Review of 13x16 “Who is He? And What is He to You?”
So, this is the first time I have written down my analysis of an episode. There was just so much to think about in this episode because of how well it was written, directed, and performed that I needed to write it down, even if I am the only one who ever reads it.
Thoughts on the opening scenes:First, I love that Jackson had the narration and that he talked about being unable to say what you really want to. This has been a recurring issue not only with Japril but across the show. So many times I yell at my screen, “Just talk to each other!” So at least the lack of communication was somewhat acknowledged.
It seems that Catherine knows Robert Avery is in Montana which surprised me a bit. I would like to know how long she has known, but I doubt we will ever get an answer to that. Either way, she knew and sent April because as controlling and manipulative as she is, she is also wise. I saw a lot of people wondering why April came in a cab and if Japril are still living together. To me, this was just another way to show how divided they are going into this episode.
I also was surprised to see the ongoing theme of April replacing Meredith was still present in this episode. I like that April is getting more recognition and credit because she deserves it, but I expected them to drop this story once Grey came back from suspension. I will be interested to see if it continues.
Jackson’s snarkiness with April caused a lot of eye rolls as well, and as much as I would prefer he not be this way with her, this allowed us to see that April chose to put up with it. She easily could have said, “You’re being a jerk. I’m out.” several episodes ago, but she knows him well enough to get that something more is going on. She lets him be angry because he needs to be and she deals because that is what we do for the people we love. We love them even at their worst.
The real story: In my opinion, one of the most impressive things about the writing of this episode was how well Elisabeth Finch paralleled Japril’s story with the surgery and Jackson meeting his dad. This story has two children in it, one boy and one girl. Let’s start with the boy. When we meet Dr. Cordon he seems cowardly for forcing Jackson and April to tell that father his son has no chance and they want his organs. I think this scene is supposed to parallel losing Samuel for Japril. They were, in a way, forced to lose Samuel. They could not save him, and although they didn’t want to, terminating the pregnancy was the best thing to do. So, although they don’t want to tell this father they cannot save his son, they must. And then they must convince him donating his organs is the best thing he can do. Jackson bringing up Samuel in this scene was the first time we have really heard them mention him besides JTM. This loss is still very real and present for both of them.
Then we meet the girl. To me, this girl, Caroline, represents Harriet in a way. Caroline needs her parents help. She cannot speak so they must be her voice and try to make things better for her. Of course, Harriet is too young to speak and completely depends on Jackson and April. She needs them to make things better for her as well, but in both situations, they don’t quite know how. Again, this is why Jackson mentions to her mothers that he is a dad. He understands needing to advocate for his daughter and wanting the best for her. He doesn’t always know what that is, but he will always try to figure it out.
The “I don’t make promises that I don’t keep” line is of course a reference to April telling Jackson, “You are not a person who makes promises he doesn’t keep” in JTM. And for the most part this is true. Jackson keeps his word to everyone, except April. Regardless of whose fault the divorce was or whether it was right or not, it happened because Jackson pushed for it. And even though the show has done a poor job of showing him acknowledge that he realizes this, I believe he does. From big things like April and Harriet almost dying in 12x24 to little things like his loss of appetite when April went on her date, he still feels that pull to April and he must at least consider that he made the wrong choice.
Caroline’s first plan of treatment is a throat transplant. This will get rid of her biggest problem, the tumor, and still allow her to speak. But it falls through. In the scene where April talks to the mothers alone, she says, “The best way to help your daughter is to do the laryngectomy…At this point, I really think it is her best chance.” So here is the thing about fixing major issues in our life. No one can do it for us. Caroline losing her donor throat represents the idea that no one can fix the issues Jackson and April are dealing with besides Jackson and April. Caroline will survive with the laryngectomy, but she will be no better off really. The tumor would be gone but she would lose her voice. Trading one awful thing for another. Just as Japril would survive if they didn’t deal with their issues. If they just left things as they are, they would both survive, but it would leave them with a permanent whole in their life just like the one Caroline would literally have.
(Unimportant Info - beautiful scenery, loved April’s breast pump scene, loved the Chinese food with extra fortune cookies)
Jackson finally sees his father. This demon has been haunting him for years. We have seen hints of it, but I am so glad Jackson finally confronted him because he was projecting all of his abandonment issues on to April. The scene where April finds Jackson at the diner is so good. Jackson is so hurt and Jesse played that perfectly. April, of course, takes his anger because she knows him so well, and above everything she is just worried about him. It is heartbreaking and beautiful at the same time. And then that line, “I didn’t bail on anyone!” That is really what this is all about for Jackson. As much as he wants to know his dad, he is also scared as hell that he might be like him. And here is the one person he thinks he might have bailed on telling him he is bailing on a patient. Like I said, heartbreaking and beautiful.
