Derek is dead. Derek is dead. Derek is dead.
This is what I had to remind myself multiple times throughout the two-hour episode, which very rarely touched on Derek. Actually, it rarely touched on anything of great importance—hell, we barely saw Meredith. Instead, the episode focused on the rest of Grey-Sloan’s doctors as they lived through the months after Shepherd’s death.
Let’s get this out of the way: The episode was weird. Meredith wasn’t just MIA onscreen; she was MIA from Seattle. She jumps ship soon after breaking the news to Callie, Karev, Owen, and Maggie. She doesn’t tell anyone where she’s going or what she’s doing, and only leaves a note that says, “The kids and I are safe.” This doesn’t stop Karev from incessantly calling her though, hoping that she’ll pick up. She doesn’t, at least not for a while.
While Meredith’s off wherever she is, Amelia’s trying her best to hold it together. When Owen initially tells her Derek is dead, she backs away from him and puts on a gruff face. “I’ve done this before. I know the drill,” she says. “Not a big deal.” It is a big deal, and everyone watching this scene knows it. But this is going to be how Amelia acts for the coming months as she tries her best not to feel—actually feel—the loss of her brother.
Derek gets a funeral, but the service itself gets very little screentime. Instead, the episode goes on to zone in on what everyone is doing while Meredith’s missing. And to be honest, the answer is “not much.”
April decides to go off to war with Owen for three months, but they stay in touch thanks to video chat. Jackson wasn’t happy when she left, and he doesn’t seem to be happy three months later on the Fourth of July: During a video chat, she confesses she’s not coming home the next week as previously planned. Then the call cuts out.
Meanwhile, Webber’s attempting to propose to Catherine at a nice restaurant. He stands up, but she immediately realizes what he’s doing and stops him. “You should not be asking the question without knowing my answer,” she explains. She has a point, but also, what about romance!? Webber feels the same way: If things were his way, he would have made this almost-proposal even more romantic. But if things are her way, she wants to have discussions about their future before making any big decisions. This disagreement creates a huge divide between the two, and hints at what I’ve believed all along: Catherine and Webber are not right for each other.
Months later, during Halloween, Amelia’s cracking jokes about her dead brother to Edwards—who is feeling very uncomfortable about it. She voices her discomfort and suggests going with Amelia to a grief support group. But Amelia, still putting on a face, rejects the offer. “Let’s just put it to rest,” she jokes, “like my brother.” Although Amelia didn’t take Edwards up on the offer, it was still a great move for Edwards to even ask. Sometimes the grieving just need someone to reach out like she did, to know that someone is there for them.
Meredith is still missing, but Alex finally gets ahold of her on Thanksgiving. Twist: She doesn’t say where she is. Instead, she orders him to stop calling. Mind you, this happens 50 minutes into the two-hour episode. That’s nearly 50 minutes without the main character, the one everyone’s wondering about. I get that her absence helped make the episode conclusion stronger, and that it reflected what happens to someone when they’re grieving—sometimes they emotionally disappear—but still: Could we at least have gotten just a little more time with her?
NEXT: Amelia almost relapses. [pagebreak]
By Christmas, April still isn’t home. She’s extended her tour three times, which Jackson reminds her—but she responds to his obvious frustration by saying she thought they’d have a child by this point. That the three of them would be spending their first Christmas together now. Then he hears gunshots, and the video cuts out. She shows up at the hospital days later, though, and is perfectly fine. Thank the lord. Grey’s can’t even figure out how to mourn one of its all-time biggest characters. How would it figure out how to mourn one of its smaller ones?
So Jackson and April are doing okay, but Amelia, not so much. Webber asks Amelia if she wants to get some coffee and points out that he hasn’t seen her at a meeting in a while. And this is when all of that grief, that anger Amelia’s been keeping hidden inside comes out: She yells at him about how much an hour matters, about how someone could die in the hour that she goes to a meeting, how she is a doctor and doctors are supposed to save people. She wants to avoid being the kind of doctor that failed to save Derek, that failed to even be there to save Derek. She doesn’t want to put others through the pain that doctor is putting her through.
That night, Owen shows up on Amelia’s porch to say hello. Instead of some polite small talk though, he gets a verbal explosion. Amelia reveals she picked up a baggie of Oxycontin and is deciding whether or not to take it. “Every man I’ve ever loved has died, including my baby,” she says. “Thank you, universe.”
At this point, she’s been sober for 1,321 days. That’s over three years of sobriety, but those are three years that can be erased in a moment like the one she’s having. Thankfully though, Owen is there to help her through it. “All the stuff you’re managing, you’re not supposed to be managing it. You’re supposed to be feeling it,” he says. “Grief, loss, pain, it is normal.”
