Warning: This article contains spoilers about Thursday’s episode of Grey’s Anatomy, titled “Silent All These Years.” Read at your own risk!
In Thursday’s episode of Grey’s Anatomy, a standalone story line about a victim of sexual assault who is fearful about reporting the incident culminated with an extraordinary outpouring of love and support from the women of Grey Sloan Memorial. So we asked three of the show’s producers — showrunner Krista Vernoff, director Debbie Allen, and writer Elisabeth R. Finch — to reflect on the emotional scene and why so many women were eager to participate.
KRISTA VERNOFF (showrunner): There was a situation in our political sphere that was incredibly painful and damaging. It was Christine Blasey Ford‘s testimony and how it didn’t mean anything. It hurt our souls. I went to the writers and said, “The message that has just been sent to all young women is that consent doesn’t matter. We have an opportunity here to teach men and women about consent and to talk about how lasting and impactful rape can be for generations.” It’s the first time ever that I reached out to the staff with an actual issue as opposed to saying, “Hey! I have a character idea.”
ELISABETH R. FINCH (episode writer): Three years ago the Writers Guild of America sent out an email about an opportunity for a small group of people to visit the UCLA Medical Center, Santa Monica Rape Treatment Center. It’s an internationally known organization that every treatment center ought to be because of the way they have designed their space. One of the most fascinating things about this place is how every time we would go into a room, there would be a series of radio [communique] from a person who checks to see if the hallways are clear. They want to make sure no stranger, not anyone, is walking through that hallway while a survivor is passing through. I thought it was incredible that a place would design an entire program around one survivor. A year later, I watched a YouTube video of someone who donated organs. Part of the hospital protocol is that whenever an organ donor is wheeled down a hallway, every single doctor in that hospital lines the hallways to honor that person. Something clicked in my head about marrying those two things.
VERNOFF: She pitched this scene to me as the “army of awesome,” which was lining the hallways with women who would just stand there and witness this survivor’s journey to protect her. It’s so rare to get that kind of representation in TV that looks at the fallout of violence and focuses on ways we can support and heal each other rather than further damage each other. As a showrunner, when you hear a scene like that, you go, “Yes, please, and make it the entire episode.”
DEBBIE ALLEN (director): Honestly, I was almost paralyzed with a mix of emotions [from reading the script]. This story is so layered. It was a very emotional, personal read for me.
VERNOFF: From the moment the script was published, there was a big reaction to it at Shondaland. Everybody was blown away. We started having people come up and ask if they could be in that scene. The women in that hallway are almost all the women on the writing staff. Many of the women are on the crew, or they are assistants at Shondaland, or they are women who work at ABC. I think there were more than 100 women.
FINCH: I was the only one who went in kicking and screaming.
VERNOFF: We forced her to do it. She is camera-shy but she had to be a part of it. She is on the screen right side, pulling the gurney.
FINCH: I am not a crier. But I could barely keep myself together to walk down that hallway, over and over.
ALLEN: We had to start dancing in the middle of shooting because it was very heavy. We didn’t have all day. We had women who were leaving their jobs to come be in the scene. I had a good hour to shoot it. So we lit it and we hit it.
VERNOFF: There was reverence in that hallway. The feeling that every woman in that room had some kind of relationship to this story was simultaneously devastating and powerfully healing. In this moment we got to say, There are better ways we can all come together. We can witness each other. We can change.
ALLEN: Grey’s Anatomy is about a lot of things. We tackle the most controversial and relevant subject matters as well as wonderful relationships and people trying to find their way. And we will continue. It’s part of the reason why we’re like a brand new show as we go into season 16. We go to the same river but we step in new water every time.
Grey’s Anatomy airs Thursdays at 8 p.m. ET on ABC.