George O'Malley's sweet mother, Louise, returned to Seattle Grace for the first time in two years and stirred up some old feelings

By Tanner Stransky
Updated November 04, 2011 at 04:39 AM EDT
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Grey's Anatomy

S8 E8
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Oh, what a big dose of sweet nostalgia on last night’s episode of Grey’s Anatomy that made it feel oh-so-2009 up in Seattle Grace last night. Namely, the ever-lovely Debra Monk returned as George O’Malley’s sweet mother, Louise, a character that hasn’t that appeared on the ABC soap since the season 6 premiere back in September 2009. That was, of course, just a few short months after her son, played by T.R. Knight, tragically died in the season 5 finale the May before, after throwing himself — and then, by proxy, the rest of the Seattle Grace doctors and us viewers, too — in front of a bus to save someone else.

I thought maybe it would feel strange for Mama O’Malley to show back up at the place where her son died and, honestly, where so many of Georgie’s memories lingered. (The biggest landmine? Callie, of course. But we’ll get there.) Alas, somehow, the whole storyline with Louise came off as feeling good and cathartic, exactly what the doctor had ordered.

Louise, for her part, was back at Seattle Grace to fix a surgery that had gone wrong at a hospital across town, which she only went to…to avoid going back to Seattle Grace…where she ultimately wound up. “You know how proud it makes me,” she told Meredith Grey, who was helping her, “to have you as my doctor.” To which she added this exclamatory statement: “Doctor! You’re all grown up.” True, she in indeed. I just kept thinking: Have two full seasons really passed since George died? Goodness, I’m old. And so are you, probably.

I promised we’d circle back to Callie, where the real ghosts of George started cropping up. Of course, a wheelchair-bound Mrs. O’Malley ran into Callie…and Arizona, who Callie introduced simply as Dr. Robbins with no further explanation. Awkward! But surprisingly, Arizona wasn’t even mad at Callie for not introducing her as who she is, her wife. I loved Arizona’s reasoning for why she wasn’t upset, it was just so Arizona and so spot-on: “Coming out is important, it’s everything, with your family and your friends,” she told Callie. “I’d kick your ass if you tried to hide me from them. But coming out to your dead ex-husband’s super Catholic mom? Not necessary. I mean, for you, and certainly not for me.”

The interaction between Callie and Louise, however, did spur Meredith to encourage Callie to be at Louise’s side when she came out of her gall bladder surgery. The leery Callie — she apparently hadn’t really talked to Louise much since George’s death — obliged. And that was where my first tingly moment of the Grey’s Anatomy season happened: When Louise emerged from her surgery slumber, Callie was there and confessed everything to her ex-mother-in-law — she’s a lesbian now, with a wife, and a baby. “You have a baby?!” was Louise’s total response. No reprimand or judgment. “Do you have pictures?” So much for her just being her “dead ex-husband’s super Catholic mom.” Louise was simply a woman — grandmotherly, at that — who was completely happy for Callie, another woman who used to be a part of her family. The interaction made me warm and gooey inside.

NEXT: More from Louise (sorry!), a great Grey’s monologue, and Avery’s big decision

The Louise storyline produced another touching moment. It was when the still-not-totally-mended Bailey and Meredith were in the OR together working on her surgery. The ever-emotional-and-poignant Bailey stopped, as an epiphany hit her and caused her to spiral into a signature Grey’s monologue. “This woman worked so hard to raise her son, and then one day, he just threw himself in front of a bus,” she said, staring at Meredith. “I mean, yeah, yeah, he did it to save someone else. You work and work, trying to teach your kids to do the right things, and you want to be so proud of them when they stand up for what they believe is right. But watching them destroy themselves to do what you taught them, it’s just maddening.” And then she added, looking right at her sometimes-nemesis and former student/child Meredith: “You, you are maddening.” Loves. When is the real reckoning going to happen between these two? I love these speeches — and last week’s fight on the softball field — but I could really do with a cathartic therapy session (possibly moderated by a therapist) between these two.

At the end of the episode, we saw the residents who were George’s friends — Cristina, Meredith, and Karev — reminiscing about him a bit, and this was also touching. Karev, as insensitive as he usually, provided the best, most stately words: “George is dead, and Izzie is gone, and we’re all different. We’re different.” Compared to two years ago, yes, they are all rather different — but in a good way, maybe?

