Krista Vernoff on "Good Mourning" and "Goodbye"...
Original Airdate: 9-24-09
Below I’ve pasted an email sent to me by our awesome writer’s PA Raamla. She sent it because I was storming around the office ranting about having to write a blog and not having any ideas of what to write and then one of the assistants, Safia, suggested I could do 25 random things about Grey’s Anatomy and the GA writers, which thrilled me – cause I can do that in my sleep! Like:
1. During the making of this episode, we tortured the assistants by running a “quiz show” in the writer’s room to see which one knows the show best.
2. That paramedic you saw in 601 is played by Ray Ford – whom you haven’t seen on our show since he was hanging upside down in an ambulance!
3. In the writer’s room at Grey’s Anatomy, we are obsessed with Friday Night Lights, Project Runway and ordering Pinkberry in the afternoon…
You get the idea. So that was my plan for this blog. Then, as I mentioned, I got this very thoughtful email from Raamla…
Monday, September 21, 2009 6:06:21 PM
While I really like Safia's idea about the 25 things, I think that there are so many beautiful moments in your episodes that the fans would want to get some insight into. As someone who used to read the writers' blog every Friday morning during seasons 2 & 3, I found it interesting to hear the writer's perspective on his or her episode. And also, I loved to hear that you guys cared as much for the characters as I did!
As far as ideas, I think it would be great to talk about:
1) Meredith's using sex to deal with her grief - like she did when she found out McDreamy was married.
2) Cristina avoiding her pain altogether - like when Meredith almost died and she was at the bar.
3) Callie's being the first person to break down, yet accepting that Izzie was the closest person to George.
4) The laughing funeral scene.
5) Christina and Owen finally dealing with the choking incident from last season.
6) Derek and The Chief and the Merger - that last look of betrayal that Derek feels by the Chief.
7) George's death - maybe going off what Owen said about him and how brave he was and how George pushing someone out of the way of a moving bus, was SO George. He was always acting on his impulses (confessing his love to Meredith, speaking up about the drunk doctor, getting married to Callie, joining the army, etc.).
Anyway, these are just some thoughts I had. Maybe this will inspire much better ideas as you think, "These are ridiculous!!" Either way, hope this helps! :)
Hmmmm. I kind of love Raamla for this, cause it’s all thoughtful and smart and sweet and not at all ridiculous and then I kinda think she sucks cause it’s SO thoughtful that now I can’t really justify my 25 things plan. Except, I can’t stop myself…
4. Our assistants have really good names…Raamla, Safia, Seve, Miguel, Jess, Nancy, Star and Austin. Sounds kinda like the cast of some really great soap opera, right?
5. I have 64 extra copies of my new book “The Game On! Diet” sitting in a corner of my office. That’s a lot of extra copies. They’re taking up a lot of room.
6. Shonda just ordered really great new furniture for our bungalow. And today, we all gave Tony Phelan crap for sitting on it while still sweaty from working out.
7. Most of us don’t read the newspaper anymore because Allan Heinberg reads everything for us and then just tells us everything we need to know.
8. Stacy McKee is making a baby! We call it Blueberry. Blueberry McKee. I’m hoping that’s what she actually names it.
Okay, I’ll stop now. Cause really, I could finish this list happily but again….Raamla’s email is pounding in my brain like the freakin’ tell tale heart! Except instead of a heart beat, it’s going, “Lazy-ass. Lazy-ass…”
So I think the reason I don’t want to spend any time writing about these episodes is not just that I’m lazy but that it makes me sad. Watching them made me sad, writing them made me sad and now writing about them will make me sad because, as Cristina finally acknowledges 40 days after the event, “George O’Malley died.”
