Photo: Grey's Anatomy (ABC)

Hey, remember when the doctors of Seattle Grace-Mercy West lived through a terrifying shooting incident that left several of their friends dead and many more wounded? Good, because Grey’s Anatomy certainly doesn’t! Okay, Alex briefly mentions that he was once shot in the chest, but for the most part this is an episode about the horrors of gun violence that almost entirely ignores the horrific massacre that took place in Grey’s iconic sixth season finale. Meredith watched her husband get shot in front of her and then tried to convince the shooter to kill her instead of finishing him off. Hell, Owen was shot point-blank in one of the O.R.s. If you think those traumatic events might come up as the doctors discuss gun control, you’d be writing a stronger episode than this one.

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Even weirder, the story of an 8-year-old kid accidentally shooting his best friend and leaving him paralyzed shares equal screen time with a plot about the difficulties of… online dating! Grey’s mashes up heart-wrenching patient stories with lighter rom com stuff all the time, but the juxtaposition is especially jarring here because Grey’s wants “Trigger Happy” to be both a regular ole episode that touches on all the show’s ongoing plotlines and a “very special episode” that ends with a gun safety PSA. That’s why we get a bizarre scene in which every single surgeon in the hospital gathers in the ambulance bay to watch the 8-year-old gunshot victim arrive while a melancholy pop song plays. In case anyone missed the previews advertising the topical nature of this episode, that scene lets viewers know this will indeed be a Very Important Story.

That’s why it’s so strange that the episode doesn’t really drive home the idea that the doctors have a particular connection to gunshot victims because of what they went through during their own shooting. Instead the episode seems to imply they’re invested simply because the idea of an injured kid is inherently sad. And don’t get me wrong, it is. But these doctors deal with tragically sick/injured kids every single day. What makes this case so special other than the fact that Grey’s wanted to do an issue-based episode?

“Mmm whatcha say…”

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It should be said that what Grey’s is trying to do here is admirable. It’s not even particularly taking a stance on gun control so much as it is reminding people how important gun safety is, particularly where children are involved. Brandon’s mom was confident that her gun was locked away, but as Amelia reminds her, kids pick up on things their parents do. Despite her best intentions, her son is left paralyzed and his best friend is emotionally scarred. The stat shared in the post-episode PSA—that nine kids are shot every 24 hours—is deeply upsetting. And honestly, on a more macro scale, reminding people about gun safety is probably more important than making a flawless episode of TV. But as a piece of entertainment, “Trigger Happy” suffers a bit when it tries to insert its gun safety message.

The worst offender is the Jo arc. It turns out she owns a gun because having one made her feel safe back when she was living in her car as a teenager. But after seeing the horror of gun violence first hand (is this really the first time she’s worked on a gunshot patient?) she tells Alex, “Back then I didn’t value my life all that much. But it’s different now. I’ve outgrown this [gun]. I don’t need it anymore. I don’t want it.” Not only is Jo’s logic is flawed (why does owning a gun for protection in an incredibly dangerous situation imply she didn’t value her life?), the bigger problem is that her transformation comes too easily in order to better drive home the episode’s message that owning a gun without taking the responsibility seriously is immature. It’s a good message, but it’s lazily told.

The gun stuff works better when it’s used to explore character rather than make a social point. I was a little confused by Maggie’s reactions throughout the episode—particularly her cruel interrogation of the babysitter—but I ultimately liked the reveal that Maggie has grown deeply attached to Meredith’s kids and this accident is a terrifying reminder of how easily kids can hurt themselves. As an only child with (I guess) not much of an extended family, Maggie never had to deal with the idea of loving someone far more vulnerable than her. In the end, Meredith admits there’s an element of parenting that’s so terrifying you just have to not think about it. Their final scene is simultaneously sad, honest, and hopeful in a really lovely way.

