Spoilers ahead for Season 17, Episode 15 of Grey’s Anatomy titled, "Tradition."
After the much-anticipated Japril reunion that more or less coincided with Grey’s Anatomy's Season 18 renewal, Jackson had made his decision to leave Grey Sloan Memorial in order to run the Fox Foundation and make some big changes. The episode "Tradition" featured Jackson saying his farewells to the hospital after a dozen years, and star Jesse Williams understandably had thoughts to share about the departure.
While many TV exits are made public well ahead of time, Jesse Williams' departure was kept under wraps for an impressive amount of time. Williams told Deadline why it makes sense for Jackson to leave after all these years, and why it’s so important:
I have to confront that yeah, I’m not whole. I don’t have it together. I don’t know how to stay anywhere because I’ve got this huge thing hanging over my head, and I think it’s important to have examples of people, particularly men, and men of color, be vulnerable and say you know what, I don’t have it all together. I don’t care that I’m rich and girls like him, or whatever. So what? He doesn’t know himself and it’s important to paint examples of that and for him to go try to do something about that. I think that we agree, Krista and I, that this character can’t stay here. He needs to change his environment. We’ve already seen him on his own, but he needs to do something more meaningful that gives him purpose, and he needs to be around somebody that understands and knows him, that it’s not paternal instinct and patting him on head as an elder, like his mom or Richard.
Jackson Avery first came onto the scene at the beginning of Season 6, when Seattle Grace merged with Mercy West to create Seattle Grace Mercy West. Known as a legacy hire because of who his grandfather was, Jackson’s goal was to create a name for himself - and himself only - and not be known by his family. Fast forward 12 seasons, and Jackson became a famed plastic surgeon and part owner of Grey Sloan Memorial, but still wants to do more with the knowledge and privileges that he has. Before moving to Boston with April and Harriet to run the Fox Foundation where he feels he can make real change for equality, Jackson gave his resignation to Miranda, who was not happy about him leaving but was still as proud as can be.
It was a surprise when Jackson revealed he was moving to Boston to head the foundation, considering he never really wanted anything to do with it previously. But after the series injected the death of George Floyd and last year’s protests into its narrative, it was only natural for such social shifts to jumpstart Jackson into doing what he really wants to do with his career in the aftermath. Jesse Williams knows that Jackson’s exit is true to the character he’s created over the last 12 seasons, saying:
So, it kind of just happened naturally through really honoring what’s the truth of the character, not what I want or what the show wants, or what the fans want. What is true for the character? Where would he find himself?
Jackson's farewell episode also included the exit of Greg Germann's Tom Koracick, who begged Jackson for a position at the foundation, as he wants to do more with his life after recovering from COVID-19. After what both Jackson and Koracick have been through, and knowing the reasons behind the character's choices, the departures aren't quite as surprising as they were in the moment. Still, Grey Sloan Memorial Hospital won’t be the same without them.
The final episodes of Season 17 of Grey’s Anatomy air on Thursdays on ABC at 9 p.m. EST.