Grey’s Anatomy’s character-focused last season
Ten years ago, a massive TV phenomenon began. This program marked the beginning of ShondaLand and the rise of medical TV shows in primetime American television broadcasting. A year prior, FOX began airing a medical procedural drama which became a massive success: Grey’s Anatomy. Before that, ABC produced *Scrubs, a more comedic take on medical television, but broadcast it through NBC. Shonda Rhimes decided to make the show by mixing elements from other programs. She was able to develop a program that has accurate medicine in it, some procedural aspects to certain episodes, and an overarching story that centers on Meredith Grey and her colleagues. Through the years, the program has evolved, bringing in new characters and focusing more on the ensemble. After 11 seasons, the show has returned to its origins: it is more about Meredith than any other season in the show’s history.
With a marked absence from Derek (her husband) and Cristina (her person), the show has been able to take Meredith Grey out of her comfort zone and push her into situations where she has been forced to develop more completely as a character. This is part of what makes Grey’s Anatomy such an excellent show. Through the years, we have seen their relationship go through many obstacles and states of being. The actors, Ellen Pompeo and Patrick Dempsey, have shown palpable chemistry from the onset of the series, and their relationship has blossomed from Derek’s runaway affair to a loving marriage bound by a Post-It. This marriage has been struggling for the past two seasons with Meredith trying to have time for advancing her career and Derek feeling stuck in his. From the beginning of Season 11, Derek was itching to leave for Washington, D.C. (which he ends up doing), which basically made Meredith choose between doing what she loved in the place she has called home for most of her life, or follow Derek to Washington, D.C. and risk everything she has worked hard to achieve. Ultimately, she stays in Seattle and continues her marriage to Derek, bringing the hardships of long-distance relationships to the show.
Meanwhile, Meredith is also struggling because she has lost the most important relationship she has had since the inception of the program. Since Dr. Cristina Yang moved from Seattle, Meredith lost her “person.” This loss is suffered much more than the current state of her other relationships because she and Cristina had been through the same experiences at the same pace and struggled with very similar problems. Through those struggles they had created a bond that was essential for both of them; with that bond, they knew they could count on each other at all times. Feeling left outside of her comfort zone, without anyone to fall back on, she focuses on her work and her relationships with the rest of her colleagues.
This season has also shown Meredith finding herself by delving into her past and the writings of her deceased mother. She does this not for herself, but for her newfound half-sister. The writers of this show have a knack for introducing stories that fit perfectly with the backstories of other characters and indulging the need for characters that shift focus, change relationships, and bring with them an entire trunk full of baggage.
This season has highlighted how alone Meredith feels and how much more driven she has become through it all. In the last episode she broke her streak; she had gone more than one month without a patient of hers dying. As some of you probably know, as an attending general surgeon of a high-profile hospital, there is a high probability that at least one of your patients will die during a shift. This is especially true if the hospital is prone to natural disasters and dramatic events, as is the Sloan-Grey Memorial Hospital where Meredith works.
Grey’s Anatomy works because the writers know the characters; they understand where they have come from and where they are going; they believe in certain relationships, and they flow seamlessly between background characters, guests, recurring characters, and the main cast.
Although the primary focus of this season has been on Meredith, a few subplots do recur throughout the season, and a sense of finality looms over all of the characters. Shonda Rhimes likes to tie up loose ends and give characters a well-deserved ending, so a lot of characters are getting their share of the spotlight. This has been most notable with Callie and Arizona’s relationship and Arizona’s efforts to become a fetal surgeon. This character has suffered through an amputated leg, a miscarriage, and a very recent separation from Callie; seeing her succeed and go through some extreme training was a welcomed change in pace and character progression. Finally, Shonda Rhimes is closing the show that has given her a rise to fame, that spawned a spin-off while it was still being broadcast, and inspired two telenovelas in Latin America. Grey’s Anatomy will be missed — it has graced American television for the past 10 years, and its impact will not go unnoticed.