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Grand Rounds: Dissecting Grey's Anatomy: Morbidity and Mortality

Welcome to Grand Rounds: Dissecting Grey's Anatomy, a roundtable on Grey's Anatomy featuring Snarky's Machine, Everett Maroon, Redlami, Tasha Fierce, and s.e. smith. This special edition of Grand Rounds is hosted by the whole crew as we look back over the last season!

Morbidity and mortality provides a chance for everyone to sit around in a conference room and talk about what everyone else did wrong. Usually the guilty parties get called up to the carpet for justice but Shonda Rhimes wasn't taking our calls, so you'll have to settle for just us chickens!

s.e. smith: Bodily autonomy, particularly in regard to reproductive rights and relationships (Cristina putting her foot down about her pregnancy, Mark magnanimously "giving Lexie up," etc.) were running themes this season. How well do you think these story lines were handled, and did you have a most and/or least favorite?

Redlami: My favorite handling of this theme was the way Callie put her foot down with Mark and Arizona about who got to make the decisions about her pregnancy.

Everett Maroon: I suppose I'd call these symptoms or moments of a larger theme this season, that of letting go. Letting go of pain and trauma, of old habits (like the Chief's alcohol problem), of loved ones who are slipping away, of relationships that aren't working (e.g. Mark and Lexie), and of opinions that have been proven wrong (like Avery and Kepner not being a real part of the team). This letting go still comes into contact with bodily autonomy—Meredith's attempts at conception, Cristina's desire to terminate her pregnancy, Bailey getting to draw the line in her relationship with Eli—and in those moments, looks a lot like anxiety over a lack of control. What I like about how this concept played out all season is the result, again and again, that vying for control almost never works, at least in the way one wants it to. That's a great message in an overwrought world.

Tasha Fierce: I thought they handled the bodily autonomy stories fairly well. My favorite was probably Callie's pregnancy and the arguments over the vagina getting a vote. Mark and Callie's interactions always crack me up. Although I was impressed by Cristina standing her ground on not wanting a child.

Snarky's Machine: Grey's has long struggled with regard to how to reflect the way in which people navigate their bodies throughout their various illnesses, and reproductive rights/pregnancy tends to be the area where they most stumble. I think the writers were far more successful in handling the complexities surrounding Callie's pregnancy, particularly how Callie defined family on her own terms. Meredith's pregnancy woes were handled mixed at best, mostly because the writers fell back on the whole trope of a woman becoming a whole other person (hormones, doncha know) while attempting to conceive. 

Redlami: This past season, Grey's has often portrayed the imbalance of power in relationships, such as with Miranda and Eli, Derek and Meredith, and Teddy and Henry. What do you think about the way these power dynamics have been explored, particularly in light of issues of race, class, age and ability?

s.e. smith: I think it has been a bit imperfect. Sometimes Grey's really nailed it with showing the balance of power and control and other times it fell short. All of our characters seem to be struggling, to some extent, with these imbalances and how to handle them—whether it's Meredith demanding that Derek stop treating her like his wife, or Cristina trying to figure out how to navigate the situation with Hunt when he's in a position to pick the chief resident. These relationships were often messy, with blurred boundaries, and I think that was the big takeaway here, that power imbalances are messy and hard to navigate!

Everett Maroon: Great question, Redlami! What I found most frustrating about these imbalances was the frequent self-righteousness of the more privileged partner and their unwillingness to get even a little introspective about their own behavior. The only person who was faced with a big imbalance in their relationship and who was accountable was the Chief, who had to come to terms with Adele's illness. I'd really like to see the show bring us a more thoughtful look at how race and power dynamics play a part in these relationships, and I'd really like to see more time given to the intersection of race and power.

Tasha Fierce: I think the show portrays the imbalance of power but doesn't often address it. I have to admit when these questions come up on how power dynamics were explored I rack my brain thinking of what they really said about them and I usually come up with very little. For me, I'm left to draw my own conclusions about what the portrayals mean, which can be a good or bad thing depending on how you look at it.

Snarky's Machine: I have been really uncomfortable with the Henry and Teddy story arc because it seemed to gloss over the very real concerns about health insurance, class, and access. It seems to be a cheap way of attempting health insurance discourse without risking anything by actually taking a position. 

The Seattle Grace doctors at a baby shower.

Everett Maroon: Season seven opened in the aftermath of a spree killer's rampage through the hospital, taking out two Mercy West residents in the process—characters we hadn't spent a lot of time with at that point. How have Dr.s Avery and Kepner impressed you over the course of this season?

s.e. smith: Avery has felt like a totally wasted character. He's really boxed into a corner in terms of stereotypes and hasn't really had a chance to come into his own. The biggest storyline for him this season almost felt like the last one, where he gave up work on the clinical trial to give the chief a fair shot. This provided a lot of insight into his character, and made him out as more complex than he's been throughout the show. Kepner, on the other hand, has grown a lot, and it was really great to see her getting the ultimate prize in the season finale; she really did deserve it because she's focused and seems to actually know what "medical ethics" means.

