[Spoiler alert: If you have not seen or heard about the April 23, 2015 episode of Grey’s Anatomy, there will be spoilers ahead.]
I’m not such a devoted TV fan that I track the time left on my favorite characters’ contracts, but if I had, I would have realized why the recent episode that has repeatedly been described as “shocking” was even more shocking to those in the know. Patrick Dempsey, who played Derek “McDreamy” Shepherd on Grey’s Anatomy, had another year left on his contract, but now we know he’s gone after 11 seasons. He got killed off at the end of last week’s dramatic episode.
I skimmed some of the online reactions afterwards and found lots of them soaked in tears. A headline in the New York Post declared, “After last night’s episode, watching ‘Grey’s Anatomy’ is pointless.” An online petition has been launched, begging to get McDreamy back.
I was curious about all the other reactions because I thought the plot twist was brilliant and timely. I didn’t cry – I cheered. And not because I had it in for the Derek character or wanted Meredith or her kids or anyone else to suffer. In a welcome twist, Derek’s death swings the door of Meredith’s life wide open. She can, after a suitable period of grieving, set out to discover, or rediscover, who she really is.
Meredith has been with Derek, in one way or another, since the opening scenes of the series all those years ago. By the time we got to Derek’s demise, she was living with him and their kids. That’s fine, in a way, but those experiences do not map onto the lived experiences of so many real American women her age. Many of them are living single – some, as the way they have always been living, and others, because they were married once but are single now.
It is good for the show and for the many real single people (not just women) watching it to see the creation of a life of one’s own. I just hope Meredith does not get written into another predictable romantic script right away. (It is too much to hope that she never does.) Meredith is a woman of many talents and passions that do not involve romantic coupling. She loves her work – it is deeply consequential work and she is great at it. She is also a devoted friend. What she and Christina used to say to each other – “you are my person” – may have been the most truly romantic statement in the entire show.
Grey’s Anatomy used to be much stronger on the themes of devotion to work and to friendship. In the early seasons, Meredith and Christina and the whole gang competed against each other almost ruthlessly to get the best surgeries. Izzie broke up with her drop-dead gorgeous boyfriend because he just couldn’t comprehend the awesomeness of holding a human brain in your hands. Many of key characters lived together. Those are the shows that got the ratings, not the latest renditions that sent Meredith back to the 50s to live in a detached single-family home with her husband and kids.
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