I have never related more to April Kepner than I did in this episode. I’ve been having my own crisis of faith for a few years (YEARS!), and I felt a little less alone as I watched April question the same things I’ve been questioning. It made me feel less… broken. Knowing that I’m not the only one questioning these things is comforting. And if any of you feel the same way, just know that you are not alone and you are not broken.
Season 14, episode 10: Personal Jesus Written by Zoanne Clack, directed by Kevin Sullivan
“In the course of one day, Job received four messages, each with separate news that his livestock, servants, and 10 children had all died. He continued to be a faithful servant, he still praised God, he persevered. Job’s faith was tested and he passed the test. And for his faith, God rewarded Job with twice what he had before.” – April Kepner
But before we get to April Kepner… we’ve got other things to address.
Last week, I remember thinking a lot about Jenny. I wondered what she’d do with the information Jo provided her with, I wondered if she would decide that Jo was just as crazy as Paul claimed, I wondered if she would frame Jo for the hit-and-run, I wondered a lot of things. But I had faith that she wouldn’t do any of them. You could tell by the look on Jenny’s face as Jo told her story that she believed her, and that she was just as terrified of Paul. Last week (in 1409), Jenny was quiet. She didn’t speak for herself about anything. She followed Paul without question. We could tell that he controlled her. And then this week (in 1410), she all but said “screw him” and took herself back.
Jo’s story, I think, was everything Jenny needed to hear. It gave her the confidence to speak up, the knowledge that no, she wasn’t crazy, and that she was no longer playing alone. Paul’s game was always about control, and it’s so much easier to control someone when you brainwash them into thinking they’re the crazy one, that they’re the one who is always wrong. But when you’ve got two people, two badass women, who have had enough? The game changes completely. That’s what we saw with Jenny and Jo.
I want to take a minute to talk about Jenny’s story here, and I’m going to focus on the beginning and the end of what she said:
“I really thought I was better than you. I believed everything he told me about you. God, I’m smart! I’m a scientist! I’m a feminist! I never thought that I would end up in something like this. It happened so slow… When he started hitting me it was just barely a surprise. And he told me it was my fault. And I actually believed him. Until you talked to me yesterday, I really believed him. How did I believe him?” – Jenny
Those words make this whole thing very real. It’s actually kind of terrifying when you think about it, but that’s why it’s so important. Domestic violence can happen to anyone. While I (thankfully) can’t speak from any kind of experience with DV here, I do know that picking up on the signs can be extremely hard. You tell yourself that it’s not happening to you. You convince yourself that whatever is happening is normal. You believe the person who says it’s your fault. Jenny said all of those things. It’s one thing to want to get someone you love out of this kind of situation, but for some reason, when you’re the one who’s stuck? It becomes a hell of a lot harder to get out. And I think what Jo said to Jenny explains why it seems so impossible:
“Because he was good to you in the beginning. And on the good days––Jenny, we’re not stupid. We didn’t fall for someone who beat us. We fell for someone who made us laugh, and feel wanted, and loved, and seen. Paul is brilliant. And charming. And persuasive. And the good outweighed the bad. Until it didn’t.” – Jo Wilson
And that right there is what makes this problem so difficult to understand. To get under control. To realize that it is happening. A lot of these people, at some point, fell in love. And then that love turned into something much darker, much scarier, but at that point, it can feel like it’s too late. But what about when you do figure it out? What about when you decide to take the control back into your own hands? Well, Jenny and Jo did that together, and Paul finally showed his true colors.
When Jenny and Jo confronted Paul, you can see the “oh shit” look on his face. He knows what’s coming. He has to know. And he says everything he can think of to convince Jenny that she’s wrong. Again. But she knows better this time. And when she tells Paul exactly what she means, we can see his eyes go dark. We see the reaction immediately. But we also see Jenny’s reaction. She knows what’s coming. She knows him just as well as he knows her. And by getting that reaction out of him, she completely exposed Paul for who he is: a controlling, manipulative, abusive… well my grandma reads these reviews, so I’ll stop there. But you get the point.
Paul’s reaction to Jenny and Jo’s newfound alliance is also what ends up killing him. Karma really is a bitch, isn’t it? When Meredith reached down to check his pulse (which she does very hesitantly to show the audience how terrifying he is), you can tell she’s really not all that interested in helping him. She was all, we probably need a crash cart but… do we? I don’t think we do. But it really wouldn’t have helped anyway because crash carts don’t fix Second Impact Syndrome. I played competitive soccer for over ten years, so I know all about this. It’s not good. Clearly.
So now Jenny and Jo have a brain dead Paul to deal with. Well, technically Jo has a brain dead Paul to deal with because she’s still legally is wife. Yikes. But what she chose to do shows exactly what kind of person she is. And even more than that, the way she answers Jenny’s question (do you think he’s evil?) shows us exactly who she is more than anything I’ve ever heard her say.
