Grey’s Anatomy (S14E12) “Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger”

It was competition time at Grey Sloan Memorial this week and April (Sarah Drew), who is having a pretty rough time of it lately, lays out the rules. In case you missed it, the doctors are competing to win a $5 million research grant. They each have three days to submit a written proposal to April, with the top twenty-five proposals receiving $100,000 in seed money, this is then whittled down to the top five (who receive $1 million) before the winner is decided.

With three days until the papers need to be submitted, only a few of the doctors know what they want to submit. One of these is Jackson (Jesse Williams) who is incredibly confident that his spray-on skin idea will be the winning proposal. Jackson’s mother (Debbie Allen) however, wants Jackson to take a different project. She wants Jackson to work with her on a new form of vaginoplasty, which would improve the lives of trans women everywhere. The idea was brought to Catherine by Dr Michelle Velez (Candice Cayne) who is herself a trans woman and one of the top plastic surgeons in the country. “Why do you need me?” Jackson asks after pointing out this fact. Her response: “I can’t operate on myself” – she intends to be the trial subject. For Jackson though, despite Catherine’s best persuasive efforts (including telling him that “this vagina could be your birthday present to me”), this isn’t enough to deter him from persisting with his spray-on skin, which is a brand new ground-breaking procedure and not merely a new way of doing something which already exists. Later, Jackson is explaining his spray-on skin idea to his intern Dahlia (Sophia Taylor Ali). Whilst showering him with praise, Dahlia accidentally blurts out “you’re so attractive”, making a feeble attempt to backtrack (“I meant talented because I find talent attractive”), Catherine walks in and give her the perfect opportunity to run and hide under the nearest rock. Catherine tells Jackson that the suicide rate amongst trans people is forty-one percent – this surgery wouldn’t just improve the quality of trans people’s lives, it would save lives too.

Still unsure, the final thing to push him over the edge is Meredith (Ellen Pompeo) coming in to bemoan over her lack of ideas. “Poor Jackson, he has two amazing ideas and he can’t decide which one to submit” she mocks, though when she points out that, whilst the surgery Catherine might want him to take will only affect one percent of the population, this is still seventy-five million people. When Dahlia comes to him with both papers prepared instead of just the spray-on skin like Jackson asked, his mind is made up.

Speaking of Meredith, she is one of the many doctors this week who comes up with their idea because of a lightbulb moment whilst treating their patient – or in Meredith’s case two patients. She starts off her day giving a second, and ultimately final opinion on Harry (Tahmus Rounds), one of Richard’s (James Pickens Jr) old AA buddies. She tells Richard what he already knew – his liver is failing and he doesn’t qualify for a transplant; it’s only a matter of time before he dies. Meredith’s other patient this week is Judy (Lesley Boone), whom you may remember as Meredith’s splenectomy patient during the blackout. She has come back complaining of similar symptoms, though as Meredith took out her spleen, this couldn’t be the same problem. Upon sending her for a scan, Meredith and Jo (Camilla Luddington) discover something incredibly rare; the spleen cells in Judy’s body have matured and formed lots of tiny functioning spleens. “Too bad she didn’t grow extras of something useful, like kidneys or livers”, Jo remarks at the operating table. Meredith’s brain lights up, if she can stimulate the growth of multiple smaller livers, they can do the same function of a larger liver without the need for a transplant, and people like Harry wouldn’t have to die.

For Meredith’s idea to work though, she will need a particular type of biopolymer, the same biopolymer Owen (Kevin McKidd) needs for his clotting-factor project. Unfortunately, having checked this out, Casey (Alex Blue Davis) has found that the patent for this biopolymer is held by a doctor in Madrid and it’s incredibly expensive. Before he can wallow for too long, an ambulance pulls up with paramedics needing help with a patient who starting seizing as one of the paramedics was trying to get an airway, biting the paramedic’s finger clean off. Owen races to the rescue, stabilising the patient and removing the finger from his throat. At this point, Owen realises he doesn’t need to take part in this contest, he saves lives every day and that’s more than enough for him.

One of the other doctors who is more than prepared for this project is, of course, Miranda Bailey (Chandra Wilson). She enlists Dr Schmitt (Jake Borelli) – or Glasses as I will call him for as long as he is on the show – to run around collecting items from the hospital and her house, as she is on bedrest following her heart attack in last week’s episode. Unfortunately, Bailey telling Schmitt that “What happens here stay here. No one needs to know what we do in this room”, leads him to think that something untoward is going on. Nevertheless, he does Bailey’s bidding, until she asks him to fetch some latex gloves and a turkey baster. Clearly thinking something inappropriate may be about to occur (come on Glasses – this is Miranda Bailey you’re talking about!), Schmitt stands up to Bailey telling him he has to be able to speak up to those in power over him. A shocked Bailey tells him that this is for the prototype for her project. “It goes in your rectum”.

