My Thoughts on the Eleventh Season of GREY’S ANATOMY

Welcome to another Wildcard Wednesday! Following the completion of the eleventh season of ABC’s Grey’s Anatomy, one of the rare mediocre modern shows to which my cursed loyalty makes me clingI’ve decided that it’s time to take a moment to share my thoughts on the last 16 episodes of the season. (I discussed the year’s first eight episodes here.) I’m posting my initial episodic thoughts — written immediately after viewing each installment — followed by a discussion on the season as a whole.

 

09) Episode 229: “Where Do We Go From Here?” (Aired: 01/29/15)

As Derek prepares for his move to DC, Meredith keeps herself busy at the hospital. Meanwhile, Jackson and April deal with difficult news, and Arizona and Amelia discuss how to best approach Dr. Herman.

Written by Meg Marinis | Directed by Debbie Allen

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I was worried about this episode; first installments after a hiatus must simultaneously make the wait worthwhile and also ease its viewer back into the rhythm. Fortunately, I found every story compelling and smartly handled (particularly the medical cases and Geena Davis’ story). None of the dialogue or storytelling beats felt inorganic to me, although the April/Jackson scenes were verging into melodrama, and redeemed only by the final act. As for Meredith and Derek, I appreciated that their drama was maintained throughout the installment, and that the show decided not to play them as TOTALLY OVER beyond this episode. (It wouldn’t have been believable.) So, it was a fine episode — despite utilizing more of those distracting visual effects (like the gratuitously fractured title card) — and I surprisingly enjoyed it.

10) Episode 230: “The Bed’s Too Big Without You” (Aired: 02/05/15)

April stays optimistic as Arizona begins testing on her baby; Dr. Herman plans out a crash course in fetal surgery; and Owen and Callie encourage each other to get back into the dating scene. Meanwhile, Meredith, Maggie and Bailey use the 3D printer to gain a better understanding of their patient’s tumor.

Written by Tia Napolitano | Directed by Chandra Wilson

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Enjoyed this episode. I loved the main tumor story and the way that the writers reintroduced the 3D printer. Nice continuity. Also, really appreciated the scene between Meredith, Bailey, Amelia, and Maggie, even though the latter is still the weakest actress and least dynamic character on the series (yes, even eclipsing Jo). Once again, the April/Jackson storyline dragged down an otherwise solid episode. While I appreciate this good drama, I hate the stereotypical way the show presented April’s mother. Instead of a complex character with a different point-of-view than Jackson’s, she’s shown as an over-the-top agenda pusher. Otherwise, the episode was thematically cogent and coherent, and the characters behaved logically. Oh, and Sara Ramirez is still this show’s MVP.

11) Episode 231: “All I Could Do Was Cry” (Aired: 02/12/15)

After several discussions with Dr. Herman, April and Jackson must face their situation head on and make a difficult decision regarding their unborn child. Catherine arrives in Seattle and bumps into Richard at the hospital. Meanwhile, Meredith tries to find someone to take care of the kids so she can visit Derek for the weekend, and Amelia shows Stephanie some tough love when they work together on a case.

Written by Elizabeth J.B. Klaviter | Directed by Ron Underwood

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Overwrought, but they’ve certainly done worse.

12) Episode 232: “The Great Pretender” (Aired: 02/19/15)

Maggie gets upset when Meredith dodges her questions about DC;  Bailey and Ben become concerned about Ben’s brother after he is admitted to the hospital, and Dr. Herman starts to warm up to Arizona. Meanwhile, Richard feels manipulated by Catherine.

Written by Marc Driscoll | Directed by Jeannot Szwarc

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Not a good one. Nothing worked, except the story of Ben’s brother transitioning and Callie dating again. Amelia/Owen were awful, and Meredith’s story was dumb. No other adjective works as well as dumb.

