Welcome to Grand Rounds: Dissecting Grey’s Anatomy, a roundtable on Grey’s Anatomy featuring Snarky’s Machine, Tasha Fierce, Everett Maroon, Redlami, and s.e. smith. This week’s Grand Rounds is hosted by the deliciously acerbic Snarky’s Machine. Without further ado, let’s begin!
Snarky’s Machine: This week’s episode posed intriguing questions about disability and agency using several different storylines to frame the question. Which storyline do you feel was least problematic in its exploration of agency as it relates to disability? Which do you feel was most problematic? How has Grey’s, with its medical framework, reinforced dominant narratives around disability and agency?
Redlami: Maybe I’m wrong, but I thought Teddy was out of line in dictating the CF patient’s choice of partner, and holding the new lungs hostage. Of course, it had the obvious effect of the girlfriend just laying low until the surgery was completed. I found Lexie’s explanation–that there’s nothing romantic about mutual suicide—much more appropriate and sympathetic.
s.e. smith: Ahahaha “least problematic?” Let’s see, we have a good old fashioned “disabled people are not fit to be parents and should have their children taken away” storyline, a “having a disabled child would be the worst thing ever so you’d better get an amnio” storyline, and a “disabled people are not grownups who can make their own decisions, and thus need to be told how to live their lives” storyline. The show neatly reinforced the idea that disability is awful, it ruins lives, and disabled people have no agency. Good work! I will say, if I am forced to pick the “least” problematic, that at least the resolution of Kyle’s story was sound; the characters, recognizing that no, you can’t just take children away because their parents are sick, suggested making sure he gets followups at the same time his mother does. (Incidentally, since it’s clear they were bringing Kyle along to other appointments because they lack access to childcare, how come none of these high and mighty doctors noticed that growth in his neck earlier?)
Everett Maroon: For once I agreed with Dr. Stark—a social worker needed to take a look at that family, and the pressure the parents were putting on the child to maintain the stability of them all. Doctors are supposed to notice when patients are in crisis, even if it’s not always easy to call for a consult. Teddy wins the big FAIL of the week with her refusal to transplant lungs into a patient with CF unless he breaks up with his girlfriend, who also has the disease. By the end of the episode, it seems like Teddy gets her wish. I’ve heard of drug users not getting organs before, which has its own set of questions and judgments, but for Teddy to act as sole decider, based on her values, strikes me as over the line. Especially as there was no empirical evidence that the relationship between the patient and his girlfriend was making his condition worse (or hers, for that matter).
Tasha Fierce: Yeah, this ep had a whole lot ‘o’ disability going on. I was seriously shocked when Stark told Kepner et. al. to call Social Services. His inability to understand nuance in situations or show compassion really makes me wonder how someone like that could be a pediatric surgeon, but I guess that’s why he’s a surgeon and not a pediatrician. The cystic fibrosis storyline killed me. I’m already emotionally labile since it’s approaching that time of the month, so I was all weepy. I understood where Teddy was coming from, I mean it’s not fair to someone who would have respect for their new lungs for someone to accept a transplant knowing that they were going to engage in behaviors that could potentially destroy the organ. But it’s awful that they had to break up IMMEDIATELY and never see each other again. Teddy clearly didn’t relish what she had to do, but it’s her job. And of course the Alzheimer’s stories are always affecting (well, they try to be). I think the overall theme tying these stories together is that when you have a disability or even if you’re just a temporary patient, you really are at the mercy of those who are charged with treating you. Your decisions in many situations are not your own. That’s the dominant narrative around disability and agency, and I think Grey’s tries to challenge that in this ep by having peripheral characters react negatively to the controversial decisions made about disabled patients—but the writers didn’t give an actual voice to the challenge. Where’s Karev when we need him? Ha.
Snarky’s Machine: The episode also dedicates time to exploring the roles of caregivers whether they are family members, social services or romantic partners. Again, Grey’s makes some pretty interesting choices about how to position each group. Where did you find their depiction to be refreshing? Where did the depiction lacking? Do you find that Grey’s ever strikes the right balance when it seeks to depict the experiences of caregivers? How did -isms factor in to the way in which various caregivers experiences were framed?
