A flashback episode details Sloan's dying days, why Arizona's leg was amputated, and Cristina's descent into madness

By Tanner Stransky
Updated October 05, 2012 at 05:00 AM EDT

Wow. Turns out, that whole “It Gets Better” campaign is a lie — at least when it comes to Seattle Grace Mercy West. At TV’s craziest fictional hospital, it only seems to get worse for our beloved band of doctors.

What I mean is that just when you thought the deepest depths of tragedy had been reached for the Grey’s Anatomy crew (see: last week’s harrowing Mark Sloan death episode), Shonda Rhimes and Co. manage to rip open the slowly healing wound yet again. The takeaway from last night’s flashback-heavy hour, “Remember the Time,” was really just this: Last week’s season premiere didn’t explain a fraction of what happened after May’s season finale plane crash. There was so much more to all that. So what did happen? So, so much. Let’s get into it.

Last week’s season premiere made it seem like the big learnings from the season finale plane crash were first, of course, the (already mostly digested) death of Lexie Grey, but mostly the shocking new revelations over Sloan’s death and the amputation of Arizona’s leg. But there was so many further repercussions, which we learned about finally: the crazed state of Cristina upon return; the friendship breakdown between Cristina and Meredith; the professional breakdown between Arizona and Karev; the full extent of what happened to Derek and his hand; Callie’s crisis with Arizona; Kepner losing her job; and the list goes on and on. But let’s begin with the biggies: Since Arizona is alive and (mostly) well, while Sloan is dead, let’s delve into what happened to him.

First off, it was shocking to see the wily plastic surgeon sitting up in a Seattle Grace hospital bed, talking in his typical saucy way, during this episode. I never thought we’d see that again except for in flashbacks maybe…and, well, last night was technically a flashback episode, so there — I just ate my words. After last week’s episode, I had (wrongly) assumed that Sloan had been unconscious and on life support ever since he was airlifted out of the forest with the rest of the doctors — thus, there had never been much hope that he would recover. And that was seemingly the case, but, of course, there was an anomaly to Sloan’s life support situation: Turns out, he had what the doctor’s call a “surge,” just before he really went down. It was this so-called “surge” that had him up, talking and laughing, and had the doctors — all of his best pals at Seattle Grace — hoping that he might be back at ’em soon.

The “surge,” it was explained, is “a final surge of energy. They get better before they get worse.” That was the case for Sloan, who — after having appropriate moments with all of his most loved, offering advice to Avery and a laugh to Callie, which was a nice way to say goodbye — went back under and (as we learned last week) passed away after Webber pulled his life support plug. When he did go back into his catatonic state after being so lively, it was difficult to watch — I’ve never seen such a TV situation where someone’s face goes so waxy like that. The one thing I will say about Sloan’s last few moments on screen is that he looked good. Like, damn good! Even in a hospital bed, not a hair was out of place and — this may be inappropriate, considering he’s dead now — he continued to look good, even in those scenes where the other doctors were pumping his (chiseled, naked) chest.

NEXT: Sloan speaks some of his final words

Of course, Solan’s final words echoed back to last season’s finale and his great love for Lexie Grey. “I want you to promise me something,” Sloan told Avery. “If you love someone, you tell them, even if you’re scared it’s not the right thing. Even if you’re scared that it’ll cause problems. Even if you’re scared it’ll burn your life to the ground. You say it, and you say it loud. Then you go from there.” Clearly he had learned his lesson with Lexie and didn’t want anyone else to make the same mistake. Truly, the words gave me chills — chills! — as he uttered them, and I thought of how there are few of us out there who couldn’t benefit from doing as Mark Sloan advised. I know I could.

As for Arizona, she’s had a tough road to hoe, losing her leg and all after the plane crash. In the flashbacks, it was heartbreaking watching Callie try to deal with Arizona, who had basically decided that she couldn’t go on if her leg was amputated. She especially wasn’t going to let “some yahoo in dump-truck Idaho” cut off her leg. So, she went back to Seattle Grace, where Callie convinced Hunt that they’d try a risky procedure that would save Arizona’s leg through painful measures. Callie only agreed as a way to bring back the old Arizona she loved. “She’s this shell,” Callie explained to Hunt. “All the Arizona’s been scooped out, and she’s just this shell. I want her back! I don’t think we’ll ever get her back if we cut off that leg.” Desperation was in full swing.

That Arizona shell also reared her head at Karev, who appeared in her hospital room to apologize for the fact that she took his place on the plane. “I feel like crap,” he said. “It should have been me on that plane. If I could trade places, I would.” And just when you thought maybe, just maybe, Arizona would turn a corner and be able to see through the muck — and what was really just the bad fortune — of the situation, she lashed out insanely at Karev in a numbing monologue. “I kept thinking about my wife and baby, and how you had no wife and baby,” she seethed at him. “You have no one. I only went on that plane because I was pissed at you. So I kept wondering, I’m only here because he’s so selfish and thoughtless and no matter how hard I tried to make him better, he’s still a horrible person. So now, I keep wondering why this would happen to someone like me instead of someone like you. So I guess I’m still pretty pissed off. Would you get out of my room please?” Those are some pretty harsh words from an otherwise nice, but tough, lady.

NEXT: Cristina tells Meredith: “I’m fleeing like Bambi from a forest fire!”