It’s heartbreaking. I fell in love with George, like many of you did, Season One. The first episode of Grey’s Anatomy that I got to write was the one where George is kind to Annie, the lady with the 60 lb tumor. In an attempt to comfort her about her procrastination in seeing a doctor, George talks to her about his love for Meredith and how he has yet to confess it. And Annie says something like, “Seriously? You’re equating your love life with my record-breaking tumor?? Seriously??” I loved George because he was doing that; because his love for Meredith was as big as that tumor; because, like Izzie, George led with his heart. Like Raamla said, he was impulsive, big-hearted, and yeah, it’s that heart that had him jump in front of a moving bus to save a life. It’s a devastating end to a beloved character, but I would argue with anyone who said it wasn’t a fitting end. He was brave and noble, like Owen said. He was a sweet, beautiful boy, just becoming a man. Sucks. Sad. Crappy. So crappy. Ugh, I’ve had enough of sad, seriously.
9. We call Mark Wilding “The Hammer.” As in, “Hey, Hammer, what do you want for lunch?” I feel his credit should read Executive Producer: Mark The Hammer Wilding.
10. One of our writers, Bill Harper, once did a puppet show for the writer’s room with home made Balinese shadow puppets.
11. One of our other writers, Debora Cahn, works from New York.
12. Kevin McKidd plays a mean guitar.
I think I’ll just work my way up the rest of Raamla’s list, which brings us to…
Derek and The Chief and the Merger - that last look of betrayal that Derek feels by the Chief.
Yeah – this is a thing that won’t be going away any time soon. Derek was pretty freakin’ noble. So noble! Cause you KNOW how much he wants that job. It was the promise of the Chiefdom that brought him to Seattle from NYC to begin with. Okay, that and his love for ferry boats. Oh, and the Mark/Addison messiness but y’know, mostly, it was the promise of becoming Chief. And right here, the job was his for the taking. And out of loyalty and friendship, he went to the Chief and warned him. So what is up with the Chief that in response, he completely shut Derek out? Pride. He’s all proud and hurt and threatened. Really, really threatened. And people are flawed. Even the Chief, whom I adore, is deeply flawed. And the phrase, “No good deed goes unpunished,” was coined for a reason. I don’t subscribe to it. I do good deeds anyway. But I have had the experience of occasionally having them bite me in the ass. So I relate to Derek on this but I also have great compassion for the Chief, because he has sacrificed a lot for this job. He has done his very best. And this – even though it’s actually loyalty on Derek’s part, I get that somehow it feels like a betrayal. Certainly it’s humiliating. And feeling angry with someone is often easier than feeling indebted. Either way, like I said, don’t expect the emotional fall-out from this to go away any time soon.
Christina and Owen finally dealing with the choking incident from last season.
How brilliant are the actors in that scene???? Seriously – how freakin’ good are all three of them? If I could hand some kind of award to Kevin McKidd and Sandra Oh and Amy Madigan today, I would. Y’know what? I just might. When I was nominated for an Emmy and didn’t win, my best friends made me an Emmy out of tinfoil. I might do something like that – that’s how good they all are. And here’s what you don’t know… I handed them that scene 20 MINUTES BEFORE CAMERAS ROLLED. Swear to God. The scene was something totally different. It was actually a funny scene right up until the last minute. I had been desperate to find humor anywhere I could in these two hours and because Sandra is a pretty reliable source for comedy, I had leaned on the funny. And I got a call from the set after they rehearsed the scene. Sandra and Kevin had smart questions – and what became crystal clear to me instantly is that this storyline could not be resolved in a humorous way. It had earned weight. Indeed, it required weight. I knew what the scene had to be and I frantically wrote it and ran it over to the set and Kevin smiles and goes, “Great. I better go memorize this.” Sandra thanked me, Amy thanked me. Huge 11th hour rewrite and no one flinched. And then I saw the dailies… When I say I handed them a completely rewritten scene 20 minutes before cameras rolled I am not exaggerating. 20 minutes. So I was stunned by the dailies. The work is so beautiful, I would’ve been stunned by what they delivered regardless of when they got the scene -- but in this case, I was double extra stunned. Tin foil emmys all around, I say. Or, y’know, real Emmys. Just sayin’.
