I'm still wrapping my head around last night's surprise return of Paul Stadler (Matthew Morrison) on Grey's Anatomy, in part because I want the show to unfurl the rest of that storyline immediately rather than dropping it at the end of the winter finale, so I have to wait a couple of months to see where it goes. And in part because the #MeToo movement has made the stakes for how this story plays out for Jo Wilson (Camilla Luddington) so high.
Since we started outing the abusive behavior of men, I'm now in multiple secret and closed Facebook groups with women to talk about how sexual misconduct has affected our lives, our work, and our psyches. We use these spaces to hash out the headlines, and there is a new headline every day, in which another man is accused of or apologizing for his misconduct. We use them to decide if we're going to come forward, to speak on the record about our aggressors and share information about which men to avoid. We use them to share after we have reported men and hash out the reaction. We talk about how triggering the news cycle is — sometimes one of us has to declare that she is going offline for awhile because she's taken in as much as she can handle. We support each other.
Grey's Anatomy has a history as a show of being tragedy porn, specifically targeting Meredith Grey (Ellen Pompeo). In the past, it made for good, if sometimes over the top, dramatic TV. But the world for women, who comprise the bulk of Grey's devoted audience, has changed. Everyone is carrying around the weight of the news cycle these days. Everyone is coming to terms with their past abusive relationships or encounters. Everyone is unpacking the tragedy in their own lives, now that we've shined a light on it by finally outing so many high-profile predators. Grey's absolutely has to take that into consideration when framing the return of Wilson's physically abusive ex.
It is my sincere hope that the show doesn't drag this storyline out into a long terrorizing of her, and that they give Wilson a storyline that is empowering. What women want is for Wilson, as their avatar, to be like Wonder Woman. To be like Gamora in Guardians of the Galaxy. To be like Furiosa in Mad Max. To be a woman who kicks ass, but has all the emotional complexity and scars to handle what we all do without letting it make her fragile and breakable.
Anything else might be unwatchable for many of us.
Showrunner Krista Vernoff gave me some hope when she told TVLine at the show's 300th episode party, "…[W]e are facing the issue of domestic violence head-on. I’ve talked a lot about how this season [we’re refocusing the show on] fun and joy and laughter, and my commitment has been to make sure there’s laughter in every episode — even the ones where the stories that we’re telling are quite painful and quite dark. My hope is that women will come out of this story feeling empowered. I’m really proud of this story."
We know, after the season 13 finale in which Alex Karev (Justin Chambers) tracks Paul down and ultimately doesn't beat him to a pulp, that he isn't going to. That leaves the door open for Wilson to do it herself. The show has been quietly establishing that she's a highly confident person this season, specifically in her relationship with Alex where she is quietly never jealous when women flirt with him, as well as in her new role as Chief Resident. There was a whole arc in episode 6 dedicated to Meredith telling Wilson that she has earned her respect. The show's writers have been setting her up to shine. So, for all of us who need it, let her swiftly and stunningly be the master of her own destiny.
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