TV Article

Shiny Unhappy People

In one of the best written and best acted ''Grey's Anatomy'' episodes yet, the characters try and fail to find a little happiness

Justin Chambers, Grey's Anatomy | THIRD PERSON SINGULAR Justin Chambers' Karev stood out this episode
THIRD PERSON SINGULAR Justin Chambers' Karev stood out this episode

''Grey's Anatomy'': It hurts so good

''Hey, bro,'' said my sister Meaghan's voice-mail earlier this week. ''Did you get fired yet?'' America, you were not entirely smitten with last week's Grey's Anatomy TV Watch, which guest-starred Meg as she talked medical truth to the television. Sorry if you didn't dig it, although your message-board posts were ten times more entertaining than usual. To atone, I'll jump straight to this week's extraordinary episode (which contained what I'd argue was the three best minutes of Grey's we've ever seen) and save my response to last week's most irksome message-board gripe for the end.

We began in the bathtub. Derek and Meredith, taking it slow, abstained with bubbles and candles. All sudsed up, Meredith declared herself newly ''bright and shiny,'' and she explained what she meant two scenes later, when she gallivanted into the locker room amongst the other interns and chirpily sing-songed the line, ''Today is the day when dark and twisty Meredith disappears, and bright and shiny Meredith takes her place! The sheer intensity of her happiness will make your teeth hurt.'' Unfortunately for the Meredith lovers like me out there, she was gloating obliviously while George sat there worried about his father, who'd just been admitted for what would become stage-3 metastatic esophageal cancer. Meredith's embarrassment was capped off by pained looks from Karev, Cristina, and Izzie. When this happened, many of you at home groaned, and others — we Meredith lovers — sighed, precisely because we knew many of you were groaning about what a selfish wretch Meredith is. But don't you see, everybody? If the show repeatedly gives you opportunities to dislike her and think she's self-involved, don't you think that's intentional? You are supposed to find her a little full of herself. It rounds her out. It's how she looks like you and me, despite the fact that Ellen Pompeo really looks nothing like me and probably nothing like you. This was all affirmed later in the episode when Meredith, during an operation on a 5-year-old who loves her nanny more than her mommy, foolishly spoke out against workaholic moms in front of workaholic mom Bailey. That was stupid of her! It was also refreshing, and made for thick drama, and provided the setup for the classic closing scene with Bailey.

Enough about Meredith. Cristina was a much bigger player this week. Still secretly doing surgeries at Burke's side, she decannulated a heart. Don't know what that is, and had to look the word up to spell it, but it was serious enough to get George to keep wondering if something's up with Burke. The showdown between George and Cristina throughout the episode was tense and exciting, and it showcased what was easily Oh's finest acting so far in a season that has, I'd contend, underused her. More than once when George got in Cristina's face about Burke — particularly the last time, when he implored her to do the right thing, since Burke was scheduled to do a heart operation on George's dad — Oh turned Cristina's face into an imperturbable mask, which then cracked ever so slightly the minute George turned away from her. That's so much of what the character's about, right there in just a reaction shot. George's scenes with Sara Ramirez's Callie made this an above-average episode for her too. She ultimately got through to George — who's still smarting that she slept with Mark — by connecting with his two lunkheaded brothers via car talk and busted-engine analogies.

Another thing I noticed about the acting on this show this week was that a lot of the single-line readings were aces. Loved it when Bailey snatched Mr. O'Malley's chart out of George's hands and said, ''Don't you think me reading it is more important than you reading it?'' Loved it when George stressed to his brothers that he was a doctor too by underplaying the line ''White coat — look at the white coat.'' Loved the one-two comedy punch of Mark asking Alex, who was babysitting Izzie this week, ''Is it Bring a Hot Blonde to Work Day today?'' followed by Katherine Heigl's deft ''Sexual harassment!'' sneeze. And all the banter between Izzie and Karev, who (aping a pec-implanted patient of theirs named Frank) kept playfully referring to themselves in the third person, was perfect.

