Grey’s Anatomy returned this week, after having their mid-season premiere pushed back by Donald Trump, and coincidentally took on a big issue in the US — the prison system.
In 13 seasons, Grey’s Anatomy has covered just about every medical diagnosis and personal story imaginable, including no shortage of social justice issues. But this week the long running series explored the failing prison system in the US, and did so with an authenticity that has been missing in recent seasons.
Earlier in Season 13, Grey’s Anatomy attempted a stand alone episode that was more pandering than powerful, but this week’s solo story episode was one of the strongest in years.
The episode began with a few missteps, like Miranda’s utter confusion at what being in a prison would look like. We get that she may not have binged every episode of Orange Is The Next Black, but her outrage over being searched before entering a prison was a stretch for someone so smart. Miranda’s utter dismay over the lack of medical supplies also felt exaggerated at first, but succeeded in displaying the lack of resources for inmates, many of whom are locked up for small and non-violent crimes, in the most incarcerated country in the world.
Miranda, along with Jo and Arizona, are called in to treat a pregnant patient who is growing a mass along with her baby. Although the patient’s ability to read the eye movements of strangers is a bit advanced (“You’re lying! Now you’re lying!”), her presence is also another important social message the writers wanted to get across. Women are the largest growing population in US prisons, and the character of Kristen, as a 16 year-old minor that has been charged as an adult is another troubling trend in the US. The fact that the inmate was a young white woman from a privileged background was simply another check on Grey’s efforts to balk stereotypes and encourage viewers to not judge a character by their colour.
The prison visit ended with the successful delivery of the baby and the decision to not reveal what young Kristen had done to receive a sentence of 20 years to life, another powerful move in a powerful episode. While Grey’s has typically gone to great lengths to create painful backstories for even minor characters, by omitting Kristen’s crime, viewers were unable to form their own innocent or guilty verdict, instead keeping the focus of the episode on the failing prison system.
We’re sure next week’s episode of Grey’s Anatomy will be back to the usual entertaining drama of who Alex is telling to shut up, why Meredith is dark and twisty today, and how many times Jackson and April will get back together and break up in a single episode, and we’ll devour every minute of it. But for this week, Grey’s used their platform to help shine a light on an issue often ignore by mainstream media and they did it with intelligence and emotion.
Grey’s Anatomy airs Thursdays at 8 p.m. ET on CTV.