On Derek and Meredith and their personal and professional trials
Derek is now Chief! Actually he’s just the interim Chief but the way he went about getting there is what I’d like to start with. Richard is drinking again. Richard is a recovering alcoholic who’s been sober a long time and the fact that he’s drinking again … Derek feels torn, between supporting his old friend and wanting to protect the hospital from a man who’s fallen off the wagon. At the beginning of the episode we see that Derek has realized that in order to be a friend to Richard, he has to go to the Board. Because along with the drinking comes the lies and the poor judgment. This is about more that just a friend who is struggling with sobriety, it’s about the hospital, people’s lives … Meredith sees it differently. She says the Chief was drinking but promised Meredith he would stop. And she trusts him, he wouldn’t lie to her. And, more importantly, she didn’t confide to Derek the surgeon about Richard’s drinking, she confided to Derek her husband. There have to be lines drawn, boundaries … and when Meredith screams, “Post it!” Derek backs down. The post it wins, so Derek her husband urges her to at least think about what’s best for the hospital.
What I love about this scene, besides the fact that the actors played it brilliantly, is that it shows how they’ve matured. This is a real grown-up argument. Meredith isn’t running away, getting all dark and going to Cristina for help getting out of her marriage. She’s staying and fighting. Professional/personal boundaries are tricky to negotiate for couples who work together (I should know since my writing partner is also my husband, hi Tony) and Shonda really wanted to see our couples be couples this year. Grow, mature, try to be happy. We really want to show that struggle, that in the midst of the ugly argument, you can still love the person and find them sexy, which is why I loved it that Derek got all turned on by Meredith in the course of the argument.
On the situation with the chief
Now … the scene where Derek pours Richard a drink. We talked about that scene a lot. Derek doesn’t trust Richard and now Richard is going into a very difficult surgery and he’s bringing Meredith with him. And promising her a procedure that Bailey says she’s not ready to do. Derek can’t let that happen. So he goes and confronts Richard. Tempts him. He pours the drink and dares Richard not to drink it. It’s a little bit cruel, but Derek feels that it’s justified, in the scene where he asks Owen what he should do. Owen gives him the go ahead, if someone’s fighting dirty, it’s okay to fight back dirty as long as you’re doing it for the greater good. And when Derek leaves Richard’s office it’s like both he and Richard know Richard is powerless over the alcohol. Derek is saying he sees Richard. Richard may be able to fool Meredith, but Derek sees him. And Derek now knows what he has to do. He has to convince Meredith to go to the Board. And so he tells her that if he becomes Chief he’ll hire back Izzie. He makes her choose between Izzie and the Chief.
About the episode theme of ambition
The theme of this episode was exposure but when I watched it being shot I realized it was really about ambition. Derek wants to be Chief; Meredith wants to do a procedure that she knows she isn’t ready for; Cristina wants Teddy to stay. Years ago I was trying to be an actor and I remember one day in acting class we were talking about a character’s motivation and my acting teacher said there are really only two things that motivate people: sex and ambition. Every choice can be boiled down to one or the other. I remember being really struck by that and I’ve thought about it over the years, and in a way I believe it. I mean, of course we do things for other reasons — we do things for our kids because we love them, and if you’re like me you do things out of guilt. And for donuts. But when Derek and Meredith lay in bed at the end of the episode and she says she understands why Derek did what he did, she doesn’t like it but she gets it. She’s ambitious too. It’s bittersweet and true. I like that. It was a crappy day. She didn’t like what Derek did. But she’s here, in bed, telling him. She’s a grown up.
About Cristina and Owen and Izzie and Alex
What else … oh yeah, Cristina. Cristina blurts out that she’d choose surgery over Owen. Which, let’s face it, is very Cristina. When we were first discussing this story we had a knock down drag out fight in the writers’ room – if you had to choose your love or your art, which would you choose? And some of us came down on the Cristina side, and some of us came down on the Izzie side – that in the end love is all that matters. Cristina felt in that moment, faced with Teddy leaving, that she couldn’t have both, she had to choose. And she chose surgery. Because it’s who she is. And without surgery, without becoming the absolute best surgeon she can be, Cristina feels that she would cease to be herself. It’s only in that moment in the surgery on the opera singer when Teddy chooses to risk his life in order to save his art that Cristina realizes that for all of her shock and judgment, Teddy gets her. And Cristina is unwilling to keep apologizing for who she is.
And speaking of struggle … Alex and Izzie. He tells her he’s done. Izzie getting the clean scan back gives Alex the freedom to leave. Because he never would have left her when she was sick, he’s a good guy. And I’m not saying that Alex ever consciously thought, I can’t leave her while she’ s sick, but now that she’s not, now that she seems like she’s going to get better, it just comes to him. He deserves more. He’s a good guy and he deserves more. We talked about the fact that Alex grew up in a pretty dysfunctional family and he was probably in a lot of bad relationships where he wasn’t a good guy, so he had come to believe it. But loving Izzie showed him that he can be good, is good. So it was a little gift. And when he tells Izzie he’s done, he’s not bitter or angry, he’s just done. Justin Chambers plays Alex and there’s not a sweeter guy on the planet so it’s always been funny to me how well he plays an asshole. But I like that we get to see more depth in Alex.
Read more about the writer’s take on this episode on the Grey’s Anatomy writer’s blog, including the situation wiith Mark and Lexi, Callie and Arizona and more.