Grey’s Anatomy is not afraid to take on the heavy subject matter in 2018. If you’re still drained from last week’s intense episode about domestic abuse (I’m still thinking about Camilla Luddington’s performance), you’ll find no release in “Personal Jesus.” Not only is Dr. Stadler still around and able to cause fear from his hospital bed, but Grey’s also uses a patient story to dive into police bias and what the Black Lives Matter movement stands for.
The focus of this episode is very much April Kepner’s crisis of faith (she even gets voice-over duty!), but I think it’s important we wrap up the Jo, Jenny, and Dr. Stadler of it all first. As much as I found April’s story moving, and the police bias story line especially important and well done, I wish Grey’s had saved it for its own episode. These stories deserve to stand on their own, is all I’m saying.
So yes, we find Paul Stadler where we left him: In a Grey Sloan trauma room after being involved in a hit-and-run accident. The promos for the episode made Jo and Alex’s fate seem much more precarious than how things really go down, though. Did we really think Grey’s would put Alex through more legal trouble? I mean, maybe. But Meredith’s repeated urging that Alex and Jo take a little trip to Canada aside, the show doesn’t go there. And no, Jenny doesn’t turn them in either. She genuinely thinks Jo hit Paul, but she isn’t angry. She’s grateful.
They get word that Paul has suffered a concussion, but he’ll be fine. And so, Jo and Jenny finish that heart-to-heart they began last week. Jenny apologizes to Jo because Jo was right — she fell for Paul’s act, too. She feels stupid and is in disbelief that she could’ve let herself get into this type of relationship. But Jo understands because Paul was charming and persuasive. They didn’t fall in love with an abuser; they fell in love with a man who made them feel wanted. “The good outweighed the bad, until it didn’t,” she says. It can’t be understated how important it is to have this exact conversation on television.
Jenny, with Jo and Meredith at her side, tells Paul that she’s reporting him to the cops. We get to see his entire villainous routine play out in real time. First, he tries to win Jenny over with compliments and charm. Then he tells her she’s crazy. (One of the best moments of the night is all three women in the room, united, telling Paul that he’s wrong.) Then he lunges for her. It’s the last time Paul will ever threaten Jenny, or anyone else for that matter. Because he hits his head and goes brain dead.
Since Jo is still legally his wife, it’s up to her to decide if they are going to leave him on the ventilator or not. She laughs until she cries when she realizes this cosmic joke. In the end, Jo wants some good to come from all the pain she and Jenny have suffered because of Paul, and decides to donate his organs. And now they are free.
On the opposite end of the relief spectrum is April Kepner. April is a divisive character on Grey’s, but hopefully this episode (and Sarah Drew’s performance) will change that perspective. We watch April go through a day in which her faith suffers blow after blow, until there is none left. Her voice-over tells the biblical story of Job, who receives four messages telling him he’s lost everything, and yet he remains faithful to God and is rewarded for that faith.
April gets four messages to test her faith, too.
The first comes from Karen Taylor, a woman in labor who comes into the ER and is quirky and a little weird and religious. She is basically an April clone, which is extra funny (or sad, depending on your outlook) when we discover that Karen is married to Matthew — yes, April’s jilted fiancé, Matthew. He’s back, guys! And he is not happy to see that April is the one delivering his wife’s baby. It’s about as awkward as it gets.
But I was pleasantly surprised to see Matthew. Mainly because he never got to say his peace post-Japril wedding fiasco, and as much as I love my #Japril, the guy deserves some closure. Of course, kind Matthew isn’t mean about it. When he’s alone with April, yes, he is obviously scarred by what she did, but he met the love of his life in Karen, and so did April, right? He also heard she was pregnant three years ago, so everything worked out how it was supposed to, right? Matthew believes that God took something painful and turned it into something beautiful. He, of course, doesn’t know that #Japril is no more and that they tragically lost their first child. April has to stand there in silence while being reminded of all the pain she’s suffered. But at least Matthew has Karen, and now their baby.
Until, that is, Karen’s blood pressure spikes and she starts bleeding out in Arizona’s OR. She has preeclampsia. April wants to do something to help, but Arizona basically tells her this is her fault and orders her to leave. April is useless.
The second of April’s messages arrives in a 12-year-old gunshot victim named Eric. He was shot by police as he was climbing through the window of a house. It turns out that it was his own house and he forgot his keys. He was shot because he is black. Bailey and Jackson are his doctors, and they are angry. Angry that an unarmed 12-year old comes into the ER handcuffed and the police only refer to him as “the suspect.” Angry that the police refuse to admit their bias and merely claim, “We were just doing our job.” Angry that this is the norm.
Jackson tells a story about being a black teenager living in an upper-middle-class neighborhood and being arrested for simply “fitting the description.” Bailey and Ben recognize that they need to have “the talk” with 13-year-old Tuck, something they’ve been dreading. This version of “the talk” is yet another important conversation that needs to be seen on television. It’s the talk about how Tuck, as a young black kid, needs to act if he’s ever arrested. He needs to be polite, clearly state what he’s doing, and never, ever run. They aren’t trying to scare him, and they aren’t trying to say there’s something wrong with him. They are trying to keep their perfect, beautiful son safe. Tuck only appears in two scenes in this episode: In the first, he’s just a kid doing science experiments with Maggie; the second is this conversation with Bailey and Ben. The juxtaposition of the two is heartbreaking.
Back in the OR, Eric, like Karen, seems okay until things unexpectedly go wrong. Again, April wants to help, but Bailey and Jackson don’t need her help. Again, she is useless. April can’t do anything to stop Eric, an innocent kid, from dying. She can’t do anything to stop Karen from dying either, or Matthew from feeling that terrible pain.
Reeling from those losses, April gets another message when she learns that Paul Stadler, her patient who was completely fine when she sent him for a CT, has also inexplicably died. And she gets a fourth from a 20-year-old man named David, who takes the Bible literally and has attempted to cut off his hand because he was tempted to masturbate too much. If there wasn’t so much tragedy going on in Grey Sloan, this story line would be a hoot. Instead, David ends up getting into a heated discussion with April about the Bible. She tells him the Bible is full of stories and metaphors and things aren’t meant to be taken so literally, that it is meant to be followed “within reason.” People don’t go chopping babies in half! But David responds with a question: If that’s true, and the word of God is just stories, what’s the point of anything?
You know things are bad when perky, optimistic, “God doesn’t give us anything we can’t handle” April Kepner has nothing left to say. It’s been a day full of losses and injustice, and it’s been too much even for her. She feels forsaken. She wants to know how God could possibly let all this suffering happen.
And then you know things are really bad, because instead of praying in the hospital chapel, April ends up at the bar, drinking away her sorrows. She looks numb as she knocks back a drink. And she looks more numb as she stands in the shower with a hot intern she hooked up with. April’s faith has been tested and now it is gone. Have we ever seen dark April before? This is new territory for Grey’s Anatomy.