Jackson Is Officially Leaving Grey’s Anatomy. The Meaning Behind His Exit Is Powerful

Photo: Courtesy of ABC.
Thursday night’s new Grey’s Anatomy episode, “Look Up Child,” immediately feels different. The installment forgoes a traditional narration from star Ellen Pompeo in favor of one from Jesse Williams as his longtime character Jackson Avery. Grey’s Anatomy fans know such an honor is only handed down for a major episode. Sometimes it foreshadows something horrible — Patrick Dempsey narrates the season finale that features his character’s near-fatal shooting — and sometimes it’s fun (see: the male cast-focused “What is It About Men”). 
The reason for Williams' narration in “Look Up Child" ended up being poignant. Just as the episode began to air, news broke that Williams would be leaving Grey’s Anatomy permanently, thereby ending Jackson’s tenure on the series. It's official: Jackson Avery is exiting Grey’s Anatomy; his final appearance will be in ABC medical drama’s next episode, airing May 20. 
After a pair of abrupt cast exits from Justin Chambers and Giacomo Gianniotti, Grey’s Anatomy has ensured Jackson’s farewell will at least hold a powerful meaning for everyone watching — one that also suggests a reunion between Jackson and his longtime love interest April Kepner (Sarah Drew).  
“As an actor, director and person, I have been obscenely lucky to learn so much from so many and I thank our beautiful fans, who breathe so much energy and appreciation into our shared worlds,” Williams said in a statement obtained by The Hollywood Reporter. “The experience and endurance born of creating nearly 300 hours of leading global television is a gift I’ll carry always. I am immensely proud of our work, our impact and to be moving forward with so many tools, opportunities, allies and dear friends.”
Interestingly, Jackson the character is also leaving Grey Sloan Memorial Hospital to focus on “impact” and “moving forward.” Jackson starts “Look Up Child” still reeling from his sudden disillusionment over the influence of his family’s Catherine Fox Foundation in the face of a global pandemic. Jackson goes to his estranged biological father Robert Avery (Eric Roberts) to figure out if he should also turn away from his legacy. The conversation instead convinces Jackson to lean into the power available to him. By the end of the episode, Jackson decides to move to Boston to run the foundation himself. Jackson’s ex-wife April — who is freshly split from her husband Matthew (Justin Bruening) — agrees to move with Jackson to Boston to allow them to continue co-parenting in the same city. 
Considering April’s new breakup and Jackson’s single status, we’re meant to believe a prospective romantic reconciliation is in the cards for them. This is especially true since April mentions her sexual chemistry with Jackson — despite other foundational problems in the relationship — directly before admitting her current marriage is over. 
While Japril shippers are happy to know the fan-favorite couple is on the way to a possible happily ever after, Grey’s goes out of its way to confirm Jackson’s move isn’t just about his love life. “I can use this as an opportunity to make some profound changes in the world,” Jackson tells April, promising, “I’m not running from something. I’m running to something.” 
Jackson specifies what, exactly, he’s running towards during a conversation with his mother Catherine Fox (Debbie Allen). Jackson points out the devastatingly oversized harm the COVID-19 pandemic has inflicted on people of color, particularly Black people. He then cites his dreams to create “real racial equity in medicine,” improve care for transgender people, and fix women’s health (earlier this season Jackson similarly pointed out the glaring crisis that is the Black maternal mortality rate). “Let’s challenge all the ways that we teach, everything that we’re doing,” Jackson tells his mom. “If that means dismantling the whole medical system and designing something that actually serves everyone — then that’s what I want to do. I see that now. I’m ready.” 
Thanks to this speech, the millions of people who watch, and love, Grey’s Anatomy were also called upon to consider the pitfalls and dangers of the current medical system, if only for the duration of the scene. 
Jackson’s upcoming goodbye episode, titled “Tradition,” is poised to continue these important conversations. The preview for “Tradition” shows Jackson announcing his resignation to loved ones and colleagues like Pompeo’s Meredith Grey, Miranda Bailey (Chandra Wilson), and his own step-father Richard Webber (James Pickens Jr.). Jackson will inevitably have to share at least a little of his inspiration for uprooting his life in Seattle to run a foundation on the other side of the country that he has spent decades avoiding. 
“No one said it was easy becoming the person you’re meant to be,” Jackson says in his episode-ending voiceover. “It takes bravery to step into the power you found and earned and deserved … You have an entire legacy behind you as you create your own.” 
After 12 years on Grey’s Anatomy and over 250 episodes under his belt, we have a good picture of what Jackson’s legacy will be.

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