SPOILER ALERT: Do not read if you have not yet watched the 13th episode of “Grey’s Anatomy” Season 16, entitled “Save the Last Dance for Me.”
It didn’t take long for Dr. Riley (Shoshannah Stern) to make a big splash on “Grey’s Anatomy.”
With the doctors puzzled by Suzanne’s (Sarah Rafferty) illness, Riley proposed a radical solution: remove all the medication from her system so they could try and pinpoint what was wrong with the patient. The downside? It meant Suzanne would be getting a lot worse until they are able to diagnose her.
“I think while Riley takes big, even crazy swings, she puts her entire being behind each one,” Stern tells Variety. “It’s pretty clear that even with the medication, Suzanne is going to progressively get worse. While what Riley is suggesting is a massive risk, I think people in general may misunderstand her intentions and think she’s comfortable with taking them because she’s uncaring. I think she actually cares too much, and that’s why she’s kind of ruthless in sticking to the game plan.”
Dr. Riley is “actually comfortable with being seen as the bad guy,” Stern continues. “as long as the end result is in the patient’s favor.” And despite representing “Grey’s Anatomy’s” first deaf doctor, the writers weren’t afraid to have Riley make mistakes in her journey on the show.
“We didn’t have to worry about that too much once we started understanding the work of a master diagnostician,” showrunner Krista Vernoff explains. “Once the doctors on staff started talking to us about things like withdrawing all medications, we were like, ‘This has stakes. This character, win or lose, is masterful and this is high stakes because of because of what she has to do.’”
The drama is also using Riley’s time on the show to “utilize brand new cutting edge technologies, some of which you’re going to see in the next episode,” Vernoff shares. “[The tools], I believe, are paving a path for more and more hearing impaired people to become doctors and get to thrive in a traditional hospital environment. I feel like representation is everything. And that really excites all of us.”
On Riley’s side is DeLuca (Giacomo Gianniotti), who recruited the specialist to Grey Sloan via deception. “While she originally wrote him off as just being a resident, she now sees him as more than that,” Stern notes. “So I think that’s going to come into play a little bit, and we’ll see them operating more as a team and maybe relying on the other a bit. One thing that really resonated with me about Riley and DeLuca teaming up is that there’s a certain similarity there, beyond the fact that they’re both passionate about the case: They are also both bilingual, so I think there’s probably a mutual understanding and appreciation of how the other operates.”
The doctors will have a lot on their hands, as Catherine’s (Debbie Allen) plan to purchase Pacific Northwest General Hospital was enacted almost immediately. But rather than make the cuts Koracick (Greg Germann) was attempting, the Grey Sloan doctors teamed up against him and came to him with a new idea: everyone could return, with the now-former PNG doctors co-leading their departments with the people who replaced them, and he could take credit for making it all happen.
“What’s interesting about that scene, is that, the way it was written and the way it was shot, they found a way to get what they wanted without dethroning him,” Vernoff says. “Yeah, he’s been put in his place; they all ganged up on him. They don’t really like him, but he kept his job and he kept his money and he gets to take credit for getting all the best doctors to come back and work at the hospital. So in a strange way, it doesn’t radically shift the dynamics that are in play, but it brings everybody home.”
As the colleagues re-adjust to working together again, “there’s a little there’s a little bit of learning how to navigate shared leadership,” Vernoff allows, especially between Teddy (Kim Raver) and Maggie (Kelly McCreary). “But the truth is, Teddy and Maggie have really come to a real grudging respect of each other’s skills. And neither of them is so ego-driven that they can’t navigate that.”
Struggling elsewhere is Jo (Camilla Luddington), who revealed to Amelia (Caterina Scorsone) that Alex (Justin Chambers) is struggling on his visit home and isn’t returning her phone calls. Jo noted that if she didn’t know better, she’d think he was paying her back for pulling away the previous year — when Jo spiraled into a depression after learning she was the product of rape — but she also acknowledged that Alex wouldn’t actually do that.
Viewers will learn more about what is going on with Alex in the coming weeks, Vernoff says, as the show addresses Chambers’ real-life exit. “It was a very careful threading of a needle, where we are giving a little bit of information and pain to Jo,” she explains. “We’re, episode by episode, illuminating the story of where Alex is. And it takes us quite a few more episodes to get there and to give the audience clarity.”
Writing off Jo’s husband was especially complicated given the turmoil Jo went through so recently, and how hard she fought to get to a better emotional place.
“Jo went through so much pain and so much grief just last season that I wanted to be careful,” Vernoff says. “And so it’s a bit of a mystery [what’s going on with Alex], so that we don’t watch Jo in the same place that we watched her in last season. We did it as carefully as we could. But it takes a while to get there.”
It will also take a bit of time for the father of Amelia’s unborn child to be revealed. Despite Amelia telling Link (Chris Carmack) she’d be getting the paternity results that day, she later informed him she hadn’t even submitted the test and wanted to wait.
“She is not going to play by anyone else’s rules,” Vernoff says. “And she is protecting her own heart and her own pregnancy and her own sanity at whatever cost. I know the fans want an answer as to whose baby this is, and they’re not going to get it as soon as they wish for it.”
As of now, the other potential father, Owen (Kevin McKidd), is still in the dark. But after already losing a pregnancy, Amelia is in self-protection mode.
“To a degree, she’s isolating herself from Link at this moment, but she has sisters,” Vernoff points out. “She is figuring out what it is on her own terms. This character has learned how to listen to her own body and she’s been through one very traumatic pregnancy. And the feelings that came up in her body were not feelings that she wants to navigate during this pregnancy. So she’s looking to take care of herself and her baby.”
But Vernoff is very aware some fans may not be on Amelia’s side throughout every bump of this ordeal — and that’s the intention.
“The way we’ve written this story, from week to week, I’m sort of on her side, and then I’m on Link’s side, and then I don’t really know,” Vernoff says. “I think it sparks a lot of conversation of, ‘Is she being selfish to not find out or is he being selfish to want to know?’ It is kind of the question that we ask.”
“Grey’s Anatomy” airs Thursdays at 9 p.m. on ABC.