A Miranda Bailey centric episode? YES PLESE! A Miranda Bailey centric in which Miranda Bailey has a heart attack? Oh… maybe not? It was a pretty stressful, infuriating hour, but we all (including Miranda Bailey) made it through! So let’s talk about it!
Season 14, episode 11: “(Don’t Fear) the Reaper” Written by Elisabeth R. Finch; Directed by Nicole Rubio
“On your deathbed, no one wishes they’d worked more. That’s the trite little phrase people try out when they want to play hooky, or spend too much money on vacation, or shame working parents for missing their kid’s soccer game for a board meeting. On your deathbed, no one wishes they’d worked more. Tell that to the people who love their work.” -Miranda Bailey
I always love the VOs when someone other than Meredith does them. Not because I don’t like Meredith, you all know that’s opposite of the truth. But because I like getting someone else’s perspective to kick off an episode. The VOs really set the whole tone for the episode, and I’ve recently started paying more attention to them. And this one tells us exactly where Miranda’s head is: how much she loves her work. But it’s not that simple, is it? (We’ll come back to this idea at the end.)
Nothing is out of the ordinary when the episode kicks off. Ben, Miranda and Tuck are in the car, Miranda is being the mom all 13-year-olds are annoyed by, Ben is smiling, nobody is fighting… ok so I guess it was a little out of the ordinary, but you know what I mean.
And that ordinary feeling? That feeling that everything is fine? That was the point. There’s a reason the episode started like that. Miranda was clearly having some indigestion, but who doesn’t every once and a while? Especially if they had Indian food for dinner. (Indian food really gets me, y’all.) We didn’t think anything of it.
And then she walks into the emergency room of Seattle Pres and says the line that’s been haunting us all since the first promo: “My name is Miranda Bailey, I am the chief of surgery at Grey Sloan Memorial, and I believe that I am having a heart attack.”
Oh shit. I’m surprised they didn’t do something to the title card (you know, the warning sign that shit is about to go down?) like running a flatline across the screen or something else super dramatic and terrifying. But again, things aren’t supposed to seem different, right? Almost eerily calm? I’m not really sure how they pulled it off, but the entire episode felt like a 50/50 balance between that feeling of eerie calmness and frantic. It was a very well executed juxtaposition in tones.
Another technical thing before I delve into the story: did you notice the extreme close up shots of Bailey paired with the clear sound of a heartbeat? During those shots, everything else was out of focus. They did that on purpose too––it’s supposed to make us feel the same way Miranda feels. Scared, maybe a little disoriented, uneasy. It worked.
But let’s talk about the fact that Miranda Bailey walked into an ER, an ER just across town from her own hospital, knowing full well what was going on. She knew she was having a heart attack, but none of the doctors seemed to believe her. They brushed her off as being overly stressed or not being able to keep her emotions in check, or (once they learned about it) her OCD somehow being the cause. They tried to make it anything except what it was. And that is not an uncommon story* to tell. It’s not always a heart attack, but when a woman walks into an emergency room, for some reason, people immediately think stress! Emotions! Pining for attention! And that mindset is killing women. It’s killing us.
*If you haven’t read Elisabeth’s story about her own diagnosis, here’s a link to do so. It’ll really highlight why she went about writing this episode the way she did!
Richard Webber thought he was having a heart attack in “As We Know It” (217) and do you remember how people reacted? George and Izzie were frantically rushing around, immediately got him into a room, ran all the tests and then called Adele. Turns out, he had an anxiety attack. Can you blame the guy? I mean, a bomb in the hospital would probably––no, definitely––it would definitely send me into a panic. But it’s the way people reacted to him versus the way people reacted to Miranda. Richard never even uttered the words “heart attack” and still, people jumped into action and didn’t equate his physical symptoms to anxiety. So, why did they do that to Miranda? She’s been nothing but clear in what’s going on, but the doctors just aren’t buying it. At all. And that’s a dangerous habit to have. It’s a deadly habit, actually.
“My secret heart doesn’t need fixing, my actual heart needs fixing.” -Miranda Bailey
Now let’s talk about why Miranda is clearly hiding the heart attack from two of the most important people in her life: Ben Warren and Richard Webber. I saw some people on Twitter saying she’s just pissed off at Ben and is doing this to spite him, but that seems like a stretch to me. I think her reasoning behind the decision stems from her mother.
