First of all, let me just say that anytime Elisabeth Finch writes an episode, I am guaranteed to cry. Every. Damn. Time. This episode wasn’t any different.
Season 16, Episode 5: Breathe Again (written by Elisabeth Finch; directed by Chandra Wilson)
“Some of the world’s top trauma specalists have proven that our brains may forget the tramas we survive, but our bodies, especially our nervous systems, always keep score. Memories are stored in our shoulders, spines, stomach, or hands, without us ever knowing. We assume a painful backache or a shaky hand is something harmless, random. But it could be more. It might be our bodies reminding us of what we’ve endured and warning us not to let it happen again.” – Meredith Grey
So, what’s life throwing at our favorite TV doctors now? Well, uh, lots. Babies, jail time, therapists who try to kill themselves but actually no they don’t… there is a lot happening. Let’s get going.
I want to talk about Jo first. We see her in two very different places in this episode. I actually think watching these two opposing times in Jo’s life simultaneously like this really helped bring attention to the drastic change she’s been able to make for herself. When we go several episodes, or sometimes even a hiatus, between something traumatic happening to a character and them starting to heal, the process may be overlooked. It seems like magic. Clap your hands and boom, they’re better. In this case, we’re seeing Jo at rock bottom and we’re seeing her get back on top. But we’re also seeing her fight to climb out.
When she found out about her parents last season, she was in the darkest place we’ve ever seen her. And instead of skipping over the hard parts, we get to watch her claw her way back. We’ve seen it a little from other characters––Owen’s N.E.T therapy last season, Bailey’s therapy for OCD, and Meredith with Dr. Wyatt in season 4––but never to this extent.
I can’t even begin to imagine how Jo felt when she saw Carly, her therapist, hooked up to a ventilator after an assumed suicide attempt. I’m not surprised at all that she went into that hypobaric chamber, though. In therapy, Jo’s safe space was in an OR, so maybe she felt like bringing Carly to her safe space (albeit this is not an OR… close enough) would save her. I don’t know what was going on inside her head, but that seems like a pretty good guess to me. So now Jo’s sitting there and watching the woman who helped her pull herself out of a really dark time have air forced into her lungs by a machine. Questioning her own ability to keep going when her therapist quit is not a big leap for her mind to make. Even though it’s revealed that Carly didn’t try to commit suicide, that idea of a therapist needing help is something I want to see more of on TV. (It’s also why that’s a major plot point in the pilot I’m currently writing. I had to plug myself there. Couldn’t resist.)
But let’s talk about the actual therapy sessions we see in this episode. First of all, I had never heard of EMDR before. I did a little bit of research on it before I sat down to write this, and I totally get why 1) Jo’s pissed at the lightbar, and 2) why this form of therapy would have been extremely beneficial for her. Carly tells Jo that they want to work to move beyond her “capital T Traumas” and Jo’s pretty dead set against having any. Which, girl. She’s got a lot of stuff to work through, and at first, she’s resistant to even admit they’re things. She’s sought the help, but it kind of seems like maybe she was having trouble admitting that these things that happened to her are things worthy of needing help to work through. Maybe she thinks other people have had it worse, and because of that, she shouldn’t need any help. It isn’t true, of course, but I think maybe that’s where her head was at. And I can absolutely relate. I’ve been there.
Jo hasn’t let herself feel angry at anybody. Except for herself for not being angry at anyone else. That’s why Carly damn near throws a party when Jo walks into her office pissed as hell. For so long, Jo’s been pushing that anger down and covering it up with shame (which she named as a core feeling) and feeling helpless.
It probably doesn’t make any sense to Jo that she can feel angry at her mother. Maybe she thinks if she lets herself feel the anger, she’d also feel guilty because she now knows that her mother was put into an impossible situation and was hurt about as badly as a person can be hurt. But Carly points out that while her brain may not remember what it felt like when her mom pulled away from her, her body does. When she was in that diner, Jo’s body felt the same thing it did when she was 5 days old: the person who is supposed to love you more than anything in the world abandoning you. Twice. That’s where the anger comes from. That feeling that her body will never forget.
So now she’s finally letting herself feel the anger and that’s when the breakthrough happens. She’s been scared to be angry before now because all she knows is the kind of anger that ends with broken ribs and punctured kidneys. Healthy anger isn’t something she’s familiar with. And once she lets herself feel that anger––at her mother, at her father, at Paul––she can finally start to move past it.
Which brings me back to the hospital and inside the hypobaric chamber. Jo probably felt pretty unstoppable when she came back to work. She went and did what she needed to do and now she’s in a better place than she has been in a long time. Even while she’s dealing with seeing her therapist in this condition, she’s able to help Bailey, who’s also freaking out over having a new baby. (Which, can you blame her? She’s about to send one kid off to college and all of a sudden, she’s got start from the beginning and do it all over again? Whew. No thanks.) I loved seeing Bailey and Jo interact like this. One, it shows the tremendous growth in Jo, but also lets us see a more vulnerable side of Bailey that doesn’t come out all that often.
