‘Grey’s Anatomy’ Star Kim Raver on Directing That Abortion Conflict Cliffhanger
[The story contains major spoilers from Grey’s Anatomy‘s March 23 episode, “Training Day.”]
Kim Raver cites an expression in medicine when talking about where she got the bug to direct: See one, do one.
The actress has, in the span of more than a decade, starred on Grey’s Anatomy as Dr. Teddy Altman. She joined the ABC medical drama in its sixth season for three years, only to leave and return for season 14, where she has remained a key player amid the revolving door ensemble. After wrapping up their will they-won’t they storyline, Teddy now has a family with Dr. Owen Hunt (Kevin McKidd) and most recently — after the departure of Meredith Grey (played by Ellen Pompeo) — has been elevated to chief of surgery at Grey Sloan Memorial hospital in season 19.
Raver, whose other well-known TV credits include 24 and Third Watch, says that all those years of watching Grey’s Anatomy actresses like Debbie Allen (who plays Dr. Catherine Avery and also executive produces the series) and Chandra Wilson (who plays Dr. Miranda Bailey) work behind the camera inspired her to want to direct.
“We refer to that saying at Grey’s: See one, do one. You see the surgery or the procedure, and they pass along the torch. I’ve been acting for a long time and seeing so many women around me doing things where 10-15 years ago, there might not have been as many women in those roles, just inspired me,” she tells The Hollywood Reporter. “[Creator] Shonda Rimes hires so many women doing a multitude of jobs in her company — whether it’s directors or editors or sound, there are so many women that I think seeing it, and then being trained in it, made me see that I could be it.”
So Raver approached Allen, who in turn challenged Raver to earn the role. Raver says she privately studied co-stars Allen, Wilson and frequent scene partner McKidd as they helmed episodes. Then Allen gave Raver the opportunity to shadow her while she directed a season 18 episode. Shortly after, Raver was assigned the 11th episode in season 19, “Training Day,” written by Julie Wong and Meg Marinis, which aired on Thursday as an hour of must-see TV.
“I was blown away by the story and the magnitude of it, and so grateful they were entrusting me with not only the storyline itself, but there’s a huge car stunt, there’s a brick stunt, there’s a song! At first I was exploding with joy and excited, but then I was secretly terrified,” says Raver, referencing the biggest moments in the hour, which marked her solo directorial debut. “I really thank Debbie because I felt extremely prepared and it felt like it was really earned. I knew I could do it. But I think then I didn’t sleep for three months after.”
The episode sees the return of recurring star Kate Walsh’s Dr. Addison Montgomery, renowned OB/GYN and neonatal surgeon, to Grey Sloan Memorial to pick up on a post-Roe v. Wade arc that began last November. That 2022 episode saw Addison and Bailey (Wilson) losing a pregnant patient in Idaho while trying to get her help across state lines following the landmark Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization decision that overturned Roe v. Wade, eliminating the constitutional right to abortion in the U.S. Addison was so fired up, she decided to leave Seattle and go help women in places where she’s needed.
“Training Day” saw Addison return to the hospital now as a target, bringing with her anti-abortion advocates whose protest turns violent when a brick is thrown through their clinic’s window. As an actress in the episode, Raver makes decisions as chief to help the clinic patients while keeping her doctors safe. And as director, one of her biggest tasks was pulling together all the trauma of the episode with her ensemble, led by Bailey, singing “The Lion Sleeps Tonight.” The impromptu sing-a-long comforts a mother in labor by drowning out the chants from the protestors, and it comforts Addison during a time of personal crisis over her decision to remain on the front lines amid threats to herself and her family.
“I had my prop walkie in one hand as chief Teddy, and then I had my real walkie as director of Grey’s Anatomy Kim in the other hand,” says Raver of pulling double duty. “That birth scene had to be rooted in reality. It was so important to me that it wasn’t comedic — and yet they’re singing [a song from] The Lion King! There’s a beautiful callback to Chandra Wilson’s character getting her daughter in the morning to brush her teeth [in the opening of the episode], and then here she is helping this woman give birth to this baby in the midst of protests outside, and it’s not going to her plan. Against all odds, Bailey is there with whatever she has, and if it’s pulling out The Lion King and everyone coming together to witness and help this woman, I thought, that’s a beautiful story, right?”
She continues, “That’s a beautiful story that, as women, we’re going to make it work no matter what. I love these women coming together against adversity and bringing this baby into the world. The whole episode is very complex and very layered, and this is a multi-layered moment also with Addison. It’s been very difficult for Bailey and Addison, and very difficult for Addison. And even that moment where Addison looks up when she’s in the closet and says, ‘This is a tough road and tough path, but we’re going to stick together and we’re going to get through it.’ I think it’s really a beautiful story.”
