Callie faces down death -- and a high-concept Musical Episode. Does she make it out alive?

By Jennifer Armstrong
April 01, 2011 at 04:17 AM EDT
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First, the good news: Grey’s Anatomy‘s highly anticipated, and deeply confounding, musical episode wasn’t fatal. I think the drama, which has been damn good this season for seven years in, can recover from any damage suffered during this bizarro turn into Glee territory. (It certainly gives one a whole new appreciation for how tough it must be for Glee to pull this off every week.) Now the not-so-good news. To paraphrase the great Randy Jackson: Yo yo, Grey’s Anatomy, for me, for you, for me, it started out weird, then it got pitchy in the middle, then it was kind-of an incomprehensible mess, but you pulled off a great finish. Song choice, Seattle Grace. Song choice. I say this as a person who likes Grey’s Anatomy, musicals, karaoke, and out-of-body-near-death experiences very, very much: It was okay once for fun, and I’m psyched that I now get to write a recap where I grade song performances, like the cool Glee recappers. But let’s not do this again, shall we?

That said, let’s get into it — the song-by-song breakdown to which I’ve been so looking forward:

“Chasing Cars” (in the style of Snow Patrol)

The screeching U-turn into Musical Mode felt jarring, even for me as a person who was very aware that this was going to happen. The explanation was clever — Callie was seeing everything in song while having her near-death experience, which was convenient because the actress who plays her, Sara Ramirez, has a tremendous voice and won a Tony on Broadway in “Spamalot.” (It might’ve played better if we’d ever heard Callie mention a love of music or somesuch, but I’m fine with the suspension of disbelief.) And once I got into the groove, I found this number pretty touching, the way it started with Callie and slowly encompassed the doctors as they began working to fix her. That, too, took a little getting used to, but Kevin McKidd had a nice rock voice, and, of course, Broadway vet Chandra Wilson probably did the best job of everyone acting out the scene at hand while also singing. This song’s massive emotional manipulation power helped, too. The brief silence as they found the fetal heartbeat, followed by the group harmony, also had me thinking they could possibly pull this whole crazy stunt off after all. B

“Breathe (2 a.m.)” (in the style of Anna Nalick)

“Just breathe, everyone,” our new fearless band leader, Owen, commanded the stressed-out doctors, which pretty much screamed, “We’re about to sing a song about breathing!” And there it was, another song so soon on the heels of the first. Luckily Chyler Leigh sounded good. I still had faith that we’d settle into this weirdness and the musical thing would be okay. Callie and the baby seemed like they might be okay, too — her contractions stopped, but she needed to recuperate before any more operating or she would bleed to death. The new O.B., whose name is Dr. Lucy Fields and I am now determined to learn that, oddly declared herself “out of my depth” on helping with this case. Really? She can only handle healthy pregnant ladies? This is not a good sign, is it? Oh, right, we needed Addison to helicopter in! Which would’ve made way more sense if she said more than two lines in this episode or sang anything! But she didn’t! Anyway, Lexie found Mark crying in the stairwell as she sang, which got me back to feeling the song a little again. “You don’t have to do this,” he said, underscoring his intention not to sing much in this episode. “I know you hate me.” She comforted him, and sang some more, and at least I bought her emotional connection to this whole situation because of Mark, so I decided to just go with it. B

“How We Operate” (in the style of Gomez)

As the attendings all discussed the fact that Callie had a hole in her heart, I felt like a song was coming on yet again, and, man, did I want them to break into “Hole in My Heart,” a catchy forgotten gem by Cyndi Lauper from the Vibes soundtrack. Alas, it was “How We Operate,” which is a super-cool and haunting song in real life but not so much when Kevin McKidd growls it as a solo in the middle of a scene. I swear the other attendings were looking at him like he was a nutso guy singing in the middle of a serious discussion about a serious medical issue, but presumably under the logic of this episode they couldn’t hear him, so I suppose that was just doctorly concern on their faces. Then there was this extra-strange moment when they closed the door and we could still hear the singing quietly in the other room while the residents talked outside. I can’t begin to parse the conceptual thinking behind this. I would consult the excellent book Life After Life for some answers, but I have a lot of songs to get through here still. On the plus side, we got this funny (spoken, praise be) line from Alex about his new ladylove, Lucy: “She works here at Seattle Grace Mercy Death. So I’m pretty sure she’s gonna go crazy or get cancer or get shot by a gunman or hit by a truck. So don’t get your hopes up for Karev’s big happily ever after.” We will not, sir, because you are still stuck in this episode, and our hopes for it just plummeted. D

“Wait” (in the style of Get Set Go)

