“Emily Owens, M.D.” recap (Ep. 6): God and Gender


Even if Emily Owens, M.D. is canceled after one season, I will stand by the greatness of this episode forever. I’ll get to each event in detail, but just listen to the list of awesomeness that this episode brought us: an intersex baby, which prompted a genuine discussion about gender; Tyra coming out to her dad in a blunt, perfect way; and a storyline about faith which ended with Dr. Bandari referring to God as “she.” Oh, and Emily was finally straight up honest with everybody in her life. That was good too!

All of this was an especially awesome surprise as when the episode began with the same exact flashbacks that it seems we’ve seen a million times already–yeah, Cassandra and Emily hate each other, Emily’s still hopelessly in love with Will, Tyra’s out to everyone but her dad, yadda yadda yadda–I was starting to really feel bored with it all. Was there ever going to be any actual development with any of this?

And indeed, we do start the episode with Emily’s insides continuing to get beat up as she has to watch Will and Cassandra being all cutesy together. If there’s one thing worse than watching new couples be cutesy together it’s new couples who are also co-workers being cutesy together. To make matters worse, Cassandra has decided to become BFFs with Emily all of a sudden because, like, Will told her to. Always a solid foundation for a friendship. Cassandra decides to go all in, and starts to share how great he is in bed and stuff (gross) as she and Emily both creepily watch him as he takes his first cut in surgery. And even though I’m tired of this storyline, this is pretty rough for Emily. Also, do girls actually talk like this?

Will has a penis and I’ve seen it.

But in what first appears to be better news, Tyra pages Emily to the Chief’s office, where she says that she’s finally going to spill the gay beans to her dad. Emily is obviously relieved and supportive and all is well until Chief Dollhouse comes in and Tyra’s like “We have to talk.” Chief looks at Emily standing there awkwardly and assumes that it’s about that time she saw him making out with red head nurse. So very suavely he’s like “You told?!” and she’s like “Nuh uh, I swear,” and after this kindergarten exchange is over Tyra asks what the hell is going on. Her father tells the truth, which is good in one way, but bad in others as it throws kinks into 1) the coming out thing, as Tyra is now distracted, and 2) Tyra and Emily’s friendship, as Tyra now knows that Emily kept this secret from her.

I thought every other medical TV drama ever would have prepared you better for this.

So Tyra is super duper mad at Emily, while still being super straight in her dad’s eyes. All of this drama is only compounded when Cassandra gets a whiff of this little tiff and tries to get the scoop from Tyra like the classic high school mean girl she is. In her rage, Tyra ends up actually spilling the beans, the bad, un-gay kind, about how Emily originally told Will to stay after from Cassandra. This is pretty shitty and also seems pretty un-Tyra-ish, which throws me for a loop. I mean yeah, she’s upset, and people do weird things when they’re upset, but remember when she threw Cassandra’s shoes out the window for Emily? This seems like too rash of a thing to do between gals who are really not pals. Regardless, it then obviously reverses the BFF thing between Emily and Cassandra, and Cassandra returns to sabotaging any respect Bandari will ever possibly have for Emily by making sure Emily misses an important meeting with her. Warm fuzzies at Denver Memorial all around.

My angry face is not nearly as cute as my happy one. Thanks, Dad.

But enough with all the squabbling! Time to get to the patient storylines of the week, which are really great. Specifically, the baby. Emily is called in to help with another baby case, this one being a child who’s already been born for a bit but is having some troubles. The mom has obviously been looking up symptoms on the Internet and is majorly freaking out, which is perhaps the most realistic thing to ever be written in a medical show.

I think he has all the things that kill you.

It turns out that what’s going on is different from any of the multitude of things Mom had already researched. First, they discover a small problem with the intestines, which can be fixed. So, phew! But then while looking at scans of that problem more closely, the doctors discover another situation, which requires calling in a social worker. When they say this, my first thought was obviously, “OMG, somebody has been fucking around with this like month old baby, what the hell” and my brain freaked out. But, thankfully, my brain went in a totally different direction when we learn that the social worker was merely brought in because some parents need guidance when learning about this other type of news. This baby–Jake–is intersex.

The parents react in a way I imagine many parents would.

But WebMD never told me about this.

They continue to explain that while Jake has male sex organs on the outside, Jake also has female ones on the inside. If the parents want to surgically assign a gender, the hospital can cede to their wishes, but the process to remove female sex organs from a baby is particularly risky. As the father continues to ask how to “fix him” anyway, the doctors recommend running more tests to better understand Jake’s chromosomes, which might “help to predict the gender identity.” Everybody! The phrase “gender identity” was just uttered on network TV!

The social worker then says this:

“The idea of male and female, it’s much more complicated than we originally thought. We don’t know yet how Jake will identify; how his or her brain will be wired.”

Just to highlight that: male and female is much more complicated than we thought. The doctors then continue to use “his or her” anytime they reference Jake, even though Dad keeps saying, “He’s a BOY!” But Mom says they should run the tests.

When the tests come back, they reveal that genetically, by chromosomes, Jake is female. Yet as they were exposed to enough testosterone in utero to be born with male sex organs, it’s still unsure how much those hormones might have affected the brain. In other words, Jake still has the possibility of identifying either way. The social worker recommends waiting, letting the child mature. When they start to identify, the parents can have surgery then. Then she smiles. The parents are not smiling. The frazzled mother still seems simply overwhelmed, which I believe is understandable, while the father has become even more adamant that his child will not be “a freak.” And he ain’t no girl, “end of story.” He tells them to do the surgery, now. Everyone’s heart plummets.

