I haven't seen a full episode of Grey's Anatomy since the end of Season 3, back when Izzy and Dr. Burke were still on the show and George was still alive and Lexie and Arizona were still figments of Shonda Rhimes' imagination. The medical cases of the week involved drilling holes in people's heads in the car storage areas of crashed ferryboats while Uncle Hank looked on, removing stakes from couples heartbreakingly impaled on them, and blowing up Coach Taylor after the Super Bowl.
But lately I've been intrigued by the show's weekly promos—like, that lady doctor's husband died and no one even told her about it for two days! Call me Katherine Heigl, but all of a sudden I feel like I'm missing the party. Has Grey's been experiencing some sort of Renaissance without my knowing?
Curious, I tuned in last night for "If/Then,", the show's buzzy alternate reality episode that tackled the questions of "What if Ellis Grey had never had Alzheimer's," "What if Addison and Derek were still together," "What if a different new resident had banged a different attending in the pilot," and so on. It kind of felt like realized fanfic, but also it was kind of awesome? While I fully expected to be completely lost, it was the perfect episode for a prodigal viewer to come home to, mostly because it essentially just rewrote everything that set the show's major storylines in motion; it almost didn't matter that I hadn't seen any of that crazy bus accident or crazed shooter stuff that went down in Seasons 5 and 6.
The action took place in a Private Practice-free universe where McDreamy was McDreary because he'd miserably stayed with Addison; she was pregnant with his baby (or so we thought). Ellis Grey was as lucid as ever, and she and Richard (I guess I shouldn't call him the Chief) were happily married. Thatcher and Adele had seemingly never existed. (Update #1: Thanks to some of our intrepid commenters, I now understand that Ellis and Richard had divorced Thatcher and Adele, respectively, so Thatcher was still Meredith's father but she was raised as Richard's, with the last name of Webber.) Meredith had grown up happy, and was newly engaged to a disturbingly positive and bubbly Karev ("You were a jerk until you met me," Meredith gloated). Callie was straight, married to Owen, and had three kids. Yang was a "person"-less outcast, her cold, overachieving exterior having never been breached. And Bailey, for her part, was a mumbling doormat with braids. Braids!
The medical cases themselves played second fiddle as the episode set about showing us how things could have been different. Seattle Grace was ruled with an iron fist by a domineering, cocksure Ellis Webber (never mind that such a development would call the series' title into question, or that Ellen Pompeo definitely doesn't look biracial Update #2: See Update #1, and apparently I missed the fact that Ellis kept the name Grey?). Richard, Ellis's supportive, caring husband and the dependable father we know Meredith to have never had, took on the responsibility of comforting and reassuring everyone Ellis bulldozed in her never-ending quest for success. The rest of the characters' interpersonal relationships all shifted accordingly, with an optimistic Karev befriending Bailey and encouraging her to stand up for herself, Meredith and Yang constantly butting heads, and Derek and Addison fighting at every opportunity—even in the operating room.
But the real fun came at the end of the episode, as a series of events and reveals allowed the relationships and characters we know today (or at least that I knew at the end of Season 3) to begin taking shape. Karev was discovered to be cheating on Meredith, effectively ending their hours-old engagement. Addison was discovered to be cheating on Derek, and the baby was the other guy's. (Hi, McSteamy! I was wondering if you were gonna show up!) Callie and Arizona, after disagreeing over the treatment of a young boy, succeeded in saving him and started to warm up to one another—and we saw a hint of a spark. Meredith and Yang, after disagreeing first over a surgery they were sharing and then over how to save a drug addict, succeeded in saving both patients and started to warm up to one another—and we saw a hint of a soon-to-be friendship. Bailey, well, Bailey got fired essentially for cowering in front of Ellis, but it forced her to start growing a pair. And Meredith and Derek, both newly heartbroken, found themselves sitting together in the bar that started it all.
All told, "If/Then" wasn't the most brilliantly crafted episode of television I've ever seen, nor was it the best episode of Grey's I've ever seen. But it was fun installment of a series that I can only assume has been getting a little long in the tooth. And while I'm certain I'll still be pretty lost if I tune in again next week, I'm now a bit more likely to do so. The question I leave to you is, should I?
Notes & Questions:
- What did you think of the alternate reality? Did you see anything in "If/Then" that you wished were actually true?
- What's going on with Owen? He hadn't been introduced yet when I quit watching the show, but did the implication of his service in Iraq have a connection to his "current" situation? And should I have recognized the junkie with the photographic memory? Is she on the show now? Which Seattle Grace doctor is/was her half-sister?
– In the alternate reality, to "izzy" something meant "to go crazy." Har.
– If you've been watching Grey's Anatomy since the beginning, where would you say it is now: high point or low point?
– Did the makeup team plump up Meredith's face for this episode? She didn't look as gaunt as I remember her.
– Whose alternative look/hairstyle was your favorite?