So Far, So GREY’S: My Thoughts on The First Part of Season Eleven

Grey’s Anatomy returns three weeks from tomorrow, and in anticipation of the remaining 16 installments of the season, today’s post features my thoughts on the (incredibly short) string of episodes (only eight) that aired this past fall on ABC. Preceding my thoughts on this collection of installments as a whole are my individual episodic remarks, which were written within an hour after having viewed each episode live.

 

01) Episode 221: “I Must Have Lost It On The Wind” (Aired: 09/25/14)

With Cristina gone, a new doctor, Maggie Pierce, making the rounds and Derek wanting to move to Washington DC, Meredith struggles to regain a sense of normalcy both at home and in the hospital. Meanwhile, Callie and Arizona come to a decision about surrogacy, Amelia overhears a big secret, Bailey realizes she will have to fight Alex for Cristina’s board seat and a freak accident causes two teenagers to be caught in a very compromising position.

Written by Stacy McKee | Directed by Kevin McKidd

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I wrote a whole post regarding my thoughts on this episode. Check it out here.

02) Episode 222: “Puzzle With A Piece Missing” (Aired: 10/02/14)

Maggie continues to try to make a positive impression at the hospital but finds herself in extremely unfortunate situations. Meanwhile, Richard continues to hold onto his secret and the doctors work with a dying woman who is being kept alive by her daughter.

Written by William Harper | Directed by Rob Corn

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While the way the character is being written isn’t in the over-the-top tart-tongued (but emotionally complex) mode that this series specializes in (see Amelia, Jo, Reed, etc.) it was too soon to put Maggie at the center of an episode. We need to know more about her, but it should have been much more organic. (Enough with the character-centric episodes. We can see a lot of somebody without it being told from their point of view.) And because the show has yet to make us care about Maggie, the episode was dull. Poor decision to do this following the season premiere. Poor decision.

03) Episode 223: “Got To Be Real” (Aired: 10/09/14)

Owen introduces Callie to the Veterans Hospital patients in hopes that she will help them with her robotic limb lab, Jo becomes jealous of Alex and Meredith’s friendship, and Maggie continues to confide in Richard. Meanwhile, Alex and Bailey prepare to go in front of the board.

Written by Zoanne Clack | Directed by Rob Corn

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Pretty miserable episode. The Maggie storyline isn’t interesting and everyone involved is playing it melodramatically. I am bored with the predictable Shepherd sibling drama, I am disgusted by the way Owen justified his mistreatment of Callie, and I am irked by the inorganic writing of the Callie/Arizona storyline. However, I was pleased that the episode eschewed the hokum of choosing Alex to be on the board, but I do think that because he has the shares, the whole storyline is nonsensical and a waste of time.

04) Episode 224: “Only Mama Knows” (Aired: 10/16/14)

Secrets from Ellis Grey’s past come to light when Meredith watches old videos and reads through her mother’s journals. Meanwhile, Maggie rocks the hospital with an unexpected announcement and Alex gets new responsibilities.

Written by Mark Driscoll | Directed by Nicole Rubio

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This was the first substantial episode of the season largely because it was built upon one of the show’s core themes: Meredith’s fraught relationship with her mother. In my opinion, this was the storyline that made the series most exciting and unique in its early days. Essentially, this was an episode we’ve been needing for about six years. (And I do believe the surprise sibling story was supposed to be a cliffhanger for the end of the fifth season, the year in which the diaries were introduced. I seem to remember a casting call for a mixed race male, whom many fans speculated to be Richard and Ellis’ child.) Unfortunately, this episode wasn’t nearly as effective as it could have been because it came too late. Additionally, the flashbacks didn’t reveal any new information; we’d pieced all this stuff together before. However, because Meredith was at the center, the drama was organic and welcomed, so I will quiet my complaints and just be grateful for this scrap of an episode. (And I appreciated the reduced cast tonight — the only person we need every week is Meredith.) However, I loathed that the entire episode was a tool by the writers to further the Maggie storyline and manipulate the audience into wanting her to stay. Derek bonding with Meredith’s sister? Cheap ploy; not subtle. Nothing about this arc is logical or enjoyable.

