This week's episode of Grey's Anatomy, "The Room Where It Happens" — thanks, Hamilton! — is unlike any the show has ever done before. The installment is a "bottle episode," taking place entirely in an OR (in the present tense, anyway), and only featuring the characters Meredith (Ellen Pompeo), Owen (Kevin McKidd), Stephanie (Jerrika Hinton) and Webber (James Pickens Jr.).
"The episode is basically a one-act play, and that's awesome," Hinton tells TVGuide.com. "It's the structure of the episode itself that requires more from you. Because you're shooting it in order and because it is theater essentially, you must be alive in every moment, and you must constantly be listening and constantly be focused. It's a fantastic challenge that I would love to have more often. Normally the way that we shoot things, you're shooting a two-page thing and you're done. This was not that. It was all of us in there for 12 or 14 hours a day for eight or nine days. ... It was a really phenomenal, wonderful challenge that I wish we could do more of."
As the foursome operate on a badly banged-up patient, Webber employs some of his new teaching techniques courtesy of Eliza Minnick and instructs the doctors to forge a personal connection with the patient. In Webber's mind, the doctors should give their patients identities, rather than treating them as John or Jane Does.
"Typically in our show, the audience experiences us having these connections to our patients, and it's something that we normally fight against," Hinton says. "In this particular episode, we're kind of encouraged to lean into that, and it's interesting to see how that helps this particular case. ... The benefit of encouraging that personal connection is that it does a great deal to help undercut that god complex that surgeons can have, and that is exhibited often in our show. The more human you see the person on the table, the more you fight for them, and the more the fight is about them, and not about your own prowess and power. ... In terms of how it could be a detriment to the process, it's kind of the flip side of that same coin. The more human you make your patient, the more entwined with the outcome you are. You don't have that professional sense of... not necessarily remove, but distance. And so it can be hard to navigate what is prudent in the moment."
As the doctors (and Webber himself) follow his instructions, it drudges up memories for each of them. Without giving too much away, Meredith recalls back to the day she lost Derek (Patrick Dempsey), we finally get a glimpse of Owen interacting with his sister Megan and Stephanie is flooded with memories about growing up with a chronic illness.
"Everybody in that place has ghosts. Every surgeon there has ghosts that inform the way that they practice," Hinton says. "What you find out with Stephanie is that her ghost isn't a separate person, it's not a separate entity. It's her. It's this other version of her, and I think that's a bit unique. It makes her challenges, the things that drive her, a bit more complex and a bit more nuanced, perhaps, than she's been given credit for."
The scenes are played out in flashbacks, with the present-day doctors interacting with the ghosts from their pasts. "The way that this is set up with all of the magical realism in there, all of the spectacle ... standing in the room and seeing the special sets they built specifically for this and the little shadowboxes built into the set, it was all super theatrical on the day," Hinton says. "I'm excited to see how that plays out."
And in Stephanie's case, viewers will see a side of her that hasn't been on display before. "She has this burst of insight into what's likely happening, and her superiors aren't willing to hear this," Hinton says. "So, she has to fight for this patient. This is kind of a story beat that we're used to seeing in every episode, right? That the surgeon has this amazing realization and then has to go in and fight for this patient, against all odds. But she's also fighting for this younger version of herself."
She continues: "There was nobody that could advocate for her in the way that she wanted when she was a kid growing up. And so, she now gets to do that and is compelled to do so, because if this patient dies on the table and no one advocates for him in a proper way and all of it gets mired down in all of the bickering and who's right, who's wrong, then that's on her shoulder. This is perhaps the first time that she's had the opportunity to seriously advocate for somebody and seriously take responsibility and kind of a deep ownership in a patient's outcome. ... That's a responsibility she doesn't take lightly."
Grey's Anatomy airs Thursdays at 8/7c on ABC.