A family car wreck -- and the sad circumstances around Henry's death -- devastate Seattle Grace

By Tanner Stransky
Updated January 06, 2012 at 08:36 AM EST
Credit: Danny Feld/ABC

“Victims of a sudden impact are some of the hardest to treat.” Ever-faithful Grey’s Anatomy voice-over queen Meredith Grey told us that stark truth at the top of last night’s episode, “Suddenly,” the first new installment since way back in November. When I heard Ms. Grey utter the insanely obvious statement, I sort of wanted to punch her and scream back at her: No duh! Right? But with the way everything eventually went down, I realized that she was just trying to prepare we viewers for the tragedy of those sudden, deep impacts that were about to unfold over the next hour. And goodness knows, it was tragic.

But before we get into all the drama of last night, though, let’s quickly recap where we left the doctors of Seattle Grace — mostly because it’s been so long since a fresh episode of Grey’s has graced our television screen. You can read my last recap to jog your memory, but in short, “Dark Was the Night” — which aired Nov. 10 — left two big, devastating cliffhangers: First, Henry had died on the OR table, with Cristina at the blade, yet no one could tell his wife Dr. Altman because she was busy working on another patient, who would probably die if the doctor was jolted by the truth. (Heck, Cristina didn’t even know she was operating on Henry until after he had passed.) And second, a car filled with a family had hit the ambulance that Meredith and Karev were traveling in to another hospital to treat an ailing infant. They were splayed across the highway when we last saw them.

“Suddenly” picked up just seconds later: Teddy in the OR with her heart patient, and Meredith and Karev assessing the damage on the road. At the top of the hour, it was all about trying to get the family from the car accident stabilized, which sent Seattle Grace into a tizzy and provided a very surgery-, coding-, and OR-heavy episode. The night’s first casualty happened before Meredith and Karev could even get back to the hospital, as the family’s grandma died at the scene after what looked like some massive bleeding to the neck. The other injuries were painful to look at, too: The father was suffering some sort of crushed pelvis situation; the mom was a mess; the younger sister had a shard of glass in her eye; and the brother’s legs were basically smashed under part of the car. The only somewhat healthy member of the family was the oldest child, daughter Lily, who seemed mostly not injured.

NEXT: Malignant hyperthermia, sickening eye surgery, and life support

The tragedy somehow unfolded swiftly and slowly at the same time. First, the mother died, but not before Meredith did her darndest to revive her because poor Lily was watching from the window. Then, the father brushed with death — several times — but not before he went into a tizzy about how he forced his oldest daughter, Lily, to go on the camping trip they were headed out to for her birthday. He felt responsible. “You didn’t harm your family,” one of the doctors reassured him. “You didn’t mean for this to happen.” Again: sudden impact.

At one point, it became clear that one of the family member’s was suffering from malignant hyperthermia — not a good thing, clearly, as the doctors had to rush to cool down their ORs to try to fend off death. I was intrigued: What is malignant hyperthermia? And it’s genetic? So I spent a good 15 minutes reading up about it on Wikipedia. With it being related to temperatures and whatnot, I think I got a little confused with hypothermia — whereas this is hyperthermia — but I eventually cleared it all up. Look, mom, TV does inform me about things! Even if I have no practical use for them.

Another thing worth noting in this whole family situation is those scenes when McSteamy, McDreamy, McDreamy’s girlfriend, and Lexie were working on the younger daughter, whose eye had been stuck with a shard of glass. Has Grey’s gotten even more grossout-worthy lately? Those were some of the most painful moments of the season to watch, I’d say — is there anything worse than a huge, sharp chunk of glass sticking out of something as precious as an eye? The good news is that they were able to remove it and save the eye without damaging the brain, but I’m not sure we needed to see so many close-up shots of it all going down. I had to shield my own eyes at moments.

