And goodbye to one of the hospital’s legends.
Last night’s two-part episode of Grey’s Anatomy was simultaneously one of the heaviest we’ve seen from the show practically since the death of Denny Duquette and uplifting, in a way it’s difficult to put my finger on. As the staff of Seattle Grace went through their grief — or stopped flat up against the wall of it, in the cases of some — I had the strangest sense that, in losing one of its most long-lived, well-loved characters, the show was finding its way back to its roots.
While it’s no longer the show it once was, last night that finally felt like a good thing — as if the interns, residents and attendings of Seattle Grace have begun to mature, tempered by loss. The episode had its faults, as any will (especially in a two-hour run), but for the most part, it was unexpectedly strong.
The episode picks up where we left off last season, with Izzie crashing and Meredith having just realized their John Doe is George O’Malley, who, let me say, has always been one of my favorites. Though the season ended on the supposed cliffhanger question of which would live and which would die, no one was really surprised when it was George who didn’t pull through. At least, no one who was watching. Though Lexie questioned whether or not it was George, Callie confirmed it and the hospital started to fall apart. “Good Mourning” and “Goodbye” encapsulated forty days of mourning and five stages of grief, from Meredith not being able to cry to Cristina making inappropriate quips to Callie going off on the Chief and transferring to Mercy West — all the different ways, spoken or silent, we deal with loss or don’t deal.
It’s really difficult to do an episode like this one without being heavy-handed, especially on a show like Grey’s which, once subtle(r), now suffers from a surfeit of metaphor. This was good, though. It felt a little hollow, but that worked for it, rather than against it. There’s this emptiness of it not quite feeling true that George is gone, because, well, he’ll be back later, right? But you see that on the screen, too — it’s not merely a difficulty of suspending disbelief, it’s the same trouble Izzie and Meredith and Alex and Cristina are suffering, caught between not believing he’s gone and knowing he is. Their scene at George’s funeral, where they break from the group to follow Izzie and all wind up laughing was at once awful and perfect. “George died,” exclaims Izzie, not even trying to hold back disbelieving laughter, “and I got cancer? What?” Yeah, Izzie, I’ve been asking the same questions.
It was an episode rife with reminders that, for all its narration and one-liners, Grey’s is so often at its best when no one says a word: Callie bent over George’s body, breaking down in sobs as she realizes it’s really him; Owen and Cristina reaching for each others’ hands as they stand in the emergency room doors; Alex and Meredith hunched against opposite doorways as Izzie cries over George’s body. There’s Amanda, curled up on her bench outside the hospital, unable to live with this guilt, and hell, even Steve the Intern crying for George’s death as he tries to take care of a patient. It’s the little moments, the glances, the touches, the silences, that make this show.
Let’s not discount the actual lines, though. Izzie finally won me back last night, pulling through this tragedy with as much grace as I’ve ever seen in her, knowing she’s had her heart broken by death before and lived, knowing she can survive. How utterly heartbreaking was it when she decided about George? “George would give everything. His skin, his eyes — he would give everything.” Her confrontation with Amanda (Shannon Lucio) was both inevitable and poignant, her reconciliation with Alex beautifully satisfying. They’re all growing up — Alex and Izzie, Meredith and Cristina. Even Lexie grew some balls last night, dealing with Clara, the patient abandoned by her backpacking crew after an accident left her severely injured.
I liked Meredith taking so long to feel it fully, that for once this woman who’s taken emotional hit after emotional hit and worn it on her sleeve immediately, has been struck by something so big she can’t wrap her heart around it until that last proof, that empty locker, comes. I love Justin Chambers and where he’s gone with Alex, I love Sandra Oh and the wild riot of emotion she brings to Cristina under the surface and the way Cristina is growing and changing and still her. And goddammit, I love Izzie again. I swear to god, I never thought I’d see the day. And let’s not discount how absolutely incredible — and necessary — Eric Dane’s Sloan was, the much-needed comic relief in a night that could easily have been too heavy otherwise. Certainly he provided a better distraction than the storyline of Arizona’s teen patient, which felt out of place in the greater arc of the episode. And when he asked what it was about George that had so many women falling in love with him, I laughed long and hard, because really, haven’t we all been wondering?
It was also really nice to see everyone calling Meredith and Derek on the fact that a post-it is not a wedding. I mean, I’m not the biggest fan of the idea of their getting married — which is, in itself, is a rant for another day — but if they’re going to, they should probably, you know, make it legal.
While I’m not ready to say it’s as good as ever — too many moments I called coming a mile away, like the Chief’s car accident — it was nice to be surprised by the show again. (I may literally have yelled, “Wait, what, MERCY WEST?” at the end there.) It was nice to feel I was being taken somewhere by these characters, to care about them again, and to see Amy Madigan again, because damn, do I love Dr. Wyatt. Already this season is full of potential and I can’t wait to see where it goes.