Tony Phelan and Joan Rater on "Before and After"...
Originally aired: 2-12-09
Hi there Blog readers. This is Joan and I hope you liked tonight’s episode. Tony and I really liked writing this one – we loved the scary worms in the brain surgery that our amazing medical researchers Moira and Elizabeth came up with; we liked the idea of Owen’s ex-fiance showing up, imagining who she was, picturing the moment she first saw him again. And we always like singing, cause we’re really big musical theatre nerds so the idea of Derek writing a song for Addison way back when cracked us up and then the fact that Taye Diggs and Audra McDonald, both Broadway singers, would actually perform said song … well … come on!! But I’m rambling, which I do when I’m excited and I have a lot to say, so let me calm down and try to be organized here. Actually, screw it, I’m just going to ramble because it’s late where I am (11:07 – I just watched American Idol and think it’s gonna be a great season although I DO NOT understand how they cut Danny’s friend Jamal, but, oh now I’m rambling and it isn’t even on topic … )
Here’s how the episode came to be. Life was simple. Tony and I were scheduled to write it. We were excited. We had some ideas. Some fine ideas. Like I said, life was simple. And then Shonda came in the writers’ room one day all excited and talking a mile a minute about an awesome idea she just had. And when Shonda is all excited with ideas pouring out of her it’s infectious and you find yourself getting all excited and agreeing with her that yes, it would be really cool to have Addison’s brother, Archer get some really bad brain condition that Derek has to fix so he has to come to Seattle Grace. And of course Addison would come and her friend Naomi would have to come and then Sam, Naomi’s ex-husband and one of Derek’s old friends would show up and be like, “I don’t know why I’m here, but I’m here” and how cool would it be to have Derek’s whole past come into the hospital right at the point where he’s ready to move into the future with Meredith and oh, how about a scene where they meet Meredith and it’s all awkward and it’s gonna be awesome and before you know it Shonda has left the room to tell casting and production about the super cool cross over episode we’re doing with Private Practice and we were left in the writer’s room going, WAIT, we’re writing a cross over episode???
I’ll admit, I panicked a little. Because we had this cool opportunity that you don’t get too often for two shows to kind of meet, and have an impact on one another and I wanted to do it justice. And I thought that the thing we really can do with this cross over is show another side of Derek, I just wasn’t sure what that side was. So we started to talk about it. We always imagined that Derek and Addison met in med school in gross anatomy class and basically fell in love over a cadaver. I know, romantic, right? But for them I’m sure it was. And we decided that Derek and Addison were probably the first of any of their friends to get married and it was probably an amazing wedding and then someone in the room told a story about this wedding they went to once where the guy sang a song he had written for his wife about how they met and fell in love. Now, ten years later, whenever anyone who was at that wedding sees this couple, they demand that the song be sung. Hearing this story I suddenly knew that Derek had to be that guy. Because I love that guy. And because it tells you so much about this group of friends, who all remember the song. They all thought Derek and Addison would be together forever and now here they are, ten years later, divorced. And Naomi is divorced. And Archer is maybe going to die. And so they need the song, they want the song, they want to go back ten years, when it was all so hopeful and happy and no one was dying.
Now here’s the thing – they don’t really want to go back. Derek and Addison don’t want to go back to being together, that’s not the point. The point is …. It’s like when you look at a picture of yourself from ten years ago and you can’t believe how much you’ve changed. And you don’t really want to go back there, because you like your life and everything and you certainly don’t want the bad haircut back or the ugly bridesmaid’s dress, but you look at yourself and your old friends in the picture and you realize you haven’t spoken to that friend in years, that person you used to speak to every day, EVERY DAY, and you suddenly, desperately miss that person and have no idea how you got to the point where you don’t even know where they live. THAT is the feeling we wanted this episode to have. So we needed a song that would help give us that feeling.