Dude is a dude, okay? Who cares if I’m going to possibly ruin their lives right now.

In other similarly simple news, across the hall there’s a young man who has to go through open heart surgery while awake because he’s allergic to anesthesia. So. That’s intense. This patient has apparently gone through multiple heart surgeries in his life, all with Bandari, which allows us to see a softer, surprising side of her, as they have obviously developed an affectionate patient-doctor relationship. They joke and argue playfully with each other, while the interns look on in bewilderment.

He’s also an extremely religious young man, which becomes complicated when his heart temporarily fails during surgery. He gasps back to life after Bandari revives him after an excruciatingly long session of CPR. Afterwards, as he recovers in his hospital room and reunites with his girlfriend–they met in Bible Study–he asks what happened. Emily feels she has no other choice but to tell him, although she does phrase it as a “miracle.” To him, however, it feels like the opposite of a miracle. To him, he pretty much died, and he didn’t see God, and he always thought he would see God when he died and now the entire basis of his existence pretty much seems screwed.

WTF, God.

He continues to have an existential crisis which causes his girlfriend to also have an existential crisis, and when Bandari finds out she gets added onto the list of People Who Hate Emily today.

You didn’t know he would have an existential crisis? What a doofus.

After she instructs Emily to fix it, Emily chats with the girlfriend in the hospital chapel for a bit and seems to make her feel better, in the way that Emily is good at making everyone-but-herself feel better. When Bandari next checks in on Religious Heart guy, she then says this, “Look, I don’t know if God exists. And if She does, what She’s like. But I do know this: I see miracles every day.”

Just so we’re all clear: gender is more complicated than we thought, and if God exists, we’re not sure what She’s like. Keep going, Emily Owens, M.D.!

Back in Baby Jake land, before all feminine traces can be removed, the original intestine problem suddenly becomes complicated, and they are whisked to surgery. Everything turns out fine, but as Emily, Tyra, and the parents watch Jake recuperating, the seriousness of sending a baby into yet another (unnecessary) surgery starts to sink in with Dad. Real concerns start to come up, as he says what tugs at the heart of any parent of a child who’s different: the kids at school. You know, they can be mean. Tyra has experience in this field, so she’s able to say with truth, “It’s not the other kids’ acceptance they need–it’s yours. It’s yours, Dad.”

Dad makes it final when he tells Mom that they need to think of a new name–a neutral name, so Jake doesn’t have to deal with the difficulty of changing names later on. This is is when I get a little weepy. Way to be, you young, terrified parents, you. Way to be.

Tyra and Emily have also made up from their fight, an event which includes Tyra making an adorable face and Emily actually standing up for herself because listen, she was in a hard situation. When Tyra asks how she went from apologizing profusely to being NOT sorry for what happened, Emily says, “Most times when I’m in an uncomfortable situation, my kneejerk reaction is just to apologize.” Once again Emily, I have NO IDEA what you’re talking about! That sounds NOT like it came directly from my brain, AT ALL. But, she says, she’s trying to do something different. Way to be, Emily Owens. Tyra then apologizes for ratting her out to Cassandra.

I know, I know, I know.

Other character things from this episode: we learn that Will maybe isn’t so perfect, finally. When he messes up with a patient, Micah yells at him and Will yells back, even though he was clearly in the wrong. Seems that Will has tendencies of being slightly arrogant and defensive, which is good, because perfect people are stupid.

And in the end, Emily breaks down and admits to Cassandra what she’s been trying to hide from her all episode: that she kept Will from her not because she really hates Cassandra that much, but because she’s in love with him and still trying to get over it. Cassandra’s face during this exceedingly vulnerable revelation shows more quiet but genuine emotion than perhaps any scene in this series yet.

Well geez, Pits

And then, finally, hallelujah, we see Tyra standing in her dad’s office once again, looking so wonderful in her not-scrubs, standing tall and busting out with this brief speech before he even has a chance to say anything:

“I’m gay. That’s what I came here this morning to tell you. For so long I’ve been so scared to tell you, because I was worried I would disappoint you, or that you wouldn’t accept me, when really, you’re the disappointment. I don’t care what you think, anymore.”

Also, look at my layering skills. Look at my bag. I’m a big lesbian, Dad.

And then she walks out. No weeping, no big drawn out scene. That’s that. And while Dad’s face is full of bewildered shock as she leaves, I suspect he’s more upset by the last part of her speech than the first. And then she and Emily take off to get a strong drink.

I love so much the way this happened. While in a way I wish she didn’t need the catalyst of him screwing up first to make her angry enough to tell him this way, I believe she probably would have told him that morning anyway, without the my-dad’s-a-cheater distraction. I was worried that this tiptoeing around Tyra’s dad would become a drawn out plot device for the whole season, ending with a dramatic breakdown. But instead, she delivered the news swiftly and confidently. And while I’m sure there will continue to be some fallout between her and her parents from this, maybe, hopefully, she can now be free to jump into other storylines. Maybe she’ll have the chance to make out with a girl or two. Just sayin’, Emily Owens writers.

What did you think about this episode? Had you seen any intersex/gender storylines like Jake’s on TV before? Did you like the way Tyra came out? Do you think Emily will actually start moving on from her grief now?

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