Jaws drop at the ‘Grey’s Anatomy’ finale

05.15.09 8 years ago


There were a lot of finales on Thursday (May 14) night, including “Parks & Recreation,” “The Office,” “30 Rock” and “Bones.” I’ll try to get to those tomorrow morning. I probably won’t get to “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation,” “CSI: NY” or “My Name Is Earl,” because there was just too much on and choices had to be made.

But the only Thursday finale that seems to require instant, immediate reaction comes courtesy of ABC’s “Grey’s Anatomy,” which either dropped the boom on one of the most shocking season-enders in recent TV history or else set the show up for an insanely frustrating and convoluted series premiere next fall. 

[Discussion of the “Grey’s Anatomy” finale, with TOTAL spoilers, after the break…]

While there had been rumors aplenty dating back to the winter when James Pickens Jr. said that both Katherine Heigl and T.R. Knight were leaving “Grey’s Anatomy,” followed by several months of buzz and counter-buzz. The denials and spoilers were so rampant that even without being a regular follower of the Ausiellos of the world, I’d heard conflicting things about what might happen with Izzie and George, so many different conflicting things that the events in the finale were plenty shocking, but it’s my fear that I won’t know how to judge them until the dust settles next September or October.

The audacity of killing off two key cast members in two separate incidents in under five minutes is tremendous, but that audacity only counts if George and Izzie are well and truly dead.

Last month, after an equally stunning suicide on “House,” I wrote a column on the state of death on primetime TV. One of the things I recalled in that column was how blown away I was when “Grey’s Anatomy” stopped Meredith Grey’s heart. She was dead. She parlayed with familiar faces in the spirit world. She was not alive. It was a disorienting sensation, because viewers knew someplace deep inside that as long as Meredith’s name was in the title, she wasn’t really going to die, but it still seemed she should. The result, when Shonda Rhimes and company revived her, was that it took me nearly a full season before I was able to take either the show or the character seriously. “House,” for example, has repeatedly bluffed at the main character’s death, but they’ve always stopped short of the line that “Grey’s Anatomy” waltzed right past. 

If George and Izzie are done for good, minus the occasional ghostly visitation, “Grey’s Anatomy” has an exciting challenge ahead of it for next season, one that I’d gladly follow, because killing one main character in a season finale is de rigueur, but two? That wakes me up. But if we get to next premiere and it’s an hour or two of George and Izzie having conversations in heaven about the people who need them on Earth and about their mental crutches and whatnot and it turns out that death is just another obstacle that can be treated with counseling and antidepressants — Death is a *choice* you know — with one or both of them coming back, my tolerance will be very limited. Because if you do that, you’re using fake people to toy with the emotions of real people in ways that make you no better than a daytime soap opera or “Melrose Place.”

It would just be a shame to cheat the very real gravity generated by the two hours of the “Grey’s Anatomy” finale.

And here’s my hunch: They’re gonna cheat. And it makes me feel ghoulish to be rooting for a pair of deaths, but that’s just how it goes.

The finale’s first hour, “Here’s To The Future,” was about choices with an eye on the future and it wasn’t all that subtle, but at least it featured some awesome guest stars. Paris Gellar! Matty Saracen! While I needn’t ever see Jeffrey Dean Morgan on “Grey’s Anatomy” ever again, I’d welcome any of my favorite “Gilmore Girls” and “Friday Night Lights” stars. 

Zach Gilford was quite affecting as soldier so eager to eliminate the fierce pain in his leg and get back to Iraq, that he was willing to have the otherwise healthy leg removed and replaced with a prosthetic. The decision went against everything in Callie’s instincts, but it was also presented as a heroic choice in the episode, paralleled with Izzie’s deliberations into whether or not to let Derek operate on her brain. The contrast was Liza Weil’s character, who opted for a noninvasive cancer treatment over surgery, which wasn’t necessarily presented as explicitly wrong, just as a move with a short-term view of the future, rather than long-term.

The decisions in “Here’s To The Future” pushed Izzie toward surgery and George toward enlisting in the army as a trauma surgeon. For some fans, George’s choice was a bit more arbitrary, if only because of how deprioritized Knight has been all season, though he’s been under Hunt’s wing in recent weeks, if you happen to think a surgeon with violent PTSD is a good role model.

Knight’s dip off the radar this season has been similar to Heigl’s decreased profile last season, which led her to famously remove her name from Emmy consideration, saying that the writers didn’t give her anything Emmy-worthy to do. At the time and in retrospect, it felt like a hideously bratty thing to say, but the thing that shouldn’t be denied is a certain core truth: When given Emmy-bait material, Heigl is very much Emmy-worthy and the past five or six episodes of this season will probably make it hard for her to pick favorites.

The second finale episode, “Now or Never,” will probably be in the running to be Heigl’s Emmy reel, as the aftermath of the surgery left her with an inability to retain new memories, a condition that was a very calculated callback to a patient in the season premiere.

