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Performer Of The Month - Readers' and Staff Choice Most Outstanding Performer of March - Camilla Luddington

29 Apr 2019

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The article was written by Ellys Cartin, Aimee Hicks, Jessica L, Nick Manesis, Marko Pekic, Sam D, and mads. Article edited by Donna Cromeans (@DJRiter). Article prepared for publication by Aimee Hicks.

Grey's Anatomy's recently aired Silent All These Years (15x19) takes its place among the most difficult television episodes of all time. Its treatment of sexual assault makes it hard to watch and harder to execute, yet it succeeds in telling an impactful and respectful story of three women whose lives have been irrevocably altered by the most horrific kinds of abuse. At the center of the story is Dr. Jo Karev, herself a domestic violence survivor, played by Camilla Luddington. Through Jo's interactions with Vicki and Abby (Michelle Forbes and Khalilah Joi with equally extraordinary performances), the full weight of survivors' burdens and caregivers' responsibilities is powerfully illustrated. Luddington also shows us the difficult contrast between personal and professional association with survivors, all while Jo must come to terms with heartrending pieces of her own history. She gives a performance as unflinching as the episode itself and with that powerful performance Camilla Luddington has made SpoilerTV history. For the first time, the SpoilerTV staff and our readers have picked the same person as Outstanding Performer of the Month for March.

The episode follows two different encounters that Jo has with two different women. That second story unfolds in flashbacks throughout the episode. It begins with Luddington slowly but determinedly ringing a doorbell. Jo’s fear visibly turns into shock, when instead of the estranged mother she's pictured her whole life, she's greeted by a happy and wealthy looking woman who's helping her kids get ready for school. Though her character has thought about this moment her whole life, she struggles with introducing herself in the right way. The cheerful married woman mistakes her for a salesperson until Jo gathers all her courage to bring up the hospital she was born in and the circumstances of her abandonment and make herself clear. Her tone is not one of aggression or resentment, she's pleading to get to know her by being more vulnerable than she's ever allowed herself to be.

Jo came to her birth mother’s doorstep apologetically, with Luddington’s body language reflecting that awkwardness. Jo’s face when she first talked to Vicki (Michelle Forbes) was scrunched into a tense grimace. She knew she was about to throw this woman's world upside down and acted accordingly. Afraid of her mother`s reaction and in what state she would find Vicki, Jo wasn`t pushy. She spoke with concentrated amounts of patience and respect, knowing this wouldn’t be easy for either of them. However, the moment Jo saw that Vicki was living an idyllic life with her husband and kids, a switch turned. Deep anger emerged from Jo`s pain evidenced by a delicate but poignant change of tone in Jo`s voice, her facial expressions, and her posture. As she put up the ultimatum in front of Vicki and got the door smacked in front of her face, Luddington delivered another delicate change as Jo let her guard down and her eyes slightly teared up, as this was one of the hardest, humblest things she had to do in her life.

Jo waits for her mother in the café. The jittery, cordial version of herself she brought to Vicki’s door is gone. Luddington lets you feel the simmering cache of frustration as Jo waits and waits. When Vicki does enter the cafe, at last, Jo greets her with a glance of petulant resentment. This scene is the culmination of decades of Jo’s life that she has spent struggling, fighting to survive, and fervently trying to understand how someone could have left her at that fire station as an infant. Even though our hearts are with Jo in this moment, Forbes walks into the scene with the weight of a history we don’t know and hits us hard. There’s something that’s not exactly shame in the way she walks in and looks for Jo but tries to not look at her. That something is pain, pain that Jo naturally can’t see because her own pain is still blinding.