13) Episode 233: “Staring At The End” (Aired: 02/26/15)

The hospital doctors become fascinated with Dr. Herman’s case when Amelia gives a lecture detailing the intricacies of the surgery. Arizona and Herman continue to bond over the amount of cases they are trying to complete before the big surgery. Meanwhile, Bailey brings them a case of a pregnant woman who is close to her heart.

Written by Stacy McKee | Directed by Mark Jackson

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Blah. Amelia remains insufferable. Dr. Herman has grown on me; I think she’s a great fit for the show. I’m torn as to whether I want her to live though, simply because I’d like to see Amelia suffer for her hubris. Oh, and I hate that the writers think we’re unwise to their trick: just because Derek and now Alex voice their approval of Maggie doesn’t mean I’m going to suddenly like her. Also tired of all these fancy editing gimmicks. Love the lack of April though.

14) Episode 234: “The Distance” (Aired: 03/05/15)

Amelia engages in the surgery of a lifetime as a crowd of doctors look on from the gallery. With Stephanie by her side, she begins operating on Dr. Herman, but quickly realizes it’s far more difficult than she anticipated. Meanwhile, Bailey becomes skeptical when Arizona takes on one of Herman’s cases.

Written by Austin Guzman | Directed by Eric Laneuvilel

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Hinton was right that this episode was like early GREY’S… I felt like I’d seen everything before, only this time there was a less likable character (Amelia) at the helm. The episode itself was fine, but there were plenty of eye-rolling moments, most of which came from the ridiculously self-important dialogue. That, more than anything else, made me think of middle seasons GREY’S, when every single character sounded the same. (They’ve gotten a tiny bit more differentiable — especially since Vernoff left.) Can we please get back to better scripts that feature characters who are actually multi-dimensional, and not falsely complex (which, in Shondaland means arrogance one minute and tears the next)? We’ve had a little too much of that. However, despite my appreciation for good juicy drama, I was satisfied to see Herman live.

15) Episode 235: “I Feel The Earth Move” (Aired: 03/12/15)

An earthquake shakes the ground at Grey Sloan Memorial Hospital, trapping Maggie in an elevator and threatening Meredith’s long streak of successful surgeries. Meanwhile, Owen gives medical advice to a child over the phone and Ben confides in Jackson.

Written by Jen Klein | Directed by Thomas J. Wright

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I felt like I’d seen everything before… elderly patient with a sex related injury who becomes too familiar with a chaste doctor, a disaster shakes (in this case, literally) the hospital, Owen bonds with a kid. Boring, boring, boring. Owen/Amelia is nothing that could ever truly excite; ditto with Maggie’s dating life. Meanwhile, the show isn’t bold enough to have Derek cheat, but I appreciate the continuity and connection to the series’ roots. In this vein, it’s not surprising that the only good scene of the episode was Meredith and Alex discussing his failed relationships.

16) Episode 236: “Don’t Dream It’s Over” (Aired: 03/19/15)

A patient’s condition sparks a conversation between Richard and Maggie about Alzheimer’s disease; April and Jackson struggle to return to their normal lives and Arizona is faced with the reality that Callie is moving on. Meanwhile, Meredith reveals her biggest fears about Derek.

Written by Andy Reaser | Directed by Susan Vaill

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Probably the strongest episode of the entire season (so far), because it touched upon older themes like Alzheimers/memory, Meredith and Derek’s history, and the effect that death has on the doctors. Yes, we just had a big tragedy with April’s baby, but I think it’s been several years since we’ve had a death so sudden (and therefore effective) like the pregnant mother’s. It was such a dramatically strong choice. Furthermore, it was unpredictable, like the majority of the other cases — I thought the dad was going to die and break Meredith’s streak, and thus was satisfied and surprised that he survived. I didn’t like all the stories (April/Jackson, Owen/Amelia, Callie/Arizona), but I thought they were all handled pretty well, and thank goodness again for Ms. Ramirez, who sells every single bit of dialogue they give her, no matter how trite. Meanwhile, Maggie’s starting to become more multi-dimensional; tonight was the first time I felt that. I enjoyed the scenes she shared with Meredith, Alex, and Callie — the show’s three best characters. Next week looks more predictable, unfortunately, but I’ll be so glad if they can prove me wrong.

