'Grey's Anatomy': Hey, these guys are doctors!
So before we begin, let’s just ask: Did anyone else wonder why the opening of last night’s “Grey’s Anatomy,” in which Meredith, overcome by her mother’s condition and the weight of a thousand voice-overs, sinks under water in a wide, white claw foot tub, would go out of its way to invoke the poster for the Harrison Ford/Michelle Pfeiffer thriller “What Lies Beneath,” down to the hand hanging over the edge of the bath?
Last night was the first of a three-part “‘Grey’s’ event” though it began in the traditional way - Meredith moping, Izzie moping (it is so hard to be lovely and rich), Cristina ordering Burke not to tell anyone of their relationship, oh wait, engagement. But it swiftly became “very special.” News of a “multiple casualty” accident was announced (though no one knew what it was ‘til they got there because apparently the city’s leading hospital cannot afford a television and no one bothers with the Internet) and all our favorite interns were dispatched into the field. Sort of like a “Grey’s” field-trip but not really.
It was an admirable challenge for the writers and cameramen. Traditionally, “Grey’s” puts medicine secondary to the character’s relationships, relying on a lot of big emotional close-ups and striding-down-the-hall scenes, emphasizing feeling rather than doing. Patients, unless they are related to or romantically involved with the leads, tend to disappear after one episode - whatever happened to those conjoined twins? Surely they need some follow-up. Traumatic events occur but often are never referenced again - hell, a bomb squad agent blew up not only in front of Meredith’s face, but onto her face and she never ever mentions it.
But those conventions will not work when sending our friends into a truly horrifying situation. Instead we get the big casualty camera pan, like the train track scene in “Gone With the Wind,” revealing the endless sea of Confederate wounded. Snappy dialogue doesn’t play when you are examining the corpse of a child and only McDreamy can talk about his relationship while doing triage and make it stick. (Memo to Isaiah Washington: This is why you weren’t cast as the lead romantic lead. Patrick Dempsey is Patrick Dempsey and you aren’t.) Hey, we remember suddenly, these guys are doctors and doctors do actually have to deal with life and death and gruesome injuries All The Time.
(Although for the sake of accuracy, it’s worth pointing out that it was laughable when those leads left behind - apparently Seattle’s finest has a very talented but limited staff - fell in line to wait for the ambulances just like the iconic profile images of the American Armed Forces. Callie, it appears, was the Marines.)
For the Avid Viewer, it was all a little jarring, though in a good way. In a way that let’s us know the writing staff is not content with just a very good night time soap, but an examination of various personalities under various situations of real life stress. Which may be why they gave us Izzie’s frayed and over-whelmed story line. In fact, none of the characters went into Randy Mantooth “Emergency!” mode, spitting out demands and medical jargon in almost menacing staccato with an occasional “Stat!” thrown in. Instead, they acted like themselves, only a bit more professional which is always good.
Still, it was difficult to watch any show in which several children were killed and a pregnant woman terribly injured. Medical dramas walk a fine line between compelling and ghastly - with it’s mostly upbeat, witty tone, “Grey’s” has managed to stay on the fun side. It remains to be seen how far into the darkness they will go.
On the other hand, it was relieving to see that Meredith had not spent so much time obsessing about her boyfriends and her mother and her friends that she neglected to learn the skills of her profession. Sure, she had to use a little girl as an emotional foil/surgical assistant, but she did manage to stitch up a pretty nasty looking leg wound just fine. Before getting pushed off the dock into real water (as opposed to the bath, which was foreshadowing, get it?) so we have a real emotional cliffhanger. Can Meredith not swim? Did she bang her head on the way down? How long can a person last under water and still be resuscitated? Will McDreamy save her with a Kiss of Life? So much more soothing to think about than the body count or how safe the ferry system is, or whether the pregnant woman is going to lose her baby, or that one woman’s child is dead or, we hope, only still missing.
Because this is still “Grey’s Anatomy” after all.