Going into Thursday night’s Grey’s Anatomy, fans knew to expect an emotional hour of television from “Silent All These Years.” Not only would beloved Grey Sloan doctor Jo Wilson (Camilla Luddington) finally meet her mother, but their long-awaited reunion would have a dark undertone of the #MeToo movement’s many stories of survival.
However, no matter how much a viewer prepared themselves, it’s unlikely they could keep their composure during season 15’s latest episode. Jo’s mother, Vicki Ann Rudin (Michelle Forbes), reveals Dr. Wilson-Karev was conceived during a rape. Jo informs her mom she was in an abusive marriage, which viewers are already painfully aware of. Then, Jo drops what may be the final major secret of her past: She had an abortion.
It’s a clear-eyed revelation that clarifies Jo’s past, present, and future.
“I was seven weeks pregnant when my ex-husband cracked my ribs and threw me across the living room floor,” Jo tells her mother. In that moment, the doctor, who grew up in violent foster care homes until deciding to live in her car, decided she couldn’t bring a baby into her current dangerous situation. She also couldn’t leave, since Paul Stadler (Matthew Morrison) would probably kill her if she tried. “You had an abortion,” Vicki surmises. She is correct.
While Jo has spoken about her history as a domestic abuse survivor repeatedly, this is the first time Grey’s fans have ever heard about the abortion. Even Jo isn’t sure why she kept that part of her past secret. Because, like the Shrill and Sex Education women who came before her in this TV year, Jo isn’t “ashamed” of her procedure, as she says. “I’ve never told anyone that. I don’t know why,” Jo tells her mom. “I did what I had to do.”
While Jo doesn't feel guilt over her abortion, it may explain a piece of her apprehension about expanding her family with new husband Alex Karev (Justin Chambers). Over the last few episodes, Jo has cited her fears about her genetics and mysterious family history as the reason she isn’t ready to jump into motherhood just yet. As we’ve seen with her interest in DNA testing, that is certainly true. But, it’s possible Jo also isn’t ready to bring a new life into this world with someone she hasn’t spoken to about her last pregnancy. Jo doesn’t have to tell Alex anything about her abortion, yet this last secret may be be the final unseen wall in their relationship. It's a wall Jo may not even realize she has standing.
Unfortunately, the Karevs, formerly blissful newlyweds, are speaking even less than they were before Jo met her mother. While his wife refuses to tell a concerned Alex what is wrong, it’s evident she isn’t ready to speak about her delicate origins. As Vicki tells Jo, she kept the baby following her assault, but hid the pregnancy from loved ones and friends. Vicki spent those nine months terrified her child would be a boy and resemble her attacker. However, once Jo was born, Vicki fell in love with her daughter. Still, she couldn’t shake her resentment for Jo and, not in her “right mind,” abandoned the infant at a fire station.
Between her newly revealed secret and all of this traumatizing news, Jo is understandably bottling up too much to handle. She simply wants to go home alone and sleep, as she tells Alex in the last scene of “Silent.”
For fans hoping this emotional weight disappears quickly, you are not in luck. “It became clear from Camilla's performance that Jo was going to have to process this in really profound ways,” showrunner Krista Vernoff told The Hollywood Reporter of the episode’s lasting aftermath. “We're telling a story about trauma and a story about depression. Things tend to get worse before they get better.”
But, it’s likely things will in some way eventually get better. As Jo’s portrayer Camilla Luddington told Entertainment Tonight, “She has to, at some point, tell everybody. But it's so painful that there is going to be a time where you see that she is trying to process the information by herself before she tells other people.”
It appears some of that growth will start with next week’s “The Whole Package.” The trailer for the episode shows Jo sharing some difficult family details with Atticus “Link” Lincon (Chris Carmack), an old friend from med school who knew Jo during her first marriage. The short clip previews Jo breathing, “My father.” It's all but assured the end of that sentence will be about the dead man's rapist past.
If you have experienced sexual violence and are in need of crisis support, please call the RAINN Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).