A word about the song – Krista Vernoff wrote it. In like 20 minutes. I had written a bunch of lyrics about Derek and Addison meeting over the cadaver but it didn’t have music and it didn’t evoke that FEELING of bittersweet nostalgia that I knew it should, so I called Krista and asked her to give it a try because she’s actually a songwriter and she called about 20 minutes later and sang me the song over the phone and I cried. And then the day we shot the scene I cried watching it because the actors were so great and it had been such an amazing week, having Kate Walsh back. And while at first it was weird seeing Addison with Naomi and Sam because it was like, Wait a minute here. You’ve moved on and made new friends? What about us? What about the fun we used to have? But then when I saw the chemistry that the Private Practice people have together I was able to get over myself a little and be like, okay, fine, you can have your new big hit show and your new fabulous friends, I’ll be happy for you, I guess.
Anyway, we don’t often talk about how we come up with the stuff for our episodes … so here’s a couple more things. You know the scene where Addison tells Derek she’s had to make him small and put him in a tiny box just to get through the day? The idea for that scene came from Shonda and it came before we even knew what the episode was about. All we knew was that Derek was going to operate on Archer. We also knew we wanted a moment before Derek went into the OR where he was having a moment of doubt. So the tiny box scene came out of that discussion.
What else? Izzie and the Intern Bowl. At the beginning of each season we do tons and tons of research. We research medical stories, but we also spend a lot of time talking to doctors and residents about their training. How they learn to cut and sew and suture and diagnose and all the other non surgical stuff they have to do. Anyway, in our research we heard about a residency program that had what they called a Surgical Olympics, with events and prizes and we knew it would be a perfect story for us. And it felt like this was the right place to put it, that it would be Izzie’s idea because she’s been so involved with the interns and she’s at a place where she needs to believe in them. Because in the last episode she had them run all sorts of tests on her and they came out normal and Izzie really wants to believe she’s fine (even though deep down she knows she’s not, did you see her hands shaking?) so the Intern Bowl is Izzie’s way of proving to herself that the interns don’t suck, that she’s fine, that Denny was wrong. And instead of proving that, the Intern Bowl showed that Sadie is a fraud. She cheated and bribed her way through school and basically showed up at Seattle Grace thinking her old friend Meredith would help her get through residency. But she didn’t take into account the fact that Meredith has changed. She’s happy and in love and good at being a surgeon. She’s not the same girl who drank and slept her way through Europe. It’s a bittersweet moment when Sadie and Meredith stand together at the end, both aware how much they’ve changed.
Which brings me to Owen and Cristina. Owen clearly has a lot of damage. He’s seen a lot and been changed by all the trauma he’s lived through. He is not the same man he was before. And Beth (his ex fiancée) wants to believe he can be that man. She wants to believe that if he comes home they can go back to the way they were. As for Cristina, even though she believes that Owen is dark and damaged, she’s not looking away. And the fact that she sees him, really sees him, is like a lifeline to him.
We have spoken to several war veterans about what it’s like to come back. It’s really important to us that we get this right, that we don’t shy away from the difficulty people have who come back from war. And part of that difficulty is that people who knew them still think of them as the person they were before they left even though fundamentally they may have changed. And this episode is where Owen’s past comes back to smack him in the face and really make him see how much he’s changed.
Oh, one more thing – Meredith and Derek. One thing I sort of love about this episode is that although Addison is back in the hospital, Meredith is fine. She and Derek are solid and it’s not that weird for her to see Addison. It’s weird for all of Addison’s friends, but I think it shows what a good solid place the Mer/Der relationship is in that she’s not freaking out about Addison, she’s having more of a reaction to seeing Derek with his past. He had a whole life before her. I liked exploring the idea that you never really know a person. On the one hand, that can be scary and make you feel left out, but on the other, it makes life interesting … there’s always more to someone than meets the eye. And on that note … I think I’ll stop my rambling and go to bed. After writing this, I’m kind of in the mood to look at old pictures but that usually ends up in me calling old friends. Old friends who may not appreciate the call because they’re probably sleeping. On the other hand, they are old friends so they’re more likely to forgive me.