Welcome to another Wildcard Wednesday! As many of you may recall, my very first Wildcard post was an analysis of Grey’s Anatomy and the factors that have led to its decline in quality. With the two-hour tenth season premiere airing last Thursday, I thought I’d share my thoughts on those first two episodes. To those of you who are fortunate enough to NOT be among us guilty but unwavering fans, don’t worry — this will never be a weekly fixture.
For starters, let me just say that I felt Season Nine was perhaps the weakest year yet. This is interesting because I felt that, while the quality of the scripts saw an improvement, the stories that were being developed were either incredibly dull (Owen/Cristina) or painfully misguided (everything Bailey). Before that season premiered, I wrote a long piece about how the decentralization of Meredith had ultimately factored heavily into the series’ sharp decline. (You can find those thoughts in my first Wildcard Wednesday post.) Fortunately, last season found a way to integrate her more into the stories and feature her a tiny bit more frequently. I still think it’s a far cry from what it should be, but many MANY folks disagree with me — preferring the series spread more evenly among the ensemble.
Before I delve into my review of these last two episodes, I feel it’s important to address again where the series went wrong. I personally feel that creator Shonda Rhimes got weak and catered to the fans by having Meredith and Derek reunite at the end of Season Four (so quickly after they’d split). The post-strike Season Four episodes, which fabulously built to their reconciliation, were some of the best this series has ever seen, BUT it was a huge misstep in regards to the bigger picture. Many fans complained about the back-and-forth nature of the Meredith/Derek relationship. To them I say: “Hello? This is a primetime soap.” And while I agree that on-again/off-again is a tired beat, the writers had (and still have, frankly) NO CLUE how to write Meredith and Derek interestingly as a couple.
Part of the problem is their unwillingness to inject any drama that could actually render their relationship permanently asunder. That means that the only stories Meredith and Derek can have are the typical “television couple” milestones — engagement (Season Five), marriage (Season Six), fertility issues (Season Seven), adoption (Season Eight), pregnancy (Season Nine), etc. If the writers didn’t know how to write for the characters, they shouldn’t have paired them together “for good” so early in the series’ run. What we get now is dreadfully dull and does nothing for me. Nothing. Meredith had a baby. Okay. But it’s much less interesting than her still murky family issues, which have never been organically dealt with. That’s where the real drama lies.
This is the perfect way to lead into the Season Ten premiere, which actually saw Meredith incredibly integrated into the story. And though she appeared less frequently in the second hour, she definitely grounded both episodes in a breathtaking way. It was brilliant to center her in the Richard story by forcing her to decide his course of treatment. It was also great conflict to have her caught between the opinions of her mentor (Bailey) and her best friend (Cristina). It was also refreshing to see Cristina accept Meredith’s decision without hesitation. (To quote NeNe Leakes: “Growth is a beautiful thing.”) So the Richard story worked fairly well. It had all but leaked that he wasn’t to die, but there was enough suspense to keep the question going until the very end. More on that later.
What didn’t work in the story for me was Catherine Avery. Well, let me be more specific. I like that she was there to oppose Bailey. I like that there was a “villain” to be the voice of reason and to challenge the chronically directionless former-Nazi. (Bailey’s been going downhill since Season Four. The character needs drama that doesn’t require her to sob hysterically and act like a dodo. Still, she’s good for a laugh every now and again.) But Catherine Avery just irks. I’ve detested her from her first appearance in the fifth episode of Season Eight, and while there were attempts last season to make her less over-the-top, I’ve never bought into it. I like her function. I like that she’s with Richard. But I do not like her. And I honestly think the screen is better without her in it.
Switching gears. In the post-MAGIC Grey’s Anatomy (that’s an acronym for the original five interns — Meredith, Alex, George, Izzie, and Cristina), the series has frequently made attempts to form a core group with a similar bond. Lexie was a partially successful addition (given her connection to Meredith), but the character lacked consistency and was ruined by a predictable and character-assassinating relationship with Mark. So while she was sometimes included with the gang, she was always on the outskirts. With the departure of George and eventually Izzie, attempts were made to bring in the Mercy Westers. As many of you may know, I felt the introduction of those characters was horrendous and occurred at a dark time in the show’s history — George had left, Izzie was leaving, and Meredith was barely around (Pompeo was pregnant). The writers seemed to realize their error and spent most of Season Seven desperately integrating the two that survived — April and Jackson — into the gang. To their credit, they did a fairly successful job. But the simple truth is: they still lack the depth of the originals and will never share the bond that Meredith, Alex, and Cristina have.
The series seems to have realized this, as the season premiere had some excellent moments with just those three. And the show REALLY — trust me on this — works best when it’s centered around that initial group. They meet and talk and then they go off into their individual stories. Then they come back and talk, and then they go off again. Every single other character should be there to supplement that core group. Of course, it really hasn’t been that way since Season Four. But this episode did a great job of making it look like the show remembered and recognized what made it successful. Major points in my book.
