Allan Heinberg on "What I Am"
Original Airdate: 10-12-06
So, here’s the thing: you people terrify me.
You’re passionate, you’re insightful, you’re bravely outspoken. You know Grey’s Anatomy and its characters better than anyone, except maybe Shonda Rhimes. And I don’t know if you realize this, but the way you write about the show, debate it, love and/or hate it carries an enormous amount of weight in the Writers Room.
All of which makes the experience of blogging here for the first time absolutely terrifying.
Not that I’m complaining. Blogging is part of my new job description, because I now happen to have the best job in the whole history of jobs. I’m one of the new writers on Grey’s Anatomy. Grey’s-freaking-Anatomy, people. My favorite show on television. I’ve been a hardcore fan from the first moment of the first episode. I’ve read all the blogs. Listened to the podcasts. Devoured the DVD’s, the bonus features, the commentary tracks. And between you and me? I’ve actually spent some serious time geekily compiling episode-by-episode Grey’s soundtrack playlists on iTunes. Seriously. I’m that guy.
So as nervous as I am about this blog, you can probably imagine the internal anxiety attack I was having the first day I showed up for work. Would the writers accept me? Would I be able to write in the voice of the show? Would Patrick Dempsey be every bit as intensely soulful in person as he is on TV?
My friends advised me to just be myself. Which is great advice in theory, but not so easy to put into practice. Because as it turns out, my sense of self is pretty fragile and entirely too dependent on who I’m hanging out with, and how work is going, and whether or not I indulged in dessert after dinner last night. (Which I did and now regret.) So, as much as I would love to report that I know exactly who I am and what I want at this moment in my life, the truth is, my therapist and I are still trying to figure that out.
So, the theme of this week’s episode is identity. And the question at its heart is: “Who am I?” We ask that question all day every day in the Writers’ Room -- about the characters, about ourselves -- and when a patient lights up a cigarette in his hospital bed, igniting his oxygen supply and burning his face off, the doctors and interns of Seattle Grace Hospital are forced to ask themselves the same thing. If you take away the all-consuming surgeries, the hospital politics, and romantic indiscretions, who are the men and women of Seattle Grace? Who is Preston Burke if he can’t operate? Is Derek Shepherd essentially selfish or authentically McDreamy? And is Meredith Grey sensitive and soulful or just the slutty intern who can’t make up her mind?
The episode begins with several of the show’s characters feeling very much not like themselves. Meredith is so conflicted, so paralyzed at having to choose between Derek and Finn, she’s literally sick to her stomach. Burke’s lingering hand tremor has undermined his confidence to the point where he’s now only performing surgery on dead chickens. And Addison, reeling from the end of her marriage and the sudden reappearance of Mark Sloan, is wondering what the hell she’s still doing in Seattle.
But because of the life-and-death nature of their jobs, the surgeons of SGH don’t have time to sit around contemplating the ephemeral nature of identity. They have patients to attend to and lives to save. They have to take action. Addison snaps out of her funk and performs an emergency C-section, the experience of which gives her enough clarity to set some much-needed boundaries with Mark Sloan. And Burke’s single-minded determination to get back in the O.R. ends up taking his relationship with Cristina to an entirely unexpected, intensely intimate, and morally complicated place.
Meredith’s medical emergency, of course, forces her to spend most of the episode high on morphine, revealing her to be much more adorably goofy and touchingly vulnerable than she has been previously. So much so that when Meredith confesses how badly Derek hurt her by choosing Addison, Addison can’t help but empathize.
Derek, too, is ultimately defined by his actions. In the end, he clearly loves Meredith so deeply, he’d rather walk away than risk hurting her again. And Meredith, in turn, loves Derek so much, she does the difficult thing, the brave thing, the honorable thing, and breaks up with Finn, in spite of the fact that she knows Derek won’t be there for her afterward.
But the question of identity is perhaps most pressing for Izzie at this moment. After all, she’s no longer in the surgical program. She’s not Denny’s fiancée. She’s not even his widow. Lost in her own grief, Izzie has no idea who she is -- until the moment Denny’s father calls into question her love for Denny. In that moment, Izzie -- like Addison, like Derek and Meredith, like Burke and Cristina -- Izzie takes action. Her eyes flash dangerously and she protects -- not herself -- but Denny. In that moment, all the complicated, extenuating circumstances of her life cease to matter, and she becomes entirely, heroically Izzie Stevens.
The same is true for Alex, who may not want to be on Addison’s gynie brigade, but clearly has an affinity for it. And for George, who, when all is said and done, chooses to be there for Izzie, rather than indulge in a romantic night with Callie.
As usual, though, it’s Bailey who seems to have the surest handle on the subject, instructing Sloan that in the end, “it’s not about what you look like -- or your job -- or how successful you are. It’s about having people in your life that you love -- who love you.”
So, Shonda’s telling me enough already. Time to post the blog. My instinct is, of course, to keep working on it, to try to make it better, to try to make it the best blog it can possibly be. But I’ve learned enough from Grey’s Anatomy at this point to know that our lives are defined, not by what we say, but what we do.
So, what I’m gonna do… is post this blog.
Thanks for reading. And for watching.