storyline about.
No matter what it all could mean, the stylistic and structural oddities of this episode — security-camera footage at intervals, the creative limitations of the concept, and so on — seem like flashing warning signs, saying: Big changes are on the horizon. Most of which are pretty scary to think about — and, of course, dreadfully exciting. “Grey’s” is back!
“Grey’s Anatomy” airs on Thursday nights at 8 p.m. ET/PT on ABC.
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