If the first episode was about making choices for the future, the second was about making choices for the present. It was about Alex facing the equally shattering prospects of life with a reduced-capacity Izzie and life without Izzie at all. It was about Meredith and Derek planning a rushed city hall wedding, because you don’t ever want to moments pass you by. It was about George enlisting in the army and all of his friends working very slowly to realize the heroism in his gesture. In the only real medical case, it was about a young woman — “The O.C.” favorite Shannon Lucio — deciding that the stranger who pushed her out of the way of a bus, before getting mangled himself, was her prince. The woman had been looking for a more handsome guy to smile at her and it took his selfless gesture for her to see what was in front of her. 

Like many of you, I’d heard the “George enlists in the army” rumors beforehand and I’d just gone with the assumption that that was how Knight was being written off of the show, figuring it was an exit that would open the door for future return visits. The potential for that transition was so smooth that I confess that as alert a viewer as I can sometimes be, what with my note-taking and all, I didn’t even consider the possibility that John Doe might be George. But when the hideously scarred patient scrawled “0-0-7” onto Meredith’s palm, not only did it validate a very strange reference earlier in the episode, but it caused me to unleash a very loud expletive on my couch.

As diversions go, this one was executed with aplomb. I did not see it coming at all and the whiplash continued with John Doe/George coding.

What happened with Izzie was far easier to anticipate and not just because, you know, she had cancer and she’s been dying for weeks. Izzie went through the episode being heartbreakingly forgetful, eventually causing Alex to tear into her and call their wedding a huge mistake and speculate about various ways off to off her. The helpful hints and flashcards weren’t working for Izzie, but the well-intentioned verbal abuse did, but it was so very clearly set up as a false celebration, a prelude to a cardiac event and a clear violation of Izzie’s cogently articulated and legally signed DNR.

So where did we leave things? On an elevator. “Grey’s Anatomy” is all about elevators, because “Grey’s Anatomy”loves easy metaphors. Izzie’s going up in her prom dress (from the episode with Denny’s death?) and she gets out and there’s George, with a uniform and buzz-cut. Elevators go up. Elevators go down. You can get off at different floors. And different floors probably equal life and death. 

The strange thing is that while Knight would have seemed like the actor more likely to be welcomed back, George wasn’t really in good shape when we last saw him. It would be very difficult and rather costly on a makeup budget for him to be back. I also don’t know what they could really do with the character at this point. He died a hero and not G.I. Joe hero, but a proper Everyday George Hero. Why would you bring him back? 

Bringing Izzie back would appear to just be bringing her back from the dead only to die again, but as Yang discovered in one of the two hours, the sad reality of being a doctor is that even if you save somebody one day, they’re gonna die eventually anyway and there’s nothing you can do about it. So if Izzie gets shocked back to life in the premiere, she could still die at November or February sweeps, especially if Heigl’s summer romantic comedy is a hit. For now, a resurrected Izzie would have a lot to deal with, with the cancer, Alex and George’s death. I’m sure she’d get Emmy moments galore.

The thing about maybe-or-maybe-not killing off two cast regulars is that you take away a lot of the thunder from every other character.

Was anybody else astounded by how much Ellen Pompeo got to smile in the finale? It was charming! And it was a very good decision, a way of salvaging a character who became an intolerable pill over the years. Meredith was pretty low-drama this season. That won’t last very long if two of her best friends just died, I guess. 

And what of poor Dr. Bailey, facing life as a single-mom and seemingly having to give up on her pediatric medicine fellowship to become an attending, which sounds like an acceptable alternative, but sure seemed to make her miserable. Chandra Wilson is always excellent, but her joy at experiencing the Da Vinci machine and then her sadness standing in tears opposite Chief? Vintage stuff.

The finale was also the first time I’ve really liked Jessica Capshaw’s Arizona Robbins, whose monologue about using joy to overcome the Chief’s robots was a thing of brilliance.

Yang and Hunt? I’m not a fan of the boiler room set with the air vents. Nothing good ever happens there. But they’re an interesting couple and I hope he doesn’t choke her again.

Lexie and Sloan? It’s a relationship that made him less of a ego-maniac and made her less of a cipher, but its appeal was always in the way it gave the characters contrast. The longer it goes, the less effective it becomes.

The last thing I want to add is that Justin Chambers is deserving of an Emmy nomination, perhaps even more than Heigl. Every week this season he’s been a surprise. This is a guy who was just awful in “The Wedding Planner” and “The Musketeer,” which were the first two times I ever noticed him. But his scenes with Heigl were excellent all season long and I wonder if they’d be able to use him as well without that pairing.

That’s 2000 words on the “Grey’s Anatomy” finale, which is just about enough…

Check back tomorrow for thoughts on the strange and unappealing “Bones” finale and the sublime finales for “30 Rock” and, particularly, “The Office.”

How do you want to see the “Grey’s Anatomy” finale resolved? What did you think of the episode?

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