We met Elena Bailey briefly in season nine, but we got a much bigger picture of her as Miranda’s mom this time––and it included a young Miranda, who oddly reminded me of a young Shonda Rhimes with the glasses, but anyway… off topic. In the first flashback, we already can tell that Elena is extremely protective of Miranda. And each flashback from there, the overprotecting and overreacting just gets worse. We find out that it’s because Miranda had an older sister, Danielle, who died from SIDS at just two months old. Her need to protect Miranda stems from not being able to save Danielle, and I think it’s a cycle that is still repeating itself in Miranda’s life. While it may not be to the same scale, she’s protecting Richard and Ben––at least, I think she is. It may be a pride thing, it may be a not showing weakness thing, but I really do think it’s a protecting thing too, even if it’s her subconscious that’s doing the protecting. But we could also look at it from the other end of the spectrum––the overreacting. She could fear Richard and Ben’s overreaction. Just like the flashback where Elena completely freaked when Miranda fell of her bike, she doesn’t want Richard and Ben treating her like she’s going to break. Which, by the way, I know they wouldn’t, but I totally understand why she might think that. It kind of ties right into women not showing weakness in the workplace, but we’re not quite to that scene yet.
Back to the ER: Miranda is completely frustrated, completely terrified, and I’d go so far as to say thinking she won’t ever walk back out of the hospital. We’re not exactly sure how long she’s been there, but it’s probably been a couple hours at least. What we do know? We know that she asked for a second opinion and was graced with a psychiatrist after waiting for 30 minutes. Seriously? A 30-minute wait and they bring her a shrink? *eye roll*
There’s one extremely important thing that Miranda has been doing since the beginning of the ER visit that needs to be mentioned here, and it’s this: she keeps repeating, in different variations, that she’s having a heart attack. Did you notice that? She’s doing that for a reason, and that reason is to get the doctors to listen to her, and to take her seriously. She thinks she’s getting somewhere when the shrink asks about her diet, thinking maybe he’s looking at cardio risk factors, but nope. He wanted to know if she had that Indian food I talked about earlier. And we’re back where we started. Miranda’s still having a heart attack, and the doctors still don’t believe her. Nobody is on her side.
She’s clearly not getting anywhere with the shrink. She knows it and we know it. It’s one of those moments of what now? You can see it in her face––she has no idea what’s going to come next. Her control over the situation is diminishing, and the doctors are quickly taking away what little control she has left.
I feel like, at this point in the episode, Miranda started taking stock of things, meaning she’s thinking about everything (those flashbacks weren’t random, after all) and everyone that has been importnat in her life. She’s thinking about every defining moment, every little piece of the puzzle that makes up Miranda Bailey. It’s heartbreaking. And then she calls Tuck.
That phone call was something else. She’s trying to hold it together for Tuck––she doesn’t want to scare him––but we can tell that she’s nearing the end of her rope. She’s terrified that that was the last time she’ll ever get to talk to her son. Who wouldn’t fall apart at that thought?
“I love y–”
That “I love you” being cut off symbolizes so much more than what we see and hear on the surface. It represented her entire life. It’s unfinished. She isn’t finished yet. Because those women are never finished. But they die.
“63 percent of women who die suddenly from coronary heart disease had no previous symptoms, and women of color are at a far greater risk.” -Miranda Bailey
And there’s a good chance that Miranda would’ve become part of that statistic had she not been an advocate for herself. And thank God Maggie showed up when she did, because I don’t want to think about the alternative.
And now we’re back to that scene I touched on earlier. The one about women with high powered careers not being able to show any kind of weakness? Yeah, that one. Here’s the deal: men survive something, come back to work 4-6 weeks later and are met with whoops and high fives and claps on the back. They’re suddenly a super hero. But a woman? A woman who survives the same thing is met with worried glances, questions like, “are you sure you’re ready?” and doubt. People doubt her ability to do her job. It happens all the time. It’s just like “mommy tracking” a woman after maternity leave. Childbirth is a bitch. And for some reason, in the workplace, a woman is often viewed as weak, or unfocused, or not dedicated enough to her job for choosing to have a child. I’d like to see a man push a watermelon out of a blueberry sized hole. Maybe that would get them to shut the hell up.
I’m sorry. I got off topic again.
