The deadly season-finale shooting spree that made Grey's Anatomy watercooler fodder again last spring could've been the last gasp of a sometimes great, often troubled and inevitably aging drama. Instead it proved to be yet another deft survival tactic employed by creator Shonda Rhimes and her once-angsty and oversexed, now maturing but still sexy, band of doctors. Season 7 hasn't relegated the finale's events to a dramatic stunt; rather, it's reveled in the possibilities of rebuilding life in the wake of tragedy. At times, the reveling has dipped close to wallowing, especially during the doctors' visits to trauma counselor Dr. Andrew Perkins, played by Men in Trees' James Tupper in a too-short three-episode arc, keeping up Grey's Anatomy's postfeminist tradition of underusing its man-candy actors.
But it's in the shooting's emotional reverberations that the show is regenerating after the past few hit-and-miss seasons (see: ghost sex, hospital mergers...and remember that doctor with Asperger's?). Derek, recovered from his near-fatal shooting, has become a speeding-ticket-addicted adrenaline junkie, allowing the long-suffering Patrick Dempsey some moments of manic joy on screen, and Ellen Pompeo as his wife, Meredith, a chance to be the grown-up for a change. Cristina (the always sublime Sandra Oh) and Owen (Kevin McKidd, who holds his own) inspired by the tragedy to get married have gotten right down to business facing the troubles of modern wedded life. And between Meredith's miscarriage and Cristina's PTSDinduced breakdown, it's enough to make us forget Katherine Heigl was ever on this show.
Meanwhile, last season's Mercy West transfers Jackson (Jesse Williams) and April (Sarah Drew) are finally falling into place in the ensemble as they grieve their fallen colleagues (last year's story sappers) and emerge with their own plotlines. April's long-held virginity, in particular, should be a hoot at this makeout-happy hospital.
The most ironic and by far the best effect the trauma has had on Seattle Grace is that it has lightened things up. Gallows humor has always fueled these docs, and the first few episodes back have, at times, been among the show's funniest. Cristina, on her wedding attire: ''I'm not wearing white. It's sexist, and vaguely racist.'' Teddy (Kim Raver), on what was supposed to be an unemotional affair with Andrew: ''I'm not G.I. Jane. I'm Attachment Barbie.''
The shootings haven't solved every Grey's problem, of course: Lexie (Chyler Leigh) and Mark's (Eric Dane) push-and-pull relationship is growing tiresome, and some of the medical cases have felt extra snoozy next to the revitalized interpersonal story lines. But if that's our biggest complaint about a seventh-season drama...well, there are worse diagnoses. B+