Bailey’s listing off all of these feelings coursing through her. There’s happiness, excitement, love, and probably a little bit of awe mixed in there somewhere. And then she gets to terrified. And she says “but” instead of “and.” And Jo’s response is possibly my favorite thing she’s ever said on the show:
“And terrified. It’s a therapy thing. You listed all of these positive feelings and then you said “but” as if being terrified erased everything that you said prior. But the happy, the terror, it’s all there.” – Jo Karev
I had never thought about that before. I say “but” all the time. Don’t you love it when something that happens in a show makes you think, “oh wait, I should maybe stop doing that”? Feelings can contradict each other and still exist at the same time. It’s something I knew but not something I ever really noticed in my own head, if that makes any sense. Like, take this for example: when I write something new, I always get excited about it. And it also always scares me to share it. See there? I said, “and.” Except, a lot of the time, I use a “but” instead and then I never share whatever it is that I wrote––a poem, a story, a script––with anyone. It’s not the same as what Bailey is going through at all, but I still saw a little bit of myself in her. It reassured me that I’m not the only one who shoves the happy and excited down and covers it up with the terror.
And I think Jo used this tactic in this episode, too. I’m sure she was feeling terrified when Carly showed up. And then she started using what she learned from Carly to calm herself down. There was the terrified and the control and she felt both at the same time.
And just real quick, since I already talked about Bailey a little, can we PLEASE talk about how pure Ben’s reaction was? This storyline is wild to me, and I’m honestly shocked it’s happening, BUT his reaction makes it hard not to be excited about it now. I also think there’s a huge comedy potential with this, which I think I said last week, too. I still believe that. I can’t wait to see Tuck’s face when he finds out. I’m also interested to see how this news impacts Ben at work, which I’m sure we’ll get to see when Station 19 comes back on in approximately 100 years.
You know who else has been gone for 100 years? Catherine Fox. And Richard is entering dangerous territory that I am NOT here for. I love Richard Webber and I’m sure you all know that. But the man does not have the best track record with wives. And now Gemma is buying him stacks of pancakes and offering to have an affair like someone offers you a piece of gum. It’s not that I don’t trust him, but it’s also exactly that. To be fair, he does totally call Gemma out and even tells her to get to a meeting, but I’m still worried about his marriage. I wonder if we’re in for A Different World battle? That could be entertaining, not going to lie.
But there is something Gemma said that I think is worth digging into a little bit. I’m sure she meant this as a jab to him as a husband, but I think it’s actually a lot more than that, and it’s something Richard needs to evaluate about himself. Gemma tells him that when things get tough, he either finds comfort in a bottle of vodka or another woman. And you know what? She’s not wrong. I hate to say anything bad about him because he’s like my generation’s TV grandpa, but… we all have things.
We never got to see the beginning of his affair with Ellis, but I’m going to go out on a limb and say the stress of being the only black resident in his class paired with Ellis’s stress over being the only female resident in her class made for some pretty intense… um… feelings? They were both the outliers, so it’s pretty natural to assume they’d become friendly. Very friendly. So, uh, yeah. And then Adele gets Alzheimer’s which would be stressful enough on its own, but I’m sure that reminded him of Ellis, which added to the stress. And in walks Catherine. (I swear, if she starts showing any signs of any kind of dementia…) Richard’s track record with stress and affairs is pretty consistent… and not in a good way.
But I also think Richard is more stable right now than he has been in a while, so I’m worried but not super worried. Plus, I have no doubt Catherine would put him right back in his place if he tried anything.
I saved Meredith’s stuff for last this time. And she’s got a lot of stuff. Last week, I was as annoyed with her as I ever have been, but this week? I just wanted to give her a hug. She cannot catch a break. This is the first time this season she’s skipped something and I wasn’t ready to shake her.
So, Zola needs another surgery. I’ve been waiting for this to happen since, like, season 11. I knew it was coming, it was just a matter of when. And why not make it at the most inconvenient time for Mer? Not that there’s ever a good time for your kid to need brain surgery, but you get my point. And then Andrew, poor guy, tried to get Meredith to go to court. Not the move, man. His reasoning was sweet, don’t get me wrong, but like, we all knew there was no way in hell Mer was leaving that hospital. He obviously tells her to go to court because he doesn’t want her getting into any more trouble than she’s already managed to get herself into, but also because he knows that the odds are in Zola’s favor. If he thought something was going to go wrong, he never would’ve brought it up. And also, he very well may have been thinking about after Zola’s surgery. Which we now know Meredith likely won’t be there for.
And then, because he’s Andrew and he’s an angel, he offers to sit with her instead of going into surgery. Ugh. I love him. I was not surprised at all when Meredith told him to go with Zola, though. She knew she’d have Amelia and Maggie and she wanted Zola to have somebody familiar with her. If you ask me, that right there proves what Mer’s feelings are. But she’s fighting them like hell. I expect nothing less from her.
While Zola is in surgery, Meredith goes full dark and twisty mode. Again, not surprised. Remember how last week I said Andrew was the only one in self-preservation mode? Yeah, not anymore. Meredith is trying so hard to convince herself (and everyone else) that she isn’t as in love with Andrew as she actually is. That little rant about him being sexy and fun but maybe nothing more? Nope. Don’t believe that even for a second. I think she’s terrified of how much she wants him to be more than that. She could use some of Jo’s therapy techniques right about now.
