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EW debates a Derek-less 'Grey's Anatomy'

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Kelsey McNeal/ABC

Well, that just happened. (Spoiler alert!)

In a shocking twist, Grey’s Anatomy killed off none other than Derek Shepherd. Yes, Patrick Dempsey has left Grey Sloan for good—get the scoop on his exit here. But can Grey’s survive without McDreamy? EW writers Natalie Abrams and Samantha Highfill debate the pros and cons of a show sans Derek:

SAMANTHA HIGHFILL: They just killed McDreamy, and all I can think is: How could they do this to us?!

I have so many issues with this. For starters, we’d just gotten him back. Earlier this season, I remember tweeting that I was over a Derek-less Grey’s. I was counting the episodes until he returned. And as soon as he did—and gave Meredith that chill-inducing speech about how much he loved her—I felt like the show was finally back to being its full self. McDreamy quite literally completed the show. And now what? I’m supposed to watch Meredith return to her dark-and-twisty self without even her twisted sister Cristina by her side? There is such a thing as TOO dark and twisty, and I’m worried that this is one step too far. Natalie, how do I go on?

NATALIE ABRAMS: As a diehard fan of Grey’s who has been watching from the beginning of the series, I never thought it would be possible to have a Derek-less Grey’s. But after Shonda Rhimes tested the waters earlier by sending him to D.C., I found myself caring less and less about MerDer—and more about Meredith finally finding herself without her one night stand-turned-husband. This story was supposed to be about Meredith following in her mother’s footsteps—or trying not to—in becoming an established doctor. But so much of it has been grounded in the will-they-won’t-they aspect that I kind of forgot who Mer is without Der

What I saw during Derek’s hiatus was a kickass, confident doctor who was desperate to be a good surgeon and take care of her children. Add in her becoming a widow, and this new twist could actually reinvigorate Grey’s. In other words: Get used to it, Sam.

HIGHFILL: I won’t! (Not for a summer, at least.) But to your point, I totally agree that this is Meredith’s story—it’s not called Shepherd’s Anatomy—and I liked the realization that she had this year when she told Derek that she doesn’t need him… but she does want him.

For me, that realization was enough. I don’t need to see it in action. I know that Meredith is strong enough to survive without Derek, but then, is wanting a husband supposed to make her look weak? It took a long time for Meredith to decide that she did want a bright and shiny life, full of success at work and a family at home. And that realization was a huge part of her journey. By ripping away her husband, I feel they’re making her more like Ellis and not in a good way.

Think of the kids! Meredith doesn’t want her kids to grow up without a father. Doesn’t she deserve a happy ending? Don’t Zola and Baby Bailey? She and Derek were finally getting back to a good place.

ABRAMS: Define “good place.” Because from what I remember, Derek made Meredith feel guilty that he didn’t initially go to D.C., then eventually blew out of town while his marriage was most fragile. Oh yeah, and then he kissed his research fellow! Before you try to draw parallels between the Addison/Meredith situation and the Meredith/research fellow one, they were entirely different. Derek left for Seattle knowing his marriage was pretty much over after finding out that Addison had cheated on him with his best friend—which is why hooking up with Meredith wasn’t a capitol offense. But kissing the research fellow (I refuse to learn her name on principal) was legit adultery. And then he tries to come crawling back to Seattle because he’s realized he doesn’t want to lose the perfect life he had built? I say good riddance, cheater!

HIGHFILL: Geez, Nat. I am going to go grab a sweater because that was just cold. But I do see where you’re coming from—because I was already mad at the show for making McDreamy a sort-of cheater, especially after he and Mer had a moment in an earlier season where he promised not to cheat on her. I guess I can’t re-watch that episode anymore!

But when I said “good place,” I meant that they had finally started to find happiness again after all of the incessant fighting. McDreamy had stopped being a dick, and he seemed to have learned his lesson. I think Mer even made a comment recently that it was the happiest she’d been now that he was back.