Arizona’s continued bad fortune flared up again before her leg could even be operated on, as the hurt doctor began crashing due to the infection, forcing Callie to make a quick decision: “Cut it off,” she told Karev, who arrived to tell Callie the news while she was operating on Derek’s hand. “Go. Just do a good job, please. Do your best.” And how did Arizona react to the decision? Well, we saw that last week, when she yelled at Callie for having her leg cut off. I’m not one to tell people how to react in such a situation since I haven’t gone through it myself, but I’m sort of shocked at Arizona’s reaction. She’s a doctor, well educated. She has to know that she will eventually be able to lead a relatively “normal” life with a prosthetic, right? Seems a little bit out of character, if you ask me. But clearly Shonda and Co. did not.

One of the other big reveals of the night was the story behind how — as we learned last week — Cristina ended up in Minnesota. But first, we all had to learn about the crazy state that Cristina was in when she returned to Seattle Grace after the plane crash. And boy, oh boy, was it crazy — Cristina wouldn’t speak and was lashing out at anyone who tried to touch her. But why? Because of all she had endured while out there in the wilderness, some of which she previewed to Owen while he was giving her a bath. “I stayed awake for four days,” she revealed him. “I remember every single minute of those four days. The fire went out. It was really, really dark. There were so many stars. I remember getting the bugs out of Arizona’s legs. Putting leaves on it, trying to keep them out. Mark. Mark! Just kept dying. So annoying. I kept trying to help him, but he kept trying to die on me. I just wanted to lie down and sleep on him because he was warm, and I wanted to sleep. Meredith was asleep. Everyone was asleep. Arizona got the last of the water. I remember drinking something bad. It might have been the fuel from the plane. I drank my pee. Noises. The animal noises. Fighting and growling right next to us, right there. I kept waiting for them to come and kill me, but they didn’t. Then I realized they were fighting over Lexie. I tried to keep them off of her, I tried. But I couldn’t get out. I can’t get out. I’ll never get out.”

It was actually those revelations that helped to best explain what happened to the doctors after the plane crash. Some of it is impossible — and downright disgusting — to think about: Did animals actually eat Lexie’s body? It’s unclear, and I don’t think anyone really wants to know. Cristina drank her own urine? It sounds like it. Bugs were crawling in Arizona’s wounds? I can’t even imagine what else could have happened that Cristina didn’t reveal.

So it’s no shock, then, that when Cristina finally did start to speak again, her first words were about her leaving and heading to Minnesota. She told Meredith that she was getting out of dodge. “I am!” she said, when Meredith said she was running away. “I’m fleeing like Bambi from a forest fire! And so should you because horrible things happen here.” Which, like, is the most apt thing anyone has ever said on Grey’s Anatomy ever. Right? How can all this tragedy continue to happen? “We’ve grown together like two gnarled trees, twining around each other trying to survive,” she continued in her rant to Meredith. “So many horrible things have happened to you and maybe you’re okay with it, but you shouldn’t be. Go to Harvard! Anywhere but here, seeing your dead sister around every corner. And your mother died here! Your husband was shot here. George died here.” But it was also the final retort from Meredith — who still didn’t think Cristina should go — that was also spot on. “Your person is you,” she snarled as Cristina drove off. “It always has been.”

NEXT: Cristina and Meredith make up; Bailey utters the night’s only funny line

Meredith followed up her comments, near the end of the episode, with a sweet voicemail to Cristina. It, of course, was just so, so spot-on, too, and brought the whole episode home and explained why Meredith was reluctant to leave Seattle Grace, despite everything that had happened there. “This is a place where horrible things happen,” Meredith said in the voicemail, which doubled as her requisite, episode-ending voiceover. “You were right to go. You’re probably escaping disaster. Look at me. I practically grew up here. And you’re right — it’s hurt me, in ways that I’ll probably never get over. I have a lot of memories of people. People I’ve lost forever. But I have a lot of other memories, too. This is the place where I fell in love. The place where I found my family. This is where I learned to be a doctor, where I learned how to take responsibility for someone else’s life, and it’s the place where I met you, so I figure this place has given me as much as it’s taken from me. I’ve lived here as much as I’ve survived here. It just depends on how I look at it. I’m going to choose to look at it that way, and remember you that way. Hope you’re good. Bye.”

I loved that. So much! But more than that, I loved Cristina’s simple response that ended the hour: “You are my person,” she told Meredith in her return call. “You will always be my person.” So fitting for this show and for this pair. As much as this show is about romance and disaster, it’s also — at the end of the day — about an enduring friendship. About people having people, and that’s wonderful.

Naturally, there were a few other notable things from the episode that I haven’t yet gotten into, but now my recap has gotten too unwieldy. But they’re worth mentioning, at least. Things we learned: Callie fixed Derek’s hand, so he can operate again; Karev only postponed Hopkins until Robbins was better; and Kepner left to go back to Moline, Illinois, even while Avery made a half-hearted attempt to stop her.

And in an otherwise heavy, dark episode, there was one real moment of levity, and it came on a plane, when Bailey and Webber were transporting the sick doctors from Idaho to Seattle. It’s worth mentioning, too. “I wish they would have sedated us, too,” Bailey yelled to Webber over the drone of the plane. “All I keep thinking is that we’re going to crash on some tropical island and get attacked by some polar bear.” Obviously, a reference to another ABC drama, Lost. And then came the response from the former chief: “Now, I don’t know what you mean.” And Bailey said what all of us out there — at least all of the TV fans out there — were thinking: “You should watch more TV.”

Tell me, Grey’s Anatomy fans: What’d you think of the episode? Are you satisfied with the story behind how everyone got to where they are now? Do you think Sloan got a proper goodbye? Do you think the relationship between Arizona and Karev can be fixed? Can the relationship between Arizona and Callie be mended? If you have thoughts, pour them out in the comments.

Tanner on Twitter: @EWTanStransky