17) Episode 237: “With Or Without You” (Aired: 03/26/15)

Meredith, rattled by the latest events, tries to figure out what to do about Derek. Meanwhile, Owen is shocked when his mother is admitted to the hospital.

Written by Elisabeth R. Finch | Directed by Chandra Wilson

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Didn’t think any of the stories were engaging tonight. Owen has been an empty shell since his repeated character assassination (during Seasons Six, Seven and Eight) and I don’t care about him or his trite one-episode arcs, regardless of how brilliant a performance Debra Mooney gives. Meanwhile, Jo’s patient was purposely gross and unnecessary. The Meredith/Derek stuff was exceedingly sappy (and I hated all the fancy editing techniques they’ve been overdoing this season) — especially the dialogue in the final scene, which was redeemed only by a surprisingly nuanced take by Pompeo, who finally seems to have stopped phoning in her performance (as she has been known to do). The end of the fifth act, with a fine song selection over the haunting loss of Meredith and Alex’s patient, Derek’s seeming betrayal, and Alex comforting his friend, was the only part of the installment that worked. THAT felt like old GA. Everything else… forgettable tripe.

18) Episode 238: “When I Grow Up” (Aired: 04/02/15)

A school field trip to the hospital takes a dramatic turn when the kids witness two injured cops enter the emergency room. Meanwhile, Stephanie sets her eyes on one of the chaperones, Callie operates on the leg of the police captain and Amelia must face her feelings for Owen.

Written by Tia Napolitano | Directed by Zetna Fuentes

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The show is usually good when there’s a lot of interesting medical scenes, so I enjoyed this episode for that alone. But I actually didn’t think the hook of having the students on a tour was necessary, and I wasn’t on board for the Stephanie subplot — until the comedic turnaround at the end. As for the shooting storyline, I was disappointed that the young boy got an organ; I thought that was really unrealistic and too narratively convenient. Having the kid die because of the victims’ mother’s (justifiable) grief was a missed opportunity for great drama. Meanwhile, I’m intrigued that they’re giving Callie a new (MALE) love interest, although it’s obvious he’ll be getting the hospital outsider treatment afforded to poor saps like Finn and Matthew. So I’m not expecting him to have much longevity around here. In other news, Meredith and Derek both being happy is incredibly foreboding. Like Seasons Six and Eight, everything is pointing towards disaster.

19) Episode 239: “Crazy Love” (Aired: 04/09/15)

Upon realizing that Owen and Amelia have been seeing each other behind her back, Meredith comes down hard on her sister-in-law causing Amelia to rethink things. Meanwhile, Catherine springs into action when a man is brought into the hospital after his wife seeks revenge on his cheatings ways.

Written by Elizabeth J.B. Klaviter | Directed by Paul McCrane

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I almost loved this episode. I liked the frenetic cinematography and the rapid pace in which the director imbued the narrative. It seemed, as with several of these spring installments, like a return to form. I appreciated the lighter moments; the penis reattachment story is an obvious recycle, but I tried not to let that hamper my enjoyment of the way the story was constructed — it was hilarious and unpredictable and unique. Surprisingly, I have enjoyed Catherine Avery’s appearances this season (this episode included)… only took three (+) years to tolerate her overwhelming caricatured smugness. (I also think she’s calmed down considerably.) And I was glad, for the first time ever, to see her reunite with Richard. I also liked that Amelia failed, she needs to be humbled. However, she and Owen are still a lifeless pair, and her preaching to Meredith was both antagonizing (our loyalty is to Cristina, not to Amelia; we support Meredith sticking up for her absent friend, not this unlikable inauthentic cartoon) and obviously foreboding (as illustrated by the cliffhanger).

