Wolves Devour Corpses In A Very Dark And Very Creative Episode Of Grey’s Anatomy
By Alex Cranz
Remember “old” Grey’s? The show that always went one step beyond acceptable and kept us glued to our seats. They didn’t just threaten to explode bombs. They blew them up! They ignored the rules of television drama and always went just further than maybe they should have.
And then the show got safe. Sure it had flares of genius and moments of neat experimentation but for the most part it became rather…rote.
Last week’s episode suggested that maybe the show wasn’t so long in the tooth and maybe, if we stuck through, we’d get something interesting. And then last night absolutely delivered on every level.
Breaking with the traditional Grey’s format director Tony Phelan and writer William Harper opted for five vignettes focusing on two months in the lives of each crash survivor and culminating in a final act that brought all five stories to a natural and devastating conclusion.
The first two vignettes, Meredith’s and Derek’s, move fast. So fast it seems the blend into one. Neither character is ready to address the problems going on around them and both are eager simply to leap beyond the shock and grief they should express. And so the show does.
And we find ourselves with Cristina. And it’s dark. Darker than the show has ever dared to go before. Darker than a LOT of shows dare. Cristina survives the crash but with wounds so deep nothing may ever heal them. At first violent and catatonic she’s eventually taken home by the husband she’s left. Then she starts talking. She’s distanced herself from events to escape them and she talks about drinking her pee and I laugh nervously because that is some hardcore survivalism that might be moderately shameful for a super surgeon like Yang.
And then she talks about the animals. And the language of the monologue is far from graphic. But we know the character she’s talking about. We spent four years with her and we remember how she died and we remember her body out there in the forest and that coupled with the way Cristina subtly averts her eyes MAKES it graphic. Makes it horrifying.
When in the very next scene she tells Meredith she’s fleeing we get why. Even if Meredith is so deep in denial about her experiences in the forest that she can’t understand it at all. Sandra Oh and Ellen Pompeo are two of the most consistently excellent actresses on television and for nine years they’ve been game for any story and every single time they approach them with just the right balance of realism and melodrama and here they play off each other less like friends and more like something else. Shonda Rhimes is fond of saying their “love affair” is the foundation of the entire show and this crumbling illuminates that foundation and reveals all the little cracks.
It’s a heartbreaking break up that’s compounded by the next vignette, Mark’s.
Part of watching a show like this is understanding that things hurt and leaning into that pain and relishing it. Mark’s death has already happened for us. We know where this ends and when the characters glow with warmth as they watch him so animated and someone mentions the “Surge” we know that’s what we’re seeing. Callie and Derek and Jackson may be in denial but we and Webber aren’t.
It’s not the swan song the premiere was, but Mark’s quiet scene with Webber reveals the depth of Mark just as efficiently.
“Is this the surge?”
“It’s just you.”
And they both know it’s the surge and they both keep going anyways.
But that isn’t where the episode ends. There’s still one vignette left and it’s not as shocking as Cristina’s or perhaps the tearjerker Mark’s is, but it’s the most fascinating in many respects.
Jessica Capshaw is rarely given a chance to stretch her acting muscles on Grey’s but she’s always done a solid job taking the sparsely drawn Arizona Robbins and turning her into a full-fledged character with corners and edges I don’t think even the writers have conceived.
Last night she finally got to stretch and Harper’s script allowed her to show us more of Arizona Robbins in ten minutes then the show has maybe done with the character in the last four years combined. There was a seething undercurrent of rage in nearly every scene and an iron will previously only suggested.
She, more than Mark, becomes a specter over the episode. Her condition alluded to over and over again. By Meredith who is shocked Alex hasn’t seen his mentor and Cristina who paints a horrific pictures of Arizona’s survival in the woods and Derek who expresses concern to her wife. When she finally appears it’s not as the woman we’ve seen on the show. It’s the new one crafted in the forest.
A woman who on some level knows she’s lost something more than friends out there but whom is so willing to embrace denial that she’ll ruin all those around her. Alex suffers through her wrath mutely but poor Callie. She’s terrified of her wife and Sara Ramirez plays each scene with a potent awkwardness not usually present. There’s something just a little off and it’s entirely on purpose.
Amputation isn’t easy and with rare exception it’s met with anger and disbelief. Some people are irreparably changed by an amputation and Callie’s fear is that the wife in the hospital bed who sneers at Boise doctors and eviscerates Alex and forces impossible promises out of her wife will be the woman she’s left with in the end. And Arizona, the most internalized character on the show, is too deep in a very deserved depression to care.
Arizona’s vignette ends with her dying and the final act brings out the truth of her accusations from the premiere. Elsewhere Mark makes sure we cry one last time for him and Meredith has a revelation. The show tends to put the characters into cliques. Over there is the Callie/Arizona/Mark club with special guests Bailey and Teddy (RIP). And there’s the Derek/Mark/Webber team. And over there the originals lurk like the cool kids in high school (RIP Lexie). Stories rarely intersect and actors all have their scene partners.
Then Arizona codes while Callie has Meredith’s husband open on her table and the world of the show grows impossibly small. Meredith’s frequently lost question of the episode is “why stay in a place that’s killed so many?”
Because Callie, keeps working on Derek even as her own wife dies. Meredith stays because the hospital is her family. Because Callie can make a monumental decision and never waver in her resolve to help out another doctor. And Webber can sit with Mark in his last conscious moments and Alex can help Callie shoulder the terrible blame he knows Arizona will lay on them both.
She tells Cristina that in her closing monologue and Cristina listens mutely. Then calls her back to say their words. A phrase that in that moment becomes a platonic declaration of love.
“You’re my person.”
This show isn’t waffling like it did the last few years. This episode proclaims that the show has a mission this season. There was a confidence in this episode and a fearlessness I haven’t seen in quite a while. Cristina’s monologue. Meredith and Derek’s denial. Arizona’s amputation. They’re not things to be easily fixed and forgotten. They’re what we’re stuck with for the foreseeable future (and Arizona’s story in particular CAN’T be forgotten). They’re also not easy stories to tell. Cristina and Meredith and Derek are internally all in very dark places. Arizona…her’s is a story we NEVER actually see. The permanence of it–the risk if it fails–is usually to great for a television show to devote time and energy to. But this is a whole new Grey’s and it’s ready to blow up the bomb instead of just showing it to us.
- Ha ha ooooh. Remember last week when we were all STUPID INTERN because she said they’d been stuck in the woods for a week? Not far off! It was four days at least and Cristina drank pee and jet fuel even though I seem to remember a creek in the finale. I guess it was full of parasites?
- Bailey continues to be the comedy relief and name drops Lost to break the tension. Also she magically acquires babies and delivers them to sad moms.
- Okay but why wasn’t Callie in Boise? I loved that without her we got hardass Arizona but it seemed a little weird.
- Kevin McKidd! This episode was chock full of phenomenal performances but his reactions to them were also great.
- Sara Ramirez all acting with her eyes and hampered by a mask AND glasses. You still got Callie’s panic and resolve.
- Jackson’s face when he realized it was the surge. Such dread there.
- And then crying Sofia seeing her dying father. Sometimes I forget the kids on this show aren’t just props.
- Derek and Callie are continuing their new friendship and it is perfect. I expect them to start throwing dinner parties together. Or for him to help her buy a house. Or for her to help him buy a car.
- Lexie was eaten by wolves.
- TWO WEEKS FROM NOW: Because there is an election and the VP candidates have to debate there is no new episode next week. So we’ll be back in two weeks where according to promos we get a lot of sexy times and also Callie and Arizona screaming in the shower.