In the very next scene, Luddington’s work was so powerful that it should one day be studied in a master class for acting in how to do so much without speaking a single word. It is easy to react with words and fill those words with the right tones and emotional beats. It is an entirely different feat to have to deliver an entire performance without speaking and just reacting. The scene started off innocently enough with Jo continuing being defensive and angry with Vicki. There were heavy beats laced with a smidge or snark when Vicki revealed that Jo's biological father was dead, and Jo struck back in retaliation for how the news was delivered. There was even the angry moment where Jo was ready to storm out after feeling that Vicki was being insensitive regarding her father. But then there was this moment that happened so quickly it was easy to miss; a was the moment where Luddington and Forbes came together and locked into place this unexpected coming together between their characters in an unspoken understanding. Jo sat down and just listened to the horrible story Vicki was relaying regarding the moment Jo was conceived. It was hard to listen to for both the audience and Jo, a raw moment of a wronged woman who was inexcusably scarred for life telling the story of the worst moment of her life. The way Forbes delivered the story was intense and it was clear she understood the importance of doing justice to Vicki's story. But of equal intensity and importance is how Luddington reacted to the Forbes’ performance.

Through nothing more than shifts in her jaw, a quiver in her chin, and the power to control the emotions her eyes Luddington told Jo's side of things. When Vicki hit Jo with the realization that her father had hurt her there was this shift in Jo from having fire in her eyes and a tight jaw to this look of confused understanding. It was as if Jo had this sick feeling overcome her as if she had been fearfully anticipating where the story was going to go. She sat down and as Forbes delivered the powerful monologue of Vicki conceiving Jo, Luddington took full control over Jo's raging emotions. She brought Jo to heel and as Forbes went on Luddington reacted in a way that the audience could see every horrible thought and emotion rushing through her. The audience could see Jo realizing that she and Vicki weren't all that different in a way that no two people want to be able to relate. Luddington took Jo from full of rage and fire in her eyes to raw pained emotion in her eyes and a softening of her jaw. Only at the end of the scene when Jo is clearly locked in a battle with her own emotions does Luddington choose to tighten her jaw again as she was presumably trying to keep Jo's emotional pain from letting loose in a flood of tears. It was truly powerful and stunning acting to the point that anyone watching would have been left in shocked silence at what had just been witnessed.

As Vicki starts to recollect the night she was raped, Jo is full of concern and questions. Luddington shows that Jo is deeply entrenched with trying to understand the story. Then when Vicki refers to her rape as "it happening," Jo is fast to correct her by reminding her that it was Jo, her existence, that happened too. Every word Luddington speaking drips with righteous resentment, but that resentment starts to slip away as Jo listens to her mother's tale of coping with her rape. Luddington shows how empathetic Jo is to the struggle of not being believed or rape being downplayed and by the time she finishes, Luddington pulls back up Jo's tough exterior after remembering that after her mother got therapy and coped with what happened, she didn't try to find her child, her. Luddington is amazingly believable here, balancing both compassion for her mother and anger on behalf of her younger self at the same time. Jo listens intently as Vicki unfolds her experience of being pregnant, giving birth and trying to be a mother despite the circumstances. Luddington gave her all to make Jo seem attentive and present, affected by every word Vicki was saying. As the story unfolded Jo had already made up a story in her head, how her Mother couldn`t love her because of her conception and birth, but with a few words, Vicki destroys that idea. Michelle Forbes’s voice breaks, with a new softness in her tone for the first time. As Jo hears her mother confess to loving her, a single tear breaks out, but Luddington gently smears the tear away as if it contains all Jo’s childhood pain and the feeling that she didn`t belong anywhere. Jo is not ready to confront these emotions.

The entirety of the scene between Vicki and Jo was so incredibly raw, profound and heart-wrenching. Forbes and Luddington were forces to be reckoned with. Luddington is especially earnest and vulnerable now where she recounts the ways Jo's life has been impacted by the fact her mother gave her up at an early age. The pain in her eyes is clear and the way she labors over each word, choosing them with careful precision, as she refers to the constant doubt that plagues her, she shows that pain. Every relationship she's ever had, no matter how good, has been molded by this fear they will abandon her the same way her mother did. Luddington does a phenomenal job at accentuating Jo's internalized issues with abandonment. This was a long sequence and this final scene was a powerful aspect of it. The two women came to this tense sort of understanding. It started off with them not being entirely on the same page, both wanting to relate but struggling to do so despite so many dark similarities in their lives. There was just so much pain between them, and honestly, still is, that it was hard for them to get to any sort of understanding. Vicki was firm yet understanding with Jo in trying to convince her daughter not to judge her for her past actions but for who she is in the present.

