Meredith Grey has left the building. And that’s more than OK.
By building, I mean Grey Sloan Memorial Hospital, the fictional setting of ABC’s stalwart medical drama “Grey’s Anatomy.” Ellen Pompeo has played the character since 2005, for 19 seasons and more than 400 episodes. She began as an intern, became a surgical resident, then attending surgeon, and closed out her run on the series as chief of surgery.
Meredith – in the understatement of the century – has faced her fair share of trauma. She almost drowned. A patient beat her up. She put her hand in another patient’s body that contained a bomb. She told a gunman to shoot her. She survived COVID.
Her goodbye was far less deadly and traumatic (and honestly was a little boring). But it was necessary for the show to continue and outlive her for potential seasons to come.
How did Meredith leave ‘Grey’s Anatomy’?
Meredith decided to move with her three children to Boston after her eldest, Zola (Aniela Gumbs), with late husband Derek (Patrick Dempsey), required an education fit for a genius.
That didn’t mean it was sans drama; this is “Grey’s,” after all. After professing her love to surgeon Nick Marsh (Scott Speedman) in an earlier episode, he didn’t reciprocate.
But when he grew frustrated that she was leaving, she told him: “I want you in my life if you want to be in my life. But if I have to choose, I’m going to pick me, I pick my kids and I pick what’s best for us. And I am not going to beg you to love me.” (This was a cloying callback to Meredith’s famous Season 2 speech to Derek, in which she begs him to “Pick me. Choose me. Love me.”)
In romantic comedy fashion, Nick decides at the last minute he wants to go to the airport, but calls her instead after realizing he won’t make it in time. He says he loves her but she doesn’t give him an answer (presumably because she’d have to say it in front of her kids).
This story likely isn’t over yet; Meredith will continue to be the series’ voiceover and is expected to make return appearances, including the eventual series finale. Perhaps that’s why the episode felt slightly flat; it went without the fanfare of flashbacks usually associated with a long-running “Grey’s” cast member’s goodbye (a la Cristina Yang, played by Sandra Oh, or Alex Karev, played by Justin Chambers).
Meredith’s final narration as a series regular included her quoting her last patient’s posthumous book – yes, her last patient died – and doubly served as a life lesson. The gist: Life isn’t about happy endings, but living.
Why ‘Grey’s Anatomy’ works without Meredith
I used to think the show needed Meredith to survive. How could “Grey’s Anatomy” live on without its Grey?
But the last few seasons’ storylines screamed stale. Sure, steamy sexual high jinks and groundbreaking surgeries continued, but all the pregnancies and marriages and career changes for the same group of characters grew boring. You could almost feel Pompeo crying out for the show to end – or maybe that was just my projection.
But this season’s first seven episodes proved the show could absolutely go on without her. And not simply go on, but thrive.
That’s mostly thanks to new interns Simone Griffith (Alexis Floyd), Mika Yasuda (Midori Francis), Jules Millin (Adelaide Kane), Benson “Blue” Kwan (Harry Shum Jr.) and Lucas Adams (Niko Terho), who injected new life into the series as the strongest (and largest) new group of interns the show has introduced. They are echoes of characters past – one has a relative suffering from Alzheimer’s, another is living in a trailer, several begin budding romances – without all the baggage of many seasons past.
What many characters on the show have in common is where they lived. Interns, residents and attending surgeons throughout the years all crashed at Meredith’s house, so much so that it became a joke. In one last piece of trauma for Meredith, the house caught fire after a lightning strike in the fall finale (no one was hurt).
But the tradition will live on. Three interns are all given keys to the fire-damaged house by the end of this episode.
“This place won’t be the same without you,” said Richard (James Pickens Jr.), Meredith’s mentor and surrogate father, during a surprise farewell party for her.
I think it will be the same, actually – just maybe not the way anyone expected. Like the series theme song “Cosy in the Rocket” by Psapp says: “Nobody knows where they might end up.”
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Meredith Grey leaving ‘Grey’s Anatomy’ Season 19: Last episode recap