Welcome to Grand Rounds: Dissecting Grey's Anatomy, a roundtable on Grey's Anatomy featuring Snarky's Machine, Tasha Fierce, Everett Maroon, Redlami, and s.e. smith. This week's Grand Rounds is hosted by Snarky's Machine, so, without further ado, let's begin!
Here's a recap of 'With You, I'm Born Again' and the promotional teaser to get you in the mood:
Snarky's Machine: Mental illness plays a huge role in this episode, what did you find interesting or problematic in its portrayal?
s.e.: One thing about Grey's that has always intrigued me is the depiction of Meredith and Christina as 'broken;' 'the twisted sisters,' as Dr. Hunt put it when talking to Derek. In this episode, everyone's 'broken,' so to speak, and I will be interested to see how the show handles this as the season unfolds. Given that Lexie's PTSD was apparently magically cured after 50 hours of being doped up against her will in the psych ward, I'm gathering the show is going to go for the short/miracle cure approach, which is really disappointing after the sensitive and nuanced handling of Dr. Hunt's PTSD. This season represents an opportunity to explore the aftermath of a huge event and I really hope it's not getting swept under the rug.
Another thing I found interesting was that Dr. Sloan was obviously horrified and repulsed by committing Lexie in the psych ward, but we didn't get Lexie's take on that situation at all. How did she feel about being stripped of all rights and autonomy? When you're involuntarily committed, your clothes are taken away, you aren't allowed a phone call, and you certainly don't get visitors when you are on an emergency hold like she was. The episode focused on Sloan feeling bad and using it to guilt Alex, but what about Lexie?
Everett: I think the portrayal, like we saw years ago on The West Wing, suggests that simple talk therapy and a breakthrough moment cures almost anyone of PTSD, and this is just rarely true. Sure, counselors want to see that people are owning their pain and not shutting down, but sitting in a conference room after a few joint therapy sessions doesn't do it in a lot of cases, so that irritated me. Also, this is a big group of very proud people. I'd liked to have seen more covering and posturing. These people look down on the psych ward. I'd have thought they'd have had a lot more resistance to the counselor than they did.
Tasha Fierce: I thought it was interesting how they portrayed the difference between how the men handled it versus how the women handled it. The concentration was on how broke down the women were, whereas the men were shown as being more aggressive (Sloan) and risk-taking (Derek) or putting on a facade of bravado (Alex). I think they should have shown more depth with Owen—there was no sign of him having any problem with the trauma, which I think is unrealistic. The way Alex acted towards Lexie after she had her breakdown was an accurate reflection on how many people react to the symptoms of mental illness and those who are affected. Sloan's anger over Lexie being allowed to go back to surgery was also realistic, I felt, as even a temporary display of mental "weakness" can taint people's perception of your stability permanently.
Redlami: The episode depicts the characters dealing with their trauma in different ways, whether treating the symptoms with drugs, shouldering on in acceptance that life is full of tragedies, or trying to process the events that caused the illness in the first place.
I liked that Lexie wasn't penalized for freaking out; it was viewed as a natural reaction to the trauma she experienced. I think the idea that her PTSD was treatable by a short-term regimen of drugs and sleep is a bit simplistic, though it looked to me like she was still on meds at the wedding.
Derek's also using drugs to get through, though his drug of choice is apparently adrenaline, which he gets with speeding, risky surgeries, and, in a nice return to season one form, break-room sex with Meredith. Appropriately, Alex, who's probably had the toughest life, appears to be best able to just move on—though wanting to carry that bullet around is a little freaky. Battle-tested Owen, who I usually read as volatile and damaged, now seems calm and well-adjusted in comparison to the other inmates—I mean surgeons—at Seattle Grace. I like seeing him in a caregiver role, centered enough to try to give Christina what she needs, even if Teddy is still what he really wants. Meredith's need to process, while it may be the healthiest approach in the long run, seems to be the main impediment to her being cleared for surgery.
Snarky's Machine: What specific character interactions/moments stood out in this episode?
s.e.: I was really struck by the back-to-back schooling of Derek and Alex. First we have Meredith marching into the jail to grab the ring and let Derek stew, and then we have Lexie reminding Alex that, for all his tough guy act, she's the one who saved his life even though he was crying out for Izzie. The Grey sisters, keeping their men in check. Also LOVED Dr. Bailey talking to the shrink about the difference between a 'difficult time' and what happened on the day of the shooting: 'the worst day of my life.' I do love a good Bailey lecture, I am not gonna lie. And completely facile statements that are just not at all up to describing the situation under discussion are *really common* when people interact with you after trauma, so it was lovely to see Bailey smacking that down.
