Original Airdate: 10-9-08
Absurd. A flood. In a hospital. Those absurd, desperate writers. I know that’s what some of you are thinking. But here’s the thing… Back in June, when we were just gathering together to begin early discussions of season five, my sister Jennifer came over for dinner. Jenn is a shrink. I’m sure she has a more official title than that, but I go with shrink cause she’s my sister and she lets me. She works in a psychiatric hospital in the San Fernando Valley and her patients are mostly low functioning schizophrenics. So she came over for dinner and I said “How was your day?” and she said, “You mean aside from the hospital flooding?” And I looked at her like, seriously? And she said, “Yeah, we had to move all the patients to one wing. All the schizophrenic patients, piled on top of each other in one small wing of the hospital. That was my day.” And I said, without skipping a beat, “And that is my episode. Just so you know.” So as absurd as it may seem? Real. And in real life it was even weirder cause all the patients were CRAZY PEOPLE. Awesome.
I think it’s appropriate that Jenn inspired this episode because in a way, this episode is written as a love letter to therapy. What it all comes down to for me is what Dr. Wyatt says to Meredith in the elevator, “And happiness in the face of horrible is not the goal. Feeling the horrible stuff and knowing that you’re not gonna die from the feelings? That’s goal.” Nothing better than a good shrink. I love therapy and I love what’s it done for Meredith in the short amount of time she’s gone (and I’m bummed she quit before she could get to the really good stuff.) It’s hard – to peel away the layers of the onion that is you and look at all that juice cause it burns your eyes and makes you cry and makes you hurt and makes you feel…but it also makes you better. (Oh my God, talk about a tortured metaphor. Sorry. I’m tired. We’re in the room breaking episode 12.)
Point is, I’m proud of Meredith that she got as far as she did. And I love that last scene where she stands up to Derek. She doesn’t get drunk. She doesn’t freak out. She doesn’t walk away. She doesn’t ignore him. She doesn’t leave him. She just stands there and tells him her truth. And that is so so so hard and so so so scary for her (as it is for a lot of us.) And what I love most is the look of shock on her face when it works. It’s so hard to change. For everyone I know, change and growth are deeply difficult tasks. And so it makes me happy for Meredith and Derek that they are taking baby steps toward happiness and function.
When we were shooting that scene, Ellen expressed concern to me about her question to Derek at the end. “You still love me?” She was concerned that it sent a message to the girls and women who watch our show that a man’s love is the thing that matters most. (But she didn’t say the girls and women who watch our show. She said “the future Coco’s of the world.” Cause Coco’s my daughter, and Ellen’s no dummy, she knows how to get a writer to listen!) But my feeling is this: I was not trying to say that a man’s love is what matters most. I was trying to say that the ability to know and trust that you (and by you I mean, me, Meredith, all of us) are lovable. To be willing to stand in your truth, stand in your vulnerability, stand in your fear, stand at your breaking point and hold on to yourself – that’s what matters. And that’s what surprises Meredith. She’s shocked that she’s allowed to be herself and someone loves her anyway. Those of us who grew up in the sometimes loving but sometimes terrifying and sometimes cataclysmic way that Meredith grew up? We sometimes need to learn, and need to be reminded, more than once, that we are lovable just as we are. Ellen got on board – and I thought she delivered the moment beautifully.
Tell you what else I love in this episode: Alex. On the porch. When he says “Hello” to Izzie. I tell you, that Justin Chambers can do any freaking thing you throw at him. There was some discussion when the script came out of whether or not we should change that “Hello” to “Hi” which sounds more like Alex. But Justin? He pulled it off so beautifully. He made it sound like Alex and then some. The vulnerability under that one word... The subtlety… I just thought it was exquisite work.
