Even before Camilla Luddington first began her powerful run of episode on Grey’s Anatomy season 15, there was already a certain degree of buzz in the air. We had a sense that what we were preparing to see was something different, powerful, and certainly something that many of us would collectively remember. We still didn’t want to draw any assumptions.
Then, we actually saw it, and much of the discussion and buzz manifested into something more. What she brought to “Silent All These Years” and beyond was a haunting, guttural performance that was deeply unnerving, but also spoke to the reality of Jo’s situation. You saw an element of hope and determination through the character when she first learned about who her biological mother could be — it was a chance for her to get a sense of closure and answer one of her life’s greatest questions. It made sense for her to want to pursuit it, even if there were warnings but before her. Unfortunately, what hope existed disintegrated into something else, almost like specks of dirt blowing away in the Pacific wind. It was gone and her entire soul sank like lead the moment the truth came in about her story, her past. It’s a revelation she hasn’t been able to walk away from.
For Jo the character, it’s been abundantly clear how her mother’s truth impacted her — we have seen that play out through the past several weeks of the show. For Luddington as a performer, meanwhile, the primary challenge of this storyline is specific — having to find a way to tap into this level of pain, whether it be the angry questioning before the big reveal, the character’s bravery in visiting her mother in the first place, or if course the stunned and sullen facial expressions after the fact. She had to play the motivations and the emotions of someone who was so intent on getting answers and yet, on the other side, someone who still had to find her way back home. She needed to dive into a state of devastation and, beyond that, be consistent in that space. It’s one thing to be showcasing this sort of pain as Jo for a given episode; it’s another to keep tapping into it for weeks on end and showing the wrecking-ball nature of said news on her entire life.
Ever since “Silent All These Years,” we’ve seen Jo in a position where even putting one foot forward is a challenge, and Camilla as a performer has been put into a place where, no matter the scene partner, she’s had to bring different dimensions of sadness. The behavior of Jo around Jackson was different than around Alex or around Link. She’s had to find ever-changing ways to play hopelessness, ones that speak to the different relationships that she has with different characters and also how the nature of her situation, knowing that she is the product of the most unspeakable assault, changes and re-forms in her mind on a daily basis. Seattle may be a place littered with dark clouds, but this is one that won’t quite go away.
While we’ve seen Jo face her fair share of difficult situations, most notably the abusive relationship that she had with Paul, this is one that has been prolonged, painful, and probably one of the hardest to maintain. This isn’t just a two-episode arc; it’s something that has lasted for the bulk of the final part of the season and Luddington’s had to routinely bring herself back in and play the sadness and calamity of this moment. She’s brought it in every single scene, and reminded us further that Grey’s Anatomy is about understanding what is underneath the names and the medical degrees so much more than the medicine that they practice.
Luddington’s been phenomenal before, but it feels clear to us that this arc has been a career highlight to date.
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What are her Emmy odds?
As you likely know at this point, any Grey’s Anatomy actor is going to face an uphill battle scoring a nomination in 2019. It’s not so much because of their work, but rather a false perception from the Television Academy that long-running shows, especially on network TV, aren’t worthy of a chance. They get falsely labeled as “comfort food” or shunned in favor of something new. Yet, what Camilla Luddington brought this season is something new, and a painful, necessarily story that needed to be told and heard by an audience. It is one that will resonate, and is certainly one that should be acknowledged. Whether or not it is, however, is something that won’t be known for at least a couple more months.
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What do you think about Grey’s Anatomy season 15 and Camilla Luddington’s performance? Be sure to share right now in the comments. (Photo: ABC.)