“I don’t believe that anyone is just evil. If people were just one thing, life would be so much simpler. Paul was awful in his life, but now, in death, he gets to do all this good. So, there’s light and darkness, and they both co-exist. And sometimes it’s really beautiful.” – Jo Wilson
And that right there is my favorite thing she has ever said. Jo has grown so much since we met her, and that explanation right there is the culmination of everything she’s learned in her life. She’s seen so much darkness, she’s been through so much, she’s survived so much, nobody would blame her for saying Paul is the devil. But she didn’t. Because she’s Jo. She has the capacity to forgive. She has the heart to allow Paul to do something good. It doesn’t take the pain he caused both her and Jenny away, but it’s a kind of closure I’m not sure she would’ve gotten had he spent 20 years in prison. Through Paul, Jo and Jenny got to save people. Paul saved people. Like she said, in his life, he was horrible. But in death? He did so much good. And the paradox of it all turned into something really beautiful.
Switching gears now to talk about something just as dark. Something just as prevalent in the real world. Police brutality and the unconscious bias that is costing people their lives. Zoanne handled this storyline so gracefully and so beautifully, and Jesse, Chandra and Jason did an outstanding job bringing it to life.
We meet 12-year-old Eric Sterling (named for Eric Garner and Alton Sterling) as he’s rushed into the ER after being shot in the neck by a Seattle police officer. He’s awake, terrified, calling out for his mother, completely unarmed and handcuffed to the bed. At 12 years old. Why? Because he was black? Because a black kid living in an upperclass neighborhood is so unheard of that he’s automatically suspicious? He’s automatically a criminal? Because him reaching for his phone translates into him reaching for a gun?
“They took his childhood today. He’s never gonna be the same.” – Jackson Avery
I can’t pretend that I will ever know this feeling. The color of my skin gives me privileges in this world that people with darker skin will never have. I know that. And it makes me sick. Had Eric Sterling been a white kid, that officer who shot him wouldn’t have looked twice. He wouldn’t have thought anything of him being there. Because being white means you don’t have to fear police jumping straight to criminal and pulling their guns. You get to be a person. But for Eric? All they saw was the color of his skin. And that is where unconscious bias really comes in. But first, what even is unconscious bias?
Well, unconscious biases are the “social stereotypes about certain groups of people that individuals form outside their own conscious awareness. Everyone holds unconscious beliefs about various social and identity groups, and these biases stem from one’s tendency to organize social worlds by categorizing.”
That was a wordy definition, I know. So let me give you an example: You’re walking down the sidewalk when you see a black man walking towards you. Maybe he has headphones on. It’s likely that your unconscious reaction is to hold your belongings closer as he passes so that he can’t reach out and take them. Or maybe you turn around. Or maybe you cross the street early. Any of those reactions are examples of what our unconscious bias tells us to do, how to react.
“There’s no judgement in that call. That was just a reaction. You see skin color, we all do, but the reaction that you give to a white kid versus a brown kid in that split second––that’s the measurable, fixable difference. Bias is human. You have guns. You’re using guns, so yours is lethal.” – Jackson Avery
Kids are dying. Eric died. For what? Trying to go inside his own house? Because he forgot his keys? The scream of his mother is a sound I will never get out of my head. It doesn’t matter that it was an actor and a script, because it’s also real life. That happens. It happens every. Single. Day. And because it happens every day, parents with black children, especially boys, are forced to do what nobody should ever have to do.
I’ve thought about it before. I’ve thought about how hard it must be for a parent to have to fear for their child’s life simply because they were born with what society says is the wrong color skin. But I’ve never been as heartbroken by it as I was when I watched Miranda Bailey and Ben Warren give Tuck “the talk.” That made it real to me. Because I saw it happen. I heard the desperation in Miranda’s voice as she taught Tuck how to stay alive.
“I am William George Bailey Jones. I am 13 years old. And I have nothing to harm you.”
If that’s not enough to break you, the rest of the scene will do it. And it’s supposed to. Zoanne didn’t write that for us to just shrug it off and say, “oh thank goodness I won’t ever have to have that conversation.” No. That’s not the point at all. The point is for us, the people who have never had this talk, to understand that it’s the reality of so many families in this country. The system is so broken, and innocent people are losing their lives because of it. Here’s the scene again. Watch it and really think about it. Put yourself in this position. Especially those of you who will never have to have this talk with your own children. Just imagine for these next three minutes that you have to teach your child how to stay alive. How does it make you feel? Horrible? Sick? Does it make you want to change? Does it make you want to become a better ally? It should.
I’m not sure that there has ever been a scene that has had more impact on me than this one did. When Bailey was telling Tuck how to react, how he had to behave better than his white friends in order to stay alive, how he couldn’t run regardless of how afraid he was… that shook me to my core. It reminded me of Papa Pope’s line in Scandal: “You have to be twice as good as them to get half of what they have.” Only in this context, “twice as good” means behavior, and “half as much” simply means being allowed to live. That is a broken system.
And now let’s talk about April Kepner. This was a huge episode for her, and not necessarily in a good way. (But you know who did have a fantastic episode? Sarah Drew. She was phenomenal!) April is very open about her religion, and she usually seems pretty unwavering in it. Until this episode. She’s clearly having a crisis of faith, and it shakes her more than I think anything has in a very long time.