Luddington portrayed Jo's struggle in a way that showed the confused emotions Jo was going through at this request. The scene was made more impactful through the raw emotion and honesty she brought to her performance. Her eyes were wet with tears and as Vicki spoke of being held down as she was raped the look on Jo's face grew grimmer and grimmer. It was in that part of the story, that feeling of helplessness that Jo seemed to finally fully relate to her own mother. They both experienced that horror, but they both made very different choices. It was a powerful contrast for the show to draw in terms of how one chose to carry her child to term and how the other chose that abortion was best for both her and her unborn child. Thankfully most of the audience watching will never truly understand that pain and anguish that comes with either choice, but some watching were likely able to relate on a profoundly personal level. For the latter, this television portrayal hopefully allowed them to feel heard. For the former, hopefully, it allows a new layer of understanding and love for those who have endured and survived the horror of rape and abuse. For this group, the performances delivered by Luddington and Forbes allowed them to get a minuscule taste of what someone in these situations in real life must endure. It isn't easy and a story like this should never be glossed over or toned down neither in words nor in actions. Not only did the writers bravely go where many writers are fearful to go, but Luddington and Forbes left everything on the table. They gave their every scene together the raw heaviness and honesty required to do real-life survivors of rape and abuse justice.

Luddington portrays not only the survivor of abuse but also the product of rape. She shouldered most of the heavy parts to grasp and portray throughout this episode especially in these flashbacks, but this scene really captured how deeply both aspects affect Jo. Jo confessed how she had an abortion because she couldn't bring a child into a life filled with abuse. They chose two different paths for two different reasons, but in the choices they made they both seemed to find some level of understanding. Unfortunately for Jo, as the product of the rape that shattered Vicki's life, it is still hard for Vicki to sit opposite of herself. When Vicki jumped from Jo's touch there was this recoil from Luddington as if she had been shocked with a thousand volts of electricity, but she chose to not have Jo completely shut down but instead chose to portray her with heartbroken understanding. Her voice was soft as she asked if she looked like her father. Vicki gave Jo one great gift in letting her know that some of the best parts of Jo were from her and not her father. Luddington's tear-filled eyes, wet cheeks, and quivering jaw spoke volumes to how forever impacted she was by their meeting. As Jo watched Vicki exit the café it was clear that while she got some closure, she was forever changed. The emotions pouring off Luddington in that closing moment before the scene faded to black spoke to how Jo would never be the same again. A little forgiveness and volumes of sorrow and loss radiated from Luddington as Jo moved into this new version of her life.

Days later, after Jo has returned to Grey Sloan, a panning shot follows Jo as she walks down a Grey Sloan hallway. Luddington carries herself dazed, devoid of emotions or expressions, her gaze showing her clearly lost in thought. From the first second the impact of what's happened to Jo sinks in for the audience. Subtle touches like being physically startled by Alex (Justin Chambers) due to her hardwired reaction to danger from her abusive past, mixing up events and excuses, and fixating on a job proposal to avoid the topic of her mother. She musters a smile to avoid being cold to Alex, but Luddington conveys her pain so strikingly it's hard to look past it. Her physical and emotional exhaustion is evident from the absence of Jo's usual radiant smile and affection and these are the exact behaviors that she notices in her patient later. Returning to the present in Grey Sloan, another panning shot follows a disoriented patient with a deep wound on her cheek as she bumps into Jo. She offers her directions but quickly notices the woman's mental state. She follows her closely and listens to Abby (Khalilah Joi) downplay her injury, becoming increasingly aware of the other woman showing signs of being abused. It only takes Abby squeezing her hand in response to a male doctor appearing for Jo to take control of the situation and protect her patient. She looks into Abby's eyes and in complete silence understands the pain she's in. In a scene filled with unspoken agreements, Luddington flawlessly conveys Jo’s prompt planning for how to take care of Abby. She's quick to react and think on her feet and clear in her intentions when communicating with her colleagues to make sure they don't alarm Abby any further and do offer her a safe space. When she's made sure Abby has the privacy she needs, Jo lets her know she can trust in her. Abby reveals the full extent of her wounds and from her eyes, the audience can see Jo processing Abby’s story through the perspective of her own past trauma without letting herself show how triggering it is. With a reassuring and determined tone, she promises Abby that she's going to take care of her no matter what. Jo gives Abby the support and advocacy that neither Jo nor her mother had.

