Monday, April 19, 2021

Grey’s Anatomy 17x12 Recap: “Sign O’ the Times” (History in the Making) [Contributor: Julia Siegel]

“Sign O’ the Times”
Original Airdate: April 15, 2021

Grey’s Anatomy has done a great job of bringing the real world to scripted television this season, and they have proven that going big and bold with hot button topics is the way to go. That statement rings true in the latest episode of the show, which beautifully incorporates two massively important parts of the last year. The on-going conversations of race and anger take center stage in this powerful episode. 


The hour opens with Jackson on a morning run through the streets of downtown Seattle the day after George Floyd’s death. He is taken aback when he sees a group of protestors on a street corner and briefly pauses his run to observe before continuing his routine. We then get a quick flash of Hayes and his kids in the backyard of their house making signs to go join in the local protests before the scene goes to the sister house. Maggie is staying at the house while Winston takes a quick trip to Boston to tie up his loose ends and move his belongings to Seattle. She is very worried about her fiancé traveling after what happened in Minneapolis the previous day. They have also gotten a message from Richard to the entire staff of the hospital stating that anyone can take time off and protest if they need or want to, but that doesn’t help Maggie’s state of mind.

Over at the hospital, Bailey gives Richard an update on cancelling all elective surgeries in preparation for any emergencies that come in related to the protests. Richard is happy with Bailey’s decision and prep work and asks how she is feeling about everything. Bailey wants to stay in the hospital and distract herself by doing something that she is good at (i.e. saving lives) and is surprised when Richard tells her that he is going to join the protestors. He explains that he doesn’t want to miss the moment, which his protégé understands. Richard also has one of the most poignant lines of the episode when he says, “These moments save lives too,” before heading out the door.

Next, Jackson and Catherine are walking into work together, and Catherine is grateful her son has shown up. He assures her that he isn’t going to protest because she hounded him with enough texts that he felt he couldn’t ignore how much the hospital needed him. Jackson asks Catherine if she has had a chance to read the proposal that he sent her for free COVID testing for low income residents. Catherine wants to pump the brakes on the proposal until the foundation has more revenue, which annoys Jackson. His mother doesn’t want to hear about the amount of time and effort he and intern Alma Ortiz put into the proposal and promptly walks away. Jackson doesn’t get any time to process the conversation he just had because Hayes and his kids walk up to him asking for help. Hayes removes a shirt tied to his head and reveals a huge gash across his scalp.

A quick break in the action shows a video call between Winston and Maggie, who is relieved to hear from him. Winston discusses the three days it took for him to drive to Boston and is glad to be on his way back to Seattle. He wants to buy a house for them to live in once he’s back and has even sent some listings to Maggie, who hasn’t looked at any of them. Maggie ends the call by begging Winston to be extra careful, which is the first of two back-to-back steaming bowls of foreshadowing. Another short scene shows Bailey and Teddy checking up on Meredith. Teddy reveals that Mer is in stable condition, but is very weak and sleeping most of the time. They are doing daily hypobaric chamber treatments to try to increase her healing and are planning to let Schmitt handle the treatment today because it’s something that no one can screw up. 

In the ER, Jackson stitches up Hayes’ head wound and asks how the injury happened. Hayes recalls how a Neo-Nazi anti-protestor came at his boys, so he jumped in front of his kids to protect them. He is justifiably shaken up by the whole ordeal and wants to get back to work for the distraction when Jackson is done. Hayes also tells Jackson that he sent his kids home and told them that they won’t be allowed to protest again until they are eighteen after what happened.

The audience barely gets to process the horrors of what Hayes describes because Richard flies into the ER and grabs Jackson to come help him with another patient outside. Hayes jumps off his bed and follows them outside as an older lady named Nell is being helped out of a car. Richard explains that she was hit by a tear gas canister at the protest, which is lodged in her left shoulder. The trio of doctors brings Nell into a trauma room and decides that they need to make sure the canister didn’t hit any major blood vessels in her neck before they can remove it in the OR.

Outside, Owen is running a triage tent in the parking lot, and Maggie, Helm, and Sara Ortiz are helping out. They see an ambulance pull up and run over to help the new patient. A young man named Guy is unloaded, and the paramedics inform the doctors that he was shot by a rubber bullet in the chest at a protest, which stopped his heart. Maggie tells the others that she wants to get a chest X-ray immediately as they wheel him inside.


Schmitt brings a sleeping Meredith into the hypobaric chamber for her oxygen treatment and is not happy when intern James Chee wheels in his post-op patient into the chamber behind them. Chee explains to a disgruntled Schmitt that the schedule for the chamber is packed, so they need to double up patients inside to get everyone their treatments. Schmitt begrudgingly accepts that he and Mer will have company and asks Chee to try to keep the stress levels low, which probably won’t happen with double the amount of people inside the chamber.

