The episode “Silent All These Years” of Grey’s Anatomy (season 15, episode 19) is remarkable. With women writers, a woman directing, and a cast made largely of women, this episode is proof of the power in letting women tell their stories. Spoilers everywhere ahead.
Grey’s Anatomy has been building up to this for years. Jo Karev (Camilla Luddington) has been searching for her past. In this episode, her personal storyline runs parallel with a case in the hospital.
We jump back and forth between Jo’s first meeting with her biological mom Vicki (Michelle Forbes) and the situation in the hospital. The story Jo hears from her biological mother is not a good one. Jo was the result of a rape.
Jo’s entire past is one of violence: her birth, her terrible childhood in foster care, her marriage to a violent abuser. Only in the past couple of years has she found any kind of stable, happy life.
Abby (Khalilah Joi) comes into the hospital. Jo is the first person she sees. Jo takes her to ER for a cut on her cheek. She quickly realizes Abby was violently sexually assaulted. She’s hurt everywhere and has life threatening internal injuries.
As Jo works to help Abby, she becomes the one person Abby trusts. Abby holds her hand for over 24 hours before Abby lets go. Only Dr. Quadri (Sophia Ali) and Dr. Altman (Kim Raver) are allowed near Abby.
As they try to convince Abby to let them do a rape kit, Jo reveals her own personal story to Abby. Abby knows that any rape kit will probably be shelved in a police station and never processed. She knows she will be blamed for the rape, not her attacker. Jo promises they will keep it safe for her until such time as she’s ready to talk to the police.
The moments when Vicki reveals the horrors of her rape and when Abby recounts her story are powerful and exquisitely done. The truth in their faces and stories is undeniable.
When Abby finally agrees to let them do the rape kit, they ask her consent for every step. “Are you ready?” they ask, for each new item they collect. “Yes,” she must answer aloud.
When they finish and want to take her to surgery, she’s afraid to go outside the room. She’s afraid to see any men’s faces.
The women caring for Abby organize a wall of women for Abby to pass as she moves from her room to the elevator. It’s a wall of support. Women supporting women. When the door opens and Abby looks down the hall at all those women, once again she’s asked, “Are you ready?” She answers, “Yes.”
As she’s wheeled down the hall, you can see Abby finally take a breath that feels safe.
Watch this clip of the scene.
The idea for this story was explained in an interview with showrunner Krista Vernoff in The Hollywood Reporter:
. . . the Christine Blasey Ford testimony happened and the Kavanaugh confirmation happened. I felt that through my whole body — the way a lot of women did. She got up and told her truth and a lot of pundits questioned whether she knew what she was talking about or if she could be believed or remember the face of someone who attacked her years ago. It was a pretty powerful moment to watch all of that. I felt that the most damaging thing that happened in all that is that young women and men everywhere were told that consent was irrelevant. I don’t approach storytelling through issues; we usually approach through character. But I wrote to the writers and said, “We have to find a way to come at this through character. We have to do something about consent and try to do our part to explain what consent is and how impactful rape is and how it can damage people for years, decades and generations.” We had to use our platform to do something. The same day, I got an email from Camilla, who was at home crying [amid the hearings] and who also felt like we had to do something. She said, “I know we’re introducing Jo’s mother this season. What if Jo is a product of rape?” I said yes immediately.
Debbie Allen directed this episode. Elizabeth R. Finch was the chief writer. (The woman on the right helping pull the gurney down the hall is Elizabeth Finch.) I think they both deserve Emmy nominations for this episode. Speaking of Emmy nominations, Khalilah Joi was fantastic as Abby.
Only a group of women could tell a story this way. With sensitivity and love, it showed how painful and debilitating rape is. It showed how to talk to and support survivors. It showed what consent is and how it looks and sounds.
A little backstory
Thanks to Twitter, here’s a bit of backstory and on the set frivolity.
Director Debbie Allen explains how she’s planning the shot of the wall of women.