Tele Talk: Visualizing consent — why you should watch this ‘Grey’s Anatomy’ episode

A female doctor talks to a female patient who has a bloody gash on her cheek
Graphic by Nina Potischman

Content warning: sexual assault

This article contains spoilers.

So, let’s talk about “Grey’s Anatomy.”

I know, I can’t believe I’m still watching it either, but hear me out.

Last week’s episode, “Silent All These Years,” provided such intentional, compelling and necessary storytelling regarding sexual assault and consent that I highly recommend watching it, regardless of whether you’ve watched “Grey’s” before.

“Silent All These Years” kicks off with a shaken and aloof Jo, a surgical fellow at Grey Sloan Memorial Hospital. Reeling after a confrontation with her birth mother, she ignores those closest to her. Not much is known about Jo’s history, aside from the fact that she lived in her car instead of foster care and changed her identity to escape her abusive ex-husband.

Despite her state, Jo takes in a patient, Abby, who has critical wounds all across her body, but is reluctant to explain why. The episode intersperses Jo’s confrontation (when we learn that Jo was born out of sexual assault) and Abby’s treatment, drawing meaningful parallels about the longstanding mental, physical and emotional damage sustained from survivors of rape.

Overall, this episode is different from others in that it doesn’t require much context or focus on multiple patients. Abby’s story is given the full attention it deserves.

Although I won’t spoil it all, I want to highlight a few moments. First off, the cinematography, editing and acting is stunning. Often, courts or male defense attorneys will try to minimize the seriousness of rape, but the powerful ways in which this episode conveys trauma work against that particular gaslighting.

We see the world through Abby’s frantic eyes, with disoriented vision and a mind-numbing ringing reverberating through the screen; hushed, garbled voices echo until a deafening whoosh brings all noise to the forefront, making the present feel so, so painful.

We see the doctors cautiously and clinically cut Abby’s clothes off to see red — belligerent, bruising red — and we hear the pregnant silence in the room as each woman acknowledges that it could have been them. The pain Abby endures is impossible to dismiss, and the question of whether she “asked for it” seems ludicrous.

Jo’s mother reinforces how debilitating rape can be. She details the instantaneous love she felt when Jo was born, “the kind … that cracks your heart wide open,” but she couldn’t evade the potent resentment she felt. Jo was a living reminder of her assault, and so she gave her up. Viewers are able to see that rape is not just a one-off occurrence, but a psychological battle that lingers.

The episode provides multiple teaching instances, demonstrating what consent looks and sounds like, and why rape should always be condemned, regardless of circumstance. Once Abby decides, on her own terms, to use a rape kit, the doctors exercise radical consent, always asking for permission before continuing.

And so begins a heartbreaking montage of Abby’s wounds being showcased for all to see: close up pictures are taken of her with flash, her blood drawn, nails clipped, saliva taken, wounds swabbed at. She is hurt, but the strength it took to put her body under such scrutiny is undeniable.

The episode demonstrates the fierce healing that comes from women supporting other women and the power in freedom of choice, continuously featuring phrases like “it is all your choice,” and “you say no, at any time, we stop.”

The episode ends with a hopeful look to the future. Ben, another “Grey’s” character, educates his son Tuck on what consent is, assuring him that he must care for his girlfriend’s happiness and comfort equally to his own.

Jo also says that she just wants to go home and sleep, alone. And although her husband Alex is deeply concerned and wants to care for her, he ultimately respects her decision.

There is full-circle relief when these characters respect no for what it is: no.

To me, this episode reflects the importance of empowering women to create — Debbie Allen directed this episode, and Elizabeth Finch was the chief writer. Making sure to include a female perspective, an intersectional perspective, is critical to making television episodes that accurately and dutifully represents everyone.

After the Brett Kavanaugh hearing, people everywhere were shown that consent is often irrelevant, so we need the media to shout otherwise.

Even though it seems like it should be on its last legs, “Grey’s Anatomy” demonstrates that it is constantly evolving alongside its audience, seamlessly interweaving social justice learning and entertainment. That’s why it thrives.

So if you want to dismiss the clichés of a medical drama, so be it. But tune in for television that is incredibly well-shot, beautifully written and superbly empathetic.

Amber Chong SC ’22 is TSL’s TV columnist. She probably spends too much time daydreaming, but will come back to Earth to fight you for the last slice of cake.

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