20) Episode 240: “One Flight Down” (Aired: 04/16/15)

A small plane crash in Seattle causes multiple casualties and brings back horrible memories for the doctors, especially Meredith and Arizona. Meanwhile, friction between Owen and Amelia makes for an uncomfortable working situation for Stephanie.

Written by Austin Guzman | Directed by David Greenspan

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Although drama based on the plane crash is potentially interesting for its believability, the entire episode felt very self-indulgent (especially since the entire ninth season was about dealing with the aftermath) and purposely manipulative. Guzman, as usual, imbued the script with unsubtle dialogue and trite character beats, designed to elicit obvious reactions from the audience. References to past history are always welcome, but here it was gratuitous — every character who didn’t know about the details of the plane crash had to be told on screen, milking an already dried up cow for potential drama. Meanwhile, Stephanie as a ridiculous rom-com seeker was almost as bad as Amelia and Owen’s try-hard emotional development. But the Meredith/Derek moments were the worst: the epitome of sap. And although I like them together, their moments played like awful, unrealistic fan fiction. Big juicy episode that fell flat due to poor scripting.

21) Episode 241: “How To Save A Life” (Aired: 04/23/15)

Derek witnesses a horrible car accident and springs into action to save lives.

Written by Shonda Rhimes | Directed by Rob Hardy

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Although I never thought the show would go there, the news this week made it clear that Dempsey was leaving. I am excited that the show still takes risks, and because his character has always been underutilized and underdeveloped, I don’t think Derek’s departure is a creative detriment to the show. However, I do think this will hurt the ratings, which will reduce the budget and weaken the show’s power at ABC. As for the episode itself, things were reasonably well written until Derek was taken to the hospital, where we got Dempsey’s sappy voice over, the try-hard melodramatic song covers, and a host of incompetent doctors whose negligence was used as an excuse for Derek’s death. Very strange and nasty route for Rhimes to take. Also, Meredith giving a pep talk to the female surgeon rang convenient and false. But I thought Pompeo’s cold performance was exceptional and the final scene was some of her best work on this show. So I’m excited to see what’s next for Meredith. Her arc has always been the one in which I’m the most invested, but because this is a drama series, I love it when she suffers. I hope her upcoming material is well written, but with this episode as a warning, I won’t be holding my breath.

22) Episode 242: “She’s Leaving Home” (Aired: 04/30/15) TWO-HOURS

We see how Meredith and the doctors cope after they learn the news of Derek’s death. Meanwhile, April makes a shocking decision that Jackson cannot understand, and Bailey and Ben argue over their future.

Written by Stacy McKee | Directed by Chris Hayden

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I normally find extended installments self-indulgent, but aside from the gratuitous flashbacks and laughably saccharine song covers, the story did need more than one hour. It wasn’t a very distinguished offering, but I have no major complaints worth mentioning except for Amelia. Trying too hard… just as she did on PRIVATE PRACTICE. Her scene with Owen could have been powerful — if only she wasn’t so insufferable.

23) Episode 243: “Time Stops” (Aired: 05/07/15)

The doctors of Grey Sloane Memorial Hospital are forced to put their emotions aside when a catastrophic event occurs.

Written by Meg Marinis | Directed by Kevin McKidd

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I like McKidd’s fast-paced directorial style, and I was engaged with all of the medical stuff, no matter how unbelievable. Pompeo’s performance was great, and although Amelia is the show’s most grating character, it’s understandable that her grief would make her respond as such. Meanwhile, Bailey has been feeling back to normal, and I like that Alex and Jo have a storyline — and that there’s conflict between them (but it does feel out of nowhere). As for Stephanie and the interns… well, newbies are always something this show doesn’t handle very well, and although they didn’t come on too strong personality-wise, it’s difficult to appreciate their inclusion when they merely exist to complicate the medical situations and cover screen-time formerly reserved for departed/ing cast members. Regardless, this is probably the strongest episode in a month.