As Teddy (Kim Raver) examines Abby, Jo's calming air never waivers. From her gentle touches to the holding of Abby's hand, Luddington effortlessly displays Jo's unwavering composure, despite the obvious trauma Abby has suffered. Her soft-spoken tone continues throughout the scene, clearly visible through Luddington's decisive, but delicate, movements. As Jo asks Abby how she got there, the truth is nearly palpable behind Luddington's eyes, but still playing a doctor, Jo she needs to hear the answer for herself. Jo's nurturing nature continues, as Luddington sighs in defeat upon hearing Abby's unlikely explanation of her injuries, masterfully pivoting as Jo bluntly tells Abby she thinks her husband hurt, and possibly sexually assaulted her. The calming presence of Jo's demeanor is long forgotten, as she forcefully pushes for Abby to have a rape kit done, despite her patient's obvious resistance to the idea. While she is visibly distressed by Abby's reasoning for refusing the rape kit, Luddington doesn't let that emotional appeal get to her, as Jo, in an almost detached manner, recounts her own experiences with an abusive husband. Luddington magnificently portrays Jo as the storyteller of these past events, with just the right amount of empathy rather than a person who was repeatedly beaten by her husband. By taking this more subtle approach, Jo connects with Abby, never once breaking eye contact, on both a rational and emotional level, laying out the evidence that the doctor understands what Abby is going through but also logically pointing out that someday Abby may want justice.

After convincing Abby to go through with the test kit and knowing how vulnerable this woman is about it, Jo is extremely sensitive to her. Luddington shows this with even just the briefest of actions, such as holding her hand and her shoulder whenever she can. By the time it's over, as Abby lets out the tears she was holding in the whole time, Jo stays right with her. Luddington fills her voice with tremendous warmth as she lets Abby know that she is here for her, embodying a woman who, for as much as she has her own demons, would never let that get in the way of helping someone with theirs. As Abby shakes with fear, Luddingtonholds her so naturally. And as Abby moves to pull her closer, Luddington lets Abby pull Jo in so quickly, as to let Abby know Jo's right there for her and won't be going anywhere.

The time comes for Abby to be taken to surgery. She can't go, doesn't want to go, doesn't feel ready to face what's outside the doors. Being operated on reminds her of how she was knocked out before and left powerless. Her face tightens into a pleading panic, even as she clings to Jo's hand. Luddington lets Abby's anguish echo in Jo's own expressions. For a moment, lost in reverie, Jo too is adrift in the confusion. She reels herself back in by clinging to Abby just as Abby is clinging to her. Jo holds Abby's hand and puts her own free hand on Abby's back. She leans over just enough to make eye contact. Jo tells Abby she doesn't have to leave this exam room, doesn't have to step outside and face men who will remind her of her trauma. Abby doesn't have to leave behind these women lifting her up. Jo looks over at Teddy with hope, hope, and faith that the two of them can muster the strength to get Abby to the next stage.

