On Thursday night (March 16), “Grey’s Anatomy” introduces us to Jackson Avery’s (Jesse Williams) father for the very first time. Not much has ever been revealed about him, but we know he’s been out of the picture for quite a long time. And after getting to know the formidable Dr. Katherine Avery (Debbie Allen) over so many years, we expected to meet an equally confident and intimidating kind of man… Not an extremely polite, amiable diner owner in the middle of snowy Montana.
The episode entitled “Who is He? (And What is He to You?),” dubbed by fans as “Japril: The Sequel,” has April (Sarah Drew) joining Jackson on this trip after Meredith (Ellen Pompeo) has to stay home to tend a sick Zola… Or at least that’s what Katherine says, and the will-they/won’t-they, officially divorced, but still living together and co-parenting exes get on the Avery family’s private plane and jet off to middle America to perform a complicated transplant surgery.
Jackson keeps his ulterior motive of the trip, meeting his biological father, a secret. But April soon figures it out. Making matters worse, while Jackson drinks himself silly at his father’s restaurant, trying to work up the courage to say his prepared speech, April is left to do all the dirty work back at the hospital. After telling one boy’s dad that surgery can’t save his son’s life, she’s essentially alone telling a young girl’s parents that her planned transplant won’t be possible… And Jackson knew his dad was here, the whole time.
“Your father, Jackson,” April says. “Your long-lost deadbeat dad. The distinguished hippie/former surgeon Dr. Avery, who slings hash at the local diner. He’s the whole reason we’re here.”
April’s anger is understandable, but when Jackson finally opens up to her, she softens. While Japril talk the situation out, delving into why he needs to finds a way to talk to his father, Jackson has a “Eureka!” moment that is, while a little on the nose, such a success in practice that it gives him the courage to finally speak to his Dad (Eric Roberts).
Now, Mr. Avery is a tricky soul. He talks so jovially that it’s easy to miss that what’s he’s actually saying is incredibly hurtful, and completely self-serving. “It wasn’t my thing,” Mr. Avery says, in regards to why he ended his surgical career. “I was born into this life, and [Katherine] was born for it. You know your mother. Her expectations are crushing.” Sure, but quitting an occupation and leaving one’s family are two totally separate, unrelated things? Mr. Avery could’ve stayed in contact with his son, sent a card on his birthday, came to town for one of his graduation ceremonies… But he didn’t.
Yet Mr. Avery is still genuinely excited when Jackson mentions his daughter Harriet, exclaiming, “I have a granddaughter!” And that’s when Jackson draws the line: “No, you don’t.” Because no, he doesn’t.
Nor does he have the right to talk about Katherine that way, to be honest: While she may have her faults, Katherine was actually there for him, she’s a doting grandmother to his daughter, a ruthlessly brilliant business woman, and at least partially responsible for the incredible surgeon Avery is today. Robert gets none of those points; the two part on amiable terms, but their relationship seems irreparable.
(…Well, except that every time Meredith has done this with one of her eighteen parents, they inevitably show up at Grey-Sloan the next week with some kind of terminal condition and three new half-siblings who also happen to be surgeons, so never say never.)
However, the door for reconciliation is more than left open for Japril. April reinforces to Jackson that he’s nothing like his dad: Jackson is a fantastic father in whom she has full confidence — and once that emotional victory is digested, Japril has once again come back together. It’s obvious — and acknowledged by both parties — that Katherine’s fingerprints are all over this. We doubt Zola even had the flu. Katherine knew, as mothers tend to just know things, that Jackson was going to Montana to reach out to his father, and made sure April was there for moral support.
This isn’t lost on Japril, but they’re also not mad at it, which is in a strange way a sign of growth — as manipulative and overbearing as Katherine can be, Avery tends to invite it and almost revel in rebelling against it, so in the end we have a situation where Avery is more able to see both of his parents as simple flawed human beings, which is the key to success in all areas of life, especially on this show. So it’s more than acceptable that, for now, Japril the Sequel has a happy ending.
“Grey’s Anatomy” airs Thursdays at 8 p.m. ET/PT on ABC.