The long-awaited Surgical Innovation Contest begins as Karev and Amelia fight to save a girl with an inoperable brain tumor
Credit: Mitch Haaseth/ABC

“Genius is 1 percent inspiration and 99 percent perspiration.” So starts tonight’s episode of Grey’s Anatomy, appropriately titled, “Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger.” What’s most interesting, though, is that while both the pace of the episode and the A-plot (which focuses on our favorite surgeons being as driven as the Kanye version of the Daft Punk original) absolutely match, the only song repeatedly sung throughout the night was Cabaret’s “Maybe This Time,” a bluesy number that unfurls slowly, taking its time to build to crescendo as the singer holds out hope that something good is finally going to come. It’s a stark juxtaposition between working relentlessly toward your goal and just waiting and holding out hope that your luck is going to turn. If only the story didn’t also feel like it’s in wait-and-see mode…

April seems to be stuck in the middle of these two opposites as she’s unable to compete in the competition and is also loath to come up with the rules of the surgical innovation contest. She’s still also stuck in her faithless universe wherein she is actively sleeping with Dr. Vikram Roy, the (oops) cocky intern.

She tells her colleagues that everyone needs to submit a proposal, and then she and a panel of “esteemed surgeons” will narrow the pool down round by round, giving various cash prizes along the way until they get to the eventual winner, who will receive $5 million.

After the eager beavers scatter to start their day and come up with ideas to submit, Karev and Amelia have a patient named Kimmie, a 12-year-old with a recurring brain tumor who is there for a follow-up head CT but is entertaining the entire ward by singing “Maybe This Time” beforehand. All she wants to do is audition for her spring musical, but her pesky tumor keeps getting in the way of her dreams. She’s so full of hope that you actually believe maybe this is her time.

Webber asks Meredith to consult on an old A.A. friend of his named Harry, who is in desperate need of a new liver but won’t get it. He refuses pain medicine as well on account of being an addict, and after Meredith suggests that perhaps he’d be more comfortable in a hospice, he tells her, “That’s the bench for players who gave up the game.” Even though it’s clearly the bottom of his 9th inning, though, he tells Meredith he wants to do some good before he goes.

Catherine Avery is back at Grey Sloan Memorial, and she’s brought her friend Dr. Michelle Velez with her. Dr. Velez is one of the country’s best plastic surgeons, and she wants to help Jackson and Catherine win the contest with her idea to revolutionize the vaginoplasty by using abdominal membrane instead of whatever is usually used. She’s personally invested in this because she herself is a trans woman, and she believes her brilliance will not only revolutionize the lives of trans women but also women who have been born with genetic deformities. I mean, girlfriend ain’t wrong…

But Jackson already has his own idea for the contest: He is trying to make spray-on skin. Catherine hounds him as only a mother can, reminding him that the rate of suicide among people with gender dysphoria is a whopping 41 percent, and that if he abandons his project and, instead, gets on board with her and Dr. Velez, he’ll be saving lives. She also guilts him as only a mother can, reminding him that her birthday is coming up. She tells him to “think of this vagina as your gift to me.”

It sadly turns out that it isn’t Kimmie’s time after all. The head CT shows Amelia and Karev that Kimmie’s tumor is back and encroaching on an area that will require them to perform the brain surgery while the poor girl is awake.

Just when you’re wondering what Bailey will do for the contest, we see she’s home on bed rest (though everyone thinks she’s on vacation), and she’s enlisted Glasses for help. She makes him bring her beakers, stoppers, and tubing before eventually asking him to bring her measuring tape and gloves. There’s a pathetic misunderstanding as he doesn’t realize that all of this is her idea for the contest and instead thinks she’s coming onto him.

While Meredith ponders Harry’s fate, an old patient comes back: Judy the splenectomy patient from a few episodes ago returns and is still in pain. But as Helm (Meredith calls her Hellmouth), the blond intern, relays, Judy’s not suffering from infection. Turns out her spleen grew mini spleens, and Meredith, Jo, and Hellmouth need to get them out. Thanks to Jo, Meredith realizes during surgery that all these mini organs could provide the same function as a regular organ. As she tells Jackson later on, this is her “hailstorm” of an idea for the contest. (Recap continues on page 2)

While everyone else is worried about the contest, Owen couldn’t care less. He’s too busy saving lives and fingers in the ER while being assisted by Casey Parker, the trans male intern who saved the hospital’s entire computer system. Though he’s not a proposal/contest type guy, Owen proves savvy enough to make Meredith realize that she needs a very expensive patent in order to execute her idea.

With the contest in high gear, things slow down again as Kimmie’s surgery is sadly unsuccessful. Amelia and Karev test areas of her brain before figuring out that if they remove part of the tumor, she will lose her ability to speak. Hearing a child with an inoperable brain tumor say, “Maybe this time I’ll win” when you know that it’s virtually impossible for her to do so is the rare somber moment of this episode.

Speaking of somber, Harry’s game ends, though as Meredith tells Webber, it was he who inspired her to come up with her idea — so in the end, he really did help people.

Webber is taking salsa lessons as his surprise birthday gift to Catherine, and he’s enlisted the help of Maggie. While they’re waiting for the teacher to arrive, they talk about the upcoming one-year anniversary of her mother’s death. She tells him when she was little she had a stick that she would pretend was a magic wand, and when her mom got sick, she wished she still had it.

They also dish about Maggie’s dating Clive, the stockbroker. And while Maggie tells her dad that she’s having a lot of sex, when we see her out with Clive, it’s clear they have zero chemistry. To make matters worse, his reaction to her having to leave their date early makes it apparent that he has no clue about living the surgical life. I’m putting money down now: Be prepared to say goodbye to Clive.

April isn’t the only one still on a low from the episode where everyone died; Arizona is still feeling the effects of the loss of Karin, the wife of April’s ex-fiancé, who died from preeclampsia. She funnels her frustration about maternal mortality into a contest proposal to change the fact that the U.S. has one the worst rates of maternal mortality in the developed world. Later on, she asks Carina to “be her partner” on the study, and Carina coyly replies, “Only on the study?” Their kiss shows that clearly this partnership is back in business.

Everyone’s in high spirits as they gather at Joe’s bar after work, and it’s there that we learn that Webber’s idea for the contest involved a medical magic wand of sorts, as well as the specifics of everyone else’s proposal (Jackson chose to go with his mom’s idea). As Webber impresses Catherine with his hard-earned dance moves, we also find out that everyone except for Amelia and Karev will be advancing in to the next round of the contest.

And though it doesn’t play again, when you see the disappointment in Amelia and Karev’s eyes, you can almost hear the heartache in Liza Minelli’s breathy voice as she sings, “Maybe this time…” No matter what, the optimist in us still needs to hold on to something.

Episode Recaps

Grey's Anatomy

Meredith. Alex. Bailey. The doctors are definitely in on Shonda Rhimes' hospital melodrama.

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