The third-person shtick was also minutely woven into other parts of the episode. Think again of Meredith's ''bright and shiny'' quote above. And consider Karev and Izzie's last scene this week, which hinged on the third-person thing in a terrifically subtle way. (This week's script deserves an Emmy nomination.) Karev, earlier in the episode and mid-banter, kissed Izzie in the stairwell. She pulled away. ''I can't,'' she said, and ran away. (More bonus points to the writers for never mentioning Denny's name. No need for that; it only made the scene feel truer.) Later, Izzie pulled up to Karev in the bar and, again, dropped the third person for just a single sad, honest exchange. ''I didn't know you still felt that way about me,'' she said. ''Me neither,'' said Karev, in what, courtesy of Justin Chambers, was the line reading of the night, and a bright and shiny highlight of the season. (When did Chambers get so good?) And then the way Karev's eyes softly lit up when he fell back on friendly, safe third person and said, ''Alex is sorry he's such an idiot,'' sealed it. This was the best scene in the episode.

At least until the very next scene. What followed is my new favorite sequence in all of Grey's. You must watch Friday's replay tonight if you missed it yesterday (and if that's your plan, stop reading here). Bailey — obviously rattled by what Meredith said about workaholic moms — picked up her cell, found a corner in the hospital, got her unseen baby kid on the phone, and started singing ''God Bless the Child'' to the little one in her own soft and melancholy croon. Just as she was trying to get the kid on the phone, I was thinking to myself that maybe it's okay that Bailey's not the Nazi anymore: Maybe that's the point I've been missing all along. And when her singing kicked in and I realized what was going on, I think I fell for her again right away. As she sang, we then faded over to Addison on the ferry, where she'd come to throw her wedding rings into the water. I thought, ''Aha! The message boarders were right. Addison must be pregnant. God bless the child!'' The shot of Addison's teary face was powerful. That's where I thought the show was ending, with an ominous cliff-hanger. But that it pushed on, I think, is what turned this episode into true art. Still set only to Bailey's spare singing (what a happy shock not to hear the usual indie rock!), an achingly quiet and fast montage of scenes followed. First, as Cristina and Burke tossed and turned fornlornly in bed, she blurted out to him, ''George knows.'' He said nothing. They're screwed. Then we saw George, another man of troubles, equally restless and wide awake in bed. And next we ended where we began: in the bathtub with Meredith and Derek, who are wiped out, with less-bubbly bubbles and the overhead lights on. Instead of ''bright and shiny,'' they declare themselves ''dull and lifeless.'' (Opening the episode on them in the bathtub felt a little sensational to me; ending with them in a bathtub, in such a reflective way, threw the whole thing into relief.) Finally, Bailey finished the song, and Chandra Wilson gave such an expressive head toss and eye roll to the lyric ''Mama may have'' that maybe that was the best line reading of the night. Anyway, this climax was heartrending and deep. The sheer intensity of it made your teeth hurt. I watched it five times in a row, and it gave me the shivers every time.

Because — c'mon, people — I love this show! Love it love it love it love it. Out of all those things you said about me (and my poor sister!) last week, that's the only one I want to rebut. I love the show, but I don't have to love everything about every episode. TV Watches are a critique — not a straight recap, not an unadulterated lovefest. I'm going to keep writing things you won't always agree with, but would you really want it any other way?

All right, now! What did you think of this episode? Was the ending as good as I think it was? Was the writing? Is Karev your hero? Are the Chief's marital woes the least interesting plotline going? (Even though it was funny when he confessed his affair with Meredith's mom and Addison and Derek didn't even hear him.) By the way, next week is Thanksgiving, and Meg isn't the only one in my family who works in a hospital, so I guess you folks think I should watch the show alone in a room with a lock on the door, huh?

Originally posted Nov 17, 2006
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