It’s been clear for some time now that the world of Grey’s Anatomy is not our own. The show’s characters exist in a kind of heightened, alternate reality where it’s perfectly normal for one doctor to survivor a near-drowning, a bomb scare, a crazed gunman, a plane crash, and an emergency C-section done by flashlight. Showrunner Shonda Rhimes has a knack for creating these life-or-death scenarios that have been a part of the show’s DNA ever since Meredith Grey stuck her hand inside a man’s chest to stop a bomb from exploding in season two’s “It’s The End Of The World.” The only way to accept the continual crises—personal, professional, and life threatening—that plague Seattle Grace Mercy West Hospital (or “Mercy Death” as one of the doctors joked while stranded in a forest) is to think of this fictional Seattle as a kind of Gotham City, where the stakes are high, danger is everywhere, and heroes are needed.
In a current television landscape that worships antiheroes, Grey’s Anatomy’s characters are unabashedly heroic, almost impossibly good people. And when they mess up—hire a cheaper but faulty plane company, cheat on their spouse, or inadvertently send a colleague to her death (as happens tonight)—they are plagued with guilt afterwards. Unlike Walter White, Don Draper, and Olivia Pope, these characters are motivated by a desire to save lives, help people, and protect their makeshift family. At its best, Grey’s Anatomy is about everyday bravery, sacrifice, and courage. At its worst, it’s a melodramatic, moralizing soap opera. Both sides are on display as the show heads confidently into its 10th season.
The bloated two-hour season premiere picks up where the finale left off, with a massive storm that left the hospital powerless and in shambles. Richard Webber (James Pickens, Jr.) lays unconscious in the hospital basement after electrocuting himself trying to restart the hospital’s power, and he is shortly joined by Heather Brooks (Tina Majorino) who instantly electrocutes herself as well in what I thought was going to become a weird, running joke of the episode; Meredith (Ellen Pompeo) is recovering from an emergency C-section and bonding with her new son; Arizona (Jessica Capshaw) and Callie (Sara Ramirez) are barely speaking after Arizona’s infidelity is revealed; Alex (Justin Chambers) is tentatively jumping into a relationship with intern Jo (Camilla Luddington); and Cristina (Sandra Oh) and Owen (Kevin McKidd) are close to calling it quits on their seemingly happy relationship. Oh, and did I mention there’s a flesh-eating bacteria?
After a rather contrived finale that saw doctors operating in the dark (sometimes with their eyes closed), it’s nice to see the show focus on the more realistic hustle and bustle of a hospital on the verge of chaos following a natural disaster, which gives the characters a chance to show off their competency. In a smart move, the episode creates additional stakes in its patient-of-the-week storylines by virtue of the fact that almost every patient is either a first responder or a series regular; not only are the doctors heroes, but their patients are heroes as well. Grey’s Anatomy has never been averse to killing off its characters, and the episode manages to create some suspense around the survival of Brooks and Webber. Killing off Brooks is a bold (and unexpected) move that will provide more story fodder down the road without substantially shaking things up. While I didn’t find her death particularly resonant, I’m hoping it will be used to clarify the rest of the interns, who were largely underused last season.
As with most long-running television programs, Grey’s Anatomy must occasionally hit the reset button and restore things to a relative status quo, which is especially obvious during season premieres, when the show preens away season-long arcs from last year. Bailey’s fear of the operating room that dominated the back half of season nine seems magically cured after one successful surgery. And the deep-seated resentment Arizona held against Callie for allowing doctors to amputate her leg is dropped in favor of focusing on Arizona’s infidelity. After spending so much time developing these threads last season, it’s frustrating to see them let go so quickly. Thankfully, the enormously talented cast is largely able to keep the melodrama, sudden plot shifts, and heightened reality from flying off the handle. And it bears repeating that Grey’s Anatomy has one of the most racially diverse casts on television, with a refreshingly equal gender breakdown, which is no small feat in a television landscape dominated by white men.
In his 100 Episodes feature on Grey’s Anatomy Todd VanDerWerff argues “TV is at its best when it emotionally connects, and even when it seems to be otherwise merrily hurtling off a cliff, Grey’s Anatomy is nothing but emotional connection”. It’s easy and enjoyable to care about and root for the heroes who populate the heightened world of Grey’s Anatomy—where epic speeches, manipulative musical montages, and last minute resuscitations are the norm. It’s corny as hell to see people so dedicated to doing good and taking care of one another, but then again, there are worse ways to spend an hour than with a bunch of heroic, selfish doctors who wear their hearts on their sleeves.
- Medical Jargon That Doubles As A Pick Up Line: “He has an acute abdomen.”
- “Everyone I love cheats on me or dies. Or cheats on me and dies. George did both.” Drunk Callie is the best Callie.
- After spending so much time with the first responder with a fiancé and a flesh-eating bacteria, it’s strange we don’t get a resolution to her story. I’m not sure if the show will return to that next week or just drop it entirely.
- Patrick Dempsey sure is adorable with kids.
- Sandra Oh really deserves a special “Best Crying” Emmy award at this point, especially for that heartbreaking moment when she admits to Owen how hard their breakup is on her.
- I’m pretty sure sleep-deprived, half-drunk interns should not be rescuing people from mudslides.
- “Alex. Pick. Up. My baby.” I love when Meredith uses her authoritative voice.