“Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger” is no Bailey-centric episode, but it does have some classic Grey’s Anatomy elements. There’s an emotional patient story, doctors trying to one-up each other, inappropriate sex, and Meredith even gets to say things like “You’re infested with tiny spleens.” Some of it is fun, but there’s a lot going on and it is working hard to set up the back half of the season. Plus, Ben and Bailey aren’t together saying swoony things to each other. What is even the point?
Okay, the point is that the doctors at Grey Sloan Memorial are very smart and big ol’ science nerds and almost all of them are entering the Grey Sloan Surgical Innovation Contest. Per Hung-over April, who is a delight, the rules of the contest are thus: Anyone competing must submit a proposal in three days. Twenty-five proposals will be selected and given $100,000 in seed money. From those 25 projects, five will be selected and awarded a cool one million doughstacks, until one project is deemed the winner and given $5 million in funding. There can be only one Highlander, etcetera, etcetera.
Our doctors are pumped. I’m assuming any doctor in the country can apply, but there happens to be a lot of semifinalists from the Grey Sloan pool. This feels weird, but okay, television.
Let’s run through some of our doctors’ projects and where they find inspiration.
Obviously, Jackson Avery is v. excited about this contest — he literally created it so that he could have a chance at winning something. He knows exactly what project he’s going to submit: spray-on skin. Sounds cool, right? The future of plastic surgery. Plastic Posse founder Mark Sloan would be proud. Too bad Jackson’s mother has other plans for her son.
She introduces Jackson to Dr. Michelle Velez, a top plastic surgeon at Cedars-Sinai. Dr. Velez has a pitch for the Good Doctors Avery: She wants to reinvent vaginoplasty surgery by taking a piece of the peritoneum (a membrane that lines the abdominal cavity and protects our organs — science!) and use it to reconstruct the vagina. The surgery at the moment is fine, but there are lots of downsides. This would revolutionize the surgery and help millions of trans women looking to have gender-affirmation surgery, as well as cis women who have lost their vaginal canals due to cancer, or those born with congenital defects. Dr. Velez, though an excellent surgeon herself, needs the Averys to work with her because she is a trans woman, and she wants to be the first test subject.
Jackson is torn, but his mother reminds him that 41 percent of people with gender dysphoria attempt suicide. Improving this surgery would not only change lives, but possibly save them. It’s a tangible thing Jackson can do now. After some thought, Jackson is all in on Dr. Velez’s proposal. Let the awkwardness of mothers and sons talking about vaginas begin! Er, continue!
Dr. Webber, too, submits a proposal idea thanks to a family member. He has Maggie tag along with him as he takes some ballroom-dance lessons to surprise Catherine with on her birthday. Maggie’s feeling overwhelmed and emotional since it’s been almost a year since her mother died of cancer. So, Webber tells his daughter about the first anniversary of his mother’s death: He was sent to the principal’s office five times. He tells her that the first anniversary of his sobriety was the day he was most tempted to drink. Anniversaries can be hard, and the first one is always the hardest. While they’re practicing the salsa, Maggie laments that she doesn’t have the magic wand she did when she was a kid — when she wanted to forget about bad things happening, she’d just wave her magic wand and feel okay again.
We haven’t seen a ton of Maggie and Webber interaction as of late. They seem to be in a good place, but they never really talk about the Ellis of it all, so it’s very moving to watch Webber explain his project to Maggie. It’s called the Path Pen and it’s a pen-like tool that will be able to detect if tissue has cancer or not just by touching it. But Maggie knows it’s not a pen at all — it’s a magic wand. YOU GUYS.
Of all the docs, Meredith is feeling the most pressure to deliver something great. I mean, who wants to follow up the most prestigious award in the medical world with a dud? She discovers that her splenectomy patient from the cyberattack has sprouted numerous tiny spleens where her old one used to be (yes, it’s a thing), and she’s suddenly struck with inspiration. Okay, really, Jo is the one who says something along the lines of, “Wouldn’t it be great if she could grow mini versions of useful organs like kidneys or livers?” And thus, a proposal is born.
Meredith makes Jo her partner on the project. The two are very chummy post-Paul, although Meredith has to keep reminding Jo that Paul really is gone. She is free. To celebrate that, Jo wants to be listed as Josephine Brooke Wilson on the paper. It’s a nice little wrap up of Jo’s domestic-abuse story line. What a brave, new world for us all: Meredith Grey and Jo Wilson are actual friends now!
But the friendship might be short-lived. Just moments before Meredith and Jo learn that their project made it into the top 25, Meredith realizes the entire project hinges on a specific polymer that is patented and extremely hard to get. That nauseous look on Meredith’s face means she most definitely does not have the patent. Well, that’s embarrassing for a Harper Avery Award winner.
Lest you think every Grey Sloan doctor who submitted a proposal made it in the top 25, it is time to talk about little Kimmy Park. She’s a 12-year-old with the voice of an angel and a giant brain tumor. All she wants is for Amelia and Alex to heal her so that she can audition for the spring musical. When they get in there, though, they realize that the tumor is dangerously close to Kimmy’s speech center and if they operate, she’ll lose her ability to speak.
Amelia and Alex recommend chemo and radiation, which means Kimmy will be sick for a long time. Spring musical auditions are out of the question. But that’s not good enough for Kimmy. She’s a resilient little girl. She’s overcome two parents who abandoned her. She’s remained positive throughout her tumor ordeal. When Kimmy learns that she’ll be bald from radiation by the time the fall musical rolls around, she looks upset for less than a second before she finds a silver lining: “Maybe they’ll be doing the King and I.” THIS GIRL.
They come up with a new plan, inspired by Kimmy, who can hit notes that shatter glass. They want to use a specific frequency that will shatter the tumor, so that they don’t have to cut into Kimmy’s brain. This sounds crazy, but as I like to remind everyone, I’m no doctor. Amelia and Alex will need a lot of funding and testing before they can perform this procedure on Kimmy, but unfortunately, they are not one of the 25 proposals selected.
No. Unacceptable. Little Kimmy will not go out this way. She has some singing to do!
Laughter Is the Best Medicine, Except for Real Medicine
• AZ has been in a funk since losing Karen, but is inspired to make her project about addressing maternal mortality rates in the United States. Since Italy’s rates happen to be much better, she enlists Carina as her partner. Do all Innovation Contest partners agree to work together via making out?
• April’s still hitting it with Hot Intern. I know she’s being self-destructive and this is part of Dark April, but still, you go girl.
• I don’t enjoy Bailey being relegated to bed rest, but it was fun to watch Intern Glasses squirm while thinking she was going to ask him to do something inappropriate in the bedroom. As if! This is Miranda Bailey, Glasses.
• Justice for Chive — I mean, Clive!
• “You could think of this vagina as your birthday gift to me.” “Thanks to my mother all I can think about is vaginas.” You guys, this Avery project will be a delight.
• I’m still not into this DeLuca and Sam thing at all. Do you hear me, show? NOT AT ALL.
• When the doctors find out they have a paper due in three days, the majority of them grumble, but Maggie’s response? “MLA or APA style?” Be still my heart.
• The intern who whispers, “I love you, too” as Jackson walks away is living my dream in that moment. Like, an actual, specific dream.
Sob Scale: 3/10
“Maybe This Time” from Cabaret always makes me tear up, but little Kimmy singing it all alone with that mask over her head hit me where it hurts. WE MUST SAVE LITTLE KIMMY.