‘Grey’s’ gets back to basics
Sometimes, as Meredith would say, you just need a break. Just take one look at the characters of “Grey’s Anatomy” assembled in the season premiere, all fresh and familiar in their lab coats with the irritated hopelessness of last season melted away. After months of fallout from Isaiah Washington’s dismissal and Kate Walsh’s spinoff, after Patrick Dempsey’s twins and Katherine Heigl’s Emmy, it was nice to get back to business.
This year will be different, we tell ourselves with the hopeful conviction of fifth-graders. Even the voice-over didn’t seem so bothersome, maybe because it seemed to be speaking to us about the show as much as anything else. Change, we were told, is difficult but necessary, though sometimes the more things change, the more they stay the same. Perhaps not the most earthshaking news around, but for a season premiere with not one but three important characters MIA (Washington’s Dr. Burke, Walsh’s Dr. Addison and Kate Burton as Meredith’s mother), it was reassuring nonetheless.
Creator Shonda Rhimes wisely decided to give her characters a bit of a break too. So in Thursday’s episode, we met up with the gang 17 days after Burke left Cristina (Sandra Oh) at the altar, Meredith (Ellen Pompeo) and Derek (Dempsey) may or may not have broken up and George was going to dump Callie (Sara Ramirez) for Izzie (Heigl) until he found out he was going to have to repeat his internship. Vacations have been taken -- Meredith went with Cristina on her almost honeymoon, Alex drove up to find his former patient Ava (now Rebecca). But no one apparently has cellphones (have you noticed this about “Grey’s”? It’s quite endearing) because Cristina still hasn’t spoken to Burke, nor Meredith to Derek, nor George to Izzie. So there’s a lot of catching up needed to be done. In stairwells and operating theaters, medical supply closets and X-ray rooms.
Mercifully, a three-car pileup offers some interesting medical asides -- a man who eats cotton balls and surgical instruments, another who has been internally decapitated and a wounded deer. Meredith, Alex, Izzie and Cristina are all residents now, with their own interns to boss around, including Lexie (Chyler Leigh), who happens to be Meredith’s half-sister. We know she’s Meredith half-sister because (A) she says she is and (B) she talks a lot, repeats herself and spends much of her first day bucking George up.
But she may be a new, improved Meredith, or at least a more focused and sunshiny Meredith.
“My mother gets the hiccups and suddenly I’m at a funeral,” she says to put George’s woes in perspective and remind us that she too has a tragic back-story, before rallying him to just get on with it. Can’t wait till she gives the same-ish speech to Meredith, though that probably won’t happen soon since Meredith won’t even talk to Lexie. Never mind that her mother just died. But then again, Meredith’s mother just died too, (leaving much more of a narrative vacuum), so call it a personal-tragedy draw.
“Grey’s” has never been afraid to have its leads act mean and self-righteous. This is one of the many things it consistently gets right -- that unkindness isn’t always funny or outrageous or unforgivable, it’s just human. Over the last few months, Rhimes and cast members have promised a lighter, brighter “Grey’s,” and as the episode unfolded, it was clear that we were back to basics. “Grey’s” is not about medicine, it’s about love. Of every shape and genre. At its best, the show illuminates the desperate necessity of love, its ability to heal and destroy in almost the same breath, and the lengths we will go to capture and hold down what is often temporary and always difficult to maintain.
So it is reassuring and troubling to find that George does love Izzie, Meredith still wants Derek and Cristina really misses Burke. They all seem older and wiser when compared with the callow new interns, but that is just a matter of perspective. Even Bailey (Chanda Wilson) has some growing to do and a whole new season to do it in. But like any championship team, first they have to get back to the fundamentals.