Another cool song that I’d rather listen to on my iPod, though the group effort here was slightly less awkward than poor McKidd’s futile efforts with the last one. New rule: The more the execution looks like a music video, the better. During this, we learned Callie would have a better chance if they took the baby out, but the baby was barely viable. Arizona and Mark fought over what to do about this and their roles in her life (again). Mark argued for saving Callie at all costs, while Arizona said Callie would want them to do everything they could for the baby. It was, at least, nice to see how much Arizona had taken ownership of the baby now. But she snapped at Mark, “You’re basically a sperm donor.” And he snapped back, “You don’t get a say. I’m the father. You’re not anything.” Trouble was brewing for Lexie and Jackson, too, as Jackson saw how upset she was: “I get it,” he said, “it’s Mark’s kid.” Worse still, Derek told Meredith that Callie had suffered massive head trauma that she might not recover from. Did anyone else start to totally disconnect from what would normally be disturbing information about a character we love because it was coming between song lyrics? I sure did. C

NEXT: Why is there a sex montage in near-death? Why?

“Running on Sunshine” (in the style of Jesus Jackson)

Dude, no. NO. I get it, this was supposed to just be a surreal sequence in Callie’s head, as indicated by the dreamy replay of the scene in the car before the crash. Suddenly Callie was singing super-sexy and lovey to Arizona, and then Eli was hot, as always, as he sang to Miranda, and they were awfully cute together, and then Cristina and Owen were at home making out while Cristina wore a very nice bra, and WHY WAS EVERYONE BOPPING AROUND SINGING THIS HAPPY SONG AND HAVING SEX WHEN CALLIE WAS DYING? Not appropriate material for near-death experiences. No no no. (And uh-oh, Lexie was with Mark in this couples-skate number. Does that mean something? Can I take anything seriously in this episode?) D

Well, thank goodness, we got some good news after that disturbance: Callie’s eyes were open, at least, though she wasn’t responding to anything yet. And Cristina had what appeared to be a good idea for the surgery that came from the files of Dr. Burke, of all people. I half expected Isaiah Washington to burst through the door and start singing. Now that would be something. Or it would at least have made sense of this sudden Burke mention, which came with a bunch of jargon about cardiac structure and wires and loops and embolization. But then Teddy said it was too risky and refused to do it even though every freaking week on this show they successfully perform the most risky surgeries ever that are never done ever. And then the whole thing basically dropped except that Teddy later told Cristina she couldn’t work with her anymore if she wasn’t going to listen. Weird.

“Universe & U” (in the style of KT Tunstall)

I gotta be honest, I totally spaced out during this. I was still thinking about Burke and embolization. The musical numbers were getting a little repetitive, with Sara Ramirez just wandering around the hospital and looking meaningfully into the camera. She’s awesome, her voice is awesome, but really. C

“Grace” (in the style of Kate Havnevnik)

You know what’s great about all of these songs? They are quietly dramatic and work really well as background music on television shows. Background music. C

“How to Save a Life” (in the style of The Fray)

Raise your hand if you knew going into this that we would end up with Callie on the table in the OR surrounded by all of the doctors working on her while everyone sang “How to Save a Life.” Yeah, me, too. But! This is what I wanted from this episode, if there is anything I wanted from this episode (besides the chance to grade musical numbers). If everything could’ve been more like this — maybe even with fewer songs and more normal talking — we would have escaped relatively unscathed. I was cheering for this. I wanted this. Even Kim Raver and Eric Dane and Ellen Pompeo got to sing a line or two. That tiny, 1 lb. 1 oz. fetus was … well, I don’t want to talk about that. (Email from colleague Lesley Savage: “The little fake baby was icky.” Couldn’t have said it better.) It was a girl, she was okay, and Mark and Arizona ran down to be with her, and everyone sang, and everyone was alive. Hooray! Though here’s another thing: I felt zero suspense because I figured they weren’t about to kill off a major character while singing. Unlike that amazing documentary episode, which upped the reality factor on a show that feeds on genuine drama, this sapped every bit of concern I had for the characters. That said, this song mostly worked. B+

Perhaps because they were elated that they had pulled off their climactic group musical number, Arizona and Mark made up. “We have a kid together,” Mark said. “You’re a mom. I’m a dad. I’m sorry.” That was sweet.

“The Story” (in the style of Brandi Carlile)

Well, this was a nice vocal moment for Sara, anyway. I liked the conceit of her singing this triumphant song and coming to wake herself up to say, “Yes, I’ll marry you,” to Arizona. I’ll take it. A-

Surely you all have many opinions on this. Please share them below. If you liked the episode, please tell us why. If you hated it, do you think the show can recover? Any songs you hoped to see but didn’t? And let’s end on a positive note: What was your favorite song tonight?

Follow me on Twitter: @jenmarmstrong

Meredith. Alex. Bailey. The doctors are definitely in on Shonda Rhimes' hospital melodrama.
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