Allan Heinberg on "New History"...
Original Airdate: 11-12-09
Tonight’s episode, “New History,” is named after a song by Andy Davis, a sly and soulful singer/songwriter, whose protagonist has barely survived a bad breakup and now finds himself unsure whether or not he should embark on a new romance. He doesn’t know if he’s ready to trust his feelings and create what he calls “new history.”
I love the idea of “new history” because it perfectly captures the relationship so many of us have with the past. No matter how hard we try to let go of it –– to learn from it and move forward -- all we’re really doing is creating new history, trying to learn from past mistakes, but inevitably making new ones that will haunt us in the future.
The past, it would seem, is inescapable. Everything we are today is the product of who we were yesterday, last month, last year: the choices we made, the red lights we ran, the things said and maybe shouldn’t have, the people we loved, and the people we didn’t. So, how to make peace with the past? What can be done about the mistakes we made, the lies we told, and the people we hurt to get where we are today?
For Izzie Stevens, the past has never been more present. Fired from Seattle Grace Mercy West -- and feeling Alex is to blame – Izzie retreated to the Chehalis, WA trailer park where she grew up. Reconnecting with the man who inspired her to become a surgeon, her high school science teacher, Dr. Adam Singer, Izzie is forced to relive her history as a pregnant 15-year-old who considered dropping out of high school to become a teenage mom. The irony, of course, is that Izzie’s concern for her mentor forces her to return to Seattle Grace Mercy West to confront her more recent past – her failures as a doctor and a wife -- and the anger and shame she felt as a pregnant 15-year-old is not all that different from the resentment and humiliation she’s experiencing right now. And the decision she’s facing in the present is exactly the same one she faced in high school. Is she going to let a careless error – and her own hurt feelings and regrets – rob her of her future as a surgeon? As in the past, Izzie ultimately chooses to confront the issue head-on – to stand up to the Chief and to Alex – and the insight she gains from both encounters – and the encouragement she receives from Dr. Singer – a man who still regrets never having lived his dream – ultimately allows her to take a clear-eyed look at herself, her circumstances, and her options for the future. There are no easy answers for Izzie at the end of this episode, but you definitely get a sense from Katherine Heigl’s performance that Izzie’s not about to give up on her dream of becoming a surgeon. Somewhere, somehow, she’s going to be a doctor.
Alex, too, is haunted throughout the episode by his past with Izzie. He’s obviously still wounded by her having left him – but he’s determined not to allow himself to acknowledge that – to feel it – to reveal himself to Izzie in any way. And when Alex is finally brave enough to go to the OR gallery and force a confrontation, Izzie throws the entire history of their relationship in his face – all the things she’s had to forgive him for in the past – but in the end, it turns out to be Izzie’s misinterpretation of the past – specifically of Alex’s going to the Chief out of his concern for her – that has created the unbridgeable distance between them.
To one degree or another, all the characters seem a bit paralyzed by the past. Meredith longs for the moment when George was sill alive, and Izzie was okay, and everyone was happy – a moment she was barely even conscious of when it was happening. Derek seems to mourn the time when the hospital ran smoothly, and he and Richard were trusted allies. And by the episode’s end, Bailey acutely feels the loss – not only of her work-husband and husband-husband – but of the time when she had total, unquestioning trust in the Chief.
And then sometimes the past doesn’t stay in the past. Teddy’s arrival at Seattle Grace unleashes all manner of complications for Owen, Cristina, and herself. Cristina’s immediately suspicious that Owen and Teddy were more than friends during their time together in Iraq. Teddy confesses to Owen that she apparently misread their mutual history, and walks away from him, mortified. And Owen’s left haunted by Teddy’s confession, now forced to re-examine his own history -- and his feelings for both Teddy and Cristina.
Ultimately, however, it’s the Chief’s struggle with the past – specifically with his history of alcoholism – that’s the most devastating. So far this season, the Chief has behaved in extremely erratic, un-Chief-like ways – crashing his car, alienating his friends, firing Derek, Izzie, April, and Patricia to name a few -- all of which seemed to stem from the stress surrounding his dealings with the board and the subsequent merger. But the truth turns out to be much darker – and more catastrophic for both the Chief and Seattle Grace Mercy West. The Chief is drinking again. And apparently he’s been drinking for a long time. Right now, only Meredith Grey knows the truth. And what she’s going to do about it will surprise you.
Tune in next week. Thanks for watching. And for reading.