The hallway scene is one that will not soon be forgotten by the lexicon of pop culture. It was a powerful statement of unity that most shows shy from yet Grey's Anatomy and every single beautifully diverse and powerful woman in this scene, including Luddington, embraced. It was a coming together of women to deliver a message unlike any that has ever been delivered on television. This is an article about Camilla Luddington and her amazing performance in this episode, but it would do a great injustice to both her and all her brilliant female costars in this scene to single-out praise for just her. Her performance was as one would expect from a powerhouse actress. She was present for her costars and continued to deliver on the same high emotional level she had throughout the hour. In these scenes at the hospital with Abby, Jo was a pillar and a rock. It was a stark contrast to what Luddington had to portray during the flashbacks, yet she did it and stunningly so. And, yet, every woman she shared this scene with, a combination of behind-the-scenes employees of the show and seasoned actresses, are all due recognition. They each played a part in carrying the weight it did and in its ability to truly capture the message the writer intended. So, to them, and to be able to truly honor Luddington, one must first take a step back and say a big thank you to each actress and non-actress who graced those hallways in this scene.

The scene ended with Jo holding Abby's hand as she was settled into the operating room. She promised that she wouldn't leave Abby and the tone in Luddington's voice was steady and honest. Her eyes showed understanding and truth. When Luddington had Jo declare she wasn't leaving there was no doubt she wouldn't. It was the culmination of the hallway scene and it was important for Luddington to capture its importance by making sure the message of united sisterhood in the face of adversity and pain was understood. These characters started off complete strangers and by the end, they had this shared life-altering experience. Luddington deserves every ounce of praise laid on her for this episode, but in honor of this scene, it is worth spending a second reflecting on the stunning strength that is a part of all the brave women and men who have endured and survived in real life the horror of rape. It is also necessary to spend a moment to be grateful for all the women and men who stand by those who have endured such horrors. To those who are the real-life Abby's, Vicki's, and Jo's, your stories deserve to be told and you deserve to be heard.

In the aftermath of Abby's surgery, Teddy and Jo are there for her. Obviously, she's in a very vulnerable place right now and the combined strength of all the women in the hospital is a much-needed comfort for her. None more so than Jo, who is the most empathetic. That is conveyed with excellence by Luddington's quiet strength in the conversation they have. Jo helps Abby understand that nothing that happened was her fault and that the rape kit will be available to her should she ever decide to pursue a criminal charge. Luddington is a pillar of fortitude, she makes Jo into the fierce and intelligent woman fans have grown to know and love. Even though Jo is clearly reeling from the discovery she made when visiting her mother, Luddington still puts on the careful mask she wears to get through the day – in support of Abby, despite falling apart inside. Her skill in this episode as a performer is remarkable and so meaningful given the subject matter.

Though Jo gives Abby the help the other woman needs, Jo can't ask for help for herself. As Jo watches Abby hold her husband's hand and file a police report, Luddington lets the strength seep out of Jo. She leans against the doorframe with her hands loosely clasped together. Jo turns away and closes the door, her own expression a blank slate of weariness. She is drained, but she tries to hold her head up only to leave it slightly crooked to one side. Alex meets her in the hallway, unaware of any part of her recent ordeals, and asks if he can take her out to dinner. There's a universally relatable emptiness in her voice when she tells him that all she wants is to curl up in bed at home. He doesn't understand at first, but Jo asserts her rights. She tells him she wants to be alone. And he respects her choice because it's her decision to make. She walks away quickly with tears in her eyes, and we are reminded that healing is a long series of steps, some of which Jo isn't ready to take.

Luddington's work in this episode is unforgettable, right down to that ending that refuses to pat us on the back with an emotional resolution. That hollow quiver in her body language in that final scene is the substitute for the traditional closing bow an artist would make to the audience. Luddington wasn't so much performing in this episode as she was giving life to the stories of survivors and their loved ones, the thousands and thousands of people who might not ever get justice because of the rape kit backlog in the system. She let Jo be both angry and heartbroken, strong enough to carry Abby past the worst moments of her life while also being too shaken to get help to move forward. Jo didn't let her own open wounds hinder her from fighting to help someone else heal. For her devastating yet beautiful portrayal of Jo's compassion and courage, Camilla Luddington was voted Outstanding Performer of the Month of March by both readers and SpoilerTV staff.

While this article just scratches the surface of her incredible performance, there are still many aspects of it to be discussed. Share your thoughts in the comments below.