On this week's installment of "Grey's Anatomy," phantom limb syndrome takes over Arizona Robbins (Jessica Capshaw) and the pediatric surgeon -- who had recently (finally) made some progress since losing her leg in a plane crash at the start of Season 9 -- is going to experience a major setback.
Phantom limb syndrome plagues the majority of amputees, "Grey's" star Capshaw explained to HuffPost TV via phone, and it causes painful sensations that an amputated limb is still attached to the body and is moving appropriately with other body parts. "I can only imagine how devastating it would be," Capshaw said. "And it would certainly stop you in your tracks as far as recovery goes. How do you deal with that?"
Below, Capshaw opens up about Arizona's battle this season (which initially "scared [her] off"), being behind this season ("because sometimes it's actually hard to watch"), potential firings at Seattle Grace in the wake of the lawsuit settlement, the debate over just how much gay visibility Callie (Sara Ramirez) and Arizona bring to the TV landscape and much more.
It's been a long season for Arizona. What has it been like for you playing a character who's been in such a dark place?
It's been challenging. It's been really challenging. Shonda [Rhimes, the creator of "Grey's Anatomy"] -- who's like the Oz -- knew way better than I did what the landscape of [Arizona's] journey was going to be. I was scared off by merely the hint of the journey. I just had a baby and I was like, "Wait. Hold on. I'm coming back and I'm going to play this? This is really sad and dark and I want to talk about things that are lovely and light and life-affirming." So I don't know that I was even quite ready for what was about to happen, but, as I tend to do, I said, "Alright. Let's try!" And since we started, it has been dark and it's been challenging and I hope, I pray, authentic.
It's not been pretty. As an actor, I think you get attached to even creating the look of a character and in the beginning, believe you me, I used to look at my makeup artist and say, "Mascara?" [Laughs.] She'd say, "Hmm. I don't know." And I was like, "Yeah, I know. I shouldn't." [Laughs.] It was stripping everything away and you kind of had to lean into it and I did.
Ultimately, it's been a tremendous gift to be given material that is as challenging as this if you feel like you can come out the other end and feel like you did a great job. I'm very proud of the work. But I do have to say, I'm not as current with the episodes as I should be because sometimes it's actually hard to watch for me. And I can't stop talking about the visual effects guys because they're so unbelievable. I mean, they make it look like I have one leg, which also completely flips me out. It's bizarre. And speaking of bizarre, this week's episode really dips into -- Sandra Oh [who plays Cristina] and I were talking about it -- something really cool and totally different and creepy and nightmarish. It's been very interesting to do and ultimately incredibly rewarding.
Yes, in this week's episode, Arizona struggles with phantom limb syndrome. What can you tell viewers about that? Did you do a lot of research?
Yes, I spoke to amputees and we have a wonderful researcher so there was a lot of literature and thankfully, there's a real community. There are places where people who are dealing with this kind of loss can go to to understand the stages, much like grief counselors. If you're lucky enough to be around that kind of resource, you can take advantage of that.
There are many people who go through phantom limb syndrome, which is that you feel excruciating pain where the limb was that is no longer there. So you're on the road to recovery, you're accepting, you're accepting, you're accepting, you're accepting and then all of a sudden, your mind is not communicating correctly with your body and your mind thinks that something's there and it's creating a sensation of pain that your body actually isn't feeling because the limb isn't there. There are a bunch of different therapies and our show represents a couple of them. I can only imagine how devastating it would be. And it would certainly stop you in your tracks as far as recovery goes. How do you deal with that?
That's so upsetting because the last couple episodes, we've seen Arizona really ...
Start to buck up? [Laughs.]
Exactly. Especially in terms of things with Callie. Will the phantom limb be a huge setback for her?
I think the show is definitely not teeing up the story to be one of defeat so I think that ultimately, there's not a closure really, but it's about dealing with this particular syndrome and besting it. She will see an end to it and honestly, it's the road to acceptance and then moving past that because once you can accept that something is gone, you can move on from it. But if you can't accept that it's gone, you're not going anywhere.
At the end of last week's episode, Hunt [Kevin McKidd] learned that the hospital would go bankrupt if they pay the settlement that Arizona, Callie and the other doctors are owed. When will we see the fall out there?
I think it's going to be sooner rather than later. With the arrival of the amazing Constance Zimmer [who's playing Dr. Alana Cahill, a physician’s adviser hired to help Seattle Grace avoid bankruptcy] comes a bottom line. She's kind of the bad news bear. As far as the political climate and the social climate goes right now in our country and probably the world, we're all understanding that there's someone ultimately that comes in and has a bottom line and talks about how there are people who are on teams that aren't efficient and you can get rid of them. So when she comes in, that's her job and it definitely upsets the applecart.
Because of the loss of Arizona's leg, we really haven't seen much else between her and Callie this season that doesn't revolve around that issue. Will there be more interactions with them, maybe as parents and more specifically, as gay parents?
Well, it's hard to work to children. [Laughs.] I mean, I would never want to speak for someone else, but I feel that in playing the character, for sure, you absolutely have to celebrate and understand what your specific life will be and who the character is within the framework of the show. But I feel like I've always approached this character and this couple like we're all just people. I've never felt that we needed to politicize it and I've always leaned away from politicizing it because I think the most important thing is showing relationships and partnerships and love and challenge and making it all about one thing has always been less interesting to me. I think the goal is for us all to be who we are and have that be not only OK, but equal.
I mean, listen, if everything was addressed, the show would be three hours. [Laughs.] We have to trust that the audience will make certain acceptances that [Callie and Arizona] are at home being parents and that will come in and out. But I also think from when I was a fan of the show and it's a show about a hospital and a group of doctors. Of course it's always exciting when their personal lives come into it, but it is a show about doctors. We spend 90 percent of our time telling our stories in scrubs so how can it be about much more?
Does it feel like the fact that Callie and Arizona are not really not viewed as a "gay" couple anymore and are just a couple is a sign of progress?
Yeah. I mean, it's not a big thing. It's interesting. We got into a discussion one time because Derek [Patrick Dempsey] and Meredith [Ellen Pompeo] never kissed inside the hospital because that was when they were at work. And something came up one time when we were blocking a scene and we were thinking we might put in a kiss and then we thought, "Hmm. Does this feel right? We're at work. Do people kiss at work?" And then we were wondering, "Well, is it a straight/gay issue? It doesn't feel like that, but is it?" To be frank, there are people who are fans of the show that do wish there was more of that or less of that. I guess, at the end of the day, we always just end up playing the characters the best we can in the moment.
"Grey's Anatomy" airs Thursdays at 9 p.m. EST on ABC.