SPOILER ALERT: This article contains details about tonight’s Season 15 premiere of Grey’s Anatomy.
The doctors of Grey Sloan Memorial are in. After its annual summer-long hiatus, the history-making 15th season of Grey’s Anatomy debuted tonight with a two-hour premiere on ABC. The series picks up the morning after the wedding of Alex Karev (Justin Chambers) and Jo Wilson (Camilla Luddington), who, as expected, returned to Seattle after turning down Boston. Jo was awarded an innovative medical fellowship and Alex was made interim chief of surgery.
The season opens with Meredith Grey (Ellen Pompeo) in bed with Dr. Andrew DeLuca (Giacomo Gianniotti), a scene teased when the trailer dropped earlier this month. Turns out, it was all a part of back-to-back dream sequences that involved Meredith and her co-workers. Despite the steamy imaginary session with DeLuca, and the drunken kiss the two shared in the Season 14 ender, no signs pointed to a blossoming romance.
But hope for Meredith and her love life isn’t lost. Tonight’s episode introduced a charming and amiable “Ortho God,” Dr. Atticus Lincoln (Chris Carmack), known as Dr. Link, who wasted no time trying to swoon the widowed Grey, but to no avail — for now.
Meanwhile, Jackson Avery and Maggie Pierce are taking their relationship to another level. After clearing up some marriage-proposal confusion, the two shared a sweet “I love you” exchange. However, the honeymoon stage might not last too long, as Jackson’s newfound outlook on faith may become a source of friction between the two going forward.
Season 15 of Grey’s has been dubbed as the season of love, but it wouldn’t be a Shondaland series without some drama. The most obvious right now i the triangle between doctors Teddy Altman, Owen Hunt, and Amelia Shepard. Now that it was revealed Teddy is pregnant with Owen’s baby (and Kim Raver is officially back as series regular), it’ll be interesting to see what the writers do. After all, the show is no stranger to unconventional family arrangements.
Deadline spoke with Grey‘s showrunner Krista Vernoff, who was in the midst of directing her first episode, about Meredith dating life, what’s in store for rest of the group, the possibility of more returning cast members, and whether a series end is near.
DEADLINE: We’re in the 15th season of Grey’s Anatomy and it’s currently ABC’s longest-running drama. It’s tied with ER for the longest-running medical drama. So for you, how does it feel to be part of such a historical feat?
VERNOFF: It feels pretty incredible. This year I think we will pass ER in the middle of our season, to become the longest-running medical drama and that is wild.
I was here in the very beginning. I was here for the first seven seasons, and I remember we used to pitch stories and Shonda would be like that’s like a Season 6 episode idea — meaning like that we’ll do in our last season. And here we are in Season 15 and we’ve blown past…well, past anyone’s expectations for the show including our expectations for ourselves. I got to take a seven-year break and come back, and it’s been really joyful. It’s really joyful to be here right now and be back and be a part of this.
DEADLINE: Yeah and the series hasn’t really been affected by this Peak TV era. It’s been able to maintain its ratings.
VERNOFF: That has been incredible, and that I think speaks to several things. It speaks to the staying power of Shonda Rhimes. It speaks to the staying power of Ellen Pompeo and the original cast, and it also speaks to the power of Netflix and the fact that since the show dropped on Netflix it attracts tens of thousands of teenagers and new viewers every month, and that drives ratings back to ABC and it’s been amazing.
DEADLINE: I hear you’re calling this season “the season of love.”
DEADLINE: Obviously one of the most anticipated storylines is going to be Meredith’s love life, which was already heavily addressed in the opener [tonight]. So for her, will we see love strike again for her? Or is it even possible to have more than one great love story in one’s lifetime?
VERNOFF: Well, I absolutely believe that it’s possible to have more than one great love story in a lifetime. I hope for everyone who’s ever loved and lost, there’s a possibility of more than one great love, and I have to believe it’s possible for Meredith Grey.
Whether or not we will land on that great love story this season, I don’t know, but boy, is she putting herself out there in a new way. I feel like there are a lot of women who relate to Meredith Grey and the idea that even someone as beautiful and as confident and as competent and brilliant as Meredith Grey has to actually put herself out there, and do a little bit of looking for love, and willing to show up on the bad first date, is a really great counter-message to send.
I think that really great love stories grow in myriad ways, and they don’t always just fall into your lap on your first day of work. Derek Shepherd fell into her lap, or fell into her bed, on her first day of work back in Seattle and became her great love story. But I believe that she can put herself out there in a new way and find new love. Will it be as great as Derek? I mean, that’s a pretty epic romance, but I think that I want to say to all of the men and women who have loved and lost, whether they’ve lost to circumstance or to death, yes, to love again is possible.
DEADLINE: And this season we are introduced to two new doctors, the Ortho God Dr. Link and then Dr. Nico Kim. So what’s in store for these two? And it kind of was teased that maybe there could be a potential love connection between Dr. Link and Meredith. What can you tell us about the new guys?
VERNOFF: I mean, I just love them. I think they bring a lot of joy and a lot of fun to the show. They both bring a different energy than the other guys currently on the show have. Nico is our first openly gay male surgeon, and he has a beautiful love story coming up this season and that’s all I’m going to say about it. Link has a lightness and a stress-free approach to life. Because we’ve seen our male characters go through so much drama over the years, [we wanted to bring] in somebody who brings a little bit lighter, stress-free approach. He lightens up everybody around him. It’s just really fun, and romantically there are a lot of possibilities.
DEADLINE: So is it safe to say he’s a contender at least?