05) Episode 225: “Bend & Break” (Aired: 10/23/14)

Callie and Arizona take a look into the problems that have contributed to their troubled marriage. At work, Callie immerses herself in the Veterans’ project, and Arizona struggles to impress Dr. Herman.

Written by Meg Marinis | Directed by Jesse Bochco

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Shocked at how solid this episode managed to be. I feel that the series was smart to recognize the necessity of something drastic to fix the Callie/Arizona relationship. I was dreading this episode when I learned it would be centered on them, and the start of the episode with that overwrought therapy session (NOTE to show: these are easy scenes to write, but they’re not enjoyable to watch — nor befitting this show’s tone) had me worried, but I must admit that the team turned out a good one. I feel that the episode did a great job with the individual story lines for Callie and Arizona. Not so much with the medical cases, but with the interactions — Alex and Arizona, Meredith and Callie. These are characters we care about. And those moments were effective, helping to make this episode feel less self-indulgent. It was also good to see more of Davis’ character. I feel that Callie’s catharsis was brilliant, but also, for the first time, I felt really bad for Arizona. I didn’t think she got the comeuppance she deserved last season, but the statute of limitations has sort of ended (in my mind). However, I think the characters are better apart these days, and I am pleased with the development. I feel that my only complaint is this: the direction was ostentatious — flashy clips, cuts back to therapy, etc. This show has done more of this as the years have progressed. But, the truth is, less is more. I don’t want the action to be interrupted so the director can remind us of his/her “personal touch.” They make these gimmicky episodes harder to swallow. Fortunately, this one was strong enough to stand on its own. It didn’t need that.

06) Episode 226: “Don’t Let’s Start” (Aired: 11/06/14)

Owen becomes invested in a patient when he realizes she may have served in the military, April’s mother pays her daughter a visit and bonds with Jackson, and Derek plans a family dinner. Meanwhile, a patient’s diagnosis causes Bailey to reconsider her own health issues and Dr. Herman drops a bombshell on Arizona.

Written by Austin Guzman | Directed by Rob Greenlea

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Ironically, in a season seemingly defined (so far) by character-centric episodes, this installment suffered from a lack of focus. Too much going on, and not enough to weave the stories together cohesively. April and Jackson are good in small doses, so I was worried about getting a lot of them tonight. It wasn’t nearly as bad as I anticipated; instead, I thought the whole storyline was blah. Telegraphed from the start. That also goes for Arizona’s story. The episode made it painfully clear early on that Davis’ character was having a health issue. So the final scene lacked suspense. I’m going to reserve judgement on the story itself, because I think it has potential. But its introduction tonight was poorly handled. Meanwhile, I thought the Meredith-Derek-Maggie-Richard story was subpar. It wasn’t as predictable as the others, so I was more invested. However, I’m still finding the whole Maggie beat to be half-baked and inferior. I hope it gets better soon.

07) Episode 227: “Could We Start Again, Please?” (Aired: 11/13/14)

Secrets about Amelia’s past addictions come to light and cause problems for her at the hospital; Bailey oversees Jo’s first solo surgery; and Arizona must make an executive decision in Dr. Herman’s absence. Meanwhile, the doctors spring into action when a couple arrives at the emergency room after escaping a fire.

Written by Andy Reaser | Directed by Bobby Roth

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Meredith was enjoyable tonight, as was the final scene in Ellis’ old house. Amelia didn’t grate too much in her storyline (despite the contrivances), but Bailey was unbearable again. Flashbacks were annoyingly “artsy.” Hit and miss episode.

08) Episode 228: “Risk” (Aired: 11/20/14)

Maggie and Meredith disagree with Derek about the best way to approach a patient’s case, which leads to a bigger argument between the couple. Meanwhile, Callie feels responsible when one of her veterans is pushed too far and one doctor’s routine procedure results in a devastating diagnosis.

