TV Recap

Back Afloat

On ''Grey's Anatomy,'' Meredith wanders through an ill-conceived afterlife while Derek and Cristina fight for her in the real world

RETURN TO GRACE Meredith didn't drown after all
Image credit: Ellen Pompeo: Ron Tom/ABC
RETURN TO GRACE Meredith didn't drown after all

''Grey's Anatomy'': No more watery grave

We can all settle down now. I will settle down now. Every Grey's fan I talked to over the last two weeks was balking with me at how screechingly awful these ferry episodes had been, but tonight's comeback climax did good salvage work. Grey's Anatomy, by the look of it, may not actually be lost. I tuned in eagerly tonight, anxious to see how Grey's would rapid-fire itself out of the plot mess it was in — yet I was also very, very worried because the show had spent the previous two episodes totally underwater, leaving itself perilously susceptible to a brain damage from which it might not recover. But, after tonight, I think things worked out. Just as now waterlogged Meredith lives, presumably sans neurological consequence, so too — after sweeps month — could the show. Let's not give up, angry people! Against all odds, last night's climactic ending to a turgid, previously stupid three-parter revealed itself to be — yes, decidedly yes — one of the best episodes of the season.

It was an excellent night in spite of the fact that all of the money scenes with Meredith in the afterlife were bad. Oh, were they bad — unless, I suppose, you enjoy character-actor beefcake. Dylan (Kyle Chandler) and Denny (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) picked up with Meredith in the heavenly, hyper-lit O.R. of the gods, and these two fine actors were immediately asked to fall back on the kind of painful wisecracking shtick that I vaguely remember Beatty and Hoffman getting slammed for in Ishtar. ''Meredith, this is not your brain on drugs,'' said Dylan. ''This is death.'' Denny piped in: ''Whoa! Way too harsh.'' These actors are a formidable pair — Kyle Chandler was emphatic enough to make me wish I was watching Friday Night Lights, and Jeffrey Dean Morgan is tops with me ever since season two of GA and the first two episodes of the great Weeds — but... I would rather watch them together in their own show, not this one. These actors are above playing dead guys in an ill-conceived sweeps-month stunt dream sequence.

I mean, what was with that ghost woman who kept bleeding from the stomach right before the commercial breaks? I've seen every episode of Grey's, yet thank God for the ''Previously on Grey's Anatomy'' opener. I guess she was the lady from long ago who came into Seattle Grace impaled on a pole. I sort of remember that. But isn't it awfully random? What purpose did she serve last night? It was all too abstract, pretentious even. I wish I was Netflix friends with Shonda Rhimes; judging from this death-obsessed ep, she's been watching Ingmar Bergman movies, but since I have no access to any kind of rental history from her, I can't be entirely sure if she's a Wild Strawberries fan or not. Either way, the bleeder was far and away the weakest link in the episode.

This afterlife stuff climaxed in that heavenly and hyper-lit hallways of the gods, where Meredith briefly met her Mom. I knew this was coming beforehand because last week a few of the spoiler-monkeys on the EW message boards called it. (Thanks a lot, spoiler-monkeys! Feel free to ruin the rest of the season in the forum provided below.) Yes, Meredith's mom died — Kate Burton turned out to be the cast member whose death on the show had been correctly rumored by the spoiler-monkeys, and she entered limbo only to give Meredith her Get-Out-of-Jail-Free-and-Go-Back-to-Real-Life card. Was the brief, otherworldly reunion of mother and daughter touching? Uh, it took place in Fantasyland, so I wasn't really feeling it. It had nothing on the scene three episodes ago where living Meredith faced off against living Ellis, and Ellen Pompeo's tragic voice broke like the ice under a doomed ice-skating 6-year-old. That was the last real winner scene between mother and daughter. Besides, everything happening last night back in the real world of Seattle Grace was gripping enough to compete for season-high honors, and all of it blew this afterlife nonsense off the screen.

