How to ruin a character in a single line

I have mentioned, I believe, my fondness for April Kepner on Grey’s Anatomy? And then along came episode 8.21, in which she is a hysterical sobbing mess (a little too hysterical for someone with her capabilities), gets into a drunken brawl (okay, that part is sort of awesome), sleeps with Jackson (a sort of oh-no-you-guys-are-friends-yet-really-there-are-no-friendships-in-Grey’s-without-sexual-tension-so-go-for-it mishmash), and then freaks out (bad). Because Jesus will be mad at her that she’s had sex.

As this piece discusses, it is a prime example of Retconning, in which a series rewrites its own history, and not terribly effectively. There’s a difference between a shock reveal and something that makes you go “uh… what? That doesn’t even make sense.”

So for everything up to that moment, there was never any mention of April having particular religious beliefs. Not even when she had to face down a psychotic gun-man. The ‘adult virgin’ status was about wanting to wait for it to be ‘special’, then waiting too long and finding it awkward and a big deal. Then suddenly: angst! But not angst that would have made sense and fitted with the consequences of drunkenly sleeping with your best friend the night before the biggest exams of your life and it being your first time and oh-what-does-it-all-mean and where-do-we-go-from-here. Oh no. Jesus-angst. Sudden Jesus-angst.

What the hell?

Even Christian fans are going “Jesus wouldn’t hate her!”, incidentally. Which is sort of missing the point – that what we learn about April here isn’t just an articulation of misguided beliefs (although…), but something that flat-out doesn’t fit with everything we’ve learned about her before.

And on a storytelling level, honestly, it’s far less interesting. Super-Christian girl ‘saves herself’? Yawn. Woman with sexual desires but uncertain about what to do or how to get what she wants because society deems there’s an acceptable window for ‘first times’ and struggling with all that? And searching for meaningful connections in the oversexed hospital which realistically is going to be where she meets most potential love interests? That’s interesting.

Sometimes retcons can be fun, if they’re done knowingly. (The Simpsons episode ‘That 90s Show’ is one of my favourite episodes of TV ever.) But this one feels… a little ick. A little not-really-thought-out. A little let’s-amp-up-the-drama-by-surprising-everyone-without-considering-whether-the-surprise-makes-sense.

Plot twists and shock reveals are supposed to surprise and, well, shock. But when they come out of nowhere, it’s not clever plotting. It’s cheating, and it’s unsatisfying for readers, or viewers, or whoever.

Sigh. Back to my Cristina-worship and Arizona-adoration I go…

Oh fictional characters, you are delightful (April Kepner, Grey’s Anatomy)

So, season 8 of Grey’s Anatomy (up to 8.09, anyway). I am still liking Meredith (yes, I like Meredith. Stop looking at me like that) and Arizona (so cute! So awesome!) and Owen (especially his struggles-with-being-chief). I am liking Richard in his new role an awful lot, and continue to think Callie is fabulous. I am not too impressed with Bailey and hoping someone tells her off soon and the show actually presents this as acceptable rather than crazy (I mean, between the not-so-amazing treatment of the men in her life plus the complete disrespect towards Owen as Chief… seriously).

And I am adoring April Kepner. So here are my five favourite April moments/plots:

  1. The shooting episode OF DOOM in which there is apparently no hospital security whatsoever, and in which April’s snarky best friend has been already shot dead by the killer. April tells him everything about herself – makes him see her as a person. And he tells her to run.
  2. Her crush on Derek Shepherd. She gets mocked for it, but given that he’s presented as this Amazing Guy and Neurosurgeon, it makes sense. And is sweet.
  3. Her interactions with Dr Stark (aka Peter McNicol, who will forever be John Cage on Ally McBeal in my head). Tension, respect, sexual tension, friendship. Just a world of loveliness. I would have loved seeing more of this.
  4. Her friendship with Jackson. Something I would love to see more of – particularly as they’re the only two Mercy West kids left – but it has its moments. Like after she and Alex have almost slept together (which I am sort-of rooting for, if it happens without yelling), and then he’s rotten to her, and Jackson has this protective-older-brother thing going on when she needs him. But he still won’t let her boss him around when she becomes Chief Resident.
  5. Her being Chief Resident. This pleases me immensely. I love her checklist, and why she knows it’s important. I love her struggles to make people listen to her, and how she’s not a natural leader in some ways and yet has many of the organisational skills she needs for the job. And I nearly applauded when she just told Alex, Lexie and Jackson what to do after they’d been ignoring her all day: “Any of you argue with me and I’ll take you off the OR board. Indefinitely. I, on the other hand, just got fired from Bailey’s trial, so I’m going to spend the night drinking and flirting with boys.”