Richard Cartwright/ABC
Samantha Highfill
October 17, 2014 AT 01:00 AM EDT

In honor of Throwback Thursday, this hour of Grey’s Anatomy wasn’t just throwing us back to the days of Ellis Grey and Richard Webber. It was also throwing us back to the type of episode we expected from this show in the early seasons, the type of episode that gave you chills and reminded you why this show is so good at drama. And at the center of that, as always, was dark-and-twisty Meredith. Only this time, we were learning exactly why she’s so dark and twisty from a new perspective: from Ellis’ perspective, and Richard’s, and even young Meredith’s.

We start with Meredith watching a tape of a speech her mother gave about being the only woman in her surgical program and getting published in the Journal of American Medicine. She talked about the audacity it took for her, a woman, to name her method after herself—The Grey Method—and how the boys roared about it. And as Mer watches, we see something that’s a rarity for Meredith when it comes to her mother—she’s proud.

As Mer puts it, this is how her mother wanted to be remembered. But because memory is faulty and unique to every individual, everyone’s memory of Ellis Grey is different. For Meredith, she remembers the mother who tried to kill herself in their kitchen. She remembers the mother who called her nothing more than “ordinary.” She remembers the mother with Alzheimer’s. But in this moment, she realizes that maybe some of her memories got jumbled up over time. “No memory is perfect or complete,” she says. “We are in one place, then another, and it all feels like one, long, inescapable moment.” It’s now that we get confirmation that the flashbacks that kicked off the season were two separate entities. There was the time that Richard left Ellis and she tried to kill herself. And then separately, there was the time she went to the hospital to give birth to Maggie. It took this long for Meredith to be able to tell them apart because, like Ellis always said, “The carousel never stops turning.”

Speaking of, Meredith is once again arguing with Derek about how he’s waiting for her to pay for his sacrifice, waiting for her to fail. She says she’s done measuring her accomplishments against his and he needs to stay out of her way. His response? “You sound like your mother.” In other words, McDreamy just said the meanest thing possible to his beloved. But in a way, it’s a beautiful parallel that the show is building. Although Meredith is nothing like her mother in many ways, she’s starting to understand the struggle between a fulfilled personal life and a fulfilled professional life. Ellis might’ve been extreme, but her situation is relatable.

In fact, Meredith decides she needs to know more in able to relate. She asks Richard for Ellis’ journal from the spring of 1983. She needs to know what happened when everything fell apart between them. And through flashbacks, we learn exactly that.

After a young Richard and a young Ellis decide that they need to be together to be happy, they make a pact. They will both leave their spouses and finally start their life together. Only, on the day they are supposed to tell their spouses their decision, Ellis learns that The Grey Method has earned her her first Harper Avery nomination, which also marks the first time a resident has been nominated. It was the greatest moment in Ellis’ professional life, and it was also the moment that ended her relationship with Richard.

NEXT: Sister, sister

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