Grey's Anatomy has thrown a lot of personal trials and tragedies at audiences over the years, but it's never been quite as timely as this.
This week's episode is aptly titled "1-800-799-7233," which is the National Domestic Violence Hotline, and while that particular dial-up service doesn't come into use throughout the episode, the significance of its promotion could not be clearer.
Before the winter hiatus set in, we were left with a lot of cliffhangers: the hospital is under a cyber attack that's costing the docs access to critical supplies; Jackson Avery (Jesse Williams) and Maggie Pierce (Kelly McCreary) are this close to losing a patient over some helicopter turbulence; Meredith Grey (Ellen Pompeo) is having to siphon blood for a southbound surgical patient off of Glasses; Alex Karev (Justin Chambers) is probably about to poison his child patient with the wrong medication; and, last but certainly not least, Jo Wilson (Camilla Luddington) has just run into her ex-husband — yes, the one who is responsible for all the torment and belittlement that caused her to change her identity and escape to Seattle in the first place.
While all of the dangling issues get dealt with, piece by piece, it's the latter plot line that arrives as the most consequential for obvious reasons.
Sure, it's great that Jackson and Maggie save a patient, spend a few hours in bath towels, and then finally declare, out loud, their interest in one another (although a forgotten Tinder date arrival puts the kibosh on any actual progress between them). And how about that hero moment when a transgender resident turns out to be a sly tech wiz who outsmarts the FBI by saving the hospital from hackers?
There are other things going on, but tonight is all about Jo.
We've been sprinkled with pieces of her story ever since her arrival, but tonight, we finally get the brutal details of what exactly she had to escape from Paul Stadler (played with menacing poise by Matthew Morrison). To hear him talk, Jo — or Brooke, as he chooses to taunt her with her former name — is unstable, and he merely tried to rescue her from her vagrant lifestyle before she flew the coop like the unstable, ungrateful girl she is (gag).
Arizona Robbins (Jessica Capshaw) and Richard Webber might be all too happy to make his acquaintance because he's apparently famous for his revolutionary surgical techniques. But they don't know him. They don't know who, or more importantly, what he is. One person that does, right away? Meredith. She's not fooled by his charms and knows exactly what she is dealing with as soon as he utters his name. She indulges his suggestion that Jo is some broken bird and sees the world through twisted eyes, but she knows. SHE KNOWS.
Paul decides to hang around the hospital and lend a hand to the doctors in need, including Mer, but what he really wants is to get his divorce from Jo/Brooke so he can make it official with his newest
victim fiancee, Jenny (Bethany Joy Lenz), who seems friendly and perhaps even oblivious enough of his crimes (or perhaps in denial?).
Meredith plays it cool but inserts herself as a broker for the divorce paper signing, curtly denying Paul's request to have a moment alone with Jo because she's got this for her pal (and wants to keep Karev away from any more trouble).
Along with a few pointed leers, Paul makes sure to denigrate Jo one more time before he's out the door after the divorcing deed is done, saying in his snide little way, "I'm really happy for you Jo, I hope this brings you some real peace, you deserve it. We both do." At that, Jo has had enough and retorts, "You don't deserve anything good. You're a monster."
As she watches him make short work of finding the exit with Jenny on his arm, Jo decides that simply ridding her life of him isn't enough; she's gonna gather the troops to try and run a little interference for Jenny. With the help of a now-in-the-know Arizona, who's still good at pretending to be a Dr. Sadler sycophant and up and convinces him to spare a moment to discuss new equipment with her, Jo's able to get Jenny alone for one last moment.
Although Jenny's clearly not ready to let any of this sink in and echoes Paul's line about Jo being a nutjob, Jo still tells her exactly what she went through with Paul in excruciating detail, and her words seem so intimate and yet all-too-familiar at the same time.
The abuse began when she unwittingly embarrassed him at a work party by being chatty with a colleague; his apologies and promises to better himself were profuse and convincing, and yet the aggression only escalated with time; the last incident caused her broken ribs and a ruptured kidney. So, she finally split and has been scared and on the run ever since.
Whether Jenny's getting the picture or not, Jo insists she take her number so that she has a lifeline if and when she needs it.
Of course, no good deed goes unpunished in these sort of situations, so it doesn't take long for Paul and Jenny to return to the hospital — and this time Paul is armed with more insults for Jo and in possession of her new phone number so he can "know where to find her."
Alex and Meredith do their best to assure her that she'll be safe, but it's a promise they know they can't keep. Jo says she wants him dead because she knows only that or him serving jail time will truly protect her from him... and her own fear. TV being TV, however, some deus ex machina slips into the mix, and we close things out with Alex and Jo silently observing as Paul's attended to in the trauma unit for injuries sustained in a hit and run.
Grey asks them, "What did you do?" But it's unclear whether this was a fate of their making, if Jenny finally caught a clue, or if karma really is just a beautiful b-word like that. One way or another, they're either looking at a very sticky legal situation ahead, the unexpected answer to Jo's prayers, or a terrible amount of time having to be around him as a patient of the hospital.
No matter what, we aren't done dealing with Jo's trauma just yet, and we may never be. That's the terrible reality of the situation: there may be no ultimate resolution for women who endure such things as this. Jo's constant effort to muster strength in the face of her nightmare, and Meredith's risk-taking support (i.e., pretending to call security when the phones are down), and the gathering of a downright village that it takes to try and even talk to Jenny, that's all just a part of the struggle.
So, it's a good thing that Shondaland did label this episode "1-800-799-7233" because maybe there's someone in the couch crowd who recognizes a piece of their own story or someone they know in Jo's battle and can know where to get help. In the era of #MeToo and Time's Up and women marching and standing up for one another, this episode is timely, effective, and maybe even necessary. And with that, the show is finally making good on those old lyrics about showing us "how to save a life."
Grey's Anatomy airs Thursdays at 8/7c on ABC.