Content, Context and Conduct
November 6th, 2008
When the news broke over the weekend, it was an odd kind of déjà vu. It was only a year and a half ago that Isaiah Washington was dumped from Grey’s Anatomy for his behaviour on set, in particular in regards to homophobic remarks directed at co-star T.R. Knight, so the event does strike a certain familiarity. However, while scandal may be par for the course for the ABC series, news that Brooke Smith’s character, lesbian Dr. Erica Hahn, has been unceremoniously written out of the show [via EW’s Michael Ausiello] is an issue that is not about the performer’s conduct but rather the context and content of their storyline. The objectionable conduct is not their own actions, but rather the decision by both Shonda Rhimes and ABC to oust this character for reasons that, while not definitively questionable, seem suspicious.
I don’t believe that this is a simple situation, or that this storyline is in itself a creative high point for the drama series: from the beginning, it has felt like a convenient storyline to keep two characters relevant to the melodrama that permeates the series rather than a consistent character development (especially for Sara Ramirez’s Callie). But the decision to end the storyline feels the exact opposite of “organic,” which is ABC’s official line: while eventually Smith’s exit from the show could have felt like a natural event, instead reports about it being linked to a broader concern of the trajectory of the show’s investigation into homosexuality feel almost frighteningly familiar, and scarily believable.
So when Smith makes her exit from Grey’s Anatomy tonight, and we say goodbye to Erica Hahn as a regular character, all attention shifts to a network and a showrunner who, honestly, should know better.