After fourteen seasons of heart-wrenching tragedies and jaw-dropping miracles, there exists a very short list of topics untouched by ABC and Shondaland’s Grey’s Anatomy. Yet, in all that time, no episode has been more timely than the mid season premiere, “1-800-799-7233,” for its unsettling representation of intimate partner violence.
For those less familiar with the lives of the doctors at Grey-Sloan Memorial Hospital, we’ll spare you the drama and give you the must-know details. Loyal viewers knew to expect an unsettling meeting between Dr. Jo Wilson (Camilla Luddington) and her abusive husband Paul Stadler (Matthew Morrison) since the violent man’s curveball entrance closed out the 2017 winter finale. It is then we were reminded Paul beat Jo over the most minuscule of occurrences, bruising her face and stomach.
When the abuse finally became too much to bear, Jo, who was going by her original legal name of Brooke Stadler at the time, abandoned her entire life in Massachusetts where she’d attended medical school and met Paul, moved to Seattle, and changed her name to better hide from her spouse.
Paul once again finds himself holding power over Jo when he realizes she has not told many, if anyone at all, of their marriage. While Paul is seemingly “joking” about whether Jo, a former student of Stadler, can recall his medical school teachings, it also serves a defense if she’s ever spoken about his abuse.
Paul attempts a similar defamation of Jo when he ends up in an operating room with the series namesake, Meredith Grey (Ellen Pompeo). Meredith recognizes Paul immediately and tells him she knows of his abuse on Jo. Typical of an accused abuser, Paul blames their failed marriage on Jo: her childhood, mental health, her drinking, and deep-seated destructive nature. Thankfully, Meredith isn’t fooled by Paul, but it’s safe to assume people who didn’t know Jo have believed his lies for years as he defends himself for her estrangement.
Unfortunately, we come to find out Paul has devoured a new victim in his latest romantic partner, Jenny (Bethany Joy Lenz). With the help of Meredith, Jo creates a distraction for Paul so she can have a few minutes alone with Jenny. While Jenny initially rejects Jo’s accusations against Paul, her face changes when Jo details the day her husband kicked her so violently he broke her ribs and almost ruptured her kidney. We get to assume in this moment that Jenny has finally acknowledged the way in which her fiancé treats her is abusive.
This episode is important for the way it highlights both women’s different journey toward ending up with Paul. The huge takeaway is that anyone can find themselves in an abusive relationship. We know Jo struggled as a child in the foster care system. Without a support system, Jo worked hard putting herself through school and even living out of her car at one point. It’s easy to understand how a man could fabricate a fairy tale life to entice a young woman like Jo. It’s even more understandable how her husband manipulated and gaslighted her for so long.
Jenny, on the other hand, is well educated and seemingly has her wits about her. At the realization of what her relationship truly is, she exclaims, “I’m smart! I’m a scientist! I’m a feminist! I never thought I would end up in something like this.”
Domestic violence can take many forms. It is not exclusive to a specific population or demographic. Anyone can fall victim to violent, manipulative, and distressing relationships. This also means anyone can be helped.
The episode is titled with the phone number of the National Domestic Violence Hotline, and while the number isn’t used throughout the episode, the significance of its promotion speaks volumes. There might be someone in the Grey’s couch crowd who recognizes a piece of their own story or someone they know in Jo’s battle. Perhaps it reaches someone who identifies with Jenny, and has never realized the abuse in their relationship is not their fault.
In the era of #MeToo and Time’s Up and women standing up for one another, this episode is timely, effective, and maybe even necessary. If you or someone you know is in a violent or abusive relationship, you are not alone. Resources are available and ready to help you. If you or someone you know is a victim of domestic violence in the Greater Boston Area of Massachusetts, please contact us at PetsEmpower.org.