The real world: Where to start? Last night the show redeemed itself after a brainless two-show run because almost every single scene actually set at Seattle Grace provided exactly the kind of catnip that fans come to the show to get hooked on. The reason last night's ep ultimately worked — despite the bad heavenly interludes — was quite simple: Grey's stopped trying to be what I think of when I think of ER, and went back to being Grey's. And last night it excelled at being Grey's. Each great Seattle Grace scene seemed to improve on the last great Seattle Grace scene. I'll pull out just a couple that featured our main players.

(1) Izzie. We were tough on Izzie last week, you and me, because her speech urging George to dump Callie while Meredith was flatlining rang false. But Izzie stealthily ruled the backroads of last night's episode. When she sassed her enemy Callie early on, Callie was so incensed she ripped the drip she was donating blood into and got up to say, ''I will not run off!''And if you still are off enough to think Katherine Heigl is a bad actress, watch Heigl bobble her eyebrows and half-cross her eyes and dip — in this scene with Callie alone — into a rich, unspoken register of Izzie's hurt, and then come try to take her down on the message boards. If you do, you will be wrong.

(2) Cristina. I avoid talking about her on this TV Watch because her plots have not been resonating with me this season. However, she does have her on-weeks, and few are as wonderful as last night's. Cristina can't deal with a dying Meredith, who is her ''person,'' so she jets work and goes shopping, zombie-like, at the dollar store. Then she hangs out at Joe's bar doing Sudoku until Burke comes to get her and give her a great talk: ''Listen to me. This is about you and the woman you call the 'person'... If she dies, and you are sitting here when it happens, I can't see you coming back from that. Come and say goodbye to your friend.'' Powerful speech. I like Isaiah Washington on this show. And Cristina goes and yells at the Chief and Bailey until they attempt to save flatlining Meredith again, and I liked the highly dramatic moment of Sandra Oh's barking.

(3) Derek. This episode was nothing less than Patrick Dempsey's finest hour in season 3. Strangely underutilized so far this season, Dempsey had an awful lot to do as Derek had a lot to cry about; he was breaking out in the quivers most of the night. The highlight was when Derek huffily faced off with Ellis in her sickbed: ''You broke her,'' he charged, speaking of half-dead Meredith. ''She may not survive this, and that's on you.'' I thought it was blistering stuff. Dempsey affirmed he can act, and then some, while Kate Burton's reaction shots were totally pro. (I did think it was weird that the next time we saw these two, Derek was pumping Ellis's chest trying to bring her back to life. She dipped out awfully fast; was there a scene missing somewhere?)

And more great, finely scripted things were littered throughout. Bravo to George putting Izzie in her place (''If I'm not making a mistake, you're gonna look like a jerk. And if I am, I'm gonna need you.''). And three cheers to the soapiest scene of the trilogy, when, towards the end of last night, Addison said if Mark can go 60 days without sex, then she'll try to be together forever with him, and he takes her up on it. The cut straight to Karev after this exchange was a sharp moment of high Grey's comedy.

All told, this episode did what I wanted the previous two episodes to do: it created great TV out of dumbly jeopardizing the life of the main character, even as we all knew that main character wouldn't die. Meredith is with us for good (sorry, haters), but tonight, the writers finally built good drama out of her near-expiration. It was about time.

What did you think, everyone? Did this much-improved third part of the trilogy redeem the show for you? Are you at all surprised that Meredith will live to ride again? Were you as quietly touched as I was at the well-shot last scene, where Izzie pauses momentarily alongside the feeling ghost of Denny Duquette? Even the indie rock at that moment did its job, I thought.

And what do you make of the news that Addison is getting her own show? When that Addison show was announced two days ago, I was skeptical: the last two Grey's were so bad that I thought to myself that maybe Shonda Rhimes should stop thinking spin-off and go back to focus on the leaky mothership. But maybe the mothership is fine. We'll know for sure in the next few weeks. See you next Thursday. In the meantime, come back on Sunday, when yours truly will be live-blogging the Greatest Show on Earth — i.e., the Oscars — on PopWatch. There, and only there, I promise not to talk about how great the great Ellen Pompeo is.

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Originally posted Feb 23, 2007
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