“Have you seen my life? The people that I’ve lost?” – Meredith Grey
Not admitting to her feelings and how strong they are is her way of protecting herself. It’s not logical, but feelings rarely are. She allowed herself to love Derek with her whole heart. And then she lost him and it almost broke her. Now she’s scared to really jump in with Andrew because she’s scared of facing that kind of loss again. Allowing herself to feel that kind of love means opening herself up to even more heartbreak. And that right there is why I think love is actually kind of terrifying. Because somebody is going to get hurt. Someone’s heart is going to break. And in this case, there’s a 50 percent chance it’s going to Meredith’s. I think the battle she’s having with herself right now is this: is having that feeling again worth the inevitable pain?
And Andrew is frustrated with her, not only because of all the work crew stuff but also because she’s so stubborn when it comes to their relationship. Andrew is no stranger to being heartbroken. Remember Sam? She literally moved to Switzerland to avoid being deported. But before that happened, he straight up said they weren’t good for each other. And he also knows she’s off in Europe working for Cristina Yang and doing great. He’s never lost someone he loves the way Meredith lost Derek. And he’s never loved someone the way Meredith loves her kids. Those are big things. And they’re things Andrew has no way of understanding. It’s nobody’s fault. But it’s also the thing holding Meredith back more than anything else.
I’m kind of waiting for this all to click for Andrew. Or, you know what, I can totally see Maggie and Amelia getting involved and telling Andrew what’s going on in Meredith’s head. He never knew Derek, he showed up after the episode that ruined my life, so he never saw them together. And he didn’t know Meredith well enough to recognize how badly she was hurting. I’m not sure that he realizes she’s terrified of love because she’s so used to having it ripped from her.
Speaking of Maggie and Amelia, there’s some stuff I want to bring up about both of them, too. When they were all waiting on Zola to get out of surgery, Maggie announces that her truest love might be surgery. I think that might be true. Right now. But you know what I think needs to happen with her? I think she needs to remember why she loves herself. There’s a speech Cristina gave to Owen sometime around season 5 about how Burke took pieces of her, and how she couldn’t let that happen again. I think that’s where Maggie is. When she was with Jackson, she let him chip away at her. It wasn’t huge things, but they added up, and suddenly she didn’t recognize herself anymore. She became a version of herself Jackson could love… but in the process lost the version of herself that she loved. And that right there is why those two were not going to work. (And if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to prepare myself for the DMs I’m going to get because of everything I just said.)
I want love for Maggie. I don’t want her to just have work and sisters and nieces and nephews. I think she’ll find it, but in the meantime, I’m not mad about watching her fall in love with her work and hopefully find herself again in the process.
And then there’s Amelia. This has been my favorite season for her by a landslide. She’s actually one of my favorites right now. She’s recognizing that she just jumps right into things and crosses her fingers that they turn out well, but she’s not beating herself up for it. If anything, she’s embracing it. Especially when it comes to Link and the baby. It’s weird seeing her so calm about such a drastic, life-altering thing. In the past, she’d turn to drugs or flee the state. Now though, she’s just letting things happen and preparing herself to learn something if it goes wrong. I think that seems like a pretty good way to live your life.
Okay, back to Meredith’s stuff. Which now apparently includes jail time. Last week, I thought she deserved everything she got handed. She left work crew early to deal with something that could have waited so she got summoned to court. She deserved that. But this? Skipping court because your daughter’s having brain surgery? Not unreasonable. I imagine that Meredith would not be spending any time in jail had she made it to court in this episode. Do I think she deserves to spend a few hours in jail? I mean, yeah. But not because she missed court to stay with Zola. It’s for everything else she’s done in the past several episodes. Meredith Grey is not above the rules, and now she’s facing the consequences. Does it suck? Yeah. Is it the end of the world? No. She could’ve been put in jail from the beginning. She got herself into this mess. And, if she does what she’s supposed to, it could be over soon.
Also, one more thing that I want to talk about because I think it’s so funny. Helm is literally a Meredith Grey fangirl and I love her for it. First, she gets giddy that Meredith gave her her cellphone number. Then she uses no less than 15 emojis while updating her on Zola’s surgery. Then she comes into the lounge after the surgery is over and expects a hug. Did you notice Maggie in the background during that part? She was cracking up. Same. I feel like Helm is a real-life fan who somehow made her way into Grey Sloan. It’s amazing.
I’m adding something new to these reviews. I’m going to start linking you guys to the music from each episode now. I’m going to go back through the other season 16 reviews and add the music, so you can go check those out if you need to update a playlist!
Music from 16.05:
“Trauma doesn’t tell time. It can’t tell if we’re eight or forty-one. If our kids have the chicken pox or if we have the biggest surgeries of our lives to prepare for. And when it sneaks up on us, it’s easy to think we’re right back at square one. But the truth is, even when our brain convices us we’re lost, if we try hard enough, our bodies remind us there’s a way back and prepares us for whatever fight lies ahead.” – Meredith Grey