Sandra Oh is leaving after this season. I’m so glad that Shonda knew that going in — it will make the writing much more seamless. Oh is the series’ best actress, bar none, and as the most vital character after Meredith, Season Eleven will surely be lacking. She gave a brilliant performance in these two episodes, as usual. But her relationship with Owen… I’m just so glad it will be ending. To get to the root of my problem with them, I have to go back to Season Six. The writers introduced Teddy and tried to form a love triangle that wasn’t, which made all three characters look stupid. Furthermore, the series made a disgusting attempt to rewrite history by telling us that Cristina’s relationship with Burke was worse than her relationship with Owen. Please — I have a memory. But nothing compared to Season Seven, which saw a PTSD-stricken Cristina walking down the aisle. Owen, a sufferer of PTSD himself, should have known better. Awful. The writers thought this was good drama, but, for me, it wrecked the authenticity of their relationship. Especially since the two never had a conversation about it!
I liked that the series had the balls to give Cristina an abortion in Season Eight, and I loved the blowup they had at Zola’s birthday party in the 12th episode of Season Eight. Furthermore, I thought it was thrillingly gutsy to have Owen cheat, and I was generally pleased with the material it provided. (This is closer to the stuff Meredith and Derek should be receiving.) But there really was no logical way to mend the relationship, and the treading water that occurred in Season Nine was beneath both the actors and characters. So I was thrilled when Cristina dumped him in the Season Nine finale, and I was incredibly displeased to see them sleeping together again in the premiere. I’m not surprised, however; these two have always done that sort of thing. And I can accept that perhaps it was necessary for them in their process of moving on, but… just end it already! It was clearly doomed from that hackneyed wedding in the Season Seven premiere.
Rounding out the third corner of our original trio is Alex. Many Alex fans feel that his character has been shafted all these years — given lesser quality material. I don’t quite agree with that assessment. I think Alex has been given some of the best MEDICAL stuff from the series, and has actually grown tremendously and fairly organically throughout the series. I should mention that his relationship with Izzie was one of my favorites, so I was disappointed to see her go. He’s had a few women since then, but the writers insisted that Season Nine was going to introduce Alex’s true love. So we got Jo, who immediately annoyed. (These writers still struggle with character introductions!) Since Jo’s first episode, she’s been very hit and miss for me. Sometimes I like her, sometimes I don’t. Mostly I just don’t like her enough.
It was entirely too obvious that she and Alex were going to get together, but I appreciated that the writers took all season to do it. (Unfortunately, that made for some boring television.) And while I thought the actual means that finally got them together was poorly conceived, I was relieved to see them finally connect. They have an honest, playful connection and their break room scene from hour two was great. But understand that it’s not just my fondness for Izzie that makes me feel like Jo’s not interesting nor likable enough for Alex — she just isn’t as dynamic as she needs to be! So I’m still not sold on them, even though I really hope my perception improves this season. I’m looking forward to the upcoming introduction of Alex’s father though. Hopefully there’ll be some good meaty stuff to explore there.
Let me address the Mercy Westers briefly. I like them okay. I think Jackson is dull, but I can appreciate the role he plays on the series. I think April is incredibly obnoxious, but I really adore the actress and her attempts to make the character more relatable. She was insufferable last season, so I was overjoyed to see Jackson tell her off in the second hour of the season premiere. I knew they wouldn’t get together immediately after their kiss, but I wasn’t expecting such self-awareness from the series. Excellent. So while I’m partially rooting for them to unite (mostly because I want this annoying and predictable storyline to end), I want her to suffer a little. But marrying Matthew? What an unlikable storyline for a character (April) that desperately needs a likable storyline.
It’s interesting to segue from the Mercy Westers to the interns that were introduced last season. Though I thought Jo came on too strong, I think the writers, as a whole, did a better job of introducing and integrating them into the series than they did with the Mercy Westers. Again, I like their function in the series — the hospital needs interns. But they should always be peripheral. Last season, I alternatively liked and disliked each one, never really forming a solid opinion. That’s because, frankly, they’re blah. So when Majorino, who plays Heather, was drafted to another show and had to leave, I was taken aback by all the “she’s my favorite intern” stuff that I saw from fans. I really could care less that she’s gone.
However, what I do care about is that they thought it was a good idea to kill her off. Shonda — stop killing the doctors. Kill the patients, PLEASE, kill most of the patients, but killing the doctors is gimmicky and pointless. Stop. As a result, the second hour was bogged down by intern scenes, and while I appreciate the acknowledgement that they are, as a group, rather disjointed and unconnected, the whole “we’re his people” garbage is too trite for words. I have no desire to ever see them bond. I know you’re trying to groom them for Grey’s Anatomy: The Next Generation, but keep them peripheral right now, please. That screen time could be much better used elsewhere. (Like Meredith.) All of this stupidity could have been avoided with a simple, “She transferred to another program.”