Back in the ER, Jo and Hayes chat while they both gather supplies for their respective patients. The small scenes each episode with Jo and Hayes have become my favorite part of the show because their repertoire is very enjoyable to watch. Case in point this week: Hayes is coughing as an after effect of tear gas, and Jo mocks him about not coughing around people as they will think he has COVID. She is also surprised at Hayes for letting his kids go to a protest and for making them stop protesting. She understands both sides of it, but Hayes says he has buried too many members of his family to see anyone’s side other than his own. 

Elsewhere in Grey Sloan Memorial, Bailey and second year resident Mabel Tseng are treating a disrespectful man who had trouble breathing while jogging. He treats both doctors terribly and refuses to keep his mask on despite Bailey’s numerous commands. Bailey is afraid that the patient, Chad, may have COVID, but Chad thinks it’s his asthma acting up since his inhaler ran out. In the same breath, Chad reveals that he doesn’t believe in COVID and thinks it is a scam created by the government. The dumb-struck look on Bailey’s face says it all, but more on Chad later.

Richard and Jackson are awaiting the results of Nell’s CT angiogram to see what damage the tear gas canister has caused. Jackson asks Richard what the protest was like, so the older doc explains how they were marching peacefully. He describes the protest as organized and beautiful at first, until it turned messy and scary. He says that there was a feeling in the air, which Jackson can’t comprehend since he wasn’t there, and that the protest was good trouble. As Richard finishes his recollection, the scans pop up on the computer and show no signs of vascular damage. The canister has only caused a tear in Nell’s trapezius muscle, so the canister can be safely and easily removed. 

Back in the ER, Maggie doesn’t see any fluid around Guy’s heart on the X-ray or echocardiogram. She determines that the rubber bullet hit him at the exact moment his heart beat, which disrupted his normal heart rhythm. Maggie wants to admit Guy for bloodwork and observation to be cautious. Her phone rings and it’s Winston calling, so she steps out of the room to talk. Winston is on the road and wants to know if Maggie got around to looking at the listing he sent her. Maggie isn’t sure she likes the house in the listing, but Winston says that the landlord told him if he wanted the house that he would have to put an offer in today. Winston goes on to reveal that he told the landlord that he will take the house because he wants a place to call his own even though Maggie isn’t necessarily thrilled at the news. A police car then pulls up behind Winston as he’s driving, turns on its lights, and pulls him over. Both Winston and Maggie start to freak out over him getting pulled over, and Maggie tells him not to hang up the phone and turn on the camera if possible.

Over in the hypobaric chamber, Chee asks Schmitt if Mer is mean, as that is what he has heard from other doctors at the hospital. He has also heard that Mer is the best. Chee didn’t get a chance to meet her before she got COVID and doesn’t know if what he has heard is true. Schmitt tells Chee that Mer taught him everything. He hears Mer’s voice cheering him on in his head with each win he has and describes Mer as the most influential teacher he’s ever had, even when she’s asleep. Schmitt admits that Mer can be tough sometimes, but that she always has a reason for being tough. Chee likes what he hears and says that he hopes he gets to operate with Mer one day. 

The scene then cuts back to Winston as he puts his hands on the steering wheel of his now-parked car while watching two cops and a police dog approach his vehicle. The one cop asks Winston for his license and registration, and Winston asks why he was pulled over. He says he was doing 40 mph in a 45 mph zone, so he doesn’t know why he would be stopped. The cop doesn’t answer and instead asks Winston to turn off his phone when he hears Maggie pitch in. Winston explains that that is his fiancée on the phone and politely asks the officer if he can leave the phone on. The cop asks Winston if he is failing to comply, which freaks Winston out. He quickly disconnects the call to avoid further trouble, which makes Maggie panic. She immediately tries to call him back, but Winston doesn’t answer.


Things stabilize momentarily as we watch Nell’s surgery. Jackson and Richard remove the tear gas canister from her shoulder, and Jackson asks Richard if his mom has mentioned getting an email from him while they operate. Richard sort of skirts the real issue at hand and says that he could never do Catherine’s job. Jackson believes that Catherine ignores people with good ideas, so Richard tells him to give her time and that after a week she will be more open to his proposal. Catherine said a similar line to Jackson earlier in the episode, which made me wonder what was happening in a week’s time that would magically change her opinion. Unfortunately, we don’t get an answer to that, so maybe we will find out what the cryptic responses mean in the next episode. Richard promptly tries to change the subject by discussing how thankful he is that the damage Nell sustained wasn’t worse. He talks about the protest again and says how there is power in gathering like that. He feels the truth brings people together, but Jackson doesn’t understand because he has never been to a protest. Jackson feels he has always had a reason not to protest and thought writing a check was a good substitute, but his thoughts are quickly changing on that front.

