Photo: Grey's Anatomy (ABC)

“You’re Gonna Need Someone On Your Side” feels a bit like a throwback to an earlier era of Grey’s Anatomy. For the first few seasons the show grounded its medical melodrama with nuanced relationships. But as the years passed and the ensemble grew, Grey’s began painting with a broader brush. While tonight’s episode doesn’t fully recapture the magic of the show’s first few seasons, it does put complex character relationships front and center. And it features a whole bunch of penis jokes to boot! It’s not an episode anyone is going to cite as an all-time-great, but it feels just a little more substantial than the run of filler we’ve had lately (“There’s A Fine, Fine Line” aside).

As Callie and Arizona both attempt to recruit their friends as character witnesses for their upcoming custody battle, the episode explores the complicated interpersonal dynamics that develop when you spend every waking moment of your life with the same group of people. Let’s face it, there’s a fair amount of codependency that goes on amongst the doctors of Grey Sloan Memorial Hospital. And while a lot of episodes take that incestuous setup as a given, this one tries to tease out exactly how those relationships both help and hurt the show’s central characters.

For instance, when Kyle’s tremor returns, Stephanie is forced to wrestle with the idea of being a patient’s loved one rather than a doctor. But the problem is that in order to drive Stephanie’s situation home the episode turns Amelia into a monster. She’s right to take Stephanie off the case and ban her from Kyle’s O.R., but she’s grossly unprofessional in how frustrated she gets with Stephanie’s attempts to advocate for Kyle’s treatment. That’s something well within the rights of a patient’s loved one, but Amelia takes it as a personal challenge rather than understanding that Stephanie is just scared because her boyfriend is undergoing freaking brain surgery. The episode seems to think Amelia’s no-nonsense approach is justified, but jeez, have a little empathy, man.

“I don’t understand the question and I won’t respond to it.”

Advertisement

But while Amelia’s explicit “doctor vs. loved one” diatribes were a bit much, the episode sill finds plenty of great subtle moments with Stephanie’s half of the story. Sitting in the waiting room during Kyle’s surgery forces her to see things from the point of view of a patient’s loved one, which ultimate makes her realize that’s not a role she can play. In her final conversation with Jo she explains that after spending so much time as a helpless patient when she was a kid, she took control of her life by forging a new identity as a doctor. Going back to that “patient” (or in this case, patient’s loved one) identity is too painful for her.

Despite having very little screen time, Wilmer Valderrama does a fantastic job projecting the vulnerability behind Kyle’s more confident exterior. Which means that even though I wasn’t particularly invested in their relationship beforehand, I was unexpectedly moved by their breakup. There’s something selfish about Stephanie’s decision to walk away, but I can also completely understand her rationale. Selling the audience on both a relationship and its breakup is a pretty impressive feat for one episode to pull off and Jerrika Hinton deserves a lion’s share of the credit for that.

“No, Kyle. *I* said good day.”

Advertisement

Elsewhere, Arizona is having a really bad day. She’s worried about losing Sofia, upset that she potentially missed something in April’s earlier ultrasound, and frustrated she has Penny on her service. All those things converge and she ends up lashing out at Penny in the cafeteria. Once again the episode stumbles when it goes big. It’s not that I don’t believe Arizona would be pushed over the edge, it’s just that, as with Amelia, the show pushes her too far. Instead of exploring her feelings on this custody battle or her relationship to Sophia, we get the cheaper thrill of Arizona yelling at Callie’s new girlfriend, which feels like drama for drama’s sake.

Yet once again there’s more nuanced storytelling on the edges of that outburst: Unlike Arizona telling Jackson about April’s pregnancy, which always felt like a contrivance, the potentially misread ultrasound was a more natural way to inject some tension into the April/Arizona friendship. I know many find April grating, but I like seeing the show explore how difficult it is for her to carry a second baby after losing Samuel. Plus the Arizona storyline even provided a great beat for Penny of all people, who takes the highroad and refuses to gossip about Arizona with Callie.

Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for Ben and Bailey, who argue like petulant children throughout a surgery on which Ben is serving as the anesthesiologist. The episode tries to add some levity to their argument, but it misses the mark and winds up making them both look like horrible people. It fits with the “interpersonal conflict” and “pick a side” themes of the episode, but it’s the least successful thread because it’s more interested in histrionics than honesty. Thankfully it did lead to a great scene in which Maggie calls out Ben’s arrogance and points out that the only reason he feels entitled to challenge the chief of surgery’s decision in the first place is because he’s married to her. Damn straight!

Advertisement

Surprisingly, what elevates this episode is the patient storyline, which really feels like a Grey’s throwback. I’ve been critical of the show for underwriting its patients lately, but this story works like gangbusters. It plays out almost like a one-act play whose themes resonant throughout the rest of the episode. And, again, it works because it keeps everything grounded and subtle. We’ve seen plenty of episodes in which a patient’s spouse and lover are at odds with one another, but this one aims for quiet poignancy over cheap melodrama.

“Wife and doorman. Yup, okay, that checks out.”

For the past 15 years, Leo and his doorman Vincent have been carrying out an intense emotional affair they’ve never acted on physically, mostly because Leo knows it would destroy his stable family and devastate his loyal wife. Guest stars Charlie Robinson and Robert Pine imbue their roles with real humanity and the way Leo’s face lights up Vincent enters the room emphasizes just how much they care about each other. It would’ve been easy for Grey’s to turn this into a “very special episode” about coming out and embracing your true identity. Instead it feels like a deeply personal story in which two men happen to be attracted to one another.

Advertisement

Yes it’s a story about sexuality and identity, but it’s also one about loyalty, faith, sacrifice, and love in all its many forms. Much like the doctors of Grey Sloan Memorial, Vincent and Leo won’t be able to physically escape one another unless Vincent quits his job or Leo moves. But there’s a huge emotional shift that happens when Leo sends Vincent away, presumably making the choice to spend his last year of life with his wife. It’s an unspoken breakup of sorts that’s handled with more maturity and restraint than Grey’s normally utilizes, which only makes the tragedy land harder.

As Amelia tells Owen, “It’s harder to love somebody than to walk away from them.” But perhaps the hardest thing is when you can’t actually walk away at all.

Stray observation

  • So Amelia and Owen are officially a couple! While I don’t have a ton of strong feelings about that, I think their relationship can be really enjoyable when her neurosis bounce off his stability. As such, I enjoyed their final scene together.
  • The idea that Riggs feels it’s his place to critique Bailey—his boss with whom he has no personal relationship—for her professional and personal choices is one of the most disgustingly entitled things I’ve ever seen. My skin was crawling during that entire scene.
  • Meredith happily telling everyone that she saw Owen’s penis is truly one of the best things this show has ever done. Meredith is on fire this season.
  • Vincent and Stephanie bonding over the fact that they didn’t know what to call their pseudo-boyfriends broke my heart.
  • Arizona taking herself off April and Jackson’s case seems incredibly healthy and I don’t know why they were so upset by it. Maybe they need a talking to from Amelia about doctor/patient relationships.
  • This episode made me realize that while Grey’s has had a good number of gay/bisexual female characters over the years, it’s never had a gay or bisexual man in its main cast. That’s kind of crazy given how many characters have cycled through the show.
  • In addition to being a former CHiPs star, Robert Pine is also Chris Pine’s dad. The idea of Chris Pine sitting down to watch tonight’s Grey’s Anatomy delights me to no end.

Advertisement