Richard Webber meanwhile, is more concerned with his wife’s birthday than the project, but he’s not overly concerned.  “I’m a ninth-inning, grand-slam kind of thinker. It’ll come.” He tells Meredith. He spends a lot of father-daughter time with Maggie (Kelly McCreary) this week, and we really don’t see enough of them on screen together. While learning to salsa to surprise Catherine, Richard comforts Maggie as it soon to be the first anniversary of her mother’s death. He tells her stories of the first anniversary of his own mother’s death and the first anniversary of him being sober; “anniversaries are hard,” he tells her “first anniversaries are worse.” Maggie tells Richard of a time when she was younger, and used to run around waving a stick pretending it was a magic wand, and how she wishes she had that stick now. Is it just me or can you totally imagine a young Maggie waving a magic wand around pretending she was Hermione Granger? This gives Richard his idea, a ‘pen’ that can instantly identify healthy and non-healthy tissue on touch. “It’s not a pen,” Maggie says before giving Richard a hug, “it’s a magic wand”.

richard catherine - Grey’s Anatomy (S14E12) “Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger”
Richard (James Pickens Jr, C) learnt to salsa for his wife Catherine (Debbie Allen, L)

Maggie, of course, is the other doctor who is fully prepared for this. She is creating a new type of LVAD which doesn’t need wires and to be charged but instead charges through the skin (where was this idea twelve years ago when Izzie was cutting Denny’s LVAD wire!). Unfortunately, her date has no idea what she is talking about and she goes back to the hospital and tells Jackson, who immediately understands every word. Are the writers really going to keep dragging this will they – won’t they relationship of Jackson and Maggie’s all season? Personally, I’m against but if they are intent on it happening just get it over with already!

Arizona (Jessica Capshaw), like April, is still reeling from the death of Karen in the episode before last. Speaking to Carina (Stefania Spampinato), she laments the fact that another healthy mother has died in childbirth from an entirely treatable condition. “I can only imagine,” Carina says and is shocked that Arizona has lost more than one mom whilst she hasn’t lost any. Likewise, Arizona is stunned that Carina has never had a mom die during childbirth and goes away to do some research. She discovers that America’s maternal mortality rate is twenty-six point four out of every 100,000 whilst Italy’s is six times lower at four point two. She decides that this will be her paper after an impassioned speech to April sees her submitting it to the judges.

The most heart-breaking and inspirational story this week involves Kimmie Park (Nayah Damasen) a twelve-year-old Broadway star in the making who is in and out of the hospital due to a recurring brain tumour. Sending her for an MRI, Alex (Justin Chambers) and Amelia (Caterina Scorsone) realise that the tumour is back once more and this time they will need to operate. Due to the nature of the operation, Kimmie must be awake, and they ask her to sing and then speak whilst operating to make sure nothing is going wrong. Her singing is unaffected but when Amelia stimulates the tumour, her speech cortex is disturbed and she ends up with word salad and speaking gibberish. If they leave this tumour in, Kimmie will die, but if they take it out, she will lose her ability to speak. Amelia relays this information to Kimmie’s adoptive mother (Marilyn Tokuda) who tells her that this girl has fought her whole life through everything – her parents abandoned her before she could walk and she has battled this tumour for years so not having a solution isn’t good enough. When she mentions Kimmie having notes that could shatter glass, this later gives Amelia the idea for her project. With DeLuca (Giacomo Gianniotti) and Sam (Jeanine Mason) having failed to find a solution, Amelia proposes that they use targeted ultrasound at the same frequency of the tumour to shatter it without damaging the rest of the brain. This has never been done on a brain before, so Amelia submits this as her proposal for the contest and receive the funding she needs to save Kimmie’s life.

Later in Joe’s bar (whatever happened to Joe?), Owen is impressed that Meredith managed to get the patent for the biopolymer they both needed for their project and Meredith’s face drops. It appears she didn’t even check this. Just as Jo asks whether Meredith got the patent, Richard walks in and announces that the results are in. We see that Maggie, Arizona and Meredith have all been granted their projects, and it’s assumed that Richard, Jackson and Bailey have also, but, before you think that all of the Grey Sloan bunch have been granted funding, we cut to Amelia and Alex. It seems that their project, and the one that was in most dire need, didn’t make the grade. Alex asks the question all viewers are now asking: “What are we going to do about Kimmie?

Grey’s Anatomy will be back in three weeks on Thursday, March 1st at 8/7c on ABC