But the kicker comes at the end of the episode when, after the difficult day seems to be over, Bailey, Addison and the OB/GYN trainees who had come to Seattle from states with abortion restrictions leave the clinic. When crossing the street back to the hospital, Addison stops to help a trainee pick up her papers. That’s when an oncoming car barrels towards the kneeling doctors and hits both Addison and the trainee. It’s a cliffhanger ending for the beloved Addison, who first appeared in her breakout role on the series in 2005. The camera lands on a shocked Bailey, as she springs into action and listens for a heartbeat.
“It’s a very real moment. It is really happening, and that scares me,” Raver says of the conflict between abortion and anti-abortion activists post-Roe v. Wade and its impact on the medical community. “That scares me as a woman, as an actor representing doctors and what our doctors are having to go through. So I wanted to tell that story, that these stories are happening and this violence is happening against our medical teams.”
She continues, “I looked at some real protests of cars driving into people and it’s terrifying. I wanted that moment to be really gut-emotional, it’s specifically designed where it’s kind of the calm of the storm. We think we’ve been through the worst of it and everyone is calm, and then it really take us all by surprise. Because, I think it’s important storytelling. It’s what’s happening out there. It’s what’s happening to the Addison characters, that they’re dealing with real violence. I wanted that to be a kind of gasp and questioning moment of what is happening today.”
The episode was initially going to end with an overhead shot zooming out on Addison laying in the street after the crash. But Raver made the switch to end on Bailey. “I think Bailey is us in a way: ‘What just happened? How is this happening?’” she says of the thoughts left for viewers. “When we were shooting [the accident], I screamed at all the actors, ‘Go in, go in!’ And I told Chandra to do ABCs — which is where you listen for airway breath — and to turn and look. And that’s the ending. Because that’s the way I feel in this moment: How are we at this place and how are we going to move forward?”
Raver says the cliffhanger reminded her of 24, which would famously end with the sound of a ticking clock following a shocking reveal. “They would answer a question and then the last two seconds, they would ask another question where you would go, ‘Wait, what?’ And then it would go to black,” she says of the Fox series, where she played Audrey Raines opposite Kiefer Sutherland. “[With “Training Day”], there were all of these things happening and now the day is done. And then, the car comes out in this shocking moment where you have to tune into the next episode.”
In its post-Roe-airing 19th season, Grey’s Anatomy has continued to spotlight stories around women’s rights and reproductive rights, tackling abortion head on. The March 2 episode showed an abortion procedure step-by-step, following the path set by Rhimes, who was airing abortion storylines when it was much rarer to see on television.
Raver says the upcoming episodes will continue the complex conversation started with “Training Day,” even though she remains predictably mum on Addison’s fate. “Epsiodes to follow will be talking about all sides so that we have discussions about these very important topics,” she says. “I feel that Shondaland has always leaned into bringing up important topics so that we are informed and we can have conversations about them.”
The current season marks a time of change for Grey’s Anatomy. Following Pompeo stepping back from her starring role, her onscreen half-sister Kelly McCreary announced she will be leaving, and showrunner Krista Vernoff will also be leaving at the end of the season. The staple hit series has yet to be renewed for a 20th season and while Raver says she doesn’t have a crystal ball, she’s says she’s excited about where things are headed.
“I feel like she’s still very present,” she says of Pompeo, who remains an executive producer and still does the episodes’ narration. “It still feels like she’s here and a part of it. I guess I still feel very much her presence. When I was editing my episode, I was hearing her voiceover. So it still feels very collaborative.”
She continues, “I know I want to keep telling the stories. I love the writers and the cast and crew. I think we all really feel so grateful to be in season 19 and because the ensemble is really a beautiful ensemble, I think we all feel very grateful to be able to tell these stories.”
Inspired by her directing experience (“Having been in this business as an actor for so long, it feels like I’ve been given a new way to creative,” she says) and by the support she feels from the many women on the Grey’s set top to bottom, Raver says her hopes for Teddy are only getting started.
“I think there’s a lot of story to be told,” she says of chief Teddy. “In the past, it was an either-or. Either the couple is together or the couple is apart. And what I think will be interesting to see is, how do you navigate through a long-term, hard-earned relationship? It’s not easy. And I think that’s what’s really cool about the Teddy and Owen relationship. They both made some really, messed up choices. And now, how is Teddy going to navigate all the things that come up as chief? Being a wife and a surgeon and a mom, and all of the things that are very current in today’s modern woman.”
She adds, “And that’s one of my favorite things about [executive producers] Shonda Rhimes and Krista [Vernoff] and Meg [Marinis]. These characters are not perfect — they’re flawed, and that’s real life. And I think that’s also what makes Grey’s so long-lasting and relatable. So, I’m really excited about where we’re going.”
Grey’s Anatomy airs Thursdays at 9 p.m. on ABC.
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