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'Grey's Anatomy': Bears, bones and big sad eyes

October 9, 2009 |  7:09 am
"Grey's Anatomy" episodes are always a careful balancing act.  The poignant, emotional moments are always the most memorable, but the comic relief is also necessary to cut some of the tension.

Thursday's episode, "Tainted Obligation," definitely had plenty of the latter.  We kicked off with Alex heading out of the trailer he's sharing with Izzie... only to encounter a bear.

Yes, a bear. A giant, lumbering, roaring bear, just hanging out outside the trailer.  Alex's high-pitched, girly yowl of distress was the first laugh of the episode ... but certainly not the last.  His panic attack upon discovering a tick on his neck was excellent too.  Justin Chambers must have been relieved to have some more lighthearted fare to work with after Karev's difficult few months.

Mark Sloan's patient of the week was Irving Waller (Ralph Waite), an elderly man interested in the AMS 700.  While that may sound like a jet or a car or a gun, it's actually ... a penis pump.  The 82-year-old Irving is determined to have sex for the first time since his wife died 20 years ago.  As he says, "There's got to be more to life than eating pudding and watching 'CSI.'"  (A not-so-subtle dig at "Grey's Anatomy's" biggest Thursday-night competitor.)

His son Charlie (Tom Amandes) is less than enthused about the idea.  Tom Amandes was brilliantly cast -- he adds a little extra awesome to every role he takes, but this one was especially perfect.  Hearing him crow about his father's inappropriate affair with a younger woman was hysterical.  I loved how the case brought out the softer side of Sloan (after all, he won't be McSteamy forever) while still showcasing his crude frat-boy sense of humor.
Of course, it wasn't all penis jokes. 

Thatcher Grey, Meredith's and Lexie's alcoholic father, made a rather dramatic entrance to the emergency room, slurring and vomiting black blood.  Of course, the doctors saw blood and they went into competition mode.  Their "That's my surgery!" "No, that's MY surgery!" battles were childish last week.  This week, they're not only childish but completely classless, considering that it's their friends' father that they're fighting over.

Thatcher's diseased liver came as a surprise to no one, least of all Meredith.  I was a little shocked by her matter-of-fact comment that she'd rather see him die than have him hanging around the hospital for ages, waiting for a liver transplant.

When the Chief revealed that Thatcher was ineligible for the donor list because of his recent history of alcoholism, Lexie didn't hesitate to offer up part of her own liver to save her father's life.  I knew that was too easy to be plausible! Lexie wasn't a match, but of course Meredith was. 

Meredith's continued insistence that she'd be happier if her father was dead made me roll my eyes.  She's not shy about her "dead mommy issues," and I'm sure that if Thatcher died, too, the "I'm an orphan" issues would show up ready for a showdown.Sadeyes

This episode served to highlight the differences between Meredith and Lexie.  Lexie is a bleeding heart.  As Meredith says, Lexie has "big, sad, I-love-my-daddy eyes," and she certainly knows how to use them!  Chyler Leigh nailed her speech where Lexie begged Meredith to donate part of her liver.  I think it was Leigh's best performance to date -  and, OK, I'll admit it: I cried a little.  This show is overwrought and predictable even on its best days, but it has the occasional moment that just hands you your heart on a plate.

I'd been wondering how they were going to explain away Ellen Pompeo's maternity leave.  With her and Derek still in the throes of post-it-marital bliss, I doubted relationship troubles would send her away from Seattle. The chances of Meredith being a casualty of the merger were slim to none, since the Chief still carries around guilt for his affair with her mother.  The liver donation story is a good, organic way to give Ellen her much-needed time off without affecting the show's pace too much. 

All in all, while this wasn't one of the series' best episodes by far, it was an improvement on last week's circus!  Hopefully next week's episode will be even better.  There were glimpses of the "Grey's" I know and love here -- but just not quite enough.

Your turn!  Let me know what you thought of this week's episode in the comments below.  Did you enjoy the bear as a special guest star?  What do you think of Tom Amandes as Charlie? Did Lexie's tearful monologue tug on your heartstrings? Let's discuss -- and make sure to check back next week for more Seattle Grace gossip.

--Carina MacKenzie (follow me on Twitter @cadlymack)

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Photos: Top -- Christina, Izzie, and Meredith (Sandra Oh, Katherine Heigl, Ellen Pompeo) cringe away from Karev's (Justin Chambers) tick. Bottom -- Lexie (Chyler Leigh) and her father, Thatcher (Jeff Perry). Credit: ABC.