The last characters that I need to address are Callie and Arizona. Let me begin by mentioning that Callie is one of my favorite characters. I’ve liked her ever since she was introduced as George’s love interest in Season Two. I also thought it was brilliant to have her become bisexual, because it opened the door for many new stories. (I won’t even address the Hahn stuff though. Yowza — that was shady.) So, bar my adamant belief that the second half of Season Seven was bogged down by her baby mama drama and newfound whininess, I’ve pretty much approved of her material over the years. What I haven’t so much approved of is the character’s personality change. What happened to the crazy badass who peed without washing her hands, took panties off the bulletin board, and violently pushed Meredith into a locker? I understand that some things change when you switch your sexual preference, but I sure do miss the old Callie. And what was mind-blowingly surprising was the series’ acknowledgement of that change. Callie misses being the girl who used to dance in the basement wearing a t-shirt and underwear! (What an awesome Season Three callback!) Could we be seeing the reemergence of that much more interesting version of the character?
Now, when it comes to her relationship with Arizona, I agree with the fans who argue that we’ve seen most of their relationship from Callie’s perspective. I don’t necessarily find that a problem — we’ve known Callie much longer. I would RATHER hear from her. But this time that they’re going to spend apart, and I hope it will be a significant amount of time, should allow Arizona more development. Look, she was Callie’s love interest by her fourth appearance in the 14th episode of Season Five. All of her development has occurred as it related to her function as Callie’s love interest. Truthfully, I’ve always simultaneously liked and disliked the character. She’s done some selfish things, and lacking the proper exploration, has never come off as dimensional or fascinatingly gray as the other characters. She comes off as malleable per the story requirements. So now’s she’s a cheater. Lots of people cheat on this show and get off relatively unscathed. I know she’s suffering from the loss of her leg, but it’s not an excuse, and I hope Callie really sticks it to her. I love mad Callie and I love it when characters are punished for wrongdoings — it’s juicy drama. Take that baby away, Callie. Who cares if you’re not 100% right? Arizona needs to suffer and this is great conflict! (I’d cry out for Callie’s suffering if she cheated on Arizona too. I’m just more excited because this should hopefully develop Arizona and restore a fundamental and forgotten part of Callie’s personality.)
I liked everything about their scenes in this episode. While the drunk Callie bit where she connects Arizona’s cheating to George’s cheating was entirely too predictable, I always like when the series is self-referential. Makes for more credible storytelling. The only thing I didn’t like about their stuff in this episode was the final scene, which had Arizona coming to the door and crying about missing the baby. Just felt forced and silly. How much time had passed? A few days? Just wasn’t working for me — felt like there was some stuff missing. But I look forward to this type of drama as the season progresses. And I hope it plays for a reasonable amount of time.
I’ve saved the best moment for last. The final scene in the second hour was breathtaking in its simple symbolism. The show reinforced what I’ve been telling you all along — Meredith is the most important character and her relationship with her family is the central conflict. Killing off Ellis in Season Three was a mistake. There was so much more to be explored there, especially since the series kind of rests on the relationship Meredith shares with her surgically brilliant mother. I maintain that the scenes in which Meredith talks to a temporarily lucid Ellis in the 14th episode of Season Three are the show’s best. The series not only dropped the ball with Elllis, but with Thatcher as well. While some fans were outraged when he slapped Meredith following the death of Susan, I appreciated the drama. (I thought it was a touch forced, though.) Then Lexie came on and the writers didn’t know what to do with Thatcher. When he came back into the picture in need of a liver transplant, what should have been a story between Meredith and the father who abandoned her became all about Lexie. It was horrendous. Since then, it really doesn’t matter if we ever see him again. The series has moved on. Another wasted opportunity.
But Richard, being Ellis’ former lover, has always had an interesting relationship with Meredith. They’ve gone back and forth about what type of role Richard should play in Meredith’s life, and I actually think it’s one of the best relationships in the series. (It’s much deeper than Meredith and Derek, whom I like together, but they only get about two interesting scenes a year. I’ve accepted it. Dempsey wants to race full-time and act on the side. And the writers are fine with it. They’ve never bothered to fully flesh his character out anyway. It is what it is.) So it’s always welcome when a Meredith/Richard moment comes up.
Being closest to Ellis, a lot of Meredith’s most powerful moments have come from scenes with Richard. I think of the 21st episode of Season Five, when Richard apologized for what happened to her childhood, and the 11th episode of Season Six, when Meredith had to choose between her loyalty to Derek and her loyalty to Richard. So the final moment, with Richard’s narration about how right he was in loving Meredith and her beautifully glowing face upon his awakening, was the most powerful moment that this series has produced since the fight between Owen and Cristina in the 12th episode of Season Eight. It was excellent. I hope the series does more to acknowledge the importance of this relationship.
So I’m cautiously optimistic about Season Ten. I think splitting the season into two uninterrupted halves of 12 episodes each will make for better storytelling. I’m anticipating scripts of better quality with oodles of self-awareness. I’m expecting a great send-off for Cristina, and am praying that we’ll get some substantial Meredith stories. That’s the key. Trust me.
Come back next Wednesday for a new Wildcard post! And remember to tune in tomorrow for number eight on our countdown of the best episodes of Xena: Warrior Princess.