Grey’s Anatomy’s trip to the past on Thursday night was two-fold: Not only did viewers get a deeper glimpse into the life of Ellis Grey (Kate Burton/Sally Pressman), but the dynamics of the emotional hour had an old school Grey’s feel that fans of the long-running ABC drama could truly appreciate.
During the hour, Grey’s returned to the scene of the crime, so to speak, the famous carousel scene in which Richard (James Pickens Jr./J. August Richards) left Ellis—but this time, we finally found out the motivations why. In the wake of Ellis being nominated for her first Harper Avery Award, Richard decided to leave Ellis because he would always be in her shadow. As a result, she decided to slit her wrists, but Meredith called 911 in time. It was when Ellis was admitted to the hospital that she found out she was pregnant with Maggie (Kelly McCreary)—all memories that came rushing back to Meredith given new information from Richard and her mother’s journals.
“That was really challenging to have to play, completely not remembering anything and then remembering everything,” Pompeo tells EW. “The voice over kind of reveals that your memory’s like this. Sometimes you remember everything, sometimes you remember things wrong. You think something happened and it didn’t or whatever. That was pretty challenging to play. I hope that scene is satisfying to the audience.”
The revelations provided Meredith an opportunity to bond with Maggie, sharing one of Ellis’ journals that subtly showed she cared about the daughter she gave up for adoption—she stopped drinking wine during that time and began tracking her food intake. That might not mean much to the average person, but for Ellis Grey, it was monumental. “They’re both adults and they realize they both got off on the wrong foot,” Pompeo says. “Maggie’s here to find out things, so let’s give her the information she’s looking for. Meredith is trying to help with out with why she came here. I’m sure they’ll be friends and then I’m sure they’ll have an argument. They’ll have conflict. I can guarantee that, too.”
“They got off to such a rough start that it’s really hard to build trust and affection for anyone when you saw each other’s ugliest parts from the start,” McCreary adds. “They’re definitely walking on eggshells, but we’ll find them coming together on cases and working a little more cooperatively. We’ll find them taking baby steps to be friendly—if not friends, sisters.”
The path to going from colleagues to sisters was a rough road, however. In the wake of Richard telling Maggie that he’s her father more than a week after her arrival, Maggie had handed in her resignation. It’s truly thanks to Derek that se is sticking around. Compared to the reactions from Richard and Meredith, Derek welcoming his half-sister-in-law with open arms was a breath of fresh air. “Derek becomes my unexpected friend,” McCreary says. “I love that with Derek, she gets the pleasantly surprised reaction she was hoping for. It’s the first time where it’s not the worst news in the world to learn about her identity.”
Though Maggie will be hesitant to let Richard in after getting off to such a rocky start, there is hope she can forgive him, too. “I think she’ll have to,” McCreary says. “She has come all this way to find out about her parents. She’s given up her career on the East coast. There’s a lot at stake to actually see through what she came here to do.”
On the bright side, Meredith and Maggie coming together gave Mer and Der a timeout from their ongoing fight. Though he insinuated that Meredith is becoming more like her mother—she totally is, right?—he called a truce after Maggie told him the truth. “I have a feeling Meredith and Derek are going to work it out,” Pompeo says with a knowing smile. “I have a crazy, kooky feeling that they’re going to work it out. We have to create conflict all the time so it will always be one foot in the door, one foot out the door. They’ll make up and then they’ll fight, they’ll make up and then they’ll fight—what will continue to happen until the series is over.”
“I think it’s the same exact dynamic,” Pompeo continues, referencing the years fans felt frustrated by the will-they-won’t-they Mer-Der struggle. “They’re creating the same exact dynamics that they were then now, just the circumstances are different. But it’s still, ‘Will they, won’t they?’”
With all that said, does reconciling with her sister mean Meredith’s recent fits of rage and anger are on a decline? “Maybe,” Pompeo says. “It’s also possible that the writers really like my mad face, maybe that’s why they do it, because I look so good when I crinkle up my nose. I do good mad face.”
Grey’s Anatomy airs Thursdays at 8 p.m. ET on ABC.