VERNOFF: I’m not teasing that. I’m going to say that in the writers’ room we kept saying we missed Mark Sloan. We missed the energy of Mark Sloan. And so Mark Sloan is irreplaceable. There’s only one Mark Sloan, and Link is actually intentionally written as a very different character. It just changes up the energy on the show. More will be revealed about Link. There’s more to him. He comes with some surprises.
DEADLINE: This season the show picks up after the wedding, with Jo and Alex on their honeymoon after finally getting married. But as we’ve seen often in the show, marriage doesn’t necessarily lead to forever, with couples often breaking up at some point. Will Jo and Alex be the exception?
VERNOFF: Well, I can’t speak to the long run because who knows how long the show will go on. I feel like Jo and Alex had a really long journey to this moment where they’re newlyweds and they’re happily married and are more interested in leaning into you and me against the world than you and me against each other. I think they’ve earned it.
DEADLINE: With Maggie and Jackson, we got the really sweet tender moment when they exchanged the “I love yous” for the first time, but it kind of seemed like there might be some challenges looming, especially as Jackson is having his crisis-of-faith moment.
VERNOFF: I would say that Alex and Jo were together for years before we let them kind of settle into this reconnected happy place. Maggie and Jackson have a new romance. We spent a season burning them committing to each other romantically, but they’re in the early stages. A relationship isn’t really a relationship until it’s gone through some challenges, and you see how people weather those challenges, and for sure Jackson has had a pretty powerful gift. As Maggie talked about in the second hour of the premiere, he’s been through a lot in the last eight episodes or so. His whole family fortune shifted and his grandfather turned out to be someone different than he believed, and then April almost died and he prayed and she lived and he had this faith thing happen to him, which for someone like Jackson who was so confident in his atheism, the idea of shifting into being a person who believes that there’s something bigger out there can be destabilizing. I do think that there are some interesting challenges coming up for that couple, and you have to tune in to see how they navigate them.
DEADLINE: Romance isn’t new to the series, but why was it so important for you to make love the central theme of the season?
VERNOFF: Listen, Grey’s Anatomy is always going to have some darkness. We don’t just set out make to make you laugh and love, we set out to help you feel your feelings, you know what I mean? I would say if you laugh and you cry, it’s a very successful episode of Grey’s. I feel like the news cycle feels really dark and frightening right now and sometimes it’s even numbing, and I would like for Grey’s Anatomy to be a place where people can come for some relief so they can put down the news cycle and just laugh and cry and then get up to fight the good fight another day.
We have some darker, more complicated stories this season and we have them on the board to go early, and then the Stoneman Douglas [High School] kids sang “Seasons of Love” at the Tonys. All the writers — many of us are musical theater nerds and activists — we cried at home, and then we talked about how amazing it was.
Meanwhile, we had these sort of dark stories on the board and I stood up at a certain point and erased the board and wrote “seasons of love” and said it’s that connectedness that we all felt when those kids sang that song, that’s how I think we need to feel this year. One of the things that is almost universally connecting is that feeling of falling in love, and when our TV characters are falling in love or open to love, I think it helps us to connect and to relax and to enjoy and to laugh and to cry.
So that’s where the conversation started, but also Ellen and I had talked a lot last year about how we took last season off. We let her just be a badass superhero last season. I didn’t bring in a new love interest after [Dr. Nathan] Riggs left, and then she has this one episode with Scott Speedman who played Nick Marsh, who came in and made her feel like oh, God, it feels really good to want something with someone. He was designed for that purpose. So we came into this season knowing that the speech Meredith gave Deluca at the wedding — about nobody wants you to be miserable your whole life, you’re young and life is full of possibilities, and you have to move on and you have to go on with your life — that was really Meredith’s speech to herself.
We came into the season knowing that Meredith had spent a whole year in that other space, and now she was coming in a little more open-hearted, so the matchmaker felt like an organic way in and it all sort of fell together.
DEADLINE: We have Teddy back for this season. Can we expect any other returning cast members?
VERNOFF: If there are other returning cast members, it will be a surprise, both to you and to me at this point. But never say never.
DEADLINE: I want to touch on a recent interview that Ellen did — she might have hinted that the show could be coming to an end after her contract is up, which is I believe after Season 16. She had mentioned she believed the majority of the stories that need to be told have been told. What’s your take on this?
VERNOFF: You know, if you look back over the years, Ellen has said some version of that many times. Ellen, one of the most palpable powerful things about her is her restlessness. You feel her restlessness in life and you feel her restlessness on camera and so her constant challenge to me is to dig in and reinvent. She wants to change it up.
I don’t know whether it was actually her intention to hint that the end of the show is coming or whether or not that was a headline that somebody else ran with, but it’s not a conversation that I’ve been a part of. I’m doing what I do, and when Ellen and Shonda and ABC all sit me down together and say start building the end, I will believe it. But until then you know I hear that as Ellen being Ellen. Ellen is restless in the best way. She’s constantly putting forth a challenge, and I love picking up that gauntlet and trying to meet her there.
DEADLINE: You’re directing your first Grey’s episode this season too. What has that experience like been for you?
VERNOFF: It is really exciting and for sure the experience of directing will make me an even better showrunner, just as I always say that directors should take acting classes and writers should take acting classes and actors should try to direct.
When you put yourself in the shoes of the other artists with whom you collaborate for even one day or even one episode, it really gives you a more palpable understanding of the experience. So I’m already having that experience of, like, wow, this is a different ball of wax. So that’s exciting to me.
I love getting new perspectives on the world and on the craft. I directed a short film, and the pressures of