Nobody wants to feel sadness. But, as Owen’s reminding Amelia, you have to—it’s part of life. “Don’t avoid it,” he tells her. “Don’t.” With this, the denial she’s been forcing disappears. “Derek died,” she sobs. “He died.” She surrenders the bag of pills to him and crumbles to the ground in a pile of despair and tears. “It’s perfectly normal,” he says, holding her. “It’s boring even. It’s so normal.” Anyone who’s ever lost anyone close to them will recognize themselves in this scene. They’ll see themselves repeating the horrific truth to themselves, falling to the ground, gasping for air between sobs. It’s an heart-achingly honest portrayal of grief, and a beautiful one because of that.
In another city, Meredith’s pregnant. Surprise? But not really, because anyone who paid attention to Derek’s last romp with Meredith will have seen this coming. To refresh: He said he wanted more, she asked if he wanted another baby, they had sex. Now there’s a baby in her belly. So, surprise.
Things go awry though, and she ends up bleeding on the floor as little Zola asks if she should call 911. She does, and thankfully, everything turns out fine. Meredith gives birth to a baby girl, who she names Ellis. And although Derek can’t be there to celebrate, another important man in her life is: Karev. She tells him she saw Derek in baby Ellis.
NEXT: Ben gives Bailey a depressing Valentine’s Day present. [pagebreak]
This is a good time to bring up Bailey and Ben. These two were featured heavily in the episode, but in an odd way: We usually only saw them when they were alone talking about death. Bailey wants to pull the plug; Ben wants to be kept alive in case he’s a miracle man and comes back. They argue about this and it gets boring (I wouldn’t blame you if you zoned out during one of these conversations), so finally Ben caves: He signs a living will that gives Bailey full permission to pull the plug. Oh, and did I mention this is his Valentine’s Day present to her?
Bailey doesn’t exactly respond with gratitude. Actually, she’s deeply hurt. Yes, she made it clear that she thought pulling the plug is the best option in certain scenarios—but she also, deep down, loved that Ben wanted to be kept alive because of the very, very slight chance he’d wake up and get to spend more time with Bailey. She thinks that him giving in means he doesn’t love her as much anymore. As she puts it, “You no longer love me enough to hope for a miracle.”
They talk a bit about Derek and how much of an effect that’s had on Bailey, but then they end up saying how much they love each other and making out under the covers. One relationship problem, solved.
Actually, make that two relationship problems solved: Catherine ends up proposing to Webber in the hospital. She wraps twinkly lights around the bannisters, she fills the hospital with roses. It’s the kind of scene Webber wanted to make for her. “I would very much like for you to be my husband,” she says to him as just about everyone in the hospital watches. He takes a moment to respond, but his answer is (presumably) “yes”—or, more accurately, “About damn time.”
It’s at this point, five minutes until the end of the episode, that I was thinking it’s about damn time for Meredith to show back up. And my wish was granted: A female-sung rendition of “Chasing Cars” plays as Alex, Meredith, and the three kids walk into her Seattle house. She examines her room as Karev puts the kids to bed and sees all her memories with Derek spread out: the Post-it note, the wall art, his shirt on the table. Nothing changed, but everything did.
When we think of ghosts, we think of white sheets draped over little kids. We think of the Haunted Mansion; we think of spooky stories told around campfires. But real ghosts are much more subtle. They’re the neatly pressed shirt he’ll never get to wear. They’re the Post-it note forever binding you together till death do you part. They’re the bed where you once slept together, where your baby was formed. They’re the house that you made. They’re the hanging lab coat, the ferry scrub cap still tucked into its pocket. They’re the little reminders that were never meant to be reminders.
Meredith’s quiet examination of Derek’s belongings powerfully describes his absence, and powerfully explains why she had to leave. Everything will, eventually, turn back to normal. As Owen tells Amelia, we are destroyed and then we rebuild ourselves to be destroyed again. We see a hint of normalcy at the end when Meredith shares beers and pizza with Maggie and Karev as they laugh about what she missed during the nine months she was gone. And we see it, too, when she puts on Derek’s cap and cuts into someone right before the episode ends.
Like the episode before it, this one wasn’t particularly good. It was unevenly paced and didn’t focus enough on the parts that truly mattered. But when it succeeded, it really succeeded: Amelia’s scene with Owen and Meredith’s homecoming were both examples of Grey’s at its honest, raw best. They weren’t enough to make up for Derek’s departure—but then again, is anything enough to make up for that?