Written by William Harper | Directed by Rob Corn

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Aside from a few nitpicks, I think this has been one of the strongest installments of the season so far. It was a nice capper to this brief string of episodes. I enjoy the Meredith/Derek drama — they’re infinitely more interesting now than they were during Seasons 6-10. The Amelia/Owen setup was too obvious, and Bailey’s storyline is ridiculously trivial. Oh, and I hope April’s baby doesn’t get a miracle cure. Ditto for Davis’ character. Otherwise, really enjoyed this one (although, I am generally a fan of the finales and mid-season finales that are more character driven and don’t resort to disasters or gimmicks).

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Watching this show live on television is often an exercise in frustration. With only 42 minutes of new material each week (if ABC decides to actually air the show that week), it’s disappointing when those 42 minutes don’t live up to your expectations. Although adjusting one’s expectations is key to enjoying the show in general, binge-watching (sans commercials) isn’t as disheartening. After all, if those 42 minutes are a disappointment, the next 42 might be better. Season 11, I have a feeling, will work scads better during a binge viewing. Here’s why: not a single episode that aired this season was as good as it needed to be. However, examining all eight of them collectively and taking a look at the individual arcs that were developed, I find myself commending the series for its continued ability to keep the characters interesting.

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Meredith and Derek were afforded the opportunity to play the best material they’ve had since their post-it wedding. And that’s exciting. As the leads of the show, I like it when they have a lot to do — particularly Meredith. And as my past posts here have indicated, her centeredness is key to the show’s success. For the first time since MAGIC was split up, I feel like Meredith is back to being the center of the show. And I think both Pompeo and the writers are doing a fantastic job of keeping her interesting. Now, I’m not really a fan of the stories that she’s got. ANOTHER sister? Boring. (Especially one who couldn’t act her way out of a paper sack, like McCreary.) The same old president storyline that’s been going on for a year? Let’s move on. But I loved the way the midseason finale left things with Meredith and Derek. I think a split would be good for the show. When Rhimes agreed to put them together forever, the show lost some much needed tension. A break-up is a strong, bold choice.

JESSICA CAPSHAW, SARA RAMIREZ

The other big development is probably the Callie and Arizona break-up, which makes a lot of sense. Their reunion during Season Ten was forced. I like them together, but I’m much more interested in seeing them apart. Arizona needs to develop relationships with characters outside of her romance, and Callie, as portrayed by Sara Ramirez, is the only character who shares chemistry with every single member of the cast. Callie is great when she’s in a juicy medical story, and I’m cautiously invested in Arizona’s story with her dying mentor. The rest of the cast? I’m glad we haven’t had a lot of April/Jackson. (I hope the baby either dies or is severely injured. Not because I’m evil, but because this is good drama.) I still don’t like Jo with Alex. Bailey is blah. Amelia still annoys, and she’s clearly being groomed for the boring Owen. Richard and Maggie’s story was unconvincingly written, but I’m hoping it will get better. And Stephanie has no real purpose.

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I hate when the show centers an entire episode around a character or two because it’s a narrative gimmick. I’m okay when they do this for Meredith, because that’s how the show was presented in the first season. But the Maggie episode? Painfully bad. It was a miracle that the Callie/Arizona one turned out as well as it did, despite the show’s inherent tendency to dress it up with flashbacks and flashy editing. There are too many characters, and I actually don’t think they all need to be serviced in every episode. But I’m much prouder of an episode that can weave multiple stories together and make them feel thematically interconnected than an episode that takes one or two stories and tries a little too hard to make the drama play. That’s why I thought the most recent episode, which sort of wrapped the stories from the first third of the season, was perhaps the strongest of the year. It was character driven drama — few gimmicks, less triteness.

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Ultimately, I think the show is still producing at a calibre that’s impressive for an 11-year-old primetime soap. However, more faith in the characters and the quality of the scripts (that is, cutting all these “centric” episodes and allowing the stories to just play organically) would make each individual installment a more pleasurable experience. It’s too early to qualify Season 11 in broad strokes. The only thing that can honestly be said is “hit and miss.”

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Come back next Wednesday for another Wildcard post! And tune in tomorrow for more Xena!

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One thought on “So Far, So GREY’S: My Thoughts on The First Part of Season Eleven

  1. Pingback: My Thoughts on the Eleventh Season of GREY’S ANATOMY | THAT'S ENTERTAINMENT!

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