Over the past decade, Grey’s Anatomy finales have been notorious for ending seasons in a game-changing way: Explosions, plane crashes, hospital proms. Season six’s “Death And All His Friends” finale, with a crazy shooter inside the hospital, was so winningly suspenseful, it even kicked off an awesome season seven. Last year, someone got electrocuted and Meredith Grey had to deliver her baby in the dark. It’s rare for everyone to make it out of a Grey’s season finale alive, even the members of the regular cast.
For the season 10 finale, with three cast members already announcing departures, including perennial Sandra Oh as Cristina Yang, stakes were high. But even after a suspected terrorist blast at a mall, everyone seems to be at least figuratively intact. The finale was an odd combination: half-giant explosion, half-sentimental goodbye to a legendary television character. Some of these parts worked out better than other parts, but compared to previous seasons, this finale was much more emotional (and frankly, kind of tepid) than firework-worthy dramatic.
Whether or not you liked the episode probably depended on whether or not you are a Grey’s lifer, if you know who the Fab Five were, if you are familiar with the term “Calzona.” For longtime fans, the news of Oh’s departure resulted in developments that were the hands-down highlights of season 10. Now bloated with over a dozen regular staffers, Grey-Sloan hospital and its episodic writers could barely find enough storylines to keep everyone afloat. The new group of five interns stayed fairly intact, Callie and Arizona finally swung back to on-again but Cristina and Owen did not, the president called up Derek, and April left some ambulance driver at the altar to run away with Avery. Hilariously, the show tried to address its own romantic chaos that involves all of its staff dating each other—supervisors and subordinates included—by having the hospital install a no-fraternization policy that lasted for about a week or so.
The bright spots of this season (and let’s face it, all of the other seasons) focused on Meredith and Cristina and their evolving friendship. As Meredith had a second child, and Cristina is one of the few unapologetically childless female leads on network television, the friends grew apart as one was able to focus on her career more than the other. Cristina took a surgery away from Meredith when she became understandably distracted by a childcare accident involving her daughter; a sulking Meredith then eventually refused to give Cristina access to her new research toy, a 3-D printer. As the relationship between the two is the actual heart of the show (The cloying “You’re my person” phrase sums up how these two broken, unemotional surgeons created a beautiful friendship), the ebbs and flows of even snippy lines of dialogue were riveting. Todd VanDerWerff points to the reason Grey’s Anatomy abides: Past the gratuitous grossout shots (really could have done without that eye realignment in this finale), the show’s emotional relationships can resonate strongly enough to bypass soapiness.
The Meredith-Cristina relationship was dissolving so rapidly as to cause speculation that being without her “person” would be what drove Cristina away from Seattle. Fortunately, the duo reunited around the time of April’s aborted wedding, as Meredith finally admitted to being fiercely jealous of how Cristina had bypassed her as a surgeon. She even acknowledged her envy enough to be able to throw Yang a party to celebrate her nomination for a Harper Avery Award, a phrase uttered more times than “the Initiative” on Revenge last year. So when Yang’s old flame offers her an ideal spot as director of cardiothoracic surgery in Zurich, Meredith is able to realize that her person has to leave.
Shonda Rhimes being Shonda Rhimes, when no one could find Cristina after the mall explosion—and then after she kept popping up magically at the hospital and saying things like, “No, no, you take the surgery”—I probably wasn’t the only viewer who wondered if Cristina Yang was now a goddamn ghost. Fortunately, she was not, and she went on to hug the only person less into hugs than herself, Bailey, as well as Derek and Webber. After a tearful but steel-eyed Meredith pushes her out of the hospital, Cristina comes back to “dance it out,” a nice acknowledgement of their early relationship, even with the same Tegan And Sara song. But before Cristina leaves, she utters what should be the official best-friend credo to Meredith, cautioning her against blindly following her hotshot husband to his new post in Washington: “Don’t let what he wants eclipse what you need. He’s very dreamy, but he’s not the sun. You are.” God, I hope we all have a Cristina in our lives to tell us that. Those sentences sum up the uncompromising support that made this TV friendship so very special. Without it, I suspect future Grey’s seasons will suffer.
Because look at what’s left: Callie and Arizona are going to use a surrogate to have another baby. April’s pregnant. Bailey and Alex are going to fight over Cristina’s old board seat. Derek and Meredith are going to fight over moving to Washington, D.C., which clearly isn’t going to happen. And God help us, there’s yet another Grey sister (Lexie 2.0!). In what was probably supposed to be a heart-stopping twist by Rhimes and Co., we find out that new heart surgeon Pierce was given up for adoption and is none other than the love child of Ellis Grey and Webber. This might be a more compelling storyline if we hadn’t already gone through something similar on this show before. And I can’t get the math right in my head: I believe Meredith was already a child when Webber and her mother started sleeping together, so how would Ellis give birth and not have anyone notice? It’s a storyline even far-fetched for Grey’s Anatomy, which is really saying something.
Shonda Rhimes shows usually offer an unsubtle episodic theme, and this finale title is underlined by Catherine Avery (Debbie Allen), as April despairs over having her baby in a world where people bomb shopping malls (although, as it turns out, the whole explosion was the result of an gasline accident). Catherine cautions, “What defeats you is the fear.” The greatest thing about Cristina Yang was her incessant belief in herself and her own brilliance. Except for a brief PTSD bout after the shooter incident, we never saw her fear, and we know that Meredith was the one who made her brave. This finale was a fitting sendoff to a character and a friendship like that. It would be nice if everyone else on Grey’s Anatomy was up to Cristina Yang’s standards, but she has left behind an extremely high bar.
- I always appreciate the recognitions of previous departed characters, as Cristina wonders how to say goodbye to Seattle and Meredith: “You and I are not finished, George is dead, and Izzy’s gone.”
- Loved Bailey’s eye-roll with the Cristina hug. Also Shane jumping up and quitting to go with Yang to Switzerland.
- My favorite episode this entire Grey’s season was “Do You Know,” kind of a Sliding Doors view of Cristina Yang’s life if she stayed with Owen on his terms (having kids) versus staying with Owen on her terms (not having kids). Both ended in disaster, but Cristina as a trapped, unhappy parent was especially devastating, and made me think of Libby Hill’s recent look at motherhood as the happy end-game catchall for female TV characters: “At what point will it be more acceptable for our feminist heroines to not choose children?”. Yang is one of these heroines: The brilliant surgeon lost much of her edge in her speculative motherhood future, and therefore her shot at the all-significant Harper Avery Award (three words I really hope never to hear again after this season). But by giving up his potential children for Cristina’s career, Owen became a ruined alcoholic. The true answer was that Owen and Cristina, as much as they love each other, could never really work out, but that episode perfectly depicted why they can’t be together.
- Valuable advice for a Grey-Sloan surgeon: “Don’t get on any little tiny planes that can crash or stick your hand in a body cavity that has a bomb in it or offer your life to a gunman.”
- I usually find the show’s tendency to pitch lullaby versions of popular pop songs in the background (like “Like A Virgin”) annoying, but weirdly, the slowed-down slant on A-Ha’s “Take On Me” perfectly fit Yang’s departure: “So needless to say / Of odds and ends / But I’ll be stumbling away… I’ll be gone in a day or two.”