Shonda Rhimes on Burning Down The House...
Original airdate: 5/17/07
So the third season began with Meredith helping Izzie remove her prom dress and ended with Meredith helping Cristina get out of her wedding gown. I don’t know if you’ve noticed but…I like a little symmetry.
This season was important to me. It wasn’t as light as Season Two and for good reason – our characters were in a darker place. I needed to put Meredith’s mother to rest, Izzie’s grief to rest, and the race for Chief to rest. George needed to grow up on a monumental level and then come full circle to where he was when we first met him in the pilot. Meredith had to finally try to face the fact that she’s damaged when it comes to relationships. I wanted to put Bailey on the path of questioning her standing as The Chosen One. Both Burke and Derek needed to hit a relationship wall, each in their own ways. And then there’s Cristina…
Oh, the Cristina of it all. What this season is about most of all – for all of our women – is the idea of “having it all” is a myth. And that was true for Cristina more than anyone. Slowly, over the course of the season, we’ve watched as hard-nosed Yang sliced off little pieces of herself to accommodate Burke. From helping Burke hide his tremor to Colin Marlowe telling her she’s not the woman he knew to prepping for the wedding, she slowly morphs from kickass surgeon-girl into a woman we don’t quite recognize in that wedding dress with penciled eyebrows. I wanted you to have the feeling in the finale that she’s become this painted doll – beautiful, everyone’s fantasy bride, but a painted doll all the same. No longer our Cristina. There’s that wonderful moment where she begs Bailey to let her cut because a part of her knows she’s becoming someone she doesn’t recognize. And then, just as she’s lost almost all of herself standing there in that gown ready to walk down the aisle, Burke is telling her that he can’t marry her. Because even Burke realizes that this Cristina is not his Cristina. It’s devastating. I hope you noticed that in the beginning of the episode Cristina talks about a heart as a purely anatomical thing (“it pumps blood”) and then Burke’s vows are all about the heart as an emotional thing (“I promise to lay my heart in the palm of your hands”) and it’s so sad to realize that they have completely opposing views of the world. I feel for Burke and you should too because he knows that, in a way, by leading, pushing, cajoling her down this path to being together, he’s done this to her – he’s changed her. That the only way to save her from disappearing completely is to set her free. And then in that wonderfully painful moment (how much do we love Sandra Oh and her incredible talent?) in the apartment, Cristina turns to Meredith and says “He’s gone. I’m free. Damn it.” And it’s so nuanced and so layered and so tragic because she’s relieved and terrified and heartbroken and suffocated all at once. Watching her journey back from this is going to be amazing next season.
George and Izzie and Callie: you all have your opinions, very strong opinions, on how you feel about this love triangle. I’m glad – strong opinions mean you care what happens. In the finale, Izzie’s declaring herself and Callie’s fighting for her rightful territory. That moment when Callie casually lets Izzie know that she’s not only been named Izzie’s boss but that she and George are trying to have a baby is very interesting. Callie’s saying “don’t mess with me” in the only way she knows how. About the baby thing – for the record, I am very strongly against anyone trying to have a baby to save a relationship. It’s crazy because it never works and I highly recommend you don’t do it. Plus it goes against every feminist bone in my body. But it is also human to delude yourself into believing that you’re not having a baby to save your relationship, that instead having a baby is a way of taking your relationship to the next level. And Callie gives that great speech about her hormones and her body. I’ve been there and I know that it is real, this sudden baby rush that happens and, if you are firmly into your career, it freaks you out. Callie’s just being as honest as she knows how to be with George. Because she can’t bring up Izzie again – not when the last time she brought it up, George called Izzie a supermodel thereby suggesting that Callie was, well…not.
George is interesting is this episode. Did you notice that after he looks at his test scores, his entire demeanor changes? How he’s vulnerable in a way that we haven’t seen in a long time? My favorite moments for him are in that scene with Bailey where he says he can’t repeat his intern year over again. He just can’t. And then when that girl in the locker room (Lexie Grey! Lexie Grey!) asks if he has any advice, he says simply “No.” I love that. Because he doesn’t have any answers. He thought he did and then he fails his intern exam and Izzie has to go and tell him she’s in love with him. He has no idea what the future holds. His whole future is one big question.