24) Episode 244: “You’re My Home” (Aired: 05/14/15)

As the doctors continue to tackle an unfathomable crisis, they are reminded of what is important and brought closer together.

Written by William Harper | Directed by Rob Corn

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Although I appreciate the “happy” ending and the focus given to Meredith, I found the episode infested with forced sentiment: Amelia and that contrived phone message, Jo’s declaration to Alex, and the reconciliation of Richard and Catherine (for whom I was admittedly rooting, despite my continued distaste for the latter). Everything felt too neat; while I don’t think cliffhangers are necessary for a season finale, most of the events were contained to individual couples, and it all felt a bit too formulaic — throwing bones to each pair on the list (except, oddly, Callie and Arizona, whom I’m glad are still apart). Thus, it was a disappointing end to a season that was riddled with missteps, but more interesting than most.

 

It appears that the writers and I have gotten on a similar wavelength. Over the past two years, I’ve levied many complaints at the series, and although this season was far from perfect, a lot of my issues have been addressed: Meredith became the lead again, Derek was made more relevant (by dying), Callie and Arizona split, and the couples for whom I cared little (Alex/Jo, April/Jackson, Bailey/Ben) got less screentime. Thus, Season 11 has given me the really fascinating opportunity to see what the show is like when I’n on board with its direction (save one or two smaller arcs). Unfortunately, the Shondaland house style of silly dialogue and formulaic pairings inevitably undermine the possibility of a beautifully powerful narrative that explores the addressed issues with simultaneous realism and unpredictability. That said, Season 11 has been the most surprising and, therefore, exciting season since probably the fifth (when Izzie slept with a ghost, Meredith helped a serial killer, and Cristina got choked by her beau) due to a renewed focus and a few shocking developments. So, what worked?

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Meredith. As I’ve said in almost every post on this series, the show’s middle years were hindered by the decentralization of the Meredith character. When Cristina was on her farewell tour last season, their relationship became one of the year’s major thrusts, giving Pompeo much meatier stuff to play. This development expanded exponentially after Sandra Oh’s departure, as Meredith once again — for the first time since Season Five — was featured as the lead, around whom most everything revolves. (Insert joke here about the too oft-repeated sun metaphor.) One early story involved Mer’s relationship with her new half-sister, Maggie, who grew on me because, unlike Lexie, she was allowed to develop a relationship with Meredith that was ORGANIC and not impeded upon by a lack of focus. While the arc debuted unconvincingly with forced drama, the story’s inherent ties to Meredith’s relationship with Ellis elevated the material and allowed our heroine to embrace Maggie in a realistic, but not overblown way. Kelly McCreary isn’t a particularly stellar actress, but she’s likable, and because Maggie’s bond with Meredith was her primary story, the character ended up working much better than I anticipated.

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Unfortunately, I can’t say the same for Meredith’s other sister, Amelia. The problem with “Amy” is one that plagues a lot of Shondaland characters: they come off overbearingly smug, have a breakdown, and then reveal the “hidden” vulnerability that lurks underneath. In both cases, the characterizations are extreme, hard to believe, manipulative, and ultimately unlikable. Every time I see Amelia, I’m reminded of her faulty origins (i.e. the two-dimensionality which accompanied her initial presentation) and the writers’ machinations to make the character “complex”. Truth is: she’s a hollow vessel — adaptable to any situation and unworthy of emotional investment. She’s an easy person to pair with Owen, another character so damaged (and ruined by the writers), that their empty complexity makes them a desirable match. I know that Caterina Scorsone is a staff favorite, and I think the character exists for an interesting reason; I just don’t ever think I will emotionally invest in this overconfident, thinly drawn “super hero.”

