This week's episode of Grey's Anatomy began with a viewer discretion advisory, and for good reason. There was a lot of hurt to be experienced, so please consider this an additional trigger warning about what's about to be discussed.
In the episode, titled "Silent All These Years," Jo (Camilla Luddington) decided to pay a visit to her birth mother (Michelle Forbes) to find out why she was left at a firehouse as a newborn, and what she learned about her history was unspeakably upsetting.
It's not just the fact that she was expecting her mother to be someone struggling at life after a teen pregnancy derailed all of her plans, or that her mother claimed she wanted to give her a better life by letting her go but didn't bother to engage an adoption agency. Those things are difficult enough to internalize, but what she learned about her "father" and how she was conceived is absolutely earth-shattering.
As it turns out, when her mother was a college student, she was sexually assaulted by her date, and she suffered from deep depression and dread throughout the duration of her resulting pregnancy. She hoped against hope that once Jo arrived she would fall madly in love with the baby and not resent the child for being the product of the worst experience of her life, and although she loved her, she couldn't. She wasn't well enough to care for baby Jo, and so five days after her birth, she left her in hopes that someone else could care for her better than she could.
"Of course you deserved better," she tearfully told Jo, who still wanted to hear that she was remorseful for the sour life that Jo led as a result of being in the foster system. "I didn't have better to give you."
Jo understood. Jo empathized. Jo even shared that she herself had to make the impossible decision to terminate her pregnancy because of the violent home life she had with her ex-husband. Jo even tried to extend a hand to her mother, but she resisted her touch. Some wounds will never heal, and even though her mother told her she didn't look like her "father," it still pained her to be near Jo.
These revelations about her excruciating encounter with her mother were happening at the same time that she was treating another assault patient named Abby. All the signs were there, and Jo recognized them instantly. Abby blamed a kitchen accident for the bump on her head, and when she revealed injuries to her abdomen and legs, she claimed it was a neighborhood hockey game-gone-wrong. Meanwhile, she was absolutely petrified and shaking like a leaf the moment she saw anyone but Jo walk through her treatment room.
Teddy (Kim Raver) was reticent to speak up, but Jo had been through this and told Abby that she believed she was the victim of domestic violence, and she wanted to help. However, Abby eventually revealed that her husband was actually a decent man, but after a fight about such a pithy issue as laundry, she went out to a bar and had a few too many, at which point she was attacked and violated.
Abby was convinced that there was no reason for her to report the incident or even bother submitting to a rape kit test because she's seen women in her position be disbelieved before, despite all it takes to open up about something this devastating. She didn't even want her husband to know, lest he always see her as "broken." But Jo managed to convince her to at least let them gather the evidence in case she changed her mind.
"I never had the chance or the choice to hold him responsible. I can't imagine how you are feeling right now. I can't," Jo told her. "But one day you might feel differently. You might want justice. And I want you to have everything you need to do that."
After that, we witnessed, in painstaking detail, all of the steps that a woman in Abby's situation must go through to create the DNA evidence box that so often ends up untested. The many swabs, the intimate photographs, the questionnaires, the process of consenting to every single step ... it was so very painfully personal and yet so clinical and cold. To their credit, Jo and Teddy did do their best to make Abby feel comfortable and not alone throughout the process, and that seemed to help as much as it could.
It's a hard episode, but there was a hopeful moment to be witnessed, as Jo arranged for all of the men in the hospital to leave the wing between Abby's treatment room and the OR so that the many women of Grey-Sloan could instead line the halls in solidarity with her. It was a touching gesture that gave Abby just enough strength to go on to her surgery to repair her sternum.
In the recovery room, Jo remained at her side and refused to pressure her to submit the rape kit or a report. However, she and Teddy did suggest that she talk to someone -- even if it's never her husband. They both reminded Abby that what happened to her was not her fault and that it doesn't define her.
"You're a survivor," Jo stressed.
At that, Abby made the decision to call her husband and the police, and when we left her, she was holding her husband's hand, instead of Jo's.
Both experiences have hardened Jo against Alex, though. She knows that he loves her and would not treat her the way that her ex-husband did, but she still needs room to process what she's learned about herself and what she's witnessed. Trauma doesn't come in tidy boxes. People unpack it in different ways, and if Alex is wise, he'll give her the space she needs to heal and be there when she's ready for him.
Side note: The inclusion of the subplot that Bailey (Chandra Wilson) and Ben (Jason George) have discovered that Tuck is dating might seem simple in comparison to all of his heaviness. But it did ultimately lead to "the talk" about consent, and Ben framed it in a way that almost felt instructional for audiences. In short, he told his stepson to always be present and aware of what his lady friends are feeling, that they can change their minds at any time, and that if they're not having fun, he should immediately tamp the pause button. This is a good primer for that conversation of course.
You might recall that a previous episode about Jo's past was titled "1-800-799-7233" to direct audiences to a helpline if they ever find themselves in an abusive situation, and this seems like a good time to bring that up again.
Grey's Anatomy airs Thursdays at 8/7c on ABC.