Redlami: I don't think either have gotten their due as characters. I'm hoping to see better story lines for both of them in the future.

Tasha Fierce: Both of those characters annoy me, really. It really annoys me that Kepner got chief resident. I can't stand endlessly cheery people like that. And Avery just seems like a douchebag most of the time to me. So I haven't exactly been impressed.

Snarky's Machine: I think April has come further than Jackson, but I find it interesting that they are positioned as being similarly oppressed in terms of the kinds of setbacks their careers have face over the course of the season. I haven't always enjoyed the way the writers have equated the way racism and sexism manifests. That said, I think April's storyline has evolved in a way that indicates she is considered a character worthy of nuanced exploration where Jackson seems mostly a plot point or object lessons for other characters. 

Snarky's Machine: Shonda famously stated that she starts with the season finale and works her way backwards. Was there indication of this being true during this season? In reflecting on the season finale was there anything in the beginning of the season to indicate events would unfold as they did? Did she make good on the much promised growth and healing? Did anyone see Alex being tossed under the bus as "growth" or "healing"?

s.e. smith: I think the finale very much influenced the way the season rolled. I thought it was notable that Alex spent the season growing and developing as a character and then got the short end of the stick at the end. For doing the right thing, for reporting a serious ethics violation, he got a pretty harsh punishment. It's not healing, it's not growth, but it is something, and I hope it's something that gets explored more in season eight. I also felt like Cristina and Owen's confrontation really referenced the ongoing tensions throughout the series between characters dealing with reproductive rights and different approaches to building families and parenting. I'm glad Christina stood her ground (and I hope that headache was just fatigue), just like I'm glad Torres exerted control over her body, that Lexie told Mark to get stuffed, etc. Autonomy was a big theme this season!

Redlami: I certainly felt that April Kepner's transformation into chief resident material was planned from the start—her winning the trauma trial told us that she was worthy, and then it was just a matter of disqualifying everyone else. And Meredith's involvement and subsequent ethical lapse in the Alzheimer's trial were definitely set up by her feelings of guilt and responsibility about Adele, Richard, and Ellis. Otherwise there was definitely a lot of healing, plus a heap more hurt ladled on for good measure.

Everett Maroon: I think we got a lot of foreshadowing about the whole baby Zola thing from early on in the season; about the only thing that surprised me was the pace of the adoption process. I suppose there was also a circle back with Teddy and the psychiatrist, since she had some decisions to make around dating him in the very start and end of the season, but I didn't find that storyline interesting at all. I'm not sure about growth and healing. Maybe for Cristina, but yeah, Alex has had nothing good going on for him since Izzy left him (which I see as a positive thing).

Tasha Fierce: I think there was some foreshadowing on certain issues, like Callie almost losing the baby, and Meredith tampering with the Alzheimer's trial for Adele, but I don't think everything was laid out. I think there was some growth and healing but there was also some backsliding and wounds being reopened. All in all I'd say they're as f*cked up at the end as they were at the beginning of the season. And no, Alex being tossed under the bus was not "growth" or "healing," that was just a cheap way to have an excuse to give chief resident to April for whatever reason.

A group of doctors in an operating room, Dr. Hunt in the foreground.

Tasha Fierce: Ethics have been a major issue all season, from Meredith's tampering with the Alzheimer's trial at the chief's request, to the relationship between Kepner and the chief of pediatrics, to Teddy marrying Henry for the insurance coverage, to Karev losing chief resident because he ratted out Meredith, to Cristina's decision to have an abortion. How do you feel about the various ways the various ethical dilemmas presented this season were resolved in the finale, if they were fully resolved at all?

s.e. smith: I feel like the one place where Grey's really slacks off is with medical ethics, and this season was no exception. These issues were not well resolved; the characters who overstepped boundaries didn't see any real consequences, while the characters who tried to abide by medical ethics got punished for it. In terms of personal ethics, I thought the abortion storyline with Christina was going interesting places, but then they dropped it, which makes me worry it's going to be magically resolved with an offstage miscarriage or something during the break.

Redlami:
Ethical lapses have been present all along. I'm amazed this hospital is still in business. Rather than learn from their mistakes, the doctors at Seattle Grace seem to keep finding ways to generate even greater consequences from their bad judgment.

Everett Maroon: The entire series is sketchyville with regard to ethics—I still haven't forgotten Denny and the shenanigans Izzy pulled to get him to the top of the heart donor list. There are probably many settings in which we could watch long-term story arcs about people "going full tilt" or pushing the limit that didn't involve ethical no-nos, but as this is a hospital show, often that attitude hits the restrictions in medicine head-on. I think we've been left with most everything unresolved except the answer to who's America's next chief resident. If we're looking for answers about these ethical dilemmas, I suppose we have to wait until next fall.

Meredith and Christina, shown from the chest up, at Christina's wedding. Christina is wearing a red gown and Meredith is in taupe with a large clunky necklace.

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 sex, dating, relationships and body image at Sex and the Fat Girl.

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.

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