Warning: spoilers ahead for Episode 15 of Grey's Anatomy Season 17 on ABC, called "Tradition."
An era of Grey's Anatomy ended with "Tradition" thanks to the departure of Jesse Williams as Jackson Avery after 12 seasons. He was the last man standing next to Meredith from their class of residents ever since Alex unceremoniously left in Season 16, and the last remnant of the Mercy West invaders since Sarah Drew was written out as April Kepner in Season 14. The good news is that Grey's Anatomy didn't kill him off a la George and or Derek or DeLuca, and his departure went down on screen unlike the mess with Alex. The bad news? Well... he's gone now, and fans had a variety of reactions.
Jackson's exit from Grey's Anatomy was almost uneventful, as he carried through with his decision in the previous episode to relocate to Boston to take control of the family foundation and fight for racial justice in medicine, having convinced April to bring Harriet and move along with him. He got some poignant, albeit brief, farewells with the key players – Richard, Bailey, Jo, and of course Meredith. It was emotional, but not devastating.
There were no catastrophes that got in the way of his departure, no last-minute health crises, and nothing too wild. There were quiet goodbyes, some flashback sequences that meant April appeared in the episode in some fashion, if not quite how I had imagined it. And he got to have some fun with Meredith and hired Tom Koracick to come to the foundation too, although not on the private jet. Fans were feelings all sorts of ways about how Grey's Anatomy said goodbye to Jackson, so read on for some standouts!
Jackson's departure might not have involved floods of tears from the characters, and Jackson may have been moving on to bigger and arguably even more important things, but that doesn't mean that fans watching from home had to keep their composure!
Jackson himself got choked up more than a few times, which is saying something considering he didn't even have to watch all the flashback montages that hit me pretty hard! Still, he's leaving for a good reason, similarly to how Cristina left at the end of Season 10, and certainly compared to the likes of the many who died on the show over the years.
Even if Jackson was leaving for a good reason, there was still some not-so-sweet sorrow in the fact that he was going to be gone by the end of the hour. And considering that the episode touted as Jackson's farewell didn't actually feature all that much Jackson, it makes sense for fans to want to hold on tight to him like Jackson held onto baby Harriet after April's near-death experience. (One of them, anyway.)
While the episode didn't include a lot of Jackson, he did get some lovely moments with Ellen Pompeo's Meredith as Meredith finally was able to return home after spending most of the season in a COVID coma. It involved a jailbreak from the hospital, with Jackson sneaking her out and racing her through the parking lot in a wheelchair to take her home. And it wasn't exactly his first experience with spoiling carefully-laid plans to run off with a woman!
Jackson sneaking Meredith out of Grey Sloan and driving off isn't exactly the same as Jackson interrupting April's wedding and then eloping with her, but the man has experience in making a break for it with women he cares about! And while Jackson leaving his friends from the hospital behind to go off with April isn't new, he's heading off to build a different life in Boston with their daughter.
In the grand scheme of things, Jackson leaving Grey Sloan Memorial hospital as the latest long-running character to bow out is sad, but at least Grey's Anatomy didn't kill him off or ruin his character to say goodbye. For me, even though I would have liked more of Jackson in Jackson's farewell episode, I can't really imagine a better way that the show could have written him off in Season 17.
And with that, Jackson Avery is gone from Grey's Anatomy! He is one of three series regulars to leave this season so far, along with Giacomo Gianniotti and now Greg Germann. At the same time, Season 17 has seen the returns of a lot of familiar faces, ranging from Sarah Drew's April Kepner to some characters who have been dead for years.