Eventually, after several coding situations, it became clear that the family father wasn’t going to make it, and daughter Lily — who proclaimed herself head of the family, seeing as how she had just turned 18 four hours ago — decided to pull her dad off life support. “You gotta stop,” Lily told Meredith, who at first didn’t seem like she was going to allow the teen to make the decision for her father. “Please.” There’s nothing quite like a scene where someone is pulled off of life support — it’s just awful to watch. But, in true Grey’s fashion, it was a perfect time then, of course, for the producers to cue Snow Patrol’s latest sorrowful song, “New York,” which fit the tragedy unfolding.

NEXT: “Suddenly, the life you knew before is over…forever.”

Despite the family being decimated — mom, dad, and grandma were dead — there was a certain level of peace about the situation at the end of it all, when we saw the three siblings sitting together in the hospital, two of them rather bandaged up after nearly perishing themselves and Lily now in charge. Meredith Grey summed it up best at the end of the hour, when she again voiced-over. “You can’t brace for a sudden impact,” the wise doctor told us. “It just hits you out of nowhere, and suddenly, the life you knew before is over…forever.”

That quote, too, applied to Dr. Altman, who still didn’t know that Henry had died in surgery. Just as Cristina realized that no one had yet told her of his fate, Altman requested her in the OR to help with the heart patient she was working on. “I need another me,” Altman said, “and she’s the closest thing.” Yes, the veritable doo-doo the doctors were mired in with not telling Altman about her husband got worse, as Cristina had to go into the OR and play nice, all the while knowing that Henry died on her table. The most painful scene to watch, definitely, was when Altman started gleefully “woooo”-ing into to keep herself alert during the surgery. She was having fun! And expected Cristina to “woooo” along with her.

If that wasn’t the worst scene, then it certainly came when Cristina finally had to tell Altman about what happened to Henry. “Dr. Webber and I both used extraordinary measures,” Cristina said rather matter-of-factly, “but his heart could not tolerate the surgery. He did not survive the surgery, I’m sorry.” Altman responded: “You’re saying…you’re saying he’s dead? Say it. When you inform the family, you have to say it. Christina, I need you…I need you to say it.” Then the full truth came: “Henry is dead.” I realized during this moment that there wasn’t a sound coming from me or my television — no sad song, no sound effects, no nothing. Just pain and heartbreak and sadness emanating from the screen at one million watts a second.

As much as I felt terrible for Altman, I somehow felt just as much heartbreak for Cristina, who felt it was her duty to break the news, despite not being asked to do it. Owen tried to comfort her about what she did — or, rather, felt she had to do. “I don’t want to hear it,” Cristina told him, “and neither will she.”

NEXT: A surprise happy ending!

Sure, there were other little things that happened in the episode. But none of it really compared to the two big dramas of the evening. Bailey and Dr. Warren seemed to reconcile a bit, after a little sparring in the OR. “I wouldn’t mind if you didn’t give me quite so much space,” the cranky Bailey finally told the dashing Ben at the end of the evening. Callie ripped into Avery over the screw-in-the-heart issue, although she ultimately took the fall for him. Karev wore himself out by trying to take care of his tiny baby patient, despite protests from Arizona. And Lexie steamed over McSteamy’s new girlfriend, Julia, although she eventually broke down and realized she liked her.

And, of course, there was one thing that saved this episode from being total devastation station: Zola. In those last few moments of the hour, when I heard the doorbell ring at Meredith and Derek’s house, I sort of just knew that this was the light at the end of a very terrible, dark tunnel, as the adoption lady brought baby Zola back to the happy couple. “Derek,” Meredith said, elated, “isn’t that our baby?” There was simply no explanation about why the baby was back and, at first, I was confused about the mechanics behind the reversal of fortunes. Then I just thought: Who cares?!? They’re together! It’s nice to see some happiness seep out from an otherwise rather tragic time period in Grey’s history. Congrats to Meredith, Derek, and Zola for having each other! And happily. At least for the moment, seeing as how drama is always just around the corner.

What’d all you Grey’s viewers think of the episode? Were the family deaths too much for you to take? Did those eye-surgery scenes push you over the edge? Are you rooting for Bailey and Ben? (That has such a nice ring to it.) Are you still mourning Henry? What’s to become of Altman now that her husband is dead? Sound off below if you’re so inclined!

Tanner on Twitter: @EWTanStransky

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