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Grey's Anatomy's Jesse Williams on That Surprising MerLuca Moment

Plus, what's in store for Jackson and Maggie

Keisha Hatchett

Grey's Anatomy brought double the drama this week in a crossover with Station 19 that meshed together both worlds as Maggie (Kelly McCreary) took care of one of the firehouse's own.

Jesse Williams directed the first half of the two-hour event, titled "What I Did for Love," which saw Levi (Jake Borelli) help a man who had collapsed at a flower shop. But to Bailey's (Chandra Wilson) horror, John Doe turned out to be Fire Chief Luca Ripley (Brett Tucker), who works alongside her husband, Ben (Jason George). His predicament raised major concern, especially since he disappeared from his hospital bed just when Maggie concluded that his condition was worse than they initially thought. In the second hour, we learned that Ripley's efforts to find his fiancé Hughes (Barrett Doss) and explain why he hadn't stood her up only made things worse for him. A combination of the toxins he inhaled from the last fire and a preexisting heart condition proved to be fatal, and the crossover ended with the Station 19 gang huddled around Hughes while she mourned the loss of her soulmate.

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Elsewhere, Jo (Camilla Luddington) experienced a huge emotional breakdown after a mixup with one of her patients, and Link (Chris Carmack) helped Levi understand what Nico (Alex Landi) was going through after losing a patient. In true Grey's fashion, the hour also tackled the delicate issue of immigration through Meredith (Ellen Pompeo), who treated a young girl whose family was seeking asylum. Realizing that her uninsured patient desperately needed medical attention even though her family had no way of paying for it, Meredith took drastic measures to ensure the girl receive the help she needed by falsely presenting her as her daughter Ellis on the insurance forms.

It was a bold move that could potentially cost Meredith her job, but it also served as the catalyst for a surprising moment with DeLuca (Giacomo Gianniotti). After a day of misunderstanding, DeLuca cleared the air with a heartfelt speech explaining why he remained silent throughout Meredith's ordeal. In awe of her courage, DeLuca revealed that he was afraid the only words that would have come out of his mouth would have been "I love you." But the question is, did he actually mean that or was he just caught up in the moment? Whether or not this was DeLuca's accidental declaration or just a slip of the tongue remains to be seen, but it clearly struck a nerve with Meredith, who immediately fled the room as soon as he finished talking.

TV Guide hit up Jesse Williams to break down the jam-packed episode, including what that unexpected MerLuca moment actually meant. Plus, Williams opened up about Jackson and Maggie's future together now that they've decided to move in together, and what it was like to tackle the topic of asylum given today's heated political climate.

​Jesse Williams, Grey's Anatomy

Jesse Williams, Grey's Anatomy

Mitch Haaseth, ABC

This is your second time directing an episode of Grey's Anatomy. Stepping behind the camera means coming at the show from a different perspective. What new things did you learn about yourself while helming this episode?
Jesse Williams: It's a little bit difficult to direct yourself. It's deciding whether to watch playback on every single take, whether I can see out of my own eyes what my fellow actors are doing, and taking in the scene. [It's] setting it up and then shooting it and just getting a rhythm and trusting your eyes versus making sure you've got all the pieces you've designed. It's a little bit tricky. It's certainly nice to have it be my second one. With the first one, I was certainly a bit more revved up and it was the great unknown. But once I knocked out my first one last year, I felt really comfortable during production and really loved the editing process, so I felt very very comfortable this time around.

What's the biggest difference between acting alongside your co-stars and actually directing them?
Williams: It's a more fleshed-out vision as a director. Honestly, I pay more attention. I'm examining the scene tonally, visually, and literally in each character and taking in and considering all of their perspectives. As an actor, it's not my job to consider in the same way every other character's thought process because I want it to be alive and real and I want to listen. Acting is all about listening in the moment and reacting as opposed to directing, [where] I'm really responsible for where the couch cushions are, where everything is placed, how the lighting is set up, what the props are doing, what the art department is doing, what the medical is doing... It's a lot more. But I'm far more at home and I feel really comfortable as a director. And also with actors, I understand the language of how to communicate emotion and what it is you're asking of them without telling them what to do. That's such a collaborative medium and I certainly have a leg up by understanding an actor's language.

