To the sunny skyline shots of downtown Seattle to Addison’s sarcastic call of Derek’s “It’s a beautiful day to save lives,” this episode of Grey’s was as perfect as it was upside down. I know the idea of this episode wasn’t very popular with a lot of fans, and I have to admit I was somewhat skeptical, but I thought it was perfectly executed. To be honest, I think this one will be better-received than the musical episode was, which met with a mediocre-at-best fan reaction. Every second of this episode was meant to throw you for a loop, and Shondaland did a great job of exacting that.
What seemed most interesting to me about this episode was the direction in which the powers that be chose to take it. We all know that every situation has potentially unlimited outcomes, especially in a show where everyone has the potential to be a loose cannon. Some of the new pairings made sense, some of the character trajectories were painfully correct, and yet, some of them seemed like shots in the dark. But that’s how it is with alternate universes, I suppose.
I firmly believe that this episode needed to be aired now, if ever. If there was ever a time for this episode, it was this season. After all, we don’t know who’s coming back next year, since all original contracts end this season (and renewal talk has been wishy-washy at best). It wouldn’t have worked as a finale (though that would have been interesting) because it would have felt like a cop-out, rather than the dramatic no-holds-barred season-enders we’ve come to expect.
As Grey’s is a show about things being meant-to-be, basically everything here has previously happened in the show at some point, or it’s made clear that it will happen. Even in an alternate universe, you know Meredith and Derek are meant to be together, or that Addison cheated on Derek with Mark. Though the timeline of all events and relationships seemed smashed together, everything washed out eventually. The one part that really stuck out as odd to me is that Cristina and Owen still seem to be meant to be, although in the preview for the next episode Owen appears to be saying he’s moving out and still blaming Cristina for the abortion – so that doesn’t really even out, in my opinion. For the sake of the single episode, though, I’m willing to take it.
So, for a (not so) quick character recap:
- Meredith Webber is the “bright and shiny” version of the Meredith we know, whose mother is still alive, making her Richard Webber’s adopted daughter. She and April are best friends, and Meredith even gives her the “you’re my person” line from season three. Cristina is nothing to Meredith, and they clearly despise each other, though in the end their friendship shows its beginnings as they take shots together at the bar. It’s clear that were Ellis still alive, she would be pushing Meredith into situations (and surgeries) she isn’t prepared for, as she makes her be a cardio specialist rather than neuro. There were so many interesting dynamics and parallels between Ellis and Meredith in this episode, and I’m not sure Meredith’s life is really much better here. In a recall to season three, she says to Richard, “She wants everyone around her to be ordinary so she can be extraordinary. She wants everyone around her to be small, and I’m not going to let her do that to me.” In this scenario, Meredith fully accepts her father-daughter relationship with Richard, rather than pull away from it, and it’s clear that she depends on him to support her when things are tough, whether that’s with her mother, work, or the Alex problem. And speaking of the Alex problem, Meredith here has just gotten engaged to an adorably nerdy and polo’d Karev, who we find out later has been cheating on Meredith with April (bringing me back to my April-hating phase). Meredith and Derek, on the other hand, aren’t even on speaking terms (though I wonder if they used to be, as that elevator moment was deliciously awkward). In the end, though, the two of them are drinking at Joe’s, repeating their infamous pilot lines about being “just a girl in a bar” and “just a guy in a bar.”
- Alex Karev, as mentioned earlier, is now chief resident, whose hip glasses and preptastic outfit are only outshown by his “we create our own destiny” philosophy of optimism. In fact, in my notes while watching, I wrote, “ALEX IS A BIG OLE NERD.” When he met Meredith, it’s assumed he was the same Alex we met – “raised by the trashcans,” as Bailey once put it. But without Derek, Alex and Meredith soon became a couple, which I see as a probable outcome. However, it’s soon revealed that he’s still the same old Alex, almost always screwing up the best things in his life.
- Cristina Yang is almost unrecognizable from who she is now, but she’s very similar to season one Cristina. She still had her affair with Dr. Burke, who allegedly “fled the state” because of her, as Yang’s fellow residents are sure to point out to her. Joke’s on them, though, as she catches Alex and April about to get it on in a patient room while looking for him. It’s clear that everyone is terrified of her, even the attendings, as they think she might turn on them at any moment. There are a few touching moments with Owen, where it’s clear that Cristina does have a heart, but something happened and she’s afraid to show anyone else. However, I lay no claim to understanding the hairstyle decision, because yikes. I can’t imagine Cristina would ever go to that much trouble to straighten her hair every day when she could be getting surgeries, but okay.