Alex and Ava. My heart beats for them. How amazing was Ava in those scenes? And Alex…I’ve said before that Alex is Meredith’s mirror and I’m saying it again. He’s too screwed up to give Ava a reason to stay because he doesn’t think he’s good enough. And it’s no coincidence that this scene comes right before the MerDer scene where Derek is asking her, all pained and raw, to put him out of his misery and Meredith is WAY too screwed up to give him an answer. They’re damaged people, Alex and Meredith.
What I love is that for Meredith, Cristina getting married has become this incredibly important thing – this sign – that maybe she and Derek can make it through. That she can be healthy enough to let herself have this, have him. She keeps saying to Cristina “you can do this” and she needs it to be true. She needs it desperately. Meredith, the girl with no family model for how a relationship works, looks to her best friend. So when Burke shuts the whole thing down, Meredith is almost as devastated as Cristina. She does that long walk down the aisle, gets up in front of the wedding guests and tells them it’s over. And she doesn’t just mean the wedding. She means everything she hoped could be true. She means the fairy tale. She means the MerDer of it all. It’s over. It’s so over. Because she no longer believes.
Bailey’s got a lot to contend with next year. She thought she was going to be Chief Resident – she really believed it. After all, the Chief spent the season practically anointing her with Chief Resident oil. But he also spent the season warning her. Because from his own life, he knows what it is to get so caught up in a job that you neglect your family. And he wouldn’t wish that on anyone. That is a lesson Bailey’s not ready to learn – the fact that there may be a choice between family and career isn’t something this generation of women has been raised to believe. It’s not something I’m ready to believe. But, like I said, what the women start to see this season is that maybe they may not necessarily be able to have it all. Because maybe having it all has a price. Is it fair that Bailey has to pay this price? Absolutely not. But isn’t it ironic that Bailey’s got the strong family and (in her mind) a shaky career while Callie’s got the solid career and the shaky family life?
The Chief. Aah, my Chief. I love his full circle journey this season. His wife starts out leaving him and now she’s come back. And Derek hands him back the Chief job. Which opens all sorts of possibilities. Because if he’s going to do it all over again, how will he do it differently? Is it possible for him to have it all? Will he get Adele back if he chooses to stay Chief? I love the wonderful moments with his wife, when they’ve lost the baby and he’s there for her. For me, in the face of the supposed fairy tale playing out with Burke and Cristina, this is what real love is. After years of mistakes and pain and problems, real love is two people standing together, choosing to be together, despite all that has gone wrong. It is very grown-up, the Chief and Adele of it all.
Derek. Poor Derek. He’s done his best to pull Meredith forward. He’s done his best to be in this relationship and help her be in it too. He has tried to be the best man. But it wasn’t enough. He can’t save her. And so in that last moment, when he’s sitting with the Chief, and he tells the Chief that he can’t take the job, it is about so much more than just the job. It is about his belief in himself. I adore the moment in the locker room when he tells Mer that she’s the love of his life. Mainly because Patrick says things like that better than anyone I’ve ever seen. But also because he’s desperately trying to get through to her. And when he says that he can’t leave her, he won’t leave her, because he can’t – it’s sad. And she looks at him and just sort of…freaks out and and he pleads with that one word “Meredith”…it’s all so…the way he puts his head back as they leave the locker room…He can’t be more of a best man. Where he’s going next season is going to be interesting to watch.
Last but not least are Addison and Mark. We don’t see a lot of them in this episode. And for good reason. Their stories were done, finished, earlier. For Addison, there’s a brand new future ahead over at Private Practice (Wednesday nights at 9 pm!). For Mark, he starts fresh over at Grey’s next year. Without Addison. He’ll get to stand on his own and I think you’ll enjoy seeing it.
So that’s it. That was our season. I did my level best to burn it all down this season, to burn it to the ground so that we can have a place to build from next season. Burning it down was hard. But next season…oh, next season is all about the fun and the pain and the new beginnings. Because our interns are going to become residents. Because everyone is single again -- well, there is the little matter of Izzie and George and Callie…but still…
…the future is wide open, people.
Special thanks to Tony Phelan and Joan Rater for writing an excellent finale. And to Shoots With No Script for...well, shooting with a very long script.
Have a good summer.