Sunday, May 26, 2024

In Defence of Jo Wilson

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Warning: Spoilers for episodes 1 & 2 of Season 13 of Grey’s Anatomy,
misogyny and victim blaming, discussions of (domestic) violence

Grey’s Anatomy dropped a couple of bombshells at the end of it’s 12th season, including April having a c-section on Meredith’s kitchen table, Amelia running away from her own wedding to Owen just to return and marry him in the end and the reveal that Meredith’s sister Maggie has a serious crush on Nathan Riggs with whom Meredith just had sex. The main bombshell, however, and the one that has had the biggest repercussions on screen so far concerns Jo Wilson and Alex Karev. Or rather, the main two bombshells.

I am, of course, referring to the reveal that Jo Wilson is already and still married to another man who physically abused her and to Alex coming into his flat to find another man – surgical intern Andrew DeLuca – leaning over his almost naked girlfriend and then punching DeLuca in the face. Alex punching DeLuca in the face just minutes after Jo revealed to him that she is still married to her abuser was literally the last thing we saw of these characters until season 13 started about 3 weeks ago.

The first episode of season 13, “Undo” started with Alex and an almost unconscious DeLuca arriving in an ambulance at Grey Sloan’s Memorial Hospital and ended with Alex confessing to the cops that he assaulted DeLuca. In the second episode, “Catastrophe and the Cure”, the characters are (of course) still dealing with the fallout of that which includes Alex being taken to court and charged with felony assault in the second degree.

And boy, are fans unhappy with that. It’s understandable: Alex is one of four characters who has been around since season 1 and he’s the only one of Meredith’s original group of fellow interns and friends to still be at Grey Sloan Memorial. He has also grown an incredible amount from the asshole he used to be and him being charged with a felony seriously endangers his career, not to mention that it could land him in prison. It’s sad to see a character who has come so far almost losing everything he’s worked for.

Unfortunately, many fans have taken to expressing their unhappiness with this storyline in rather nasty ways, primarily through hating on Jo Wilson (and, to a lesser extent, Andrew DeLuca as well). Just take a look at a random comment section of any current post on the Grey’s Anatomy facebook page, but just in case you can’t do that, here’s a selection of screenshots I took:

People hating on a female character for the actions of a dude. Never seen that before.

(Trust me, there is more Jo hate and general victim blaming where that came from.)

Let’s recap in more detail what happened that led to Alex being charged with a felony:

Alex and Jo had been fighting (again) about Jo refusing Alex’ marriage proposals which lead to him packing his bag and walking out on her. Jo headed to Joe’s to drink away her sadness as she thought that this meant Alex was breaking up with her and was later accompanied home by Andrew DeLuca who meant to make sure she got there safe and unhurt. Simultaneously, Alex hears Owen Hunt, who is waiting to see if his bride-to-be Amelia is going to come back to the weddings say that

“if you get to the point where you’re gonna walk down the aisle with someone, she’s earned some trust and faith. She’s earned the benefit of the doubt. So I’m giving it to her. She deserves that.”

Alex heads back to the loft he shares with Jo who has dressed down to her underwear as she wants to go to bed, then stumbles against DeLuca and falls backwards onto the bed, pulling DeLuca with her. As DeLuca is checking whether she is okay, Alex walks into the flat, sees DeLuca leaning over Jo and immediately punches DeLuca in the face multiple time.

As mentioned already, Alex later calls an ambulance and takes DeLuca to the hospital where he is first treated in a trauma room and then surgically. Richard Webber tries to comfort a drunken and upset Jo in her and Alex’ loft while Meredith figures out what happened and goes to the hospital to talk to Alex. When Richard tries to make Jo a coffee, she takes off to the hospital as well to talk to Alex who has revealed to Meredith that he thought DeLuca was trying to take advantage of Jo. When Jo tells Alex that this is not what happened, Alex assumes that she was trying to cheat on him, continously interrupts her as she tries to tell him that this is also not what happened and he finally tells her that

“[You] can’t help it, it’s not your fault. It’s easy for you to throw people away, to just move on when things are bad. It’s not you. It’s the way you were raised. Or not raised.”

Jo tries to pack up her stuff and leave, but Stephanie, her best friend who left her with DeLuca, stops her and asks her what happened. After Jo has told her, Stephanie talks to Meredith who finally explains the situation to Alex. When Alex tries to talk to DeLuca, who has gotten out of surgery and woken up again, DeLuca has a panic attack. Alex confesses to the police that have been called to the hospital to investigate that it was him who beat DeLuca and is arrested for assault.


In last weeks episode, Alex is then charged with felony assault of the second degree despite his lawyer arguing that he should only be charged with misdemeanor.

I’m not going to lie, I can see why people think that Jo is (partially) responsible for the situation that Alex is in: if she had not refused to marry him, they wouldn’t have fought and he wouldn’t have walked out on her. She wouldn’t have gotten drunk and been taken home by DeLuca who wouldn’t have been caught in an easily misunderstandable situation by Alex who thus wouldn’t have beaten up DeLuca.

But even though I sort of have conflicted feelings about all of this, I still strongly disagree with blaming Jo for the situation and hating on her.

After all, it was Alex who decided to punch DeLuca in the face instead of letting him explain and continued to beat him. Don’t get me wrong: I understand that someone’s first reaction to seeing what they think is a woman (or anybody, really) being sexually assaulted is punching the seeming perpetrator. I don’t understand (or condone) continuing to beat them to the point where they’re almost unconscious, could have a brain bleed and almost lose an eye.

Alex has always had a violent temper and DeLuca is not the first person he has punched: there is Alex’ father (who physically abused Alex’ mother), Alex’ younger brother (who accused Alex of being just like their father), Alex’ father again at a later point in time when Alex finds out that he has another wife and kid that he’s abandoned and Doctor Ross, an intern who messed up a surgery on Alex’ father, effectively killing him. And as much as Alex has grown, he has never dealt with the fact that he tends to punch people when he is angry.

Additionally, he also tends to lash out at people when he is hurt and say and do hurtful things to get back at them: apart from telling Jo that she isn’t capable of committing to someone because she wasn’t raised by anyone and punching people, in season 2 he calls George a sad excuse for a man and expresses the wish to smash his pathetic little face into a locker, he yells at April and insults her for being a virgin when they make out and she asks him to go slower and he tells drunkenly tells Owen Hunt that he thinks that Meredith messed with a clinical trial that she and Derek had been working on, costing them the trial and almost their marriage and the child they are trying to adopt.

merandalexAlex Karev has anger management issues that he needs to start dealing with. He has had them since the very beginning of the series. They are not Jo Wilson’s fault, no matter what specific role she played in the circumstances that lead to Alex punching another man. Alex is a grown man: dealing with his anger in a way that doesn’t put someone else in the hospital is his responsibility. And no one else’s.

But let’s also consider why exactly Jo Wilson has refused all of Alex’ marriage proposals (so far): she’s already married.

She drunkenly revealed this to Andrew DeLuca in the finale of season 12. She also revealed that her husband was abusive and hit her which is why she ran away from him. As he would find out her address if she filed for a divorce, she hasn’t done so (yet). She also hasn’t told Alex about this.

Large parts of the vitriol directed at Jo’s character at the moment mention this fact, calling her a liar and accusing her of just playing Alex. But Jo’s reason for refusing to marry Alex is anything but trivial and definitely not something one could just mention in passing. Additionally, admitting that you have been abused isn’t easy, especially because being abused has long-term effects on people, including on their ability to trust others. And Jo isn’t just worried about how Alex might react, she’s also worried that he might get hurt while trying to protect her from her abuser.

Let’s remember that Jo wasn’t unwilling to commit to Alex: it was, after all, her that suggested they buy a flat and move in together. When Alex asked her to marry him at the end of season 12 and she refused, she suggested they have a child together – a commitment that binds people together more tightly and lastingly than even marriage.

Let’s also remember how Alex reacted to that.

Doesn’t exactly create the atmosphere in which you can tell your boyfriend that you’re still married to a man who regularly hit you, does it?

Don’t get me wrong: I think the healthy thing for Jo to do would have been to tell Alex that she’s still married to her abuser, either the first time she rejected his proposal and asked him to keep the ring or sometime afterwards, but I absolutely get why she didn’t and I think that hating on her for it is… well, wrong.

13x02-joandmerOf course, Alex beating up Andrew DeLuca in front of Jo changes things, as does Alex throwing Jo’s lack of a family and homelessness into her face. In last weeks episode, when Meredith told Jo that Alex is unhappy and needs support because she assumes that Jo cares because she came to court, Jo tells Meredith that she cares about what Alex did to Andrew. Considering that Jo herself has been beaten up, it’s understandable that her sympathies are with Andrew rather than with Alex.

At the same time, Jo herself does know what it’s like to be the one inflicting violence on someone else: In the finale of season 9, the guy she dated, Jason Myers, grabs Jo’s arm and she overreacts and hits him which leads to them fighting and her ultimately shoving him off. Back then, Alex stood by her and even blackmailed Myers into not pressing charges.

However, Alex also said something deeply hurtful to Jo when he accused her of just throwing people away because of the way she wasn’t raised. He was the first person Jo told about this and, more importantly, the first person who understood and didn’t judge her because he had made similar experiences. Using this knowledge against her was a serious low blow on Alex’ part. It’s no wonder that Jo doesn’t accept his apology and instead calls him out for lashing out and intentionally hurting her.

As mentioned before, that’s a trait that Alex has always had and that, as much as he has grown, he has never properly dealt with. Both Shonda Rhimes herself and Kelly McCreary, the actress who plays Meredith’s younger half sister Maggie, have stated that the current season will focus on the originals of the show, meaning Meredith Grey, Miranda Bailey, Richard Webber and, of course, Alex. There is some massive potential for character development here, especially as Alex has to not only go to trial but also deal with his mentor figure, Arizona Robbins, coming back from New York and finding out that he attacked her roommate, as the trailer for tonights episode showed.

Jo herself is, in my opinion, a genuinely interesting character as well: she’s clever, headstrong and empathetic, but she also has a massive inferiority complex, trust issues and a fear of being abandoned that can lead to her being, well, shitty at interpersonal relationships. Jo thinking that her best friend Stephanie lied about her past to get ahead and talking to Steph’s superior instead of Steph herself last season showed that. Exploring her backstory more in depth, especially the abusive relationship she was in, might not only shine a spotlight on why she is the way she is, it might also force Jo to deal with her character flaws.

We at Fandom Following talk quite a bit about the importance of representation and stories as a way of getting people to empathise with real word people. In my opinion, Jo’s story also offers an opportunity to show how being abused by an intimate partner – a situation that one in three women in the world has experienced – can affect women even years afterwards. Of course, I don’t want to shower Shonda Rhimes and the Grey’s Anatomy team with praise for a storyline I haven’t seen play out on screen yet: there are many ways that this could play out and some of the ones that I can imagine are quite, well, problematic. But ultimately, I do trust that Rhimes is aware enough to not turn this into a gross, misogynistic, victim – blamey mess. If people would just stop hating on Jo, I could actually lean back and enjoy this storyline.

Images courtesy of ABC

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