So Grey’s Anatomy’s midseason finale was a while ago, but I’d feel remiss if I didn’t say something about it thus far, and with the premiere approaching, now is the perfect time. This is one of the shows that’s found a groove, a fairly consistent one, even if those consistencies aren’t as great as they could be. But this season’s been okay so far, even though the absence of Sandra Oh’s Cristina Yang can be felt in each episode. Most of Season 11 can be seen through the lens of Cristina Yang not being there, especially since this season has been described as “Meredith-centric”. How do we see Meredith living her life without her best friend there to talk her through it? She has the arrival of her half-sister Maggie Pierce (Kelly McCreary) to contend with as well as her and Derek’s marital drama, and we haven’t seen Meredith take on a single problem without Cristina as her backup which makes it all the more interesting and at times, relieving, to see Meredith really taking Cristina’s advice to heart and making herself the sun.
The show does this, too (Meredith-centrism after all), but Meredith’s taking a lot of strides in really standing up for herself. She’s never been a pushover really, but there’s something about Ellen Pompeo’s angry face that really works for me. And she has that angry face on a lot this season, between Derek being an ass and Maggie’s arrival, both storylines which manage to show Grey‘s at its complicated best.
The show doesn’t waste time in dumping us into Maggie’s head with second episode “Puzzle With a Piece Missing”, making her the focal point and putting everyone else’s dramas on the backburner. Unlike some other new characters, Maggie has the benefit of being directly linked to core characters from the jump. Hers and Meredith’s initial clashing and then the two eventually finding a common ground is good progression for a relationship I hope will stand out among Meredith’s other relationships, like those with Lexi and Cristina. And giving Maggie her own stakes, a complex and budding relationship with Richard and her own adjustments to the hospital gives her something to do that isn’t just to be a stresser for Meredith.
Maggie’s appearance throws a wrench into Meredith’s already complicated personal life, and watching Meredith return to her roots by recalling Ellis’ past is a big advantage of the show. “Only Mama Knows” has both Meredith and Richard recalling the Ellis they knew to see how they both missed her being pregnant. The show hasn’t given as much attention to Ellis in recent years, not since her death, but Meredith’s relationship with her has been one of the show’s best narratives. Her attempts at being alike and both unlike her mother is a key part of her character, and Maggie appearing as a younger, skilled surgeon and head of the cardiothoracic department adds another element to Meredith’s own ambitions and how she hasn’t quite lived up to what she’s wanted thus far.
Which brings me to Derek and Meredith. Derek’s arrogance has always been a running undercurrent of the show, with him always knowing best and wanting everyone to know it. He’s never really been that bad though. I recall Arizona taking him to task (wrongly if you ask me) over wanting someone to face consequences for the plane crash, but the point is that everyone knows Derek has quite the ego. But I don’t think we’ve ever seen it this bad before. Despite Meredith telling him to go to D.C and serve the president, Derek stays for his family, a choice which is commendable but also clearly not the right one since all it leads to is greater problems, not only in his marriage but with his sister.
“Could We Start Again Please?” is an episode that shows how far astray Derek has gone when he threatens Amelia’s position as head of nuero for his own benefit. Even though he never explicitly says so and eventually keeps Amelia (Caterina Scorsone) from losing her job, the fact that he hesitates at helping her does enough to destroy his sister’s faith in him. With muted glimpses of their father’s shooting, we see what a step backward this is for the two. Though Derek’s relationships with his sisters have been a little less than perfect, particularly with Amelia, we know he loves them deeply so his inaction is just as jarring for us as it is for them. The decision he made is one that’s left him unsatisfied, to the extent that he’s ruining two of his most important relationships trying to deal with it, and after this episode Derek going to the White House looks much more appealing.
But it’s still sad when he does go, perhaps mostly because of how he and Meredith leave things, in the midst of a fight. They’ve had moments of understanding and support throughout the season, like when Derek finds out about Maggie, so there’s obviously still affection there. But this is a hurdle they’re not having an easy time jumping. I can’t imagine the show permanently splitting what was its main couple for so long, but the show and its characters are constantly growing. It’s a credit to Grey’s Anatomy that it’s become as grownup as many of its characters and no longer has to resort to the soapy (but still fun) antics of early seasons for drama. It can still find plenty of use for its on-call rooms and such, but it can also deliver grounded drama that gives them the same storytelling opportunities, even with its main pairing who may or may not remain together as the season moves into its second half.
Also big this season is Callie and Arizona’s disintegrating relationship, which the show’s managed to make completely awful in recent seasons. Not since Arizona left for Africa have the two of them seemed to be on the same page, constantly being patched up by something or other without ever really examining the source of their issues. “Bend and Break” finding them in couples counseling is a relief since Calzona’s felt particularly one-sided, Callie bending over backwards to accommodate for Arizona. The show never gets down to the issue of Arizona’s infidelity, glossing over it to focus on Arizona’s still-present resentment over her leg amputation and then it still doesn’t bother to explore that. But counseling finally has Callie deciding that after holding onto hers and Arizona’s relationship for dear life, she doesn’t want to do it anymore and would rather focus on herself.
It’s a good step for Callie, who’s been inhibited by hers and Arizona’s marital difficulties in the storyline department for awhile now. And it’s a good step for me because I certainly said to myself that if Shonda Rhimes just let Callie and Arizona break up that I wouldn’t ask for anything else for any of her shows for the rest of the current season. I can’t really remember the last time Callie had a story that wasn’t somehow related to Arizona, unless we’re counting the car crash that nearly killed her. But now she has her friendship with Meredith, the veterans project with Owen and eventually getting back to dating. We’ve come so far from the fun-loving and medically innovative Callie we had in the very beginning that this feels like a rebirth of sorts, and hopefully the show will allow her and Arizona to remain apart, especially if reuniting them is only going to bog down one of its best characters all over again.
It seems like everyone’s breaking up in this review, but Grey’s has a few couples doing just fine. Alex and Jo are still going strong despite the, at first warranted and then quickly tiring, jealousy on Jo’s part about Meredith now leaning heavily on Alex. And April and Jackson are preparing for their baby and very happy about it, though the news that their baby is likely not going to survive is going to give them more dramatic fare than the season has so far. The first half has leaned heavily on specific characters, leaving others flailing in their own stalled storylines. After the matter of the board seat is handled, Alex and Bailey are both just…there. Bailey in particular doesn’t get a lot to do other than pay more attention to her health in a weak subplot, Stephanie’s still narratively hindered by her connection to Jackson and April, but the show still manages to squeeze in an inoperable (just kidding it’s operable!) tumor with Geena Davis’ Dr. Hermann.
But here’s hoping the second half is going to start remembering that there are other people on this show.
- Favorite episodes of the season include: “Puzzle With A Piece Missing”, “Only Mama Knows”, “Bend and Break” and “Could We Start Again, Please?”.
- Dr. Herman namedropped Kate Walsh’s Addison Montgomery, and I’d much rather see her return (though that’s especially unlikely) than pursue this particular storyline any further. This may be my Arizona-fatigue talking, to be fair.
- I can’t stand Owen, but for some reason I kind of ship him and Callie? I don’t understand either.