- Derek and Addison are still married, and she’s heavily pregnant, though in a parallel to an earlier season, the baby is Mark’s. Though they both say they still love each other, it’s clear by the end of the episode that their marriage is over – it just took a bit longer than the original to fall apart. They’re known throughout the hospital as good and bad Shepherd, though in this universe Derek is the bad Shepherd, also known as “McDreary” (not a great play on the original, but I’ll take it). Ellis makes it very clear that she’s disappointed in his attitude, that he doesn’t teach, and that if she’s forced to choose, she’ll pick Addison. In the end, though, he and Meredith start talking, and it’s a kickback to the beginning.
- Lexie Grey is a junkie living on the street, brought in after someone finds her passed out, her heart stopped. She and Jackson are wrapped up in their own plot, in which she reveals that she knows she has a sister in the hospital, but won’t tell him who it is. Both her parents are dead, and clearly her life has not gone as planned. When Jackson tries to talk her into making something of herself, she takes the opportunity to steal a bunch of drugs using his keycard. In the end, Mark carries her back into the ER, saying he almost ran her over in the street (which is, I think, a nod to the fact that they will get together).
- Miranda Bailey is still the meek, braided-hair Mandy from the flashback episode, never having had Richard’s mentorship because Ellis tied up his time. She’s a capable surgeon, but after her Whipple is stolen by Ellis at the last moment, she’s fired because of Ellis’s overconfidence and humiliation in the ER. She and Alex have a friendship that didn’t exist previously, though, and they inspire each other onward and upward. Her firing gave her just the kick she needed to become the Miranda we know and love, though she’ll have to do that elsewhere. No mention of her love life and whether she’s still married to Tucker, though I suspect she is.
- Callie and Owen are married with three kids, which is probably the most surprising development. I guess he pulled the icicle out of Callie’s chest rather than Cristina’s, since he’s still having PTSD problems (though working through them with “a guy named Teddy”). Callie’s a cardio surgeon, due to Ellis Grey’s orders, though she suspects she’d be happier in ortho. Owen still has his anger issues, smashing a window but begging Cristina not to tell Callie. It’s clear that though they’re happy together, they aren’t soulmates, as he’s drawn to Cristina and she’s drawn to Arizona.
The rest of the rotating cast had either negligible or nonexistent roles, only popping in to provide commentary or be a reminder of what should have been and what will be. Kim Raver’s Teddy was missing, though I assume she’s working elsewhere, having never been hand-delivered to Cristina.
I’m going to just say it, though – I was so glad to have Addison back. I miss her so much on this show. She just isn’t the same on Private Practice, not at all, and seeing her back as a tour de force at Seattle Grace Mercy West was just so great. Kate Walsh is just a national treasure.
Notably absent are Izzie and George, though they still merit a mention. As it turns out, they both left the intern program – still called 007, George didn’t retake his failed intern exam and instead disappeared, and Izzie, who still fell down the Denny rabbit hole, got fired for it (including a “shooting up the hospital” joke that seemed a little unclear). Though neither of these situations were unexpected, it made me a little sad for George’s memory. Without the guidance of Miranda, though, he definitely would have quit the program. And without the support of her fellow interns, Izzie would definitely have gone off the deep end, and it sounds like that’s exactly what happened.
Like I said above, this was the time for this kind of episode. I thoroughly enjoyed it, and I hope you all did, too. It had the potential to be really, really bad, but they kept everyone in believable character (even if evolved a different way). This was the best outcome I could have wished for, and it was absolutely pure fun to see everyone in a different light. This could be the last time we see Ellis Grey, since if Ellen Pompeo doesn’t renew, there would be no reason to have Kate Burton back on the show. This was an episode really meant for the fans who’ve been around since the beginning, who would remember iconic scenes and who would understand all of the reasons for these character dynamics.
Let’s hear – what did you think? Were you as in love with the alternate universe Grey’s as I was? Or were you not as much of a fan – happy to see it return as normal next time?
All photos property of ABC; high-res photos from TVLine.