I like that we got the small moment between Robert and April. Of course it was put there so April could realize that he is Jackson’s father, but regardless, I like that they met. They are both incredibly influential to Jackson for very different reasons and they should know each other.
In the scene where Jackson wakes April up early, the first thing he says when she opens the door is, “We still need to find a way to help Caroline.” The first thing he thought of that morning is that he and April have things they need to fix. He says they need to figure out how to fix Caroline, but again I think this line is about them still needing to find a way to fix their relationship. And I also love that even though he knows he was pretty awful the night before, he doesn’t even hesitate to knock on her door. He knows she will answer and help him. Because she is April. He knows her as well as she knows him. And I actually love that he walked into her room as he told her to get dressed. It shows that their comfort level with each other is still there. Maybe she changed in the bathroom or maybe she didn’t. I’m sure she probably breastfeeds in front of him, especially right after getting out of the hospital. She would have needed his help for absolutely everything, so maybe undressing is not a big deal to them. Either way, the fans certainly caught this moment.
Let’s move to the first scene in the lab where Jackson and April are bickering. It starts with Jackson saying “I hate this. I don’t see how we can do anything but the laryngectomy, but I hate the laryngectomy.” Of course he does. With the laryngectomy, Caroline loses her voice and the parallel here with Japril is that the laryngectomy means they don’t figure out a way to really heal or fix things. They settle. They take the easy way, probably stay co-parents, maybe friends, but really they hate this option - they hate the laryngectomy. But there don’t seem to be any other options.
The scene in the lab, to me, was them going over the obstacles in their relationship. They start by acknowledging that they do not want to do the laryngectomy, but also, they are running out of time. Jackson saying he was drunk is a substitute for him saying he needs to deal with his dad, which is a huge obstacle for them. April says that Jackson doesn’t want her there, which I don’t think is true, but her saying this acknowledges the divide that has strengthened between them recently. Then Jackson brings up April’s friendship with Catherine, and we all know Catherine has created many problems for them. She may be helping now, but that has not always been the case. April argues that her relationship with Catherine started before Japril became romantic, but even when they were friends Jackson wasn’t comfortable with April and his mom’s relationship. "Stop facebooking my mom!“ Then their differences in financial status and upbringing are brought up. “Your mom says the difference between you and I…” As much as these two are meant to be together, they come from very different worlds and see things differently. This line reflects those issues.. But the conversation is cut short because of the 911 page. Time is almost up. If they are going to fix this, they must do it fast.
So Jackson gets the 911 page. Caroline’s parents want more. They want their daughter whole and healed and not just the easy fix. April tries to tell them, “We’ve gone through every possible alternative. There comes a point when you have to hear…We’ve been down every road. Every one. There are no other options. We do the laryngectomy, Caroline lives. It’s that simple.” I can only imagine how many times Jackson and April must have went over every alternative for their relationship in their own heads. But since they refused to talk to each other, none of the options seemed like they could work. The easier choice was to choose to settle for less than what they really wanted. Luckily Caroline refuses to do that. She wants her voice, and Jackson promises that he and April will find a way to get it back for her.
Outside of the hospital April finally tells Jackson he made a promise he can’t keep. Jackson can’t possibly come up with an idea to save her voice and they should do the laryngectomy. He is confident they can until April tells him she knows about his father. “He’s the whole reason we’re here!” And she’s right. Not just in Montana, but in this frustrating, difficult place in their relationship. Jackson’s father and his trust issues and inability to let go of his abandonment are what led them to this moment - completely in love but so alone. He is the whole reason we are here.
The transition from Facetiming with Harriet to sitting in silence could not have been directed any better by Kevin. The shift in tone was almost tangible. I felt physically uncomfortable watching them sit in silence. And then finally Jackson told April everything that he had been holding on to for years. And she responded perfectly. She listened, which was all he needed. And then she pushed him to go confront his father. No one else could have done this for Jackson. No one.
Jesse’s acting in the scene where he confronts Robert was some of his best. His little decisions like not lifting his arms to hug him and the absolute shattered look in his eyes when Robert says he couldn’t be torn away from his diner in Montana were fantastic. There was no remorse or apology. Jackson had waited years for this moment, and this man was still able to let him down even more than he already had. But he also gave Jackson some things to think about. “Are you happy?” “I was born into this life, but she was born for it.” There is no way those lines didn’t instantly make him think of April.
