Maximum and Maternal SecurityGrey’s Anatomy Proves It’s Still Unafraid to Ask Dark Questions

The queen of Thursday night drama, Shonda Rimes, has made use of her primetime power by diving into controversial plotlines.  Racism, Ferguson, rape, political corruption, gun violence, and abortion are only a handful of themes that have emerged from her signature shows. This past Thursday, the 3-part empire—Grey’s Anatomy, Scandal, and How to Get Away with Murder—returned after a laborious hiatus. Rimes’s TGIT line up consisting of female leads continue to orchestrate a rare symphony of feminist empowerment that has pushed mainstream culture to contend with new definitions of leadership, fulfillment, and identity. 

True to form, Rimes and her casts came roaring back with an unmistakable promise for viewers: TGIT ain’t never scared to broach the fears, struggles and questions we toe in real life. Rimes shows us that she’s listening to the pulse of America by turning this question on its head: does fiction mimic reality or reality mimic fiction? 

What we wouldn’t give to be a fly in the writers room as Rimes postures her female character leads to take America to task by making us interrogate ourselves. Just who do we think we are, TGIT seems to be asking, and just at the time when it seems like no one knows for certain. This week, the focus turns to Grey’s Anatomy with one distinct theme of mothering that could not go ignored in Shondaland.  [Alert: spoilers ahead!]

Episode: “Maximum Security”

Baily, Arizona, and Jo are called for a special procedure in an abysmal maximum security women’s jail to do a special operation on a pregnant inmate, Kristin, a 16 year old whose crime is never disclosed. In the course of the plot, we learn that Bailey is curiously bankrupt of any sympathy for Kristin, who is labeled a “K-10;” a label for the most violent prisoners.  Viewers are also shown the extent to which prisoners are limited in food, drink, and nourishment, not by choice, but by state regulation. The image of a shackled teen giving birth with bruised wrists is hardly a scene that will be soon forgotten by viewers, and the head-to-head conversation between two powerful Black women in charge, Chief Baily and the prison’s doctor Dr. Eldredge, brings to light the complexities and scarcity in the medical system, particularly when the person who needs more medical attention is incarcerated.

As the operation and stress of the procedure turn into an early delivery, the doctors learn that Kristin’s mother arrives.  Kristin’s mother states she has come for the baby and viewers think she is there to follow the plan agreed upon by Kristin: she will adopt her granddaughter as her own and then bring her for visits so Kristin can see her.  But the mom has different plans. Not only will she not see Kristin while she is giving birth, Arizona learns that she plans to adopt her granddaughter and never return for maternal visits.

The doctors try to keep it a secret from Kristin, but Jo eventually spills the beans and a collective heartbreak occurred when Kristin holds her daughter for the first and last time to say goodbye and wishes her a life she will never be a part of or know.

Feminists’ take home question: When we say we support mothers, are we including incarcerated mothers and pregnant inmates?  What about their health care and the resources allocated for their livelihood?

by Lisa Factora-Borchers
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Lisa Factora-Borchers is the formal editorial director at Bitch Media. Her work is widely published and she is the editor of the anthology, Dear Sister: Letters from Survivors of Sexual Violence.



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