ABRAMS: It’s the honeymoon phase! Of course they’re happy to see each other again after being apart for several months—hence all the sexy time. But wouldn’t Derek just eventually realize that he once again left his dream job behind to make a huge sacrifice for his wife? And then we’d come full circle, back to all the McFighting again.

HIGHFILL: I don’t think so. I think he genuinely realized what he wanted out of life. I think he was finally getting back to being McDreamy. But regardless, his death happening at the height of happiness brings me to my next point: Is this just too sad? They have already almost killed McDreamy a number of times, and I remember in season 7—when he was driving fast because he “felt alive” after the shooting—they made a point to show how worried Mer was and how shaken up she was that he almost died during the shooting. She had a miscarriage because of it! And he promised her that he wasn’t going anywhere.

Meredith is already the most unfortunate character on this show by a wide margin, and I just think this is a bit too much. Do you remember her screaming for him after the plane crash? Or crying when she thought the shooter had killed him? I’m still scarred. And she doesn’t even have Cristina now. Just because the show is called Grey’s Anatomy doesn’t mean I need Meredith Grey to be completely alone.

ABRAMS: First off, Mer is not alone. Of the original Fab Five, she still has Alex. I love how the Alex and Meredith dynamic has evolved over the years, especially when you think about his not-so-nice first impression—he called her a nurse in the pilot. But she’s also been developing a great rapport with her half-sister Maggie, who has added a wealth of lighter moments this season since she’s blissfully unaware that Grey Sloan basically sits on the Hellmouth—thank you, Jerrika Hinton, for that joke. Surely Amelia and Meredith will also find some common ground as they both mourn Derek. And let’s not forget that Shonda Rhimes told me that she’d be adding more doctors to the show, so this is Grey’s Anatomy‘s chance to infuse some new blood—including recently cast Reign alum Giacomo Gianniotti—and hopefully add some fresh storytelling.

HIGHFILL: First of all, I LOVE Giacomo Gianniotti, and was so bummed when he left Reign (and not just because he’s SUPER hot). Sidenote: He has sort of a McSteamy look. Could he be a long lost Sloan? I would be into that.

ABRAMS: Focus, Sam.

HIGHFILL: Sorry! But in general, new characters don’t excite me, especially because Grey’s doesn’t have a great track record with them. They took Gaius Charles and made him unlikable. And remember when the show had to stage a shooting just to get rid of some of the Mercy Westers? There are some that work—Jackson, Jo, etc.—but their connection to the show just isn’t the same. And that goes for Maggie as well. I am enjoying her relationship with Meredith, but it doesn’t carry the same weight as Mer’s other relationships because she didn’t know her when she was dark and twisty.

ABRAMS: She will now.

HIGHFILL: Fair. (Although dark-and-twisty Mer as a mother scares me.) Anyway, I do love Mer and Alex, but he’s literally all she has left. Rapport is great, but I need more substance. Let’s just hope that, in addition to Gianniotti, the show brings in some more men, because I feel like they’re really taking a backseat. One caveat: They cannot introduce a new love interest for Mer. If you’re going to prove over and over that she can be alone and happy, let her be alone and happy. (Yes, she’s allowed to eventually move in with Cristina.)

ABRAMS: I completely agree. It would be far too soon for Meredith to get a new love interest after losing her husband so suddenly. But do I want Meredith to end up alone just like her mother? No, I think she deserves better than that. I’d love for  the final beat of the series to be Meredith meeting a new guy at Joe’s and she once again becomes the girl in the bar. That ending would provide hope without desecrating the holiness that is the MerDer relationship.

