Danny Feld/ABC
November 21, 2014 at 04:29 AM EST

Grey's Anatomy

TV Show
run date
Ellen Pompeo, Chandra Wilson, Justin Chambers, James Pickens Jr.

If there’s one thing Grey’s Anatomy has always excelled at, even in its dark ages, it’s been crafting a thrilling finale. Although tonight’s episode is only the midseason finale, we still expect it to fulfill certain criteria, the most important one being one helluva cliffhanger (or more). Compared to seasons past, however, the cliffhangers at the end of tonight’s episode are rather underwhelming, which is a good thing for a show 11 seasons into its run; Grey’s has already proved it can keep us at the edge of our seats by throwing bats–t scenario after bats–t scenario at us. At a time on television where the huge twist has become the most important part of a television show—ironically, precipitated by shows like Shonda Rhimes’ Scandal—it’s nice to see Grey’s pull back on the throttle on its soap opera tendencies (and I hate using that word as pejorative) and aim for drama that feels a bit more grounded.

Tonight’s episode opens with Meredith monologuing about how imperfect and incomplete our memories are, something she said at the beginning of “Only Mama Knows,” as we flash back to that tragic day at the carousel when Richard left Ellis, to her mother yelling at her about being ordinary, to her and Derek arguing about moving Washington. This trip down memory lane lasts briefly because we’re suddenly thrown in medias res into an argument between Maggie and Derek. The quasi-in-laws can’t agree how to treat a patient who has a nasty infection in both her mediastinum—the space between the lungs where your heart hangs out—and her brain. Owen’s also there being a fairly ineffective moderator. Derek thinks he should be allowed to operate first, and Maggie thinks she should go first. Eventually, Meredith enters the argument because Maggie asked her for a second opinion. Can anyone guess who Meredith sides with after looking at the scans? Yep, Maggie, which pisses Derek off. Derek insists that Meredith take another look at the brain scans, to which Meredith says, “I know how to read a brain scan, Derek. I learned from the best, remember?” To bring about some kind of ceasefire, albeit temporary, Owen suggests that they run more tests in order to determine who will get to operate first.

You don’t need me to tell you that Meredith and Derek’s disagreement is just the latest manifestation of their domestic problems. The question that both Meredith and Derek have to deal with over the course of the episode is: Would they be digging their heels in so much if this were any other doctor? Both conclude yes, but the audience knows that if they were dealing with other doctors, there would at least be a lot less yelling.

While Meredith and Maggie are looking at the latest scans and convincing themselves that they indeed need to go first, Derek has decided to ask Weber for a consult because he thinks, and hopes, Weber will side with him. Unfortunately for Weber, whose relationship with Maggie is already rather tense, he agrees with Derek that the brain infection should be handled first. Naturally, the Grey sisters are pissed off; Meredith because she views this as another time where Derek doesn’t trust her judgement, and Maggie because she doesn’t want to deal with Weber. The argument reaches new heights when the patient’s lungs start to shut down, which both sides believe support their respective opinions. Derek tries to pull rank on Maggie and says that he should be allowed to operate first because he’s been there longer. However, his very intelligent wife doesn’t hesitate to point out that Derek, unlike Maggie, is no longer a department head, thus Maggie is the only one who can pull rank. With everyone’s eyes on her, Maggie decides to operate on the chest first.

As Maggie and Meredith are performing their surgery, Derek and Weber share a moment in the observation room. Derek admits that he has given Meredith many reasons to believe he’s working against her, but in this instance, he’s convinced that’s not what he’s doing. Weber has no problem empathizing and says he knows how it feels for somebody to choose to see you only in one way, and he says that they’re both so much like their mother (#NatureVsNurture). In spite of a brief bumpy moment, the Grey sisters successfully complete the surgery, and to Derek’s slight disappointment, their patient makes it out of the surgery without any mental deterioration and is ready to go for his surgery tomorrow.

But, really, were any of you truly surprised that Meredith (and Maggie) turned out to be right? We knew coming in that this season was dubbed “The Year of Meredith” and has as its mission the reassertion of Meredith and her career. Consequently, the season has made very little attempt to not pick sides; Meredith has definitely come out of their arguments as the one who’s closer to being right. Reasserting Meredith’s centrality in the show has, unfortunately, entailed making McDreamy less than perfect and somewhat unlikeable—something that TV recap writer extraordinaire and EW correspondent Samantha Highfill mentioned in last week’s recap and said initially felt weird. By the end of the episode, Sam had come around to the idea of a slightly less-dreamy-McDreamy. I find myself in the same boat and am glad the show is pursuing this story because (a) no one—no matter how perfect his hair and smile and everything—is perfect, and (b) because it draws on the show’s long history.

What distinguishes this fight from other fights that Meredith and Derek have had is that it’s one of those fights that’s only possible between characters who share a long history. Yes, Meredith’s right when she points out the unfairness of Derek believing his career was more important to hers, and it’s nice to see the show further exploring the consequences of two ambitious people in one marriage. On the other hand, however, this isn’t the first time Meredith has slowed down Derek’s career, lest we forget her sabotaging his Alzheimer’s trial in season 8. This argument is all the more compelling because it’s allowed to play out without any kind of huge crisis or plot twist.

While Meredith and Derek are worse off after this surgical disagreement, Maggie and Richard are definitely in a better position. A lover of puzzles, and thus answers, Maggie asks Weber why he sided with Derek. Weber explains that he reached his decision in this catch-22 situation by doing risk/benefit analysis, outcome measurements, and considering the adverse effects, which is a quantitative way of analyzing risk. Eager to learn, Maggie asks to see this list—except, she can’t because Weber, with years and years of experience, did it all in his head. Although he doesn’t have anything paper, he can and is willing to walk her through his process over coffee or something, which is something she agrees to.

NEXT: Arizona does a bad thing.

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