Allan Heinberg on "Sympathy for the Parents"...
Original Airdate: 4-1-10
Tonight’s episode was about parenting. But I’ll let you in on a little behind-the-scenes GREY’S trivia. The first draft of the script had absolutely nothing to do with parenting – at least not thematically. The theme of the first draft was limitations.
The stories were basically the same, but Meredith’s voice-over was about how most people – surgeons, especially – go through their lives refusing to accept or even admit to their own limitations. They push through their days and nights striving to be the best, most successful and most lovable versions of themselves imaginable. They struggle endlessly – needlessly – to become something they can never ever be: perfect.
We were interested in exploring the somewhat counterintuitive idea that by accepting our own – and other people’s – limitations, we actually allow ourselves to experience life as it’s really happening – to appreciate it on its own terms, rather than to constantly measure it against impossible expectations.
In the “limitations” draft, Meredith, crippled by the emotionally abusive parenting she received from Ellis and Thatcher, had serious doubts about her ability to be anyone’s mother. But by essentially parenting Alex and his brother, Aaron, throughout the episode, Meredith discovered she might not make such a terrible mom after all.
Alex knew he could never bring himself to return to Iowa to become his family’s full-time caretaker again, but he was able to help Aaron in his own limited way. He did get his brother a free surgery, after all. And ultimately Alex was surprised to realize that all Aaron really wanted – in fact, the only reason he even came to Seattle – was to reconnect with his brother again. And that much, Alex could do.
Also in the course of the first draft, Cristina came up against her own limitations trying to communicate with and care for Owen as he continues to suffer from PTSD.
Mark and Teddy found themselves limited by not being able to be with the people they truly loved. However, by finally admitting to the unspoken truth that they’re both in love with other people, they were actually able to take some comfort in one another.
Lexie, Richard, April, and Derek were forced to come to terms with the limitations of medicine – as well as the emotional limitations dictated by their profession.
And Callie and Arizona finally had to question whether or not their romantic partnership can survive their own -- and each other’s -- limitations. Callie wants to have a child. Arizona doesn’t.
All of which is to say that the stories were originally geared toward illuminating and exploring the characters’ inevitable, insurmountable limitations.
Then we had what we call a writers’ table-read, which is what we do when we want to hear a new script out loud before the actual table read with the actual cast of GREY’S ANATOMY.
At a writers’ table-read, the entire writing staff – and the entire support staff – sits around a great, big table in the middle of the writer’s room with fresh-off-the-printer scripts and a generous supply of York Peppermint Patties, Coffee Nips, and those fiendishly addictive Mother’s Frosted Circus Animal Cookies. Everybody plays at least one, if not several, roles. Everybody, except Shonda, who listens and scribbles furiously in her script. Joan Rater usually plays Meredith. Krista Vernoff channels Cristina. Tony Phelan brings his own commanding authority to Derek Shepherd. And Mark Wilding does a mean Richard Webber. I generally play patients for some reason, but then I am susceptible to colds.
At any rate, we read the first draft of the script, and then there was silence. Terrible, deafening, Shonda-silence. The kind of silence that usually indicates a long night ahead and a very thorough rewrite. And then finally Shonda looked at me and announced that I hadn’t written an episode about limitations at all. I had written about parenting. After all, Derek and Meredith were talking about having a baby. Callie and Arizona were specifically not talking about having a baby. Gina, the super-cop discovers she can’t have a baby. And then at the end, Sloan Sloan marches in and announces she’s about to have a baby.
Shonda was right. As usual. Even on a metaphorical level, Meredith spends the episode parenting Alex. As does Bailey, for that matter. Alex spends the episode trying to parent Aaron without completely losing himself in the past and his family’s dysfunction. And if you extend the metaphor further, Richard parents Lexie through the rigors of having to take her patient off life-support. Bailey parents Callie on the subject of having children. Teddy parents Cristina in the O.R. and in her personal life with Owen. When viewed through the thematic prism of parenthood, I was suddenly seeing examples of it throughout the episode. Anytime the doctors of Seattle Grace-Mercy West helped each other, taught each other, cared for each other, they were parenting. They were raising one another. Which seems appropriate. Seattle Grace-Mercy West is a teaching hospital, after all.
I couldn’t help but appreciate the irony that an episode about limitations transcended its own theme and organically became an episode about parenthood, a miraculous process by which people transcend their own limitations and discover there’s absolutely no limit to the amount of love it’s possible to feel for another person.
On that note, it’s time for me to express my own limitless love for GREY’S ANATOMY and for the extraordinary people who make it. After four seasons as a writer and producer on the show, I’ve decided to take a leave of absence and spend next season writing some projects of my own. I’m excited about the future, but sad to be leaving. GREY’S has the finest writing staff, the finest crew and production staff and the best cast I’ve ever worked with – and I will miss seeing everybody every day. But I’ll be visiting a lot. And it’ll be fun to watch the episodes every week without having any idea what’s going to happen next.
But I can’t begin to tell you how grateful I am for the time I spent at Seattle Grace-Mercy West and for the people who watch the show and read this blog. This job has been life-changing. I’ve learned and continue to learn so much from the show, from the characters, and from the experience.
I owe a profound debt of gratitude to Shonda and Betsy for the opportunity, the inspiration, and their overwhelming generosity. To Krista for her leadership and bravery and open heart. To Jenna, Jess, Debora, Seve, Zoanne, Safia, Austin, Bill, Nancy, Elizabeth, Gabe, Molly, Meg, Stacy, Star, Raamla, Moira, Tia, Miguel, Pete, Tony, Darren, Joan, Sonay, and of course Mark “The Hammer” Wilding for four years of friendship and gloriously inappropriate workplace behavior. Thanks to Rob, Jeff, Karin, Winter and Thom for taking such good care of us all. To Linda Klein for all things medical medical. Thanks to our incredible crew, production staff, and cast for making GREY’S ANATOMY the best job I’ve ever had.
Thank YOU for watching. And for reading.
And believe me when I tell you, you are not going to believe what happens in the season finale.