But to bring it back to Derek’s death for a moment, there’s another check on the pro column: That funeral we spyed in the promos could facilitate the return of a lot of familiar faces. Would Cristina (Sandra Oh) really miss this moment? Would Addison (Kate Walsh) not fly up for one last goodbye? Heck, even Audra McDonald and Taye Diggs could put in a cameo, since their characters all went to med school together! And let’s not forget about his other sisters, played by Neve Cambell and Embeth Davidtz. Could this also finally be our chance to meet the heretofore unseen fourth sister, Kathleen? And they have to bring back Tyne Daly as the Shepherd matriarch. Mer’s dad, Thatcher (Scandal star Jeff Perry), could even drop by to support her. Why would you deprive me of all the possibilities by disagreeing with his death, Sam?

HIGHFILL: But isn’t Mer so far from being the girl in a bar now? I think too much has happened. This show can learn from True Blood: If you kill the epic love, don’t try to replace him.

As for the reunions, I would never want to deprive you of such greatness, but I’m more worried that they won’t be what you want. Would I love to see all those people (and meet Kathleen)? Of course! But not in this way and not under these circumstances. First of all: I don’t think Grey’s will go there, because Thatcher didn’t even return when Lexie died, and Mark never got a funeral. But for me, I’d want to see those people with Derek. Having them all come back to mourn would, again, just be too sad.

But I’m glad you brought up Derek’s family, because that’s another one of my issues: What about Amelia? This girl has gone through some really tough stuff in life, and I’m not exactly looking forward to her potentially going down another dark path. Then again, I’ll feel a bit robbed if there isn’t a fair amount of darkness following Derek’s death. There’s no good answer! Generally for me, Derek’s death casts a dark cloud over the show. It will never be exactly what I want it to be anymore. I just hope I can like what’s next.

ABRAMS: I’m torn when it comes to Amelia. Caterina Scorone’s performance throughout Amelia’s relapse with drugs was so powerful and memorable on Private Practice that it would be a shame to try to replicate that just because some Grey’s viewers may not have been tuning into the spin-off. But how’s this for dark: What if Meredith is pregnant again? MerDer were doing the dirty a lot since they reunited, and taking her down this path without Derek could be a big tipping point.

HIGHFILL: Mer being pregnant again would be just cruel. For starters, she’ll definitely need her fair share—read: A LOT—of tequila to get through her grief. And if you’re going to make her a single mother, do not leave her with even more children. (Unless Bailey doesn’t get Derek’s hair. Then definitely give her one more chance.)

ABRAMS: Can I just point out that, save for bargaining, you’ve basically just gone through the five stages of grief throughout our conversation? And hopefully you’ve come out the other side with a greater understanding of why Derek being killed off Grey’s is actually a good thing.

It may take some time. You may curse Shonda’s name and threaten to drop the show altogether. But the love you have for this series will not abate. Why? Because you want to know how Meredith will live on, so you’ll be back. You’ll keep tuning in, even if it means hate-watching the series—because if you’ve been watching for this long and invested this many years in these characters, don’t you want to know how it all will eventually end?

HIGHFILL: I am quick to go through the stages of grief, but I can’t say that I think this is a good thing. Does it create space for some new opportunities for the show? Yes. But did Derek need to die for those things to happen? No. They could bring beloved characters back or bring on new doctors even with Derek around, and it would’ve worked. For me, this twist is not only unnecessary, but it does more harm than good, mostly because, no matter what happens next—whether I love it or loathe it—Derek’s death changes the very foundation of the show. Of course I’ll keep watching; I never really doubted that. But I’m simply worried that with this twist, the Grey’s I love is a thing of the past, and now I’m left to watch only because I can’t not. And that itself is a little depressing.

ABRAMS: But rocking the very foundation of the show is exactly the point with a death this big. Derek’s passing will reverberate with every single character—not just Mer and Amelia, but the doctors who have worked cases with him and those he’s bonded with at the hospital, which is pretty much everyone. Shonda has just unearthed a wealth of new storylines and opened up a dialogue on dealing with grief. Maybe you can find solace in knowing she’ll help you get over this loss, too.

Grey’s Anatomy airs Thursdays at 8 p.m. ET on ABC.

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