Grey's Anatomy Season 13 Episode 11 Recap: "Jukebox Hero"

The first rule of Grey’s Anatomy is that no form of transportation is safe -- especially not cars. It’s a holy truth that is undeniable, unavoidable, and almost always expected. If at any point a character enters a car, a plane, or a train, or a boat, they are almost certainly doomed. For 13 seasons, Grey’s Anatomy has capitalized on transportation disasters, and they’ve given the show some of their most iconic moments. Who could forget the early series couple stuck together on an operating table with a pole holding them together? Or the ill-planned airplane crash that endangered half the staff?

The car crash is a tried and true form, and tonight’s episode “Jukebox Hero,” proved that XXXX. Early in the episode, we meet Mindy Wallace (Kate Miner), a pregnant woman in labor who is being transported to the hospital via what the show calls a taxi but seems to be an Uber. The driver, obviously freaked that a woman is maybe giving birth in his car, has somehow gotten on videochat with Arizona Robbins (Jessica Capshaw) who is advising her to take deep inhales. Suddenly, Mindy begins to worry that she is “crushing the baby.” Arizona knows this baby is descending into the birth canal and advises the woman to put her feet up on the dashboard.

Even before the sound of crushing metal, I was cringing. Airbags come out of dashboards, and sure enough the only characters driving got into a crash. The twist, of course, is that she wasn’t hit by just any driver, but by her own husband in a desperate mad dash to get to her bedside. Her feet, up on the dashboard, drove her thighs into her pregnant stomach and broke her pelvis.

This is supposed to be the emotional crux of the episode, presumably. But as the series has evolved and characters have come and gone, Grey’s Anatomy has begun to depend more heavily on the drama between doctors than the emotional weight their characters can carry.

In the background of this episode, four (four!) different major storylines are going on. In one, Meredith Grey (Ellen Pompeo) searches desperately from jail to jail for Alex Kerev (Justin Chambers) who, as we learned last week, took a plea deal in a violent assault case. In another, Owen Hunt (Kevin McKidd) looks desperately for Amelia Shepherd (Caterina Scorsone) who is safely hiding away in another doctor’s apartment. In another, two hockey players arrive with boring but graphic wounds from a game.

In the fourth (though most interesting) storyline, former chief Dr. Richard Webber begins to wage a brutal battle against the new doctor to teach the young surgeons, Dr. Eliza Minnick (Marika Domincyk). The attendings collude in a lounge to block the new doctor and her student surgeons from every Operating Room she tries to get into. “Look she is the first black woman chief we have had at this hospital,” Dr. Avery says, providing the moral compass of the group. “I’m not exactly excited to undermine her like this.” But they all promptly ignore it, and Minnick is blocked from every OR opening of the day. The problem with this whole plot is that the stakes are entirely unclear. Though this does, obviously, make Dr. Minnick’s life more difficult than it necessarily needs to be, the true victims of this move are the surgeons who are trying to learn in this teaching hospital, a group that this show taught viewers to emotionally connect with first and foremost from its very first season.

“We all have heroes,” Meredith Grey’s voiceover said at the beginning of the episode. And Meredith Grey’s voice is supposed to tell us the theme of the episode. Who is the hero, though? Is it Meredith who gets no air time? Or Dr. Webber who is leading a resistance party? Or Arizona Robbins who is desperately trying to save a mother and a baby from a mistake she might have made?

In this episode, no one really feels like the hero. There’s a case to be made that the taxi cab driver, who worked to get the pregnant woman to the hospital, called over a doctor to help one of the wounded hockey players, and waited until the very end of the day to find out how everything turned out. But he doesn’t get enough time on the screen to really build an emotional connection, and his only true emotional connection to the story is the injured pregnant mother.

That story has all the positioning to be a great emotional drama. The mother’s pelvis is broken on top of the baby’s head, which means that the baby has to be removed via c-section and then the mother stitched back together. Grey’s Anatomy is normally pretty consistent on its second act twist: someone who was not the main patient in danger suddenly becomes the one on death row. I expected the whole episode for this twist to implicate the husband or the taxi driver (someone with a stake in the main emotional story) to be the secretly injured patient. But instead, it was just an unimportant hockey player, and the story continues.

The husband is brought into an OR to hold the hand of his wife, who is prepped for surgery and a little delirious. “There’s going to be blood, she tells him. “Don’t faint.” It’s a sweet moment, her obviously in so much pain and so worried about him; her in labor with his child and still able to notice that on his face are the marks of injury, small bloody scrapes.

Though Dr. Robbins insisted that he not tell her that he was the driver in the car that hit her potentially costing her both her baby and her own life. But he does it anyway. And then there is a baby and there is blood, and everyone is in danger. The baby has a problem and, with Alex Kerev in prison, Dr. Robbins is down a hand. She pulls it off. But not before the father gives a teary speech. “I was in a baby store, when I got the call,” the husband says. “I had just picked out a hat. This morning, I knew what my future was, and now I might not have a baby or a wife.” But it falls flat. The show didn’t build his character, or really his wife’s, enough to make that kind of emotional plea stick. Ultimately, the baby survives. The wife is stable. And everyone seems fine.

“Our heroes aren’t special,” the voiceover says as the episode closes. “They’re just people trying to survive.” And after a long day searching for Kerev at prisons across the county, Meredith goes to sit on her bed and Alex has been in her bed all day sleeping. It’s a cute moment, but not one that hits hard--nothing in this episode really did.


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