Speaking of psychology, which I wasn’t just now, I was speaking of Justin but I’ve learned that when you say “speaking of” something, people usually go with you. It’s lazy, but I’m tired so… Speaking of psychology, how ‘bout Cristina? (I’ve never sat around with my sister Jenn and diagnosed the characters on this show the way I’ve sat around with her diagnosing every member of my own family, but I bet that would be a fascinating conversation.) Cause we know there’s actually a good and caring person somewhere inside Cristina. I mean, she cares enough about Meredith to storm Wyatt’s office, right? And Wyatt gets right away how vulnerable she is. How scared she is. (Even if she can’t admit it) But still – she totally stole Izzie’s apartment! And she didn’t even mean to! Izzie thinks she’s being evicted, and Cristina somehow convinces herself that Izzie pulled that flyer off the wall for her! I love it. We’re currently breaking episode 12 of season 5 and I’ve been here since episode 1 of season 1 – and I never get tired of writing these characters. And you know why? It’s cause so many of them so badly need a good shrink!
Derek, who’s generally a pretty great guy and who just promised Mer he’d take baby steps, assumes her roommates are moving out. Just assumes it – without even a discussion. I mean, seriously, entitled much???
Alex, who clearly still has feelings for Izzie, is as mean as he can be to her until the very end – when maybe he’s thinking his luck’s gonna turn. And even then, all he can say is hello.
Mark Sloan, a double board certified ENT and plastic surgeon who normally doesn’t give the time of day to an intern, stops to listen to Lexie’s diagnosis. Which either makes him a better teacher than we thought or a guy who simply, physically cannot walk away when a pretty girl is talking (I’m still not sure which.)
George is about to have some kind of actual breakdown in anticipation of his test (and it makes me giggle that the proctor finds him “a nice quiet room up in psych.”)
Lexie is codependent to an almost pathological degree – turning down Sloan’s surgery so she can help George with the Chief’s scut.
Izzie who is generally the happiest person we know, has ended up somehow all alone.
Callie and Erica seem to be discovering some real truths about themselves pretty late in life.
And the Chief? The Chief is basically watching while the hospital crumbles around him because his fear and pride won’t let him acknowledge that the hospital is crumbling around him!
And Bailey – her lack of power is TORTURING HER. I love that little moment when she goes to the gallery to get a quiet moment and you can see her giving herself a tiny little talking to… I imagine her saying, “Do not quit! Do not tell the Chief to go screw himself! Do not say out loud ANY of what you’re thinking, Miranda Bailey!” And then of course the ceiling caves in giving her the ultimate vindication. I love these characters. I love the messiness and the layers and the fact that they absolutely refuse to behave or to “get all whole and healed,” as Meredith would say. I think if I wasn’t a writer, I’d be a shrink. Jenn and I could open a practice together and then sit around every night and laugh about how crazy we all are. That would be fun.
I have to add before I go how much I loved the guest stars in this episode. The actor Jim Ortlieb who played Jack O’Brien (get it? Jack O Brien. J.O.B. Job. Biblical. Whatever.) was so funny and subtle and heartbreaking and that lovely actress Samantha Quan who played Shelley… I watched them shoot that scene plus I’ve seen this episode 3 or 4 times now plus I wrote it and I still cry every time she breaks down at the unfairness of getting terminal cancer in your 20’s. And Daniel Travanti who played Mr. Patmore? His breakdown? Kills me every time. I did not expect that performance. I did not script that he would cry. I pictured something totally different. And then I got the dailies of that scene and it just wrecked me with it’s awesomeness. I love good actors. Yay, good actors!
I am rambling. I get that. I’m tired, like I said. But I hope you liked this episode and I hope more than that that you had a lovely summer. Because life is weird and hard and scary sometimes. People are diagnosed with terminal cancer in their twenties and people get debilitating pain for reasons no one can diagnose and hospitals flood and ceilings collapse and lives fall apart, sometimes out of nowhere… So I hope very much that you are all enjoying the quieter moments, the moments in between the breaking points. I hope you kiss your kids a lot and tell your spouses and parents that you love them a lot and buy yourself flowers a lot for no good reason. I hope you love your life. And if for some reason you don’t or can’t – I hope you find a really good shrink like my sister Jenn or Dr. Wyatt. Cause therapy rocks.
End of love letter.