Grey's Anatomy Season 13 Episode 16: "Civil War"

Any fight can only last so long. There's the instigating event, then the build up, then eventually all the tension just explodes. The fight itself doesn’t necessarily resolve anything. Sure, you can line up your troops, point them at one another and let them fight, but just because a victor is declared doesn’t mean that the underlying tensions don’t still exist. “You pick sides and defend them,” Meredith’s (Ellen Pompeo) voiceover says at the end of this episode. “You fight to what end?” (The episode is titled “Civil War,” after all.)
For the past eight episodes of this season, the tensions have been building in almost every arena. There have been conflicts between friends, between spouses, between teams. Anyone who could pick a fight picked one five episodes ago. This week, after a week off, I was hopeful that we would come back to a Grey’s Anatomy that was ready to move on, that could turn over some of this conflict and replace it with the emotion that has always made it a great show. Instead, this episode felt more like more and more of the same.
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Because so many fights are happening at once, it’s hard to prioritize them in any coherent manner. Not only is it difficult as a viewer to know which fight is worthy of emotional investment, the show also struggles to keep all of these storylines afloat. To start, let’s talk about the most boring of these plot lines: Amelia and Owen.
Amelia (Caterina Scorsone) and Owen (Kevin McKidd) have been fighting for so long I honestly could not remember what they were fighting about. Rereading my earlier recaps, I discovered that they're fighting because they both wanted to have kids and then Amelia didn’t and because their marriage is as fragile as glass, they haven’t even discussed it and have instead just avoided each other.
This week, Amelia returns to the ER after just not going to work for weeks with apparently no professional penalty. She does a surgery and tries to sneak out through the ER when she sees a neuro case and hops onboard even though she has to work with Owen. “Do you want to be married?” Owen asks, and Amelia says yes, but that she’s not ready to have the fight that their relationship requires to continue. And that fight is the best example of this episode’s biggest problem: None of the conflicts actually seem unresolvable.
The longest, truly never-ending saga of this season continued this week. The hospital is presumably divided into two teams: team Eliza Minnick and her new teaching philosophy, and team Richard Webber (James Pickens Jr.),and his good-ole days crew. The problem is that by this point, almost everyone who was truly on Richard Webber’s team to begin with has converted. April Kepner (Sarah Drew) ditched the minute she got power, and she and Jackson Avery are still fighting about it. Arizona Robbins (Jessica Capshaw) is still playing the part of Team Webber by offering him her couch and saying that she’s got his back. Meanwhile, though, she is literally dating Eliza Minnick (Marika Dominczyk). By the end of the episode, Webber has seen them kissing, and it’s obvious that his team is falling apart.
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The only two members left of Team Webber are Jackson Avery and Richard himself. Opposite them in the ring are their wives: April and Catherine (Debbie Allen). To begin, Jackson holds his mother’s foundation over her head and threatens to make a move through the hospital board. But honestly, you don’t need the shot-by-shot to understand how this battle goes down. The stage for the fight is an operating room, where a patient who was a victim of a deep-fryer explosion is suffering from many, many wounds and is in need of a lot of invasive surgery. This patient has a backstory, but -- despite featuring a falling out between a gay couple -- it's almost impossible to connect to it at all.
In the operating room, Jackson and his mother throw their words like knives. “Dr. Webber makes artists, Dr. Minnick makes robots,” Jackson spars. And Catherine returns with “Title doesn’t mean anything. It’s the person who owns it." And then burns her own son by saying he’s nothing more than a brilliant surgeon. Being that truly seems fine, but it doesn’t seem to be the point. The point is that there’s a fight, even though the fight doesn’t have much heft to it. The episode ends with this plot fully intact, which means we probably have at least two more episodes of it to deal with.
The only fight with any emotion is a new one between Alex Kerev and Dr. Nathan Riggs (Martin Henderson) over a tiny baby with a heart murmur. The parents of this baby, when they flip a coin to decide what to call their son, have some of the only genuine emotion that breaks through the cold hard surface of this episode. And though this story is fairly simple, it works. Alex Kerev wants to take the safe route, and Riggs wants to do a riskier heart transplant. Ultimately, Riggs wins, the transplant works, and this conflict seems to be resolved easily, a quick turnaround that didn’t drag at all.
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The episode concludes with Meredith asking “When is it time to just quit all this nonsense?” For weeks, the same question has sat with me. Ever since Meredith stepped out of the spotlight and Amelia and Owen started using the silent treatment, the show has really missed its emotional heart. This episode didn’t wrap up enough fights to move on from this stagnancy, but hopefully we’ve turned a corner. We certainly need to soon.
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