Shonda Rhimes and I have had our differences over the years, but no one can say that she doesn’t play her high levels of drama like a frickin’ fiddle. Every year for the past decade, she saves her highest stakes for one night and one night only: the Grey’s Anatomy season finale. We’ve had plane crashes, mad shooters, proms, electrical outages. Last episode, in preparation for the season-11 finale, an entire traffic tunnel collapsed, injuring innumerable Seattleites.
Rhimes knows what she’s doing. She’s aware that her Grey’s fans, if they’re still watching after she offed the beloved Derek Shepherd, have had about all they can take this season. Yes, it was the television event that launched a bizillion “That show’s still on?” jokes, but the reality is that millions of people still watch Grey’s every week. It has placed in the top 10 scripted shows of the Nielsen ratings every year it’s aired, and for several years was the top scripted show on television. Any one of the giant crop of recently axed TV shows would kill for ratings like these. In Grey’s packed, soapy cast, millions of people find something that speaks to them, something that resonates, with or without a McDreamy.
Still, there are limits to what even the most devoted fans will put up with. So in this troubled season’s finale, Rhimes wisely focuses just on the Grey-Sloan doctors, and only one case-of-the-week. In that entire traffic tunnel, we zero in on just one couple: Joan (Heather Matarazzo), who’s about to have a baby, and Keith (Dan O’Brien), her baby daddy. The survival of this little family in the face of so much destruction (a whole tunnel caved in!) symbolizes the survival of everyone on Grey’s, and the show, overall. Meredith starts the episode talking about “broken homes,” for whatever reason, and ends it by stating, “What’s broken can be mended, what’s hurt can be healed, but no matter how dark it gets, the sun’s gonna rise again.” As devastating Derek’s death was, Rhimes shouts through her Meredith mouthpiece, we can all get through this together. But do we want to?
Because we’ve been through so much, with so much invested through a long history with these characters, Rhimes was going to end this season on an upswing. From the law of averages alone, she pretty much had to. With mixed, shiny, too-tied-up results.
Grey’s clunkily zoomed ahead a whole year after Derek’s death a few weeks ago, with some exposition that still has to pop up every once in a while (“Meredith’s not cleared yet! She’s been off for a year!”). That move did offer the chance for everyone else to move forward a bit as well. April Kepner, as Bailey points out, has had a remarkable transformation. I remember the first time Hunt had the interns competing in some sort of triage trial, and Kepner rose to the occasion. Hunt’s the one who got her back in the program, and who sent her off into the service. It’s been a nice long arc, which is why with Kepner’s new Schwarzenegger-like persona (a far cry from the meek virgin she started out as), it makes sense that she would tow the car from the accident with Keith still wedged in it to the hospital, in last week’s cliffhanger. It’s a total badass move.
So Kepner 2.0 is going to go back into the field. And Jackson, rightly, has to let go of their relationship. The two play the goodbye scene well, especially Jesse Williams, but it is maddening how no one in that hospital can stay together longer than a few years. This adds to the Derek devastation, as the Meredith-Derek pairing was really the bedrock of the show, and had been together longer for far longer than anyone else. I suppose if people stayed together, the show couldn’t be considered a soap opera, which it oh, so emphatically is.
Some players rise above the soap, however. Like Rhimes favorite Caterina Scorsone. Her Amelia is rightly pissed off that Meredith ended Derek’s brain-dead life without even consulting his neurosurgeon sister. And as mad as Amelia is, we never really get an explanatory reason why that didn’t happen, except that it would have messed up the shooting of that episode. Still, Amelia brings a lot to her scene where she listens to Derek’s voicemail message, and she continues to have valuable chemistry with Hunt (Kevin McKidd, who directed this episode). But look how fine Amelia is after hearing Derek’s message! See? If Derek’s own sister is fine, we all should be fine.
In other news, Katherine and Richard bicker and then get married anyway; Bailey will have to duke it out with someone to make chief next year; Jo and Alex look like they’re moving in together because Meredith and the kids are moving back into their old house. I still think that Alex’s desire to want to stay in town now that “Mer’s back” as evidence of their future romance, but meh, I’ve been wrong before.
The most depressing new development for next year is the latest crop of interns, possibly the most annoying batch yet, which is really saying something. We have a mini-Yang who already is salivating over “mangled bodies,” two doofus guys, and one intern who is so handsome and charming, he is able to walk right into the hospital and claim he’s a surgeon (Reign’s Giacomo Gianniotti). We see what you’re doing there, Shonda. You’re saying that Patrick Dempsey isn’t the only handsome man in the world. Dr. DeLuca is nice to look at, anyway, and hopefully he’s getting steered toward Edwards, which is inappropriate since she’s his supervisor, but when has that ever stopped anybody at this hospital?
Grey’s greatest gift is the connections it builds across the cast. The “Fab Five” had an undeniable chemistry that drew in viewers for several years. Of the original MAGIC (forgive me), only MA is left, but this episode did remind us, that hey, April and Arizona are friends. And Rhimes is creating a new haven for Meredith with her half-sister Maggie, and her sister-in-law Amelia (horrifying hashtag during this finale: #GreysSisterhood). Meredith ends the episode by telling the two to “dance it out,” her old go-to with Cristina, and the season even ends with a freeze-frame on her smily face as she spouts that line about how the sun will rise again.
Whether that brings viewers back or not remains to be seen. But when it comes to creating disasters and accidents and catastrophes to weave her cast around, no one does it better than Rhimes. Keith trapped in a collapsed car is a captivating puzzle: How can they free a man impaled in two places without bleeding out? Last week, the doctors put someone in “suspended animation” to save him. Meredith’s 3-D printer has come in handy any number of times. The compelling medical maladies and advancements offer a ready framework for the doctors’ soapy emotional situations to cling to.
This winning formula has made Grey’s a ratings champion and a cornerstone that gives Rhimes an entire evening to command on Thursday nights. Her viewers may get jerked around, but at this point, we know what watching a Rhimes show means. Which is why, this time, Rhimes couldn’t end this Grey’s season on a cliffhanger. At this point, she’s almost out of cliffs.
- Much as I immediately hate the non-Yang intern, that elevator scene was gripping. I practically screamed at the screen.
- I was wondering what track Grey’s had mummified into lullaby mode at the end and when I realized it I couldn’t believe it: “How To Save A Life,” again, now the official Derek Shepherd memorial song. Please, please, let this version be the death knell for this song’s Grey’s appearances. It’s been done to death, all puns intended.
- Thanks for the chance to check in on this eventful Grey’s Anatomy season.