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That “super hero” story, which involved Amelia, Arizona, and Geena Davis was, save the second Dr. Shepherd’s obnoxious ranting and raving, a riveting story with genuine suspense. In addition to being a great medical story, it served as a fabulous way to flesh out the character of Arizona, who really needed a break from her relationship with Callie to develop as her own character. Speaking of which, I was intrigued that there was no “Calzona” cliffhanger in the season finale, but I’m still so glad they’re apart. I don’t hate them together, but they have much more potential on their own — particularly Callie, whose bisexuality was explored in a welcome, but admittedly half-hearted subplot. This is unfortunate, for the divine Sara Ramirez is one of the show’s gems, and she ended up not having as much to play as she did in the fall. I’m curious to see the next juicy story that the writers throw her way; I’d love to see her in a big storyline with Meredith, who I’m hoping will remain the center of the series in Season 12.

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But Callie wasn’t the only one who was seemingly pushed aside. Fans of the relationship between Alex and Jo were disappointed in their limited screen time. Because I find Jo emotionally simple and one-dimensional, I wasn’t complaining. I like to see Alex happy, but I wish that the character of Jo, developed back in the miserable Season Nine, had been better realized: consistent and not “try-hard.” Meanwhile, after a deliciously heartbreaking story in which April and Jackson lost their baby, the couple (whom I also find shallow and silly) struggled with communication, translating into few scenes. (Again, I’m not complaining.) Their potential break-up was the only negative beat in the otherwise optimistic finale, and it’s a sensible development for these two grieving characters.

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But neither Richard nor Bailey were given prominence in Season 11 either, despite both ending up in happy places: Richard with Catherine (who’s still insufferable, and looks to be around a lot more next season) and Bailey, who’s got more of her early season sass back, with Ben. And then there’s Stephanie, whom I once regarded as the best of the Season Nine interns. Unfortunately, her lack of established, repeating connections with characters other than Amelia and Jo (and ex-beau Jackson) have limited her viability. Instead she’s forced to bounce off of guest stars and new people (like those irksome interns we met in the penultimate episode). And putting a not properly defined character against characters who are still being molded, while perhaps efficient, doesn’t make for great scenes.

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And finally, I must address the development which many feel has killed the series: the death of Derek. I’ll tell you the truth… I liked the character and know he was integral to the show in its early years, but I’m glad he’s dead. Derek (or Dempsey) hasn’t been a regular player in several seasons, and frankly, I think Shonda was planning his departure since Season Ten, weening us off of him gradually. In that time, I learned to not miss him, because even when he was there, neither the character nor the actor was pulling his weight. $400k for four scenes an episode simply isn’t worth their agony and my forced emotional investment. Cutting him loose opened up new story lines for existing characters (particularly Meredith) and reduces the budget. Furthermore, the character was never as faceted or interesting as he needed to be; he was always a prop for other characters. The series was never about their journey, it was about hers. Ultimately, though the episode itself was AWFUL (truly among the worst), his death has given the series new life — shaking up the proceedings and proving that the show still has the power to shock. For the first time in a while, I’m excited for what’s to come. And I’m sorry it had to come with Derek’s death, but it did.

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Yet in order for the 12th season to work, the scripts need to get better. Although the dialogue in the majority of Season 11 was collectively sensical and fresh, the last third of the season (contending with Dempsey’s leave) returned a lot of the trite dialogue with which I associate the middle years: long speeches, repeated phrases, convenient sentimentality, and characters who all sound the same. My advice for next year is to focus not just on the stories being told (because with Meredith at the center, I think there’s a greater chance for strong narratives) but the way they’re being constructed. In addition to a diminishing of the character-centric episodes (which plagued the first half of the season), greater pains should be taken with the sound and style of each individual script. The overall arcs for the season worked, but many episodes ended up disappointing in and of themselves. I think some of this could be improved with an influx of fresh ideas, as so much of what we saw this year (especially the medical stuff) was recycled. But Grey’s Anatomy, you have proven yourself a contender, and with Meredith at the helm, you’ve recognized why. It wasn’t a fabulous season, but you made bold choices and, truthfully, it made for a fascinating year. Let’s see what happens next.

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

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