Allan Heinberg on "The Heart of the Matter" ...
Original Airdate: 10-18-07
Not long ago, one of my smartest and most soulful friends found herself in the middle of a brutal divorce at exactly the same time my own ten-year relationship imploded. We were both wrecked by the experience, but we got each other through it by convincing ourselves and each other that with enough time and therapy, we’d one day be able to let go of the all-consuming self-righteousness and rage we still felt toward our exes (who deserved it) and move on with our lives. But a year and a half later, it still wasn’t happening. We were angrier and bitterer and really tired of being single. That’s when my smart, soulful and now impatient friend told me she’d figured it out. “I have to forgive him,” she said. “I’m never going to be able to move on until I forgive him.” And I knew she was right. I had to find a way to forgive my ex, too. But how? I mean, even if I was finally able to let go of all my anger and be grateful for the ten years we had together, how was I supposed to get in touch with him after sixteen months of terrible silence and say, “I forgive you”? What the hell does he care if I’ve forgiven him. He’s probably already moved on with his life. He probably doesn’t even think he needs my stupid forgiveness.
So what did I do? I did what most television writers do when they need the answer to one of life’s unanswerable questions: I wrote a GREY’S ANATOMY episode about forgiveness and hoped to learn a little something along the way.
So, the subject of forgiveness:
George cheated on Callie. He did. He didn’t mean to exactly -- after all, George has proven himself to be a principled, loving person in the past -- but in a moment of angry, drunken weakness, he fell into bed with his best friend and apparently fell in love with her, too. And then -- as if that wasn’t bad enough -- George lied to Callie about it. For a long time. And when he did finally tell Callie about his infidelity, he didn’t say he was in love with Izzie. He told her he’d slept with her. Maybe because he didn’t want to hurt Callie any more than he already had. Or perhaps because he was hoping she’d be the one to end the marriage so he wouldn’t have to? But that’s not what happened. Instead George got the one response he’d never even considered. Callie forgave him. For Callie, that’s what you do when you love someone -- especially when you’ve made a lifelong commitment to someone -- you forgive him. No matter what. That’s what love’s about, right?
So Callie forgave George. And George suddenly found himself paralyzed -- unable to move in any direction -- until it became clear in that moment of near violence with her patient’s boyfriend that Callie, in fact, did not forgive George. In spite of her best efforts, she’d been hurt, betrayed, and publicly humiliated to the point where forgiveness was impossible. And she certainly had no forgiveness in her heart for Izzie -- even though Izzie seems to have finally realized that, although she and George may be the star-crossed heroes of their own love story, in Callie’s story, they're the bad guys.
Richard’s story also turns on the question of forgiveness. As much as he still loves Adele -- and wants to stay married to her -- he cannot allow his feelings for her to dictate the way he fulfills his responsibilities as a physician. Which has always been the conflict in their marriage. And which -- in the context of Camille’s life or death decision -- Adele ultimately deems unforgivable.
As for Camille, keen-eyed GREY’S ANATOMY viewers will notice that the role is now being played by the brilliant Camille Winbush. (If you’ve seen THE BERNIE MAC SHOW, you’ll recognize her instantly as Vanessa, Bernie’s sane, sharp-tongued niece.) When the incredible Tessa Thompson, who originated the role of Camille, wasn’t available, we were fortunate indeed that Camille was able to step into part at the last minute with such extraordinary grace, intelligence, and heart. I know cast changes are jarring, but Camille’s performance is so beautiful and so strong, I’m hoping you’ll forgive us.
In fact, forgiveness figures prominently in nearly all our characters’ stories. Cristina forgives Lexie for being an intern. Lexie forgives Cristina for being the new Nazi. Mrs. Bitzer forgives Meredith and Norman when their carelessness makes her Icelandic dreams come true. But for me the most remarkable act of forgiveness comes from Derek.
As a GREY’S writer, the question I’m most often asked (by parents, siblings, friends, and agents) is “Why aren’t Meredith and Derek together?” Especially since Addison is gone and there don’t seem to be any concrete obstacles standing in their way. “Why,” they ask, “can’t those two just stop whining and get together and be happy for a change?” And most of the time when people share their feelings on the subject, it’s poor Meredith who gets the blame. She has issues. She’s dark and twisty. She’s self-destructive and can’t allow herself even a single moment’s happiness. But I don’t think that’s entirely accurate or fair. After all, Derek lied at the beginning of their relationship by not revealing he was married. And then when Addison showed up at Seattle Grace, he left Meredith and went back to her. So, I can understand why Meredith has trust issues with Derek.
But in terms of why they’re not together now, the most compelling analysis comes from Mark Sloan (and it’s a remarkable testament to the power of forgiveness that Mark and Derek’s friendship has survived to this point) when he observes that Meredith is essentially still an intern. She’s just starting out -- as a physician and as an adult -- whereas Derek’s life and career are firmly established. He knows exactly who he is and what he wants -- and he’s ready to settle down. He’s ready to get married and build Meredith a house and have kids with her and grow old with her. And I’m sorry, but Meredith just isn’t there yet. Nor should she be. She’s a second year intern who’s only now coming to terms with who she is and what she wants to be.
Meredith and Derek love each other -- they do -- they may even be each other’s soul mates -- but right now they’re at vastly different points in their lives. It’s no one’s fault. It’s just a fact. And by the end of the episode when Derek gets on the elevator, I think he finally sees and accepts Meredith for who she truly is -- regardless of whether or not she’s able to give him what he wants in that moment. He simply loves her. In spite of everything that’s gone before and no matter what happens next.
Which seems to me to be what forgiveness is really about: acceptance. Letting go of the hurt feelings -- or more precisely the ego blows -- we experience when our lives -- and the people in our lives -- don’t behave the way we want them to. Which, let’s face it, is most of the time. But if we can somehow recognize and accept ourselves and others for who we are -- without judgment -- those “hurt feelings” fade away and are replaced by what feels a lot like forgiveness. At least that’s what happened with me and my ex.
Thanks for watching. And for reading.
-- Allan Heinberg