Grey’s fam, it’s been two months since last we gathered on this sacred recap ground to spiritually hold hands as we gasped, laughed, and sobbed our way through a Grey’s Anatomy episode. Two whole months! Though many things have changed in our own world since we last checked in with our favorite hot, drama-loving doctors, we arrive back at Grey Sloan Memorial exactly where we left off: With Jo racing to tell Alex not to give that cute kid with thick-blood disease heparin or risk killing him, but getting delayed by running directly into her terrible, abusive, stalker husband Dr. Paul Stadler.
I’ll be honest: This episode does not do the cleanest job juggling its major shifts in tone. We go from a very harrowing portrayal of domestic abuse to things like … people flirting in towels? And Bailey trying to one-up the FBI? Not that I don’t love watching Bailey outsmart The Man, but it’s enough to cause some whiplash. However, Jo’s story line by itself is done so well that I can forgive the episode’s shortcomings. (Let’s not overlook the episode title, “1-800-799-7233” which is the phone number for the National Domestic Violence Hotline. It’s a nice touch that deserves to be repeated here.)
I know we rag on Jo from time to time because she can be whiny and annoying and because Stephanie was clearly too good for her, but this story line is as important as it is difficult to watch, and Camilla Luddington gives a powerful performance in this episode.
The wizards over at Shondaland toss in a few surprise elements when it comes to Jo facing her abuser. First, Paul has not arrived at Grey Sloan Memorial alone. He’s brought along his fiancée, Jenny (Bethany Joy Lenz). The two of them were just overjoyed to get Jo’s divorce papers because now they can finally get married. Such lovebirds! Paul’s only been around for 60 seconds and I am already creeped out by this dude.
The other surprise is that Dr. Paul Stadler is a globally renowned, revered surgeon. Arizona and Webber are both big fans of his work. In fact, when Paul notices the crisis Grey Sloan is currently in — hackers have the hospital hostage, remember? There are no charts! No monitors! No access to blood! Things are dire, people! — he asks Webber if he can lend a hand. Anyone else’s stomach turn as AZ and Webber fawned over the guy? It’s an effective way to show just how charming a creep like that can be.
So, now the guy has surgical privileges. Thank Shonda that Paul gets sent to an OR run by Meredith Grey. She’s still working on her splenectomy, and Glasses the Intern (a.k.a. Specs a.k.a. Blood Bank) has fainted after donating blood to the patient, so Paul steps in. He attempts to be all charming and kind-hearted and “congratulations on your Harper Avery,” but Meredith shuts him down hard, like the badass she is. She’s friends with Jo Wilson and she knows exactly who Paul Stadler is. A lot of tense things have happened over an open body cavity on this show, but this back-and-forth is one of the best.
Paul goes immediately into his second phase of attack, which is to inform people that Jo is unstable. That Jo is a drunk. That Jo really needs help. Again, this won’t work on Meredith. A terrified Jo sits in the operating gallery and listens to the entire exchange. In one of the most moving moments of the episode, she finds Meredith after the surgery to refute what Paul said, and Meredith embraces her. Meredith knows who Jo is.
Meredith is a superhero in this episode (also, every episode), and as she, Jo, and Alex attempt to make a plan to tackle the situation, it becomes clear that Alex and his temper need to stay away from Paul. But Jo will never be alone with him, because Meredith is standing by her side. The two ladies meet with Paul to officially sign the divorce papers. The nightmare should be finally over … except Jo gets a glimpse of Paul walking out the door with Jenny, and Jo knows she has to try and save this woman from the monster she is going to marry.
Jo and Meredith have Arizona distract Paul by (fake) fan-girling all over him, giving Jo time to talk to Jenny alone. Jo tells her all about how Paul would manipulate her into thinking she was crazy, about how his verbal and physical abuse grew and grew, about how he kicked her so hard she ended up with broken ribs because he saw a man’s name in her email. Jenny’s reaction runs the gamut from, “You are as crazy as Paul said” to her eyes screaming “Help me, please!” Jo gives Jenny her phone number and address just before he returns. (Arizona is pretty terrible at creating a diversion, not a surprise.)
The horror show isn’t over, though.
For reasons yet to be fully unpacked, Jenny tells Paul what Jo said, and he finds Jo and Meredith alone in the residents’ locker room. Paul immediately gets angry, and we get a front-row seat to the awful kind of emotional abuse Jo suffered while married to him. Now, thanks to the information she gave to Jenny, he knows exactly where to find Jo, should he ever want to. Obviously, this puts Jo into a panic. Alex promises her that she is safe. She just wishes Paul were dead.
Suddenly, it’s a sunny new day in Seattle! Superhero Meredith has helped vanquish the bad guy from her kingdom! She strolls into the hospital to find Jo and Alex holding each other. They’re looking on in disbelief at a hit-and-run victim who’s being worked on in the ER. That victim is Paul Stadler.
Well, this doesn’t look good.
• Two doctors covered in blood after the helicopter ride from hell could be a harrowing incident, but instead, it turns into a Jackson-and-Maggie flirt-fest. They spend a good portion of the episode wearing just towels! They also talk openly about how complicated a romantic relationship would be, but don’t go further than that. Obviously it will be going further than that, regardless of how anyone else (or this recapper) feels about it.
• Maggie calls Jackson “the human superlative” after learning about his charmed high-school experience. It is the greatest summation of Jackson Avery in history.
• When Bailey realizes the FBI isn’t moving fast enough, she enlists the help of an intern who has a background in cybersecurity, by which he means he was convicted of hacking into a federal server. Whatever his methods, they work. As ridiculous as this story line is, it does end on a nice button: The federal server the intern hacked into was the DMV, and he did it because he’s transgender and his driver’s license listed him as female. The DMV wouldn’t change it, so he did.
• Not that anyone seems to care, including their doctors, but there were an awful lot of patients’ lives hanging in the balance over the winter hiatus. Don’t worry, everyone lives! Including the precocious little Frankie and his thick blood.
• Has April’s face ever lit up as much as it did when Webber secretly tricked her into taking on the logistics for Bailey’s surgical-award competition?
• Team Trauma is back! I missed them!
• Are we invested in the DeLuca and Sam story? Jury’s still out. Are we invested in the fact that Webber calls them out for repeatedly, and loudly, getting it on within the walls of Grey Sloan Memorial? I mean, obviously.