Contrary to the direction of this recap so far, other things did happen in last night’s episode! I know I should probably be going gaga over that heart in a box, but let’s deal with one rather big heart monitor issue first: Avery broke up with Lexie for Mark. I know, read that again: Avery broke up with Lexie for Mark. This prospect — Mark and Avery together — would be exciting to me, but alas, it’s not exactly as it sounds. Avery decided — after realizing (possibly erroneously?) that something was going on between Lexie and Sloan — that he needed to break up with her so that he could focus on his professional future with the plastic surgeon. Having to work with Sloan, while he thought that Lexie might have something going with him, was too much — so Lexie got the boot. “There is a thing,” he told Lexie, during the break-up chat, “and it’s not going anywhere soon. And this new thing with me and plastics, it’s not going anywhere either. Something’s gotta budge. So I have to walk away. From you. For me.” It was a sad moment. And then he added: “I spent want too long sabotaging my own career, Lex. Yeah, I’m picking Mark.”

That whole situation was only exacerbated by the medical situation that Lexie was dealing with that day, of course. She was working with Derek, trying to help a novelist (played by my personal fave, Alfre Woodard) with leaky aneurisms in her brain. It turned out that Lexie helped the lady with her novel and disagreed with her choice of whom her heroine would end up with at the end of the book. Lexie actually broke down when she learned that the novelist was going to have her main character choose the guy, Nathan, she preferred — but only until the next book or two was written. Which makes me think: What is happening with Lexie? She was quite the emotional trainwreck. Was she crying over losing Avery? Or Mark? Or not being with Mark? Seems like she may be poised to go running back into his arms, which seems like a bad idea.

NEXT: “A heart in a box. Hot diggity!”

Now we’ve arrived at the part of the episode that, considering it was titled “Heart-Shaped Box,” was…supposed to be the point? After a heart transplant surgery, Cristina found herself babysitting what the doctors kept referring to as a “heart in a box,” which was the removed heart, hooked up to a machine that kept it pumping. Cristina was annoyed by having to do the duty at first and used it as an opportunity to complete her wish list of surgeries she needed to get to Altman. But then Webber arrived to check on her, shook his head at her progress on the list, and teased her that the beating heart was the key to her conundrum with the surgeries. “Use the key!” he encouraged her. “Unlock your mind!” To which he added: “A heart in a box. Hot diggity!”

But eventually Cristina bought into the hype around the heart and used it to tell her whether she should add certain surgeries to her wish list. “You’re standing before a miracle, and once you realize that, she’ll change your perspective,” she explained to Avery, who consulted the heart before making his big decision to break up with Lexie. “Okay, so here’s what I do,” Cristina continued. “I look at an item on my list; I look at heart in a box. If that surgery on my list isn’t half as cool as heart in a box, then it is not worth my time. She lets you know what’s most important to you. That’s what heart in a box does. And she’s nice to talk to.”

Did I not get the heart in a box thing so much? It was sort of a cool concept — this heart is a miracle! — but I don’t really get how it held the whole episode together. Was it supposed to? I’m all about Grey’s Anatomy’s heart, in general, but in this episode, at least for me, it was Louise O’Malley’s heart that kept me beating.

Elsewhere in the Grey’s universe: Derek decided to take on a bunch of risky brain surgeries. “I owe it to them to at least try,” he explained to Chief Hunt, who was pretty MIA this episode. “That’s pretty damn arrogant,” Hunt replied, “don’t you think?” Derek’s retort: “Well, I have a reputation for arrogance, don’t you think?” He got us there. Plus, Karev thought he was being knocked out of the running for the pediatric fellowship, but then discovered that Arizona really does like his work. Win! And lose: There was Teddy/Henry drama that saw Henry announce his plans to go back to med school, just before Teddy discovered him home, coughing up blood. That’s no good.

But what did you think, Grey’s watchers? Do you think next week’s episode will be as dramatic as the promo promised? Were you moved by Mrs. O’Malley’s return to Seattle Grace? Were you into the heart in a box storyline? Sound off below!

Tanner on Twitter: @EWTanStransky

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

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