Things then go from bad to worse as Maggie still can’t get a hold of Winston and her patient starts to code. She passes her phone to Sara Ortiz and asks the intern to keep calling Winston until he picks up because he was pulled over by the police. Sara completely understands and agrees to help as Maggie runs back into Guy’s room to help resuscitate him. In another room, Bailey checks in on Chad, who has taken his mask off again. Bailey gives him the bad news that he has tested positive for COVID. The virus has already started destroying his lungs and he has COVID toe. Chad laughs at Bailey and doesn’t buy any of what she is saying. She also informs him that he has a clot in his leg that needs to be treated immediately, which is another side effect of COVID. Chad denies that he has a clot because runners don’t get blood clots. 

Chad rips his mask off again and goes into a full blown conspiracy theory rant about the pandemic. He thinks the government is trying to control people and that the doctors are personally given money by the government for each positive COVID diagnosis. He also believes that the hospitals are getting money based on the number of COVID diagnoses and thinks the whole thing is a joke. Bailey can’t comprehend that Chad doesn’t think COVID is real, so she excuses herself from the room for a moment to do some anger management yelling in a nearby stairwell. Once she calms herself down, Bailey goes back to Chad’s room to try again. Chad still refuses to put his mask on, so Bailey tries to explain his medical problems in another light to make him understand the danger he is in. Chad still thinks it’s a joke, and Bailey promises his problems won’t go away on their own. She wants to admit him and give him the treatment he needs because his symptoms could be fatal. He denies treatment and asks for a new inhaler so he can leave.

Owen and Maggie desperately try to save Guy through CPR and shocking him with a defibrillator. Maggie thinks the rubber bullet bruised his heart. They get a normal heart rhythm back and go to move him to the cardiac care unit when he codes again. They successfully shock him again, but Maggie is very concerned that the damage to Guy’s heart has caused a closed loop of irregular rhythms. Maggie tells Sara Ortiz to page Richard to meet her in the cardiac suite and that it’s urgent, as Guy needs an ablation. Maggie is still trying to get Winston on the phone when they get Guy upstairs. Richard finds her and Maggie tells him all about Winston’s current situation and her patient. She needs someone to find Winston right now, so Richard agrees to help while she saves her patient. Richard takes Maggie’s phone and tells her that he will give Winston a little more time to call. If he doesn’t hear from Winston soon, he promises to get in his own car and go find Winston himself.

Back in the hypobaric chamber, Chee explains his patient’s forklift injury to Schmitt as the patient starts to come out of his sedation. Schmitt urges Chee to give him more sedation quickly, but the patient’s stitches pop and his whole abdomen opens up before Chee can do anything. The poor guy’s intestines are popping out of his abdomen, so Schmitt jumps into action to help. He hears Mer’s voice in his head, which helps him figure out what steps he needs to take to save the patient. He tells Chee to page for anyone to come to the chamber and depressurize it so they can get to the OR. In the meantime, Schmitt puts the patient under more sedation in order to start operating on him in the chamber and control the situation while they can.


In the cath lab, Owen and Helm help Maggie with the ablation. Richard is able to get Winston on the phone and knocks on the window to let Maggie know. Owen tells her to go since Guy is now stable. Maggie is beyond relieved to hear Winston’s voice, and he is clearly very shaken by what happened. He explains that he is fine and that the police let him go after doing a DUI test on him. They also checked his trunk and whole car and made him unpack everything that was inside. The camera pulls back to show all of Winston’s possessions strewn out across the desert floor. He goes on to say that the police dog went through all his stuff and sniffed him too. After the dog found nothing out of the ordinary, the police let him go. The cops told Winston that the bike rack on his trunk obscured his license plate, and Winston adds that once they saw the color of his skin, they pulled him over. He admits that he is not okay and needs some time to breathe before getting back in the car and continuing his journey. Maggie sympathetically tells him that she will remain on the line with him as long as he needs and reminds him that he is safe and will be okay.

