The Grey girls struggle when they find out that their father needs a liver transplant, and Izzie (once again) struggles to maintain some sort of professional distance to a patient
Greys Anatomy Tainted
Credit: Michael Desmond/ABC

I cannot lie: I groaned when I saw in the brief DVR synopsis of tonight’s episode that Thatcher would be back. I felt like we’d mined Meredith’s sad-childhood-history bare, and it always feels like such a stretch when every single doctor’s parents show up multiple times for massive procedures. But I stand corrected. It may not have been a Grey’s Anatomy for the ages, but the story lines were solid, and more in keeping with the Grey’s we love than last week’s were. I simply didn’t like how straightforward ER-ish things had started to skew, but this brought it back nicely to that tricky balance between quirky and serious, sexy and medical. And Thatcher, as it turned out, did a better job than I expected at helping this process along by showing up in need of a liver transplant.

From the George death, to the impending revolving-door ins and outs for Katherine Heigl and Ellen Pompeo, to the waxing and waning of plots, what all of this underscores is how hard it is to keep a juggernaut show moving smoothly. Some episodes are in-betweeners; some whole seasons are their own kind of in-betweener. This feels like one of those. But let’s also remember: We went through some pretty bumpy territory last season, too, especially in the early to middle stages. Sometimes I mourn the heady days of the first few seasons, when I wept almost every week and hung on Mer and Der’s every black-panty-losing tryst. But TV shows are long-term relationships, and I think we have to admit that that early magic simply cannot stick around forever. It’s still a well-made show full of characters we love, even when we hate them, which is saying quite a lot.

Aside from Thatcher, the other medical cases worked nicely into the scheme of things without being too heavy-handed about it. One older gentleman wanted a penis implant, which allowed Sloan to work out some of his own feelings about dating a younger woman. (Bonus points for Tom Amandes, of the late, lamented Everwood, showing up as his son. Somebody on the Grey’s staff loved that show almost as much as we did, didn’t they?) Cristina, still desperate to find a niche in the soon-to-merge Seattle Grace staff — ”I can be hardcore into anything you want,” she was pleading to one doctor at the assignment board — ended up on his case. ”What’s high risk?” she asked when she happened to overhear. ”Does someone have a risky high tech surgery?” Thus she ended up with the unenviable job of shaving him for surgery. This was all to amusing effect, natch, though it didn’t do much to nudge her towards her one true path, which she’s never been able to find with all the cardiothoracic switcheroos. The penis implant case seemed to be playing comic relief this evening until the patient gave Sloan an incredibly moving speech about waking up one day to find all his major life milestones behind him. ”Then one night they sat me down at the Bingo table with Marion.…She’s my tomorrow.” And his reason for wanting a fully functioning penis. Sloan knocked his own very Sloanian monologue out of the park when the patient’s son threatened to make him move back home if the retirement community where he met Marion was going to make him act so recklessly as to get a penis implant. ”Come on. It’s just an erection. All the guy wants is a woody. God forbid you get to be his age and your kids won’t let you have one.…And there’s nothing wrong with dating a younger woman, it keeps you young, and that’s my professional opinion.” (This prompted the following message from my esteemed colleague Lesley Savage: ”Sex tape or no, I like Dr. McSteamy.” Couldn’t agree more.)

NEXT: Gut-Wrenching (Literally)

Thatcher’s arrival, meanwhile, allowed Meredith just the right amount of backslide into her formerly dark and twisty self. When asked if her dad needed a transplant just as her pager went off, she looked at it and said, ”Ooh, maybe not! Maybe he’s dead this time.” Sounded harsh, of course, but the situation presented her with an interesting dilemma: We all like to think we’d give somebody some liver if we knew we could and it would save his or her life, but it’s also fair for her to act as if he wasn’t her family, because he never earned that. Lexie did, however, earn a place in Meredith’s life, and that’s what made the situation so poignant. (Izzie: ”Why are we eating lunch in a room full of diseased organs?” Meredith: ”We are hiding from Lexie and her big, sad, I-love-my-daddy eyes.”) Bailey was equally harsh toward Thatcher, telling Lexie there were 15 patients waiting for liver transplants, ”none of whom drank themselves into it.”

Izzie had her own patient-related angst when she helped on the case of a young, cool cancer patient guy — who was planning to propose to his long-term girlfriend. He had so much scar tissue buildup on his internal organs that they’d essentially fused together. Hunt said it was hopeless: ”You have to know when to say when, Stevens.” Having just survived her own cancer against all odds, she wouldn’t let it go, though. She even eventually swayed Hunt, convincing him to try another procedure that was riskier, but could save his life.

In minor merger news, the Chief told Callie she could come back to Seattle Grace — which is nice even though we had to figure she was sticking around. I also hope she and Arizona stick together for a while now. Their scene on the bench overlooking Seattle, when Callie was running her arguments to keep her job by Arizona, played sweetly. They’re a nice couple. I didn’t know about Arizona at first, and I adore Callie enough to be a bit protective of her, but this feels right now. And it’s nice to have a regular old functioning, stable lesbian couple on television outside The L Word.

Finally, Meredith relented and decided to give her dad some of her liver. The decision came after a heartfelt plea from her sister: ”He never missed a single dance recital. He was even at my fifth-grade graduation. What is that? That’s not even real.…So I’m asking you, give me my dad.” Meredith marched in to Thatcher’s room and told him matter-of-factly that a match had been found. He turned her down, feeling as guilty as everyone seemed to think he should. But then the Chief had a talk with him (as, um, Thatcher’s deceased ex wife’s longtime former paramour), and so did Meredith. ”I don’t know what it’s like to have a father,” she said, ”but I do know what it’s like to have a sister, and it’s good.”

So Meredith saved her crappy dad’s life and got to keep her sisterly bond intact. Marion (could she be any cuter?) got a fully functioning older boyfriend — who would be remaining in the home with her after all. Izzie, unfortunately, lost her cancer patient, once again bringing up the question of whether she can, as a cancer patient, handle seeing others die. He could’ve had a few more months to live without the surgery she’d pushed for but ultimately caused his death. ”You cannot be a doctor and a patient in there,” Hunt told her.

All of which sets up some interesting scenarios for next week as the merger stuff really starts to hit. Do you think everyone will be safe? Will Izzie perhaps go away to collect herself while Katherine Heigl takes some time off to be with her new baby? Are you looking forward to an influx of new docs from Mercy West? Will Cristina ever find her place?

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Grey's Anatomy

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

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