Hey, remember when we hung out with George O’Malley last week? The George O’Malley? Yeah, he’s not back this week, but I just wanted to remember that joy for like three seconds because the latest Grey’s Anatomy goes hard on the tragic COVID-19 stories, and in these quar-times you need to hold on to whatever joy you can. Right now I’m holding on to George O’Malley basking in the sun.
The silver lining, perhaps, is that the tragic pandemic stories in “Fight the Power” have nothing to do with our scrub queen Meredith Grey. She’s still sleeping the days away and is not out of trouble yet, but since she’s been put in that drug trial, her numbers are all turning around. She’s doing better. I mean, she’s still on that beach taking one-sided calls from the land of the living, but we don’t need to worry about her as much this week.
Honestly, though, it’s not much of a silver lining since instead of watching Meredith suffer, we have to watch Bailey deal with the death of her mother due to COVID-19. It’s a weepy, poignant episode, and is any show handling the pandemic as well as Grey’s Anatomy is right now?
So, yes, after Bailey forced her parents to move into an assisted living facility in Seattle, she learns that the place is having an outbreak. She calls Ben and asks him to get her parents out of there and take them to a hotel, but it’s too late: Ben shows up at Grey Sloan with Bailey’s mom, Elena; She’s COVID-positive and deteriorating fast. Bailey’s mom also has Alzheimer’s — a secret Bailey has kept from those closest to her, not wanting to bring up painful memories for Meredith and Webber — which only makes the situation more complicated. When Bailey and Maggie first start working on her, Bailey has to calm her down with a rendition of “My Girl” and you guys, if it doesn’t just make me weep both because it’s so sad and loving but also because it is exactly like Webber singing “My Funny Valentine” to Adele when she was up in the O.R. gallery, agitated and confused. Bailey talks about not wanting to bring up painful memories for her people, but what about our painful memories, Bailey? The Grey’s audience has been through enough without turning us into sob factories every time we hear “My Girl.” “My Girl,” Bailey!
Once Maggie comes back with Elena’s test results, Bailey knows: Her mother, who she is sure wouldn’t want to be put on a ventilator, won’t last through the night. In case the whole situation wasn’t heartbreaking enough, Bailey also has to grapple with the fact that her father can’t be at Elena’s side. He can’t be with the love of his life as she dies.
Oh wait! It gets more heartbreaking: Just as Bailey is telling her mother it’s okay to go, that they love her and don’t want her to be in pain and that they’ll be okay, Elena seems to have a lucid moment and tells her daughter that she’s not ready to die. She wants to go home. Bailey was just barely holding on before, so this sends her into a tailspin.
We get a lovely extended dialogue between Bailey and Maggie on a park bench as Bailey begins to process everything that’s happening. Maggie, who we watched lose her mother back in season 13, is the perfect person for Bailey to confide in at this moment. Bailey’s feeling, well, Bailey’s feeling everything. She’s confused and scared to decide her mother’s end of life care plan. She’s angry that this is happening in the first place. She feels guilty because she made her parents move to that facility. She’s sad because she’d be relieved to see her mother free from the prison of Alzheimer’s but doesn’t want her to be just another statistic about Black women in the pandemic. Bailey’s always tried to be a good, respectful daughter and here in this moment when her mother needs her the most, she feels like she’s failing.
Bailey and Maggie talk about their mothers. We saw a bit of Bailey’s relationship with Elena back in season 14 when Bailey had her heart attack and we learned that Elena was always overprotective and Bailey feared scaring her with problems. They talk about how as Black women they’ve been underestimated time and time again. How they both, in different ways, persevered because of the way their mothers raised them and how Maggie knows Elena is so proud of who Bailey is. She tells her friend that by letting her mother go, by not holding on for selfish reasons, Bailey is giving her mother a death with dignity. It’s the brave, kind choice. She’s being the good daughter she’s always wanted to be.
It still doesn’t make it any easier. Webber finds Bailey unable to walk into her mother’s room, knowing it’s the end. Bailey’s just so angry: Her mother “deserves to die surrounded by love.” She’s not a nameless, faceless patient, she’s a human being. Bailey expresses a similar sentiment in her voiceover: The people dying from COVID-19 are more than statistics and they should be remembered for the lives they lived and the people they loved. As she begins naming people in the voice over, Bailey and Webber go into the room together and Bailey sings to her mom again until she passes. The screen fills up with names of people who have been lost to COVID-19. It’s a startling, moving image. I think I’ll go lie facedown on my floor and cry into my carpet for a solid thirty now. Not even George O’Malley basking in the sun can help at the moment.
The O.R. Board
• Apparently, Catherine refuses to wear a mask properly even though as a person living with cancer she’s immunocompromised and also definitely not invincible. Jackson’s fears about his mother are only exacerbated as he watches what Bailey’s going through. Eventually, Webber convinces Catherine to be more diligent about her mask-wearing (do we really think Catherine Fox would be so cavalier about this?) by way of something to do with their sex life. He isn’t explicit with Jackson because the man has a heart, but let’s assume he threatened to withhold it.
• And it’s not lost on Jackson or Webber that half of their COVID patients are Black and brown people. “In a city that’s 7 percent Black, like how does that even compute?” Jackson asks. They have a frank conversation about being tired of people repeatedly blaming pre-existing conditions when systemic racism is very much at the root of the whole thing. “Forget the pre,” says Jackson, “it’s the existing condition. Existing while Black.”
• Okay, so there was a tiny hint of joy in this episode and it came, surprisingly, from Jo. She begins the episode as a sad sack lying in bed refusing to get up and face another day. She’s tired of no surgery and the inability to help patients and she’s definitely tired of having to walk past the refrigerator truck where they have to store bodies now. It doesn’t help that she’s still working with Val, the hepatic pregnancy woman, who still can’t see her (liver) daughter and it is repeatedly heartbreaking. Jo then gets pulled in to deliver a baby and feels joy for the first time in a while. She’s contemplating leaving surgery for obstetrics. “I want to be happy,” she tells Schmitt.
• Tom Koracick seems okay … FOR NOW. He arrives at Grey Sloan really out of it but by the time Sad Teddy comes to his side to ask for forgiveness and friendship, he seems much better. This thing could turn at any moment, so I won’t believe he’s fine until he’s out of the hospital.
• Hey, does anyone actually care about Sad Teddy being so Sad all the time? That’s not rhetorical, the answer is no.
• Oh, there was another bit of joy in this episode to cling to: Link’s face when he found out Amelia has had sex with Tom before. I mean, it didn’t bring him joy, but oh boy, it brought me some.
• Are we kind of into this new crop of interns? Dr. Khan works with Jo this week. Although he was an Attending in Pakistan and had to start over once he immigrated to the U.S. and would most likely be Jo’s superior, he is nothing but pleasant and grateful for the chance to learn from her. Also, he reminds Jo that “every day above ground is a good day” and yes, that’s from Scarface. I’ve never seen that movie but it sounds very uplifting and not at all distressing.
• Oh! My! Word! Bailey telling Meredith she misses her? And wishes she would wake up? The whole scene with Bailey talking to Meredith on the beach about needing someone who understands what it’s like to have a parent with Alzheimer’s was so emotional it almost made me forget about how we’re now on our third loved-one-with-Alzheimer’s storyline on this show.
• As a parting note: CHANDRA WILSON, EVERYBODY.