One of my favorite scenes of the whole episode begins with the coffee apology. Kevin’s camera angle was perfect. We hear Jackson say, “Hey” in that voice he only uses for April. The camera focuses on the coffee in Jackson’s hand and then transitions to April smiling up at Jackson. While we all would have loved a great speech from Jackson, somehow this was enough. It has been awhile since we have seen such a sweet gesture from Jackson to April but this was all she needed to know he was sorry. The way the writing weaves the discussion of Caroline’s surgery seamlessly with Jackson’s explanation of what happened with his dad is some of the best writing of the entire series, I think. The two are completely intertwined. Jackson must let go of the past in order to move forward, as the tagline said. He must let go of his anger with his father to move forward with April, but how do they get there? How do they fully heal Caroline without just settling for the laryngectomy? “Her guts for her throat,” he realizes. “Then she’d be her own donor…You think it will work?”April asks. “No, maybe, yeah.” “Well which one do you wanna go with?” They have to heal themselves. Not even Jackson meeting his dad can heal them. They have to fix things from within, together, just as Caroline is essentially fixing herself. Will it work? They aren’t entirely sure, but they decide to go for it.
Dr. Cordon argues that this has never been done before. And it hasn’t. When Shonda wants to end a couple, she ends them. Japril are divorced. The papers are signed. So to put them back together is new and different and never been done. And we all love it.
Jackson steps up and accepts the Avery name. The shadow of his father not being able to handle being an Avery is not looming over him anymore. He is not his father. He does keep his promises, and he certainly doesn’t bail on his family. He realizes that now, even if it took him awhile to get there.
The surgery scene. The music. The looks. The silence. “I’ll see it.” Jackson and April are literally healing Caroline and figuratively healing themselves. They work together to use Caroline’s body to heal itself and they work together to heal their relationship as well. And that camera angle over April’s shoulder where Jackson is watching her. That moment is when he realizes that he could not have done this without her. Talking to his dad, saving Caroline - it all happened because she was there. She is and always has been exactly who he needs. At the end of the surgery, April asks, “This is gonna work right?” And Jackson confidently replies, “We did it.”
The hotel scene. The parallels to the hotel scenes in San Francisco were perfect here. As a fan, I appreciate that they put in details they knew we would catch. I also appreciate that neither Jackson or April show any hesitation. They have both grown so much that they are completely sure at this point of what they want. And those looks. The chemistry with these two is unbelievable. I can’t say enough about how great this scene is.
The next morning was almost more satisfying to see as a fan than the hallway scene (almost…). Again we saw that they had no regrets with their choice to be together. The lighting, the bed sheets, their emotions - everything is light and bright. Everything is hopeful and positive. And this is April’s apology scene the way the coffee cup was Jackson’s. April telling Jackson he is a good father and that he never bailed on her and Harriet, is everything Jackson needed to hear to 100% let go of his fear of becoming his father. These few, important lines allowed Jackson to go back to Robert and tell him that he doesn’t need him. He met him, and now he can move on. The shot of Jackson’s back walking confidently out the door of the diner into the sunlight was another really nice addition from Kevin. Jackson is literally leaving the past behind him and moving toward his future.
In case they had any doubts about their decision, Caroline is completely healed. They go to check on her and she has her voice. And we get another adorable scene of them communicating with only their eyes.
The episode ends with Jackson narrating, again, about how important it is to speak up. “We lose our words because the stakes are so high” The camera shows Jackson and April looking at each other. “And we have so much to lose” And we see the Avery family, Catherine, Jackson, April, and Harriet, reunited. April asks for a ride home, to her home with Jackson, to signify that there is no more division between them as there was at the beginning of the episode.
And this is why when Jesse and Sarah have been giving their scripted answer that Japril could go in several different directions, I don’t believe them. If they were going to just stay friends after this episode, Caroline would have had the laryngectomy and lost her voice. If they were going to split up completely, Caroline probably would have died. But she was healed completely, and so were they. And it wasn’t just their friendship that was healed. That was not a good-bye night together. So, when they tease that it could go any way, I think that is just to keep us on our toes until the end of the season where something else is waiting for us. Could I be wrong? Of course! Shonda has definitely surprised me in the past. But if they stay true to the writing and meaning behind this episode then I believe I’m right.