Redlami: I thought Phil Stark was spot-on in his assessment that social workers should be relied on to better evaluate the situation. In what universe does a direct order from the head of pediatrics to contact CPS get ignored? A kid nearly died here because his parents were unable to care for his medical treatment. Where’s the Seattle Grace equivalent of Scrubs’ Ted Buckland, lecturing about lawsuits and liability?
s.e. smith: I feel like this episode leaned heavily on the “being a caregiver is a tiring burden” trope. We had Kyle’s dad clearly stretched thin and Kyle taking on responsibilities well above his pay grade, and this was framed as the fault of the mother, as opposed to the fault of a system where there is no support for disabled people and caregivers. Meanwhile, the Chief is ignoring problems with Adele’s health and seems to think that throwing other doctors at the problem will make it go away. Because, you know, being a caregiver is haaaaaard and it’s all the fault of the person who is sick or disabled.
Everett Maroon: I don’t see social services as caregivers per se, although they certainly are trained to evaluate the adequateness of caregiving, certainly more than residents would be. I do notice that Chief Webber was allowed to keep his wife’s health issues private, even as the family with the latest Alzheimer’s patient bucked under the stress of imagining what social services would do to their household. Grey’s has fashioned a rubric for who can be caretakers that is as complicated and inconsistent as the California tax code. On the one hand, GA has since the first season shown us an unending stream about the boundaries between people needing and people receiving care—a fairly blurry boundary at that—but it has collapsed repeatedly under the weight of judgmental doctors, and because we’re to identify with the doctors over the patients, it leaves viewers sensing that these judgments are okay. Whether it’s a sick son left to care for the emotional well being of his mother, a wife who must support her ailing husband—who is himself too demented to realize his love for another woman is hurtful, or Meredith’s own inability to find love from or care for her irritable, ill mother, Grey’s is ready to depict the most paranoid fantasy around illness and disease.
Tasha Fierce: All the depictions of caregivers pretty much highlighted the complicated balancing act caregivers perform between taking care of their own needs, often in the form of denial, and immersing themselves fully in taking care of their loved one. In this episode the focus was on caregivers who were unable to maintain that balance. The husband taking care of the Alzheimer’s patient juggled caring for his son, caring for his wife, and attempting to deal with his own feelings regarding his wife’s illness, and it led him to put off getting the lump in his son’s neck looked at. That put them in the situation of having to deal with outside forces policing how he cares for his son, and continues the theme of caregivers not being able to successfully maintain the balancing act. Same with the girlfriend of the cystic fibrosis patient, who put her own desire for love and companionship ahead of what would be best for her loved one after his surgery. And then there’s the Chief, who woke up to his denial of Adele’s possible dementia by the end of the episode, but in previous eps he has put his desire for Adele to be “okay” ahead of getting her the help she may need. It seemed that Grey’s portrayed the cystic fibrosis patient’s girlfriend in a more negative light, what with the yelling at her done by Lexie, Avery, and Teddy. The husband of the Alzheimer’s patient and the Chief were portrayed in a more positive light, as caregivers who needed to be protected from the consequences of their decisions.
Snarky’s Machine: Romantic relationships? Grey’s struggles to find the sweet spot in portraying “unconventional” relationships with nuance and respectfulness devoid of mockery—how successful do you think this week’s round of hookups were in resisting dominant narratives? What did you think about Stark and Kepner’s awkward interaction? How do you think it tied into the over all theme of agency explored throughout the show? Grey’s often depicts interracial couples in a favorable light yet struggles to depict partnerships of featuring other isms in a similar fashion, particularly as it relates to disability and gender identity.
Redlami: I was delighted to see Phil ask April out. I’ve always suspected that his sourness was masking some fear or insecurity, and it will be nice for him to not just be a convenient villain. On the other hand, once again Grey’s is saying “older man, younger woman, OK” where it rarely does so when the age difference is reversed.
s.e. smith: Ugh ugh ugh I got so angry about the relationship drama in this episode. There was a lot of denying agency to the women, whether it’s Mark and Arizona fighting over the baby, Derek getting huffy that Meredith didn’t tell him about her eyes earlier, the Chief bemoaning the situation with Adele while playing golf on the roof with his buddies, or Owen yelling at Cristina because she knows what she wants from life, and children aren’t part of that. I think that this material is being presented critically, though; we are supposed to be angry about it, we are supposed to cringe at the lack of respect for bodily autonomy and reproductive rights, and I hope Grey’s takes these storylines somewhere interesting.