As for the storyline, I feel like this is just the beginning for Owen and Cristina. It’s a really interesting beginning because it’s sort of like, okay, we’re dealing with the PTSD, with all the damage. And the damage has, strangely, been a lot of the driving force in the coming together of these two very different people. So now…if the damage is being treated…if the damage is not the focus…what is? Who will they be together? I, for one, am really excited to find out.
The laughing funeral scene.
I have to admit that this is one of my very favorite scenes ever. That’s a dangerous thing to say because I wrote it and it may sound braggy so I need to point out that television is a collaborative art. I may have written the words on the page, but in the writer’s room, the writers all pitched on it and our assistant Austin took a lot of good notes to help me remember things (cause being the mother of a two and half year old, my brain is like swiss cheese,) and after the table read, Shonda gave me smart notes that enhanced the writing and then the wonderful director Ed Ornelas and the amazing DP Herb Davis and the whole crew that support them made it visually beautiful and then the actors… damn, did they all bring their A game to this scene. And then there are the editors and music folks and the people who color correct everything and mix the sound… It’s a collaboration. What it takes to make good TV is a huge coming together of a great many artists. What it takes to make great TV is all that plus a little magic and a little luck. And that’s what I feel like we had with this scene. It’s so funny and so bittersweet and so, so sad. Because despite the fact that they are laughing at a wholly inappropriate time (remember in Season 2 when Mer had her hand on a bomb and Izzie was laughing and she admitted that she laughs at funerals?) they all seem so grown up. They came together fresh-faced kids and now one of them has cancer and one of them is dead and damn, life is freakin’ like that, y’know? Growing up is crazy hard. Friends get sick and friends die and marriages begin and end. It’s so complicated and so beautiful and so painful and the best any of us can hope for, I think, is to have friends who will stick by us and laugh with us and cry with us and just be with us through it all.
As a side note – who noticed the creative staging designed to disguise the fact that Ellen was very, very pregnant when we shot this scene? She’s standing with her back to us in the beginning, and then when we face her, we only see her beautiful, glowing face. Veeeery clever, Ed.
Callie's being the first person to break down, yet accepting that Izzie was the closest person to George.
Sara was so beautiful in every frame of these episodes. She always drops my jaw – but when she’s wailing to Mark, “…and Arizona keeps bringing me doooooooonuts,” I just loved her even more. And as for Callie, here’s the big question: If faced with having to decide what to do with your brain-dead ex-husband’s organs, would you rise above and turn to his ex-mistress for help? …Yeah, there’s nothing like an unexpected death by bus to help bygones be bygones. I think she does the right thing there. And part of why I think she’s able to do the right thing is that she’s healthy enough to feel all of her feelings. She IS the first one to break down and let her tears come and she lets her tears come more than once in the weeks following George’s death. Even though she looks like the biggest mess, she’s actually the healthiest among them – and maybe that’s because she wasn’t close to George anymore when he died, she had a little distance – so she could feel her grief without feeling like it might kill her. Unlike his closest friends…
Meredith's using sex to deal with her grief - like she did when she found out McDreamy was married.
Mer using sex to avoid her feelings is not, as Raamla points out, unchartered territory. What I love, though, is that Mer is now healthy enough to actually TALK about the fact that that’s what she’s doing. I LOVE the “cancer-pop” scene – where Mer points out that Cristina’s not processing her grief AT ALL and is therefore on uber-Cristina mode – wholly abrasive and insensitive and inappropriate. But Mer knows that she herself is using sex and work to avoid her grief and that that’s working for her. Until that janitor cleans out George’s locker and it stops working for her. When Meredith finally cries for George…I cried again for George. And I’m about to cry now just thinking about it, so…y’know, moving on…
Cristina avoiding her pain all together - like when Meredith almost died and she was at the bar.
Cristina, who as a young child, held her father’s heart in her hands as it stopped beating, is perhaps the least “processed” of our core group, the least “healthy,” the least able to handle the impact of George’s sudden death. Mer is using sex, Cristina is using her frustration around her lack of sex. So when she finally gets in bed with Owen and she finally has the tension release that comes with that kind of, um… tension release… She can’t hold the truth off anymore.
