Kelsey McNeal/ABC via Getty Jesse Williams as Jackson Avery
This post contains spoilers from Thursday's episode of Grey's Anatomy.
The surprise returns and exits keep coming on Grey's Anatomy.
During Thursday's episode of the ABC medical drama, Jackson (Jesse Williams) visited his ex-wife April (Sarah Drew) and their three-year-old daughter Harriet to break the news that he no longer wants to continue his work at Grey Sloan Memorial Hospital and that he is ready to take over the family's Catherine Fox Foundation — which, in turn, means a move to Boston.
Before making his way to April's house, Jackson drove 11 hours to Montana to see his estranged father, Robert (Eric Roberts), in hopes of getting some answers to some big questions.
"I need to know why you left," Jackson asked his dad, who had abandoned him and his mom when Jackson was young. "Because I realized that it's really messed me up pretty badly. It just made it hard to maintain relationships and stuff. I have this inclination to run away and stuff. I know running away doesn't solve anything, I know that."
"But I've tried really hard to rid myself and shame, the pain that comes with all that and have done my best at just being the best at everything," he continued. "The best father I could possibly be. I probably stayed in my marriage longer than I should've, went along with foundation business longer than I should've but no matter what, when it gets rough I just end up right there running into the woods. I've got to fight the you in me."
After a heart to heart, Robert assured his son that he is nothing like him — and that Jackson is a better man than he could ever be.
Flashing forward to his reunion with April — who was home alone tending to their sick baby in the middle of a massive thunderstorm, Jackson told April of his plans to take over the family's foundation.
"Running the foundation means I have to move to Boston," he said. "I'm moving to Boston and I really need you all to come. The foundation will employ you and Matthew (April's husband). You'll be set. You can do whatever you want in terms of an outreach program, or build or anything you want to do, we'll fund it. I would never leave Harriet. I could never, ever leave Harriet which means I really need you all too come with me. Please."
"You don't just up and move across the country on a whim," she responded. "Since the moment I've met you, you have rejected your family name, the legacy, the freaking plane. You wanted nothing to do with any of it. You've been running, kicking and scaremiang."
"That is not where this is coming from," said Jackson. "I can use this as an opportunity to make some profound changes in the world ... I need this. I know I need to do this. I just want to trust that for once."
"What happens when you regret it, what happens when you actually hate it?" April questioned. "What you're asking of me, of our family, our daughter, what happens if It doesn't work?"
"Matthew got on one knee, proposed to you in front of me," said Jackson. "I stood there and watched another man become your husband and the stepfather of our child and at no point did I come to you and say, 'What if it doesn't work?' I didn't do that. I had your back that day and every day since ... What I'm not allowed to do, what I would've never done, is stand in the way of the happiness you chose for yourself. I had your back. I know this is a surprise, but I'm just asking you to do the same for me."
Flashing back, Jackson made a stop at his mom Catherine Avery's (Debbie Allen) house to confide in her before speaking with April.
"I can't stay at Grey Sloan," he told his mom. "Do you know ho many people of color we've already lost since the pandemic started? The system keep diminishing and erasing us. They're literally letting people just die in the streets and we can do something about it. I have to show Harriet that we can put our money and our attention where our mouths are. That can acknowledge the connection within our work and what's happening in the streets and give a sense of equity in this world..."
"I want to take over the foundation," he continued. "I want to reallocate every penny that we have to equity in medicine: women's health, trans health, racially equity. I want everyone who the country abuses to be served."
Flash forward to his conversation with April, Jackson was informed of a major life change in April's life — something he didn't see coming.
After April agreed to move to Boston, a thrilled Jackson offered to talk to Matthew to help try and convince him of doing the same. But, April told him it wasn't necessary.
"We split up," she said. "We kept trying to tell ourselves that our whole winding road was God's plan to bring us back together. He was still so angry and so hurt. I left him at the altar and then his wife died, and you don't just stop feeling hurt because it's a better story that God brought us together in our pain. He denied it for so long. He tried so long not to hate me. Loving me, making us a full circle was a story he was writing."
"Ultimately we learned that life just isn't always so tidy," she said. "God's plan isn't always so easy to understand. But it looks like I'm moving to Boston, so fingers crossed for new horizons."
"No one said it was easy becoming the man you were meant to be," Jackson said in a voiceover at the end of the episode. "It takes bravery and stepping to the power you found. The trick is to take the people who were there for you, with you, to remind you you are not alone. you have an entire legacy behind you since you create your own."
On Thursday, ABC announced that Williams will appear in his final episode, titled "Tradition," on May 20.
"I will forever be grateful for the boundless opportunities provided me by Shonda, the network, studio, fellow cast mates, our incredible crew, Krista, Ellen and Debbie," Williams, 39, said in a statement obtained by PEOPLE Thursday, referring to creator Shonda Rhimes, showrunner Krista Vernoff, and co-stars Ellen Pompeo and Debbie Allen.
"As an actor, director and person, I have been obscenely lucky to learn so much from so many and I thank our beautiful fans, who breathe so much energy and appreciation into our shared worlds," continued Williams, who has played the plastic surgeon since season 6.
"The experience and endurance born of creating nearly 300 hours of leading global television is a gift I'll carry always. I am immensely proud of our work, our impact and to be moving forward with so many tools, opportunities, allies and dear friends."
Richard Cartwright/abc Jesse Williams
Vernoff praised Williams' work in a statement of her own, calling the actor "an extraordinary artist and activist."
"Watching his evolution these past 11 years both on screen and off has been a true gift," said Vernoff, who became showrunner in 2007. "Jesse brings so much heart, such depth of care, and so much intelligence to his work. We will miss Jesse terribly and we will miss Jackson Avery — played to perfection for so many years."
Drew played Dr. April Kepner from 2009 until she was written off the show in 2018. Williams, whose character is also the father of April's child, has remained on the show through the current 17th season. The character ultimately married paramedic Matthew Taylor (Justin Bruening), the former fiancé she'd left at the altar to run away with Jackson.
The two former costars reunited on the set of the medical drama in March, less than a week after it was first announced that she would be making a guest-starring appearance.
"Nbd. Not excited at all," Drew captioned a selfie with Williams on Instagramalongside several heart emojis.
In 2018, Drew admitted that though it'd be "hard" to return, she wouldn't be against it.
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"I'll never say never because they are my family," she told Entertainment Tonight at the time. "I still love everyone over there. I love that community and I still have such an incredible space in my heart for everyone over there."
"But I really do feel like, because of how it went down, I really had to part ways with April, I just had to," Drew continued. "There was no way for me to live in a space of possibility of her returning and also be healthy in my letting go of all of it, so I really have said goodbye to her."
Grey's Anatomy airs Thursdays (9 p.m. ET) on ABC.