As I said at the very beginning of this review, I have never seen more of myself in April than I did during this episode. I was raised in a Christian home––a home where I felt safe, and loved, and knew with full certainty that God was good. Then I grew up. Sometime in high school is when I think it started for me. I started paying attention to the news and to the media. I started paying attention to the injustices that plagued the headlines every day. And then I started to doubt God. I still do. I’ve never told anyone that before, but for me to write an honest review, for me to make it real, I have to be open. I do believe there is a God. That’s something that never went away. But there are times when I wonder why a good God, a God who is supposed to love everyone, would allow these things to happen.
“My statement is that a little boy was at home when your fellow officer shot and killed him. You can’t just be out there shooting people because you’re afraid. How am I supposed to have any faith in a system like that?” – April Kepner
I think April’s statement here had a very subtle double entendre that I didn’t pick up on the first time. That system? That lack of faith? It’s not just in the law enforcement system. It’s in God. And that realization is terrifying for someone like April.
The most telling moment, I think, pertaining to where she stands in her faith right now is when her patient asked her this: “If I can’t trust this, if it’s not the truth, if the word of God is just a bunch of stories, what does anything mean? What is any of this even for?” She didn’t have an answer for him. She didn’t have an answer for herself. She just… didn’t know. She doesn’t know. None of us really know those answers. I don’t think April has ever felt more terrified or lost than she’s feeling right now.
With the day she had, to not question her faith would be… I don’t even have a word for what that would be. I’m not sure how it would be possible. Each loss she was handed in this episode made her faith waver just a little more. We meet Karen Taylor and it’s pretty clear that Matthew is totally and completely in love with her. And because April is April, she’s happy for them. She’s glad they found each other. Matthew has the love of his life, and Karen has the love of her life, and together, they have a child. And then Karen is ripped from them. And we’ve already talked about Eric. And Paul. Every patient she had is now dead. How do you handle that? How can any of it make sense? How could God take away so much? Why? Eloi, eloi, lama sabachthani?
That face is everything. That’s the face of someone who’s faith is literally circling the drain. That’s the face of someone who doesn’t know what to believe anymore. That’s the face of someone who feels so lost, so alone, so empty that nothing makes any sense anymore. But it’s also the face of someone who knows her own strength. Who knows that this is just a rough patch. Who knows that she will find her way out of it. Eventually.
Shaken faith, deep doubts and numbness are very real for anyone, but especially Cristians living in this society. We want to believe that God is loving of everyone, but it’s hard to believe that when the world is full of so much hatred and violence. It’s impossible to make sense of things. That process isn’t acknowledged on television much. In fact, I’m not sure I’ve ever seen it anywhere else than in this episode. Sarah’s acting was so raw and honest here, and it showed that deep, all-consuming pain that comes with a crisis of faith.
“Eloi, eloi, lama sabachthani. That’s what Jesus said on the cross before he died. My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Job asked the question too, but he kept the faith. And what did he get for it? Replacement children. PTSD. Was it worth it to be a faithful servant? Or would it have been better to just curse God’s name from the beginning? Where was God throughout all of Job’s suffering and pain? He was winning a bet with Satan. Makes you wonder where he is through all the unfairness and inequity and cruelty in the world. Where is he now?” – April Kepner
I don’t usually talk about the music, but this song resonated with me so much, I have to mention it. Choosing music for a scene has a lot of steps, and usually what a song is supposed to do is set a mood, establish a theme and/or establish the tone. This one does that but it does more than that: it says what April doesn’t have the words to say. Listen to the lyrics. Really pay attention to them. There’s two parts I want to talk about, and the first part of the song is the first one:
“Wake up. Stay with me through the flood and through the fear. Right now I need you here, I need you to stay strong to remind me where I came from and where I belong. So wake up and stay with me. Cause I’m starting to think that I never actually had you… I need to know now, are you with me?”
And then we have this part:
“Don’t give up. Not yet. No matter how hard this gets. We come into the world worse for the wear, but the wars of our fathers are not ours to bear. don’t give up. No, not yet. Are you with me? Are you in or are you out?”
Those two sets of lyrics are both April. The first one is the broken, lost, numb April. The second one is the April that still believes, the April that knows she will come back from this, the April that knows her own strength. They’re different versions of her, but they both very much encompass all of April Kepner.
And finally, I want to tie all of these things, the unconscious bias, the domestic violence, the crisis of faith, into one common theme: a slow burn. The idea that the episode’s theme revolved around slow burning issues came to me when Jenny said that the abuse from Paul started slow. All of these things start slow, and they grow and grow and burn and burn for so long, and eventually, they just take over. Domestic violence doesn’t just start out of nowhere, the abuse builds up, maybe starting with verbal abuse, until it gets out of control. Unconscious biases don’t show up overnight, it takes years until they start to shape into societal stereotypes. Crises in faith don’t just happen when one thing goes wrong, they happen when one thing after another goes wrong. They’re all slow burns. And this episode is when they took over.
And that’s all I’ve got for this week! I’d say next week’s review won’t be as heavy as this one was, but judging from the promo, it will be. See you then!