That’s the thing about the five stages of grief. They truly are different for everyone. Cristina clung to the Denial stage for 40 days. And then she let in the fact that George died. And as much as Mer’s tears got to me, that intake of breath from Cristina got to me even more. The sudden realization that George really did…die.
I still do that sometimes. Sometimes I’ll be driving in my car and I’ll see a poster for a movie that’s about to come out and I’ll think, “Oh, I should totally see that with Dad.” And then I remember, in a split second, that he’s gone. That he died 8 and a half years ago now. Grief is funny thing. It comes and goes. Except, in my experience, it never really goes…
There’s more to say about these 2 hours for sure. Mark and Lexie are pure joy for me in these two hours and I don’t mean to skip over them because Mark saying “Was he hung?” is maybe my favorite thing ever. And there’s Arizona and how much she cares and her awesome diagnosis and the exquisite Martha Plimpton who fights so hard, the way we all should, for her son. And there’s the beautiful, beautiful Bailey and her pain around the loss of George and the fact that Derek stops the elevator for her just like she stopped it for him so long ago after he had to let Bonnie (and Meredith) go. (Did you notice Shonda used the same song there as she did in the elevator scene in Into You like a Train? First time in our series we’ve reused a song.) Also Clara and Lexie and the beauty of that journey – of moving through the five stages of grief around the life you once had, (which is, by the way, exactly what Clara’s doing in case you want to watch again and clock the stages ) and the moment where she lets Lexie call her Mom which brings me to tears every time. And there’s Alex Karev and Izzie and what I consider to be one of the most brutal moments of all time when he goes, “I miss George. Nice, real seductive.” God, does that hurt to watch. And then there’s Justin’s amazing performance when he finally admits everything he’s scared of. And there’s Katherine Heigl’s exquisite vulnerability as she tries to imagine a) living and b) living without George. There’s so much – and I know I’m missing stuff. But I have to go home now and see my daughter, who is a million times more awesome than anything you’ll ever see on TV, so I’ll say bye for now. Except, I really can’t help myself…
13. Writer Jenna Bans’ husband writes for The Office. There is a weekly Thursday night war in their home.
14. Shonda’s birthday and Patrick Dempsey’s birthday are the same day which also happens to be the same day as my sister, Kaili.
15. Chandra Wilson and Allan Heinberg both worked as word processors at Banker’s Trust in New York at the same time!
16. Writers Tony Phelan, and Joan Rater are married to each other. And a long time ago, they were roommates with Allan Heinberg in New York City. Also, Tony was a theater director in New York when I was a struggling actress there. We are pretty sure I auditioned for him and he didn’t call me back.
17. Writer Pete Nowalk co-wrote a funny book called The Hollywood Assistants Handbook and if you want to know how to be an assistant, you should read it.
18. Executive Producer Betsy Beers is getting married in Venice, Italy next month and Austin Scarlett of Project Runway fame designed her gown.
19. Best-Boy Grip Tim Day is also a professional screenwriter.
20. There is a Grey’s Anatomy softball team that plays the teams of other shows including CSI. We’re currently in first place.
21. Script Supervisor Nicole Rubio often plays a paramedic on our show and was once a Raiderette.
22. When someone has a great idea in the writers’ room, someone else will shout BANG.
23. Shonda drives around the lot in a hot pink golf cart that says SHONDA across the front. It is her pride and joy.
24. Writer/Doctor Zoanne Clack, Writer Stacy McKee, Director of Research Meg Marinis and Chandra Wilson are all from Houston, Texas. They say “Y’all” a lot.
25. We have used 7 guest actors who regularly appear on Friday Night Lights.
Okay, I’m going now. Thank you for watching. Really, thanks, it means a lot.
p.s. Thanks again, Safia and Raamla! You both rock. *(and it was Raamla who won that contest I mentioned in fact #1)