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“…Mm, that you only meant well…”

While we don’t quite spend enough time with the mothers of the boys involved in the shooting for their characters to really land, Amelia gets a rare chance to shine as she cuts through the larger arguments about guns, safety, and parental responsibility to focus on Peter, the kid who accidentally shot his friend. More so than even his own mother—who’s mostly worried about legal repercussions—Amelia recognizes the fragility of Peter’s mental state. And she teaches him a lesson she’s had to learn many times as a recovering addict: You have to forgive yourself for your mistakes. Fighting his guilt will be an active, lifelong battle, but she indicates it’s one Peter can overcome with persistence. Their interaction is one of the most genuinely affecting moments of the episode, rivaled only by the two mothers’ reactions when they find out which kid got shot and the wrenching moment in the O.R. in which Amelia realizes that defibrillating Brandon in the middle of spinal surgery is going to leave him paralyzed.

But as I mentioned up top, gun violence isn’t the only issue on Grey’s Anatomy’s mind this week. Writer Zoanne Clack also wants to weigh in on another defining issue of contemporary life: Online dating.

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It’s an aggressively weird choice to pair that frothy topic with the issue of gun control, but the Stephanie stuff mostly works because a.) It allows Meredith to be both snarky and no-nonsense, which is my favorite Meredith mode and b.) There’s something very relatable about Stephanie’s fear of being better “on paper” than she is in real life. She’s been happily sexting with sexy musician Kyle Diaz since his stay at the hospital, but that’s raised expectations for their first in-person date. Once she actually goes on the date, however, Stephanie realizes she isn’t too terrible in-person after all. I’m in favor of both Stephanie stories and Wilmer Valderrama being charming, so I’d be inclined to let this half of the episode slide if it weren’t for that other disastrous online dating plot.

Grey’s has had a big problem this season with introducing a patient and then unceremoniously dropping their storyline (remember Rita Moreno’s amnesiac husband or hernia guy last week?). Meredith’s patient Shelia discovers that her yearlong online boyfriend James has been lying not only about his attractiveness, but also about his race. She’s rightly disgusted, but then it turns out she also exaggerated her illness so maybe it all evens out? Who knows because there’s no resolution here. Instead the Shelia/James comedy just waters down whatever emotional resonance Grey’s was going for in the gun storyline.

Last week I talked about the fact that with such a massive ensemble, Grey’s is stronger when it narrows in on one or two stories rather than trying to check in with as many characters as possible. While the message-heavy nature of the gunshot plot felt a little ham-fisted, I almost wonder if this episode would’ve been stronger if it had just committed to actually being a very special episode. As it is, “Trigger Happy” winds up feeling both preachy and forgettable.

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Stray observations

  • Honestly, I had no idea how to grade this episode, which had stuff I really enjoyed and stuff I thought was supremely stupid. So a “B” it is!
  • The good news: Jackson and April manage to remain on pleasant terms for an entire episode! The bad news: Callie and Arizona wind up locked in a custody battle over Callie’s frankly insane decision to move across the country with Penny and take Sofia with them. Obviously it makes more sense for Sofia to stick with her same routine/school in Seattle, but get ready for Calzona: Civil War next week.
  • Also Ben decides to go back to working as an anesthesiologist during his six-month probation. Understandably, Bailey is not pleased.
  • Yet another piece of the Owen/Riggs/Megan story emerges: Owen was the one who told Megan to get on the helicopter to escape Riggs’ cheating ways. At this rate I wouldn’t be surprised if next week we learn Riggs was actually the one flying the helicopter.
  • I loved the scene of the three sisters getting Zola, Bailey, and Ellis ready for school. Also it’s very telling that I had to look up Bailey and Ellis’ names.
  • I definitely assumed the two moms were a couple when they showed up at the hospital asking about their sons, and I was deeply concerned that one of them looked relieved when she saw which kid was shot.
  • It’s crazy that Jo didn’t tell Alex she kept a gun in a shoebox under the bed in the apartment they share.
  • “Edwards, go. Bite the bullet. Go on the date. It’s better than being lonely and crazy like me.” Ellen Pompeo’s delivery of this line is A++.

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