The Stark and Kepner interaction was really fascinating. I like that we are seeing more sides of him and that he was clearly awkward, but also trying to be respectful. Unlike everyone else on this show, he clearly has some conflicted feelings about bringing the romance at work. I will be intrigued to see where we go with it, because she clearly seemed interested! Grey’s seems to have trouble with younger woman-older man, so…
Everett Maroon: I for one think it could work between Stark and Kepner! And I’m happy to see Lexie moving on, especially with Avery. Why not put two of the most misunderestimated characters on the show together? Mazel tov! And yes, interracial couples are well explored on Grey’s, which is refreshing. It’s been a long time since Captain Kirk sucked face with Lt. Uhura.
Tasha Fierce: Oh, the Stark-Kepner thing is gold. I mean, since Grey’s has no problem hooking up two people whose relationship is unbalanced in terms of power, why not let April actually get some from a guy who’s into her and not going to leave her laying there half naked while insulting her because she’s a virgin? Well, maybe that will end up happening again, but let’s have hope. The end scene with Lexie and Avery in the shower made me giggle; go Lexie for movin’ on up in terms of attractiveness—at least I think so.
Snarky’s Machine: Last week bisexuality was given rare, nuanced, and somewhat respectable treatment on the show, however, this week it seems discussion of bisexuality has gone back to familiar territory. What are your thoughts on Callie and Arizona’s interactions about Callie’s pregnancy? In what ways are Arizona and Mark seeking to exert control over Callie’s body and choices? Did you feel that Callie’s voice was being heard?
Redlami: I was surprised by Callie’s retreat after claiming dominion over her body, with Mark basically imposing a “one adult, one vote” regime. This week’s episode seemed to be about exploring the degree to which men have an interest (if not always a say) in the birthing process. Unfortunately at this point it appears that if men (Mark and Owen) feel they’re not being heard, they can just talk longer and louder until they wear the women down.
s.e. smith: See above. No, I jest. This whole storyline is pissing me off. Mark and Arizona are both being possessive and nasty, and I like that Callie is standing her ground and saying over and over that this is her body, and her choice, and she gets to make the decisions. Mark moaning about “not getting a vote” just makes me roll my eyes so hard, I can see my frontal lobe. Her voice is being heard by me as a viewer, but I don’t think the characters are hearing it, given how proprietary both continue to be. And Arizona whining about this not being what she signed up for, well, that’s how the cookie crumbles, girlfriend.
Everett Maroon: Let’s give the vagina five votes. And let me be among the first to pony up for a first-class ticket to Africa for Arizona! Of course she chose this life with Mark and Callie! I am so over her. Callie needs to start dating the baby doctor.
Tasha Fierce: Ugh, the “bi dream come true” comment almost had me throwing my yogurt at the screen. Really? Do you really think all bi chicks are dreaming of having a demanding babydaddy, an unplanned pregnancy, and a bitter girlfriend? Not my idea of a good time, sorry. Take the babydaddy, the girlfriend, throw on some Marvin Gaye and point me to a king size bed and you’re getting closer to my “bi dream come true.” Honestly, I’ve had it up to here with the biphobia. As far as Mark and Arizona exerting control over Callie’s body, I think in the end Callie makes her own decisions so those two can just blather on all they want. It’s incredibly annoying to be followed around by two arguing people all the time, so in that way they’re exerting control over Callie’s headspace. Still, though, I loved when Mark got all upset and started yelling about how he’s the dad, blah blah, his opinion matters. I just find him so amusing even when he’s acting all bananas. And Arizona? Callie needs to hand her a freaking ladder already or Arizona needs to back the f out of the relationship again if she’s going to be all bitter about this not being her dream.
About your bloggers:
Snarky’s Machine is the founder of the pop culture site I Fry Mine in Butter.
Everett Maroon is a Seattle-based writer, focusing on popular culture commentary, speculative fiction, and memoir. His interests include the interrelationships of characters on Grey’s Anatomy, Dr. Bailey, behind-the-scenes politics, and Dr. Bailey.
Tasha Fierce blogs about politics, fashion and whatever she wants at Red Vinyl Shoes.
s.e. smith is a cantankerous, cat-wearing, pop culture-loving, pants-eschewing philistine from the wilds of Northern California with a compendium of largely useless random knowledge and a typewriter that doesn’t know when to quit. smith writes at this ain’t livin’.
Redlami turns numbers into stories and is the resident tech geek at I Fry Mine in Butter.