‘Grey’s Anatomy’ – ‘Sanctuary’/’Death and All His Friends’: First-person shooter

Ordinarily, I review the four NBC comedies in a row to start off my Friday morning, but the events (and quality) of last night’s “Grey’s Anatomy” compel me to both write about the show for the first time in a while, and to jump it in queue ahead of “The Office” and “30 Rock” (which I will get to later along with, if I have time to watch it today, “Fringe,” so please save all questions and comments on them all until those posts go up). Spoilers coming up just as soon as I tell you that, yes, you’re going to die…

“ER” would do episodes one or two times a year where a man with a gun, or a man in a tank, or an evil, sentient, Romano-hating helicopter would come to attack County General, and it usually felt silly – not just for the frequency of it, but because the series more often than not aspired to a level of realism that was at odds with shoot-outs in Trauma 2.

Shonda Rhimes (who wrote her first two scripts of this “Grey’s” season with last night’s episodes) has never tried to position “Grey’s” on that same plane of verisimilitude as “ER.” Her show is an unapologetic Melodrama with a capital M, one where anything can and will happen so long as it fits what Rhimes wants to say about her characters. So an angry gunman wandering the halls of Seattle Grace and shooting anyone who offended his grieving sensibilities not only didn’t seem out of place, it made me feel surprised that Rhimes hadn’t gone there before.

And make no mistake: in every sense but one (which I’ll get to), these two episodes where Shonda Rhimes, directors Stephen Cragg and Rob Corn, and the entire cast and crew of the show Going For It. There was no opportunity for suspense, or tears, or anger, or horror, or some good old-fashioned monologuing left unexplored. Huge stakes, huge emotions, great performances from everybody (though I would say Chandra Wilson and Sandra Oh were particularly great, as was Michael O’Neill as shooter Gary Clark) and a sense of creeping horror so great that of course Clark would wind up in the operating room while Cristina and Avery had their hands inside Derek’s chest, and of course Meredith would suffer a miscarriage in the middle of patching up Owen’s bullet wound – and be so hard-core (just as her best friend was next door in risking death to save Meredith’s man) that she would just keep working even as blood dripped down her legs.

A moment like that works only if everyone involved is 100% committed to the insanity of it, and here everyone was, just as they were when Bailey told Percy he was going to die, when Callie sent Clark out of the room while Arizona crouched over the little girl, when Derek was on the verge of talking down Clark, when the Chief (who will surely have the title back when we return in the fall, whether interim or not while Derek recovers) talked Clark into killing himself, etc. No fear, no compromise, no attempt to hold back for fear of seeming too out there. They all went for it and came up with a riveting two hours of TV.

Except in one way. Ultimately, if you bring a gunman into the hospital and have shoot a bunch of doctors, it seems a cop-out when the only ones who die are the interlopers from Mercy West, and the two who had largely been forgotten once Rhimes and company realized that Avery was the only keeper in the bunch. (Though I suppose April may stick around, too.) It’s not that I want Karev to die, not after he was the only thing I liked about the show during some of the dark periods in earlier seasons, but when the only regulars to die are the obvious cannon fodder, it cheapens things a little.

Yes, everyone has been traumatized. Yes, Derek and Alex may have long recoveries. Yes, Meredith lost the baby she only just realized she wanted. And, yes, several characters seem like they’ll be permanently changed(*).

(*) Again, I can’t understate how good Oh was here, or how well-written Cristina was as she finally came into her own. The moment when she told Meredith she was a very good surgeon “for a resident” was such a perfect lowering of all the shields the character has kept up for six seasons, and her refusal to put down her scalpel even as she was nakedly terrified by Clark’s gun was a fantastic sequence for Oh.

But when you do a death-filled episode where the only deaths are of characters nobody cares about, it pulls back from that level of commitment I was talking about, and makes the audience aware on some level that it’s just a TV show.

That aside, though, this was about as good as I’ve ever seen “Grey’s.” Episodes like these are what I point to when anyone asks me why I’m still watching (or even why I’m watching in the first place, since so much of the show is clearly not dialed in at my wavelength). Bravo.

What did everybody else think?