Everett: Lexie explaining how she knew this was a mass murder; Bailey seeing the residents for the first time after fleeing to her mother's house; Webber dancing in his reclaimed office à la Ally McBeal; Cristina studying an anatomy chart at the head of her bed, in her wedding dress; Lexie telling Alex he's not tough at all; Bailey saying she's held together by tape and string. I hope we go to some interesting places from these starting points.
Tasha Fierce: Christina's talk with the therapist was intense; I appreciated that. Lexie's clowning of Alex was classic and I think his reaction, while limited to facial expressions, alluded to deeper feelings he's not expressing.
Redlami: I am loving Mark and Callie's friendship, where he—and apparently a generous helping of red wine—finally gives her the courage to very sweetly and awkwardly ask Arizona to move in. The scene between Miranda and Tucker was heartbreaking. She is coming across as perhaps the most damaged, most in need of nurturing and paradoxically least able to accept it from the one who most wants to provide it to her. Meredith showed some backbone in abandoning the childish and self-serving Derek in jail so she can be present for her best friend's wedding. Didn't anyone tell Owen that Derek is not a good choice for best man? Mark definitely looks better in a suit.
Snarky's Machine: Where do you think the episode struggled in its attempts to present the range of reactions to the aftermath of the tragedy?
s.e.: I felt like the show was trying to cram too much into one episode, and was *really* heavy-handed in places, most particularly with Derek's driving and Lexie's freakout in the pit. I know they were trying to get us all caught up on everyone in an hour, and it's hard to do that artfully. The thing about experiencing trauma that they missed was that sometimes, things seem really normal and completely ordinary. You crack jokes about unrelated things, you laugh, you do things totally related, it's not All Trauma, All the Time, and this episode was very heavy on the trauma. Often, trauma victims encounter criticism when they don't respond as prescribed by either dwelling on the trauma all the time or snapping out of it, and it would have been nice to see a more honest depiction of the aftermath of trauma. Hopefully future episodes will be more balanced.
Everett: I wasn't really sure what chronology we were working with here. I can see it was at least a month out, in that Bailey was gone for that long, but I also heard three months, and then we're seeing the staff working with a counselor, so as far as PTSD goes, I couldn't get a handle on how long folks had been dealing with the aftermath and not getting counseling. When exactly does this guy come in to clear the staff for surgery? We jumped around a lot to the group therapy, individual sessions with people getting cleared, Lexie's breakdown in the emergency department, so as far as their mental stability, I think the storytelling got in the way of presenting their emotional trauma, other than to give us flashes of conflict and recollections from the shooting. I can see how the characters worked with their own personality traits with regard to their tactics for dealing with the shooting, but I was too busy jumping all over the place to connect to them, for the most part.
Tasha Fierce: I found the presentation of how the men dealt with the trauma to be somewhat superficial. I didn't get a feeling of the storyline digging into the internal workings underlying the men's external reactions. Whereas with Lexie, Meredith, Christina etc. we got more nuance. I think the lack of deeper analysis of the men's reactions to trauma versus the portrayal of the women as being "broken" contributes to the stereotype that women are mentally weaker than men.
Redlami: I think most of the reactions are well within the bounds established by the characters. I suppose I'm least impressed by the plot device of the counselor passing judgment on everyone. In particular, I'd like to think Meredith would know better than to say, "Tell me what you want me to say and I'll say it." And the business between Teddy and the counselor seemed to serve no purpose other than to give Meredith something to react to.
See you next week for 'Shock to the System,' hosted by s.e.!
About your bloggers:
Everett Maroon is a Seattle-based writer, focusing on popular culture commentary, speculative fiction, and memoir. His interests include the interrelationships of characters on Grey's Anatomy, Dr. Bailey, behind-the-scenes politics, and Dr. Bailey.
s.e. smith is a cantankerous, cat-wearing, pop culture-loving, pants-eschewing philistine from the wilds of Northern California with a compendium of largely useless random knowledge and a typewriter that doesn't know when to quit.
Redlami turns numbers into stories and is the resident tech geek at I Fry Mine in Butter.
The video opens with a shot looking down a gun barrel, and cuts to scenes of the shooting from last season.
Voiceover: Last season, what didn't kill them made them stronger.
Scenes of trauma and carnage roll across the screen and dialogue comes up.
Meredith: You want justice, right? Shoot me.
Voiceover: In a finale like no other.
The screen goes white and comes back up on a scene of doctors racing a gurney down a hallway.
Voiceover: ABC Thursday, September 23.
Rapidly intercut images of various characters from Grey's Anatomy, most looking stressed and unhappy.
Voiceover: The drama of their lives begins.
We see shots of Christina lying on a floor, Derek in a jail cell while Meredith stands outside, and then the video cuts to the title card, a skyline of Seattle.
Voiceover: ABC's Grey's Anatomy. Season premiere Thursday, September 23 on ABC.