The small sighs of relief continue in the hypobaric chamber as Chee and Schmitt pack the patient’s abdomen. Schmitt asks Chee for saline so the bowels don’t dry out. He also doesn’t want two emergencies on his hands, so he tells Chee to constantly monitor Mer’s stats to make sure she stays in stable condition. As he is working on the post-op patient, Schmitt hears Mer tell him that he did a nice job in his head. After her surgery, Nell is doing considerably well, and Richard and Jackson give her the good news that she will make a full recovery after a potential second surgery and physical therapy. Hayes walks into the room to check up on her too, and Nell tells them that she has never felt better. She recounts her many injuries from past protests and trades protest stories with Richard. Jackson is in awe when Nell says that she was at the March on Washington at age 11 and goes on to recount what she remembers about that day. She even remembered Martin Luther King Jr.’s voice and how it felt like possibility was in the air when he spoke, which inspires Jackson.

Bailey and Teddy watch Schmitt wheel Mer back into her room as Bailey tells Teddy about Chad’s COVID conspiracy theories. Teddy doesn’t understand how Chad thinks COVID is a hoax, but does find it quite amusing that he believes the government is paying off every doctor. They joke about it until Bailey gets a page and goes running off. Teddy follows her outside, where they find Chad collapsed on the pavement. Someone explains that he signed himself out of the hospital against medical advice and passed out as soon as he walked out. They start CPR as Bailey yells for a crash cart. The next thing we see is Bailey and Teddy pulling a sheet over Chad’s dead body on a gurney inside the hospital. Bailey can’t believe that he walked away after he was offered live-saving treatment. Both Bailey and Teddy are somber, and Bailey is sad that she couldn’t fix someone who was offered help and chose to walk away. She wants to believe that they will be over the brutal COVID hill soon, but she’s not as optimistic anymore.

Later on, Maggie checks in on Guy and finds Owen examining him. Owen gives her the good news that the ablation worked. He asks how Winston is, and Maggie says that her fiancé is back on the road and should be in Seattle within the next two hours. Guy’s phone starts to go off, and they see that he has seventeen missed calls from his mom. Maggie decides to pick up the phone and explain the situation to Guy’s mom, as she probably has no idea what has happened to her son.

Jackson takes his newfound inspiration to Catherine, who is working in a conference room. She tells Jackson that she heard all about Nell from Richard and wants to meet her. Jackson ignores her comments and asks why they never protested. He wants to know why he was taught to always work and fix things from the inside instead of making real change happen. Catherine tries to respond, but Jackson doesn’t want to hear her pep talk. He believes that the foundation fights the good fight; however, nothing has gotten better. He doesn’t understand why he and Catherine aren’t in the streets fighting and asks why they don’t have scars. Catherine starts her rebuttal by informing her son that she has decades of scars and that things have changed. She mentions that there are many Black doctors working in hospitals now thanks to the many battles that she fought to make it happen. 

That’s not good enough for Jackson, who wants to do something about his ideas instead of just talking about them. He feels that there are so many things that they could do to make the world a better place. Catherine says that the world works one battle at a time, but Jackson doesn’t want to play a role in a world that is broken. Catherine tells Jackson that he sounds like his father, and he doesn’t think that’s such a bad thing. The comment hurts Catherine, who doesn’t let Jackson apologize.

We get a little levity when Hayes arrives home and finds his kids playing outside. He tells them that he was wrong about forcing them to stay at home when this is their country and that there is a moment happening right now. He will allow them to fight and protest only during daylight hours and when he is with them. The kids agree and ask to go to another protest tomorrow as long as it’s not too soon, considering his injury. Hayes has completely forgotten he had his head split open that morning and agrees to go to the protest the next day. The family bonds by playing together outside in a sweet moment.

Back at the hospital, Richard runs into Jackson as they both go to leave for the night. Richard offers Jackson a ride home, but Jackson wants to walk. Sensing what he is thinking, Richard tells Jackson that he can always march tomorrow because the day is practically over. Jackson says he can still hear the protests, so he will join in tonight and not wait any longer. Over at Mer’s room, Jo finds Schmitt and congratulates him for saving the patient in the hypobaric chamber – after ribbing him for causing the disaster first. Jo is happy to see that Mer is stable and doing well, even if she has slept the whole day away again. Schmitt tells his roommate about how there is always a voice in his head asking, “What would Meredith Grey do?” Jo admits that she hears that voice in her own head too and advises him to keep listening to it. She says that she listened to the voice and is going to start a new residency in OBGYN.

The episode ends with Winston pulling up to the sister house late at night. Maggie and Amelia were waiting on the porch for him, and Maggie runs to Winston as soon as he gets out of the car. They hug and kiss in a passionate reunion. Winston whispers to her that he did whatever it took to get home for her, which is sure to melt every viewer’s heart. We then see Jackson get in his car and punch in an address into his GPS, which says his destination is eleven hours away. The show ends before we know where Jackson is headed, but the best guess is that he is going to visit his father. Tune in next week to find out!


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