So I know, we were all “Season of Love!” and then we put you through episode 1507. We were all, “Grey’s is a romantic comedy again!” and then we put you through dark and twisty drama. But sometimes, a little darkness is necessary in order to appreciate the light. Also, not for nothing, this is my directorial debut and drama is just plain easier to direct than comedy!
This episode was designed as a study of a family in crisis. And they’re all in their own private crises at this point — unaware of their mutual pain and of the diagnosis that will pull them all together or break them apart.
Also? That bar exists in Los Angeles. There’s a bar where they give shots for chips. When I heard about it, I wanted to take a baseball bat to the place. So I got to live vicariously through Richard in this episode, which is one of the real perks of the job.
So Richard is going through an alcoholic crisis and Catherine is going through a health crisis, while Jackson is struggling through a crisis of faith (“What I used to know but don’t feel like I know anymore”) and now, a relationship crisis. It’s hard when a belief system you’ve leaned on your whole life shifts. It changes you. It breaks you open. And sometimes it prompts you to revisit who you were in your old belief system. Sometimes you have to look backward in order to walk forward. And you need to be able to talk about all of it.
Maggie is willing to listen. She is always willing to listen. Like she says, she’s an incredible support system. But she never learned how to share of herself, and that is what Jackson needs right now. He’s a raw nerve, and “it’s easier to open up to people who open up to you.”
(That’s a huge part of how 12-step programs work, by the way. You sit in rooms with other people who have been where you are, and there is comfort in that. You tell your stories and people laugh in recognition of them. You admit the worst of you and people go, “Oh yeah, I get it, me too.”) When people are telling their own deep truths, sharing of themselves, you don’t feel judged when you talk about your deep truth. And this is what Jackson is getting at when he turns the tables on Maggie with, “You don’t talk to me.”
I don’t believe that Maggie walks out that door because she can’t handle what he actually said. I believe she walks out for all the reasons she just articulated — she never learned how to fight and the depth and the complexity of the feelings his admission stirs in her are deeply uncomfortable for her. “I never learned how to really love or fight or let someone in without it feeling like the end of the world,” she says. And then she texts Meredith that this feels like the end of the world.
I believe Maggie can rise to the occasion, but it’s going to take her a minute. She has to walk through those big feelings and dig deep and find the other side. I believe Jackson genuinely loves Maggie. I believe that loving her and the support she has offered is part of what is helping him find his way through his struggle. And yes, he has been sharing with other women who have been through what he’s going through. He didn’t cheat. He isn’t cheating. But Jackson has to rise to this occasion too. Relationships are complicated. He has to show up for the one he’s in and trust her to meet him where he is.
I believe they can get through this because I have seen people in real life walk through this and more. Life is complicated and I hope that this character study — this great big brave messy fight actualized by these two incredible actors — might help one of you out there walk through yours. It doesn’t have to be over just because someone walked out the door.
In terms of behind the scenes, Kelly McCreary and Jesse Williams are a director’s dream come true. We spent a day at a table rehearsing those scenes like they were a play, which is a luxury you rarely get in television. They are smart, deep, thoughtful, prepared, kind, and generous actors. What a privilege.
And since we’re talking about incredible actors, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Stacey Oristano, who played Nurse Frankie with such beauty and wit that, alongside Richard, I might never fully get over that loss. (She is also, coincidentally, one of the first people to ever call Finchie while she was sick and ask: “How are you feeling today?”) And her village of nurses. I love these actors, and I love nurses in real life, who have always been the ones to carry me through hospital visits of any sort, and who don’t get their proper due on our show because it’s a show that focuses on the surgeons. When my dad died, his ICU nurses showed up at his funeral. I have never forgotten that. It was nice to spend this time with our nurses. To depict all that love and warmth and care.
Grey’s Anatomy airs Thursdays at 8 p.m. ET on ABC.