Jackson asked Maggie to move in with him and she tells him she needs to talk it out with Meredith before giving him an answer, which sort of confuses Jackson. He seems to view it as her asking for permission. Why did he react the way that he did?
Williams: He kinda shoots from the hip and he knows what he wants when he wants it. With the mortality issue and his mom and feeling he could have lost her, I think he feels kinda more like live life to the fullest, trust yourself right now, just go for it. What happens to some people when they're faced with death or loss of a loved one, they start reconsidering being too careful and just live in the now.

In the end, Maggie decides to move in with Jackson, so what does that mean for their relationship moving forward?
Williams: I think it means a lot. It's a very significant step forward. They had some hiccups. They had some issues. He took off for a little bit. He was trying to find himself and recalibrate what it means to be an adult and co-parent and move on after loving and losing someone. I think that makes it so they can't walk out on each other. They can't just go leave to get milk. They can't make excuses and go crash at Meredith's house. Like, this is it. You don't have an escape where after a fight you can just go sleep it off. You've gotta decide how to work this out tonight, and that's a very adult decision. For them, it's a very significant step because Maggie kind of likes to escape.

This episode was pretty big for MerLuca, with DeLuca telling Meredith he loves her for the first time. What do you remember in your conversations with Ellen and Giacomo about how to approach that scene and what was the most important thing you wanted to convey?
Williams: Meredith had a hell of a day and had come in with momentum. She is misinterpreting his cues the whole day. He is genuinely and sincerely impressed by her audacity and confidence and she's taking it as critiques. She's taking it as doubt, so there is a miscommunication happening, which is fun to revisit. But she comes in hot and with a prescribed notion of like, "I know his position, I'm gonna address it. I'm gonna be brave and I'm just gonna tell him the truth." And the thing is, she got him wrong. And in that trying to stop the bleeding there, stop the momentum that she's developed, he kind of blurts it out. One of the things me and Giacomo [Gianniotti] talked about is, are you telling her you love her or are you telling her that all you could think about was saying you love her? It's kinda like saying you are a jerk or you're acting like a jerk. So when this comes out of his mouth, he knows how it sounds. He knows he didn't plan on saying it. He's not sure how she's taking it and then she shows us that she can't really handle this right now. It certainly has a comedic undertone, but it's a moment of letting the cat out of the bag. I'm not sure that he's sure that he meant it.

Grey's Anatomy is known for tackling tough topics and this episode delves into the matter of asylum with Meredith and her young patient. It's an important issue for so many people right now, so did you feel added pressure to get it right? What did it mean for you to tell this story?
Williams: I took that storyline very seriously, and down to the casting. I made it very clear, as soon as I read it, that we're gonna cast brown people who look like those who are impacted. We're not gonna whitewash this and make it the palest Mexican or Central American you've ever seen, like the TV version of ethnicity. We're gonna cast people that are outstanding actors, and we found them with Omar [Leyva] and Allyson [Juliette]. I think a lot of that sometimes gets lost in a role with a heavy accent with folks that are brown, folks that are assumed to be just playing themselves, and that's not the case. This guy is a real thespian. But yes, I took the storyline very seriously because it's real, it's now, and we can't afford to distract from the real people living with these circumstances by adding too much hyperbole or flourishing in drama. Let's keep it centered and rooted in truth. It's very real to experience, unfortunately, and I think they did and will continue to do a great job of representing it.

We're getting close to the end of the season, so what can fans expect in the remaining episodes?
Williams: I think we've bred a new level of amendment and frustration and decision making for Jackson and Maggie. It's one thing to talk about moving in together and it's another thing to do it, another thing to be trapped in close quarters with each other under stress. Without giving away too much, we'll really get to see how that pressure could bust pipes. I think we also get an understanding. ... I'm really excited about the Owen, Teddy, and Amelia triangle. We've got some really great scenes with them and that really develops. And we also have Camilla Luddington. Her role as Jo, she's just killing it this season. I can't say enough about how she's taking it to another level as a performer and how the hell she handles this avalanche of emotions and disappointment and heartbreak.

Grey's Anatomy airs Thursdays at 8/7c on ABC, followed by Station 19 at 9/8c.