Grey's Anatomy recap: How to Save a Life
Seasons ago, Webber led Derek and Callie through the process of taking Mark off life support. Callie stopped him to remind him this process wasn’t news to them. Webber knew this. “I’m not saying that because you need to know the procedure,” he said. “I say it because even if you think you’re prepared for what’s about to happen, you’re not. Your brain can’t fully absorb what we’re about to do. But by saying this, I’m giving you a little time to catch up.”
The past two weeks have, in a way, been trying to give us that little time to catch up. From the moment the show established Derek was missing, it was somewhat clear he wasn’t exactly safe. Grey’s is known for twists, but saying Derek was missing and then being like, “Oh, just kidding, he’s just hanging out at a bar, perfectly fine”? That’d just be cruel. Then again, killing Derek is also cruel… but we’ll get to that later.
If that wasn’t clear enough (and if you for some reason are reading this but didn’t watch), Derek is dead. I can tell myself Derek is fictional hundreds of times, but it’s not going to make typing (or reading) “Derek died” any easier. But here we are, so I’m going to start from the beginning of what turned out to be an awful, awful Seattle day.
Derek was driving to the airport when he saw a car accident happen right before his eyes. These first 15 minutes are full of false alarms: A sports car races around Derek, that car and a giant SUV eventually crash into each other right in front of Derek, the sports car blows up. Derek makes it through all of these though and, even better, he doesn’t just drive away (but then again, who would?)—he stops to help the victims.
First he goes to the SUV, which holds a mother and her daughter, Winnie (played by Parenthood’s Savannah Paige Rae). Winnie thinks she’s dead, but Derek comforts her by feeling her pulse and reminding her that as long as she can feel her pulse, she’s not dead. Good tip.
Derek then continues to dart between that car and the other one until the sports car blows up and gives off some smoke signals that he hopes will bring help their way (none of their phones are working, and Derek couldn’t find his in his car). Help does come, and everyone except Derek is on their way to the hospital. He hugs little Winnie goodbye, gets in his car, then reaches down on the passenger floor to feel around for his phone. Then it happens: a semi-truck T-bones his car.
The next time we see him, he’s in a stretcher arriving at a hospital that doesn’t want him. Not exaggerating: The hospital wants to reject him as a patient because they’re not built for trauma. But the EMTs insist, so Derek gets wheeled into the emergency room where he is promptly… not taken great care of.
At this point, Derek can’t speak, but we hear his thoughts through his ongoing inner monologue. We hear him assess his own health, we hear him tell the doctors what to do, what not to do. They have no idea who he is, but Winnie—waiting by her mom in the ER—spots him and gives him a one-sided pep talk which is really just the pep talk about pulses he gave her earlier that day. She then tells a doctor his name is Derek.
The doctors continue to mess everything up though. He needs a CT scan, but one doctor is fighting that. “I’m going to die because these people aren’t properly trained,” he thinks. And he’s right.
Not only are they incompetent trauma-wise, but the neurosurgeon on call doesn’t really seem to get the point of having an on-call neurosurgeon: He shows up an hour and a half after he’s summoned. But it’s too late by that point. Nothing was working in Derek’s favor. It’s over.
Because this half hour of television didn’t toy with our emotions enough, Grey’s goes on to offer us a fake-out: The police show up at Meredith’s house, and the next scene is her walking into Derek’s room and talking to him. “Don’t be scared,” he tells her. “I’m not going anywhere.” That’s all in Mer’s brain though. In reality, the police are telling her there’s been an accident.
NEXT: Meredith sees Derek.
Meredith takes her kids to the hospital, where she finds out that Derek is brain dead. Yes, the neurosurgeon is brain dead. Great irony, Grey’s! (Typed while rolling my eyes. I’m not bitter about this, not at all.)
She goes outside, where the doctor who made some bad decisions about his care is sitting. That doctor goes up to Mer and apologizes: “It was my job to save him and I failed. And now he’s going to die, because I was not a good enough doctor to keep him alive.”
First of all, it’s selfish as hell to go up to a woman who’s about to lose her husband and say that. Second of all, what’s Meredith supposed to say? “It’s okay!”?
Meredith, despite being in shock, gives this doctor the best response she could hope for. “You’re right. You did fail. You weren’t good enough,” Meredith starts before reminding her that tomorrow is another day. “So learn from this, better yourself, and you will be better for next time.”
The whole speech is powerful and tense, and ends with Mer giving the doctor some extra-tough tough love. “You don’t get to waste what would have been the rest of my husband’s life being a quitter,” she says. “So get back inside, because you’re not saving any lives out here.” And then… she throws up in the bushes. Honestly, I’m a little surprised she didn’t vomit sooner.
After that, Meredith goes inside to pull the plug on her husband. Snow Patrol’s “Chasing Cars,” a song that’s been featured in the show multiple times, starts playing. “Derek,” Meredith whispers. “It’s okay. You go. We’ll be fine.”
A montage of their happy moments together plays, and eventually we return to the hospital room where the nurse asks if Meredith is ready. “No,” she responds. “But go ahead.” And with that, Derek is gone.
Was this a good episode? Not particularly. And, frankly, I’m upset about that. Derek has been with the show from the very beginning. Season one, episode one, minute one, Derek was there. Cristina was here from the beginning too, but she got a wonderful exit: She said her goodbyes, danced it out with Meredith, and moved on to greener pastures. But Derek? All Derek got was a shitty group of doctors who couldn’t figure out how to save him.
This season has been a big one for his relationship with Meredith. They’ve fought and made up and done long distance and realized that they want to spend the rest of their lives together. Two weeks ago, he was telling her how much he loved her and to wait for him—he’d be right back. In hindsight (and, to be honest, at the time), that moment was just too obviously foreshadowing to be viewed as anything but a sign of bad things to come. That’s how most of this episode felt, too. Basically every word exchanged while Derek was helping the car crash victims was a blatant signal that everything wasn’t going to be okay. Example: Derek at one point says, “No one’s going to die.” There’s a thin line between clever foreshadowing and the obnoxious kind, and this episode definitely leaned toward the obnoxious side.
Despite my annoyance with the episode itself, I still bawled when the police showed up at Meredith’s house. I still sobbed when “Chasing Cars” came on. I did that not because the writing was so strong (it wasn’t) or the story was so powerful (it wasn’t), but because I’ve known Derek Shepherd for 10 years.
Sticking with a show for 10 years requires a certain commitment, a certain attachment to its characters. And the magic of Grey’s is that its characters made committing to the show almost irresistible. Sure, it has its weak moments, and there are still characters I wish didn’t exist, but every so often, Meredith or Derek or Webber will have a moment that reminds me why I keep watching, why I never stopped—so watching one of those characters die hurts. It really, really hurts.
Shonda Rhimes’ Twitter bio says, “Remember, it’s not real, okay?” She’s right; it’s not. But the emotions I’m feeling—the emotions a lot of us are feeling—prove the power of the characters she’s created over the years. I can logically know it’s not real, but that’s not going to stop me from mourning for a bit.
The season’s not over, so what’s to come is probably going to be lots of grieving—and maybe a return of Dark and Twisty Meredith. But, for now, let’s remember Shepherd in all his dreamy, dreamy glory. Grey’s will never be the same without you, McDreamy. We’ll miss you.
Meredith. Alex. Bailey. The doctors are definitely in on Shonda Rhimes' hospital melodrama.