I Can Finally Quit Grey’s Anatomy in Peace

I break up with TV. When a show outstays its welcome, or if my tastes change, or even if a particular night gets too busy, I don’t usually hesitate to slash and burn my viewing schedule. Occasionally, though, one show hangs around on the fringes of my interest, tantalizing me just enough that I keep tuning in while I’m doing laundry or grading papers. After last night, I’m happy to say that I can eliminate Grey’s Anatomy from that very short list.

[From here on out, there will be lots of SPOILERS for April 23rd’s episode of Grey’s Anatomy, entitled “How to Save a Life.” Consider yourself warned.]

As was foreshadowed by the flashing lights reflected in Meredith’s window at the end of April 16th’s episode, something devastating happened to Derek. After saving the lives of four people who were involved in a two-car accident on a deserted stretch of road, Derek’s car was T-boned by a tractor trailer. After being taken to a hospital vastly inferior to Grey Sloane Memorial, lacking even a trauma center, a series of botched calls lead to him being dead in all but fact. After hauling Meredith in to make the call, his plug is pulled, and after 11 long seasons Patrick Dempsey exits Grey’s Anatomy as Derek heads to the morgue.

The show’s fans immediately lashed out with ire and angst, most of which was directed towards creator and showrunner Shonda Rhimes, who penned this episode herself:

More than a few individuals suggested that they were done, finito, so totally done with the show due to the deep personal outrage that they felt over Dr. Derek Shepherd’s passing. I plan on counting myself among those who won’t be tuning in for season 12 – but I have none of the anger. Instead, I am grateful.

When Grey’s debuted in 2005, it felt fresh and clever, and it was easy to invest not only in the characters – mostly interns (Meredith, George, Alex, Izzie, Cristina) fresh off the med school turnip cart and their unamused mentors (Richard, Derek, Bailey, Burke) – but also in the relationships between them. At the heart of all this was the epic, tragic, convoluted, infuriating, romantic love story between Derek and Meredith Grey. Other new characters who were introduced to the fold in the first four or five seasons – Mark, Lexie, Callie, Owen, Arizona – all integrated well with the original crew and soon became nearly as emotionally indispensable. However, starting with the Mercy West integration plot and the constant need to add new interns, subsequent new additions failed to form the same nexus of connection either with the audience or the other characters.

Over the course of eleven seasons, most of the original cast members have come and gone; only Meredith, Derek, Alex, Bailey, and Richard remain. (Well, remained as of the start of the episode.) The departure of Cristina Yang, Meredith’s “person” and best friend, at the end of last season, was a near breaking point for me, since the friendship between the two was one of the strongest female bonds on television. But there was still Meredith and Derek, and there still seemed to be story to tell there.

As much as I enjoy the dynamics of Alex and Meredith’s friendship, or Meredith and Richard’s familial bond, neither has the narrative heft to keep me tethered to the show. Both are examples of pleasant elements that, for me, contribute to the show’s enjoyability but don’t substitute for good story. Watching Meredith once again pick up the pieces of her tragedy-laden life isn’t appealing. We’ve already seen her become a full-fledged adult from her dark and twisty beginnings: she’s talent surgeon, a parent, someone with adult family members with whom she connects. Any future storylines after Derek’s death involve one of three things for her: 1) tearing these hard-earned markers of identity down and attempt to rebuild them, which just retreads the past; 2) follow the trials and tribulations of Meredith trying to be a single mom and surgeon who can have it all, which is what CBS sitcoms are for; or 3) write off Meredith too.

So, with nothing to hold me anymore, I intend to finish off the season and then move forward without Grey’s anchoring my Thursday night lineup. It’s time; almost all shows must (or should) end. In this case, I’m just not waiting for cancellation. Meredith and Derek’s story started the show, and now it ends it. It doesn’t matter to me if the decision came from Dempsey’s desire to leave or Rhimes’ love of tragic ends, because the people who make the show made a creative decision well within their rights. Some might be excited for the possibilities or infuriated by something they see as a betrayal, but for me, it’s a clean break, and that’s a better end than trailing off into obscurity.