Back to the point: Richard wants Miranda transferred to Grey Sloan. Miranda is convinced that this is a quick fix and she’ll be back at work tomorrow. Both are extremes that are not going to happen. But Richard doesn’t understand where Miranda is coming from, and she explains it to him by comparing it to his electrocution. (Which, by the way, Maggie’s reaction to was priceless.) She talks about how nobody thought less of him because of it; he got hurt, he damn near let himself die, he lived, he came back to work. Miranda knows that’s not how it would work for her. If you’re reading this and you’re a female, you know that’s not how it would work for you either. It sucks. It’s terrible. But we live in a society engrained with sexism, and this is another instance of exactly that. We, as women, have to prove ourselves every. Single. Day. No matter what.
It’s a bit paradoxical that Miranda’s most vulnerable moment comes right after that conversation.
Maggie jumps into action, demands surgical privileges, and does what Dr. Maxwell couldn’t do. And in the process, took over as Miranda’s advocate. It reminded me of when Maggie was talking to Jo about “bringing the thunder” back in season nine. Do you remember that? Maggie told Jo that Miranda didn’t have to bring the thunder because she is the thunder? If you ask me, in this episode, Miranda and Maggie joined forces and became the whole damn storm.
“I am grateful that Dr. Bailey fought for herself like she does for her patients every single day, and I am furious that she even had to.” -Maggie Pierce
Right before Miranda went under, she asked Maggie to call Ben. That’s when we knew how bad it was. She wouldn’t have called him if she wasn’t terrified of what was about to happen, right? And seeing Ben Warren drop those hot dogs and take off running just broke my entire heart in half. He’s gone through his entire day worried about nothing but those 60 flights of stairs, and suddenly he gets a phone call that his wife is in surgery after having a heart attack. Think about how terrifying that would be. And then, because he’s Ben, I’m sure he played the blame game with himself. Asking all the what-ifs that just drive you crazy: what if I had gone to Seattle Pres with her? What if I had asked about the indigestion? What if I hadn’t taken this job? What if? What if? What if? But then Richard is there to put things into perspective for him. He says that Miranda is the strongest person he knows, and that how Ben is feeling right now, with the waiting and the questions and the unknown, is exactly how Miranda feels every time he walks out of the door now.
So what does Ben do? As soon as Miranda makes it out of surgery, he’s there telling her he called his boss. But Miranda surprises us with her response. And this is where I want to come back to the VO from the beginning: Ben clearly is excited about his new job, he loves it, he’s getting that thrill he craves so much, and now Miranda knows that he should chase that high.
“You fighting fires terrifies me. Life is terrifying. But I could die of a heart attack and you could die crossing the street tomorrow. Life is too precious to waste doing anything less than what makes you happy. You get to be happy.” -Miranda Bailey
While I’m sure that wasn’t the end of this fight, it’s nice to see them getting along again. It’s nice to have Miranda acknowledge that Ben is just trying to be happy, and Ben gets the affirmation that he needed from her, I think, in order to really go after it. To step into the fire. (Ha. See what I did there?)
“Build me a treehouse. Steal yourself one of those fancy fireman’s ladders and build be a treehouse I can read in. A girl needs some peace to read a good book. Highest tree you can find.” -Miranda Bailey
I don’t know why that line got to me so much, but MY GOD, I was a blubbering mess. I think it was Miranda reconnecting with her childhood in a way. Maybe it’s her taking stock again, only this time, she’s taking stock on what made her happy. And she wants that happiness to be there again. Yes, she loves her job and she’s happy in her work, but there’s more. There’s always more.
Then Miranda has to tell her mom about the heart attack. And not to be dramatic or anything, but that might just be scarier than the heart attack itself. How do you tell the person who raised you, the person who couldn’t save your only sibling, the person who lived everyday terrified of losing you too, that you came that close to death? But she does it, and Elena’s response to Miranda telling her that she’s okay? It’s is so simple, but so, so beautiful: “I know you are. You’re my Mandy.”
It was a rollercoaster, panic-inducing episode, but we made it through. And before I sign off for the week, I have one more thing to share:
- Shortness of breath.
- Heavy perspiration.
- Chest pain.
- Pain in your jaw, neck, back or arm(s).
These are all common symptoms of a heart attack for women. If you ever find yourself in a medical emergency, please remember to be your own advocate. It could save your life.
“It’s not about whether you spend your life in a board room or on a beach with a Mai Tai in Maui. When you look back on your life, the only thing that matters is did you spend it doing what you love with the people you love? Were you happy? Did you make the most of this beautiful, terrifying, messed up life? Did you let go of all the things that hold you back so you can hold onto what matters most?” -Miranda Bailey
See you next week for “Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger”!