Grey’s Anatomy is headed to the courtroom. No, the ABC medical drama is not turning into Scandal, though Grey’s did film on its sister series’ sets for Thursday’s intense custody battle, which pits former wives Callie (Sara Ramirez) and Arizona (Jessica Capshaw) against each other.
After Penny (Samantha Sloyan) received a grant that would send her to New York, Callie decided to move to the East Coast alongside her new-ish girlfriend, with her daughter, Sofia, in tow. However, Arizona, who is also Sofia’s mother, wasn’t keen on that idea, ultimately landing the duo in court.
“It’s a very intense, very emotional, heartbreaking episode,” star and director Kevin McKidd tells EW. “I’m really proud of it. I felt really honored to be asked to direct this. It almost feels like its own standalone movie. Most of the episode takes place in or around the courthouse and in the courtroom. It handles issues about custody, working parents and what you do in these situations. It’s a mini Kramer vs. Kramer in a sense.”
In what McKidd calls “an all-out war,” the custody battle finds the doctors of Grey Sloan forced to choose sides, causing a fair amount of tension as various docs step up to the plate to testify for either side. “It’s awful and heartbreaking for everybody because these doctors have known each other for years,” McKidd says. “They’re all friends and all just want the best for Callie, Arizona, and Sofia. But the nature of courtrooms is you have to pick a side. It’s one side against the other. It’s really tough and very intense.”
Even though “everybody is trying to be respectful,” McKidd says not to expect an amicable trial. “Lawyers being lawyers, [they’re] very smart with cross examination,” McKidd says. “Some of the cross examinations don’t go so well or are derailed. It’s very dramatic and very intense.”
That’s true for at least Meredith (Ellen Pompeo), who is testifying on behalf of Callie. “Callie is being a little impulsive just meeting someone and wanting to pick up and leave her life, but Meredith supports her,” Pompeo says. “There’s a moment in court where Meredith gets in a little bit of trouble. She thinks she’s helping her and says some stuff, and the lawyer uses it against her.”
“That’s a heartbreaking episode,” Pompeo continues. “It’s really good. Sara and Jessica are both so good. It’s a great storyline because it’s meaningful. When families break up, it’s a big deal. The tears are going to be flowing for that episode, for sure.”
Though Meredith’s relationship with Callie’s girlfriend Penny got off to a rough start — the latter played a role in the death of Derek (Patrick Dempsey) — the duo are very much on the same page during the trial. “Meredith and Penny have reconciled,” Pompeo insists. “In [episode] 1209, when Meredith was having the panic attack, Penny was the only one who knew and cut her wires off her jaw so she could get some air. She had that moment of redemption with Meredith. From then on, I’m a big supporter of Penny.”
But not everyone will be happy with Penny by the end of the hour. “Penny’s testimony starts very well, but the lawyer really goes for the jugular,” McKidd reveals. “It doesn’t end well, and will impact Callie and Penny’s relationship in a very significant way as we move forward into the end of the season.”
And by episode’s end, someone will have full custody of Sofia. “The culmination of the episode is both Callie and Arizona’s testimony, which are both beautifully written [by Tia Napolitano] and beautifully acted by Sara and Jessica,” McKidd says. “It’s a beautiful episode. It’s going to be hard to watch for some people.”
Whoever ends up victorious, the aftermath of the trial will reverberate throughout the hospital. “People’s really ugly sides come out in custody battles, which we’ll see,” costar Kelly McCreary says. “People have had to choose sides and then have to work their way back into comfort with the other person — the one whose side they didn’t choose. It’s hard once you have chosen sides and you feel maybe that you’ve betrayed a colleague. Getting back to a regular working relationship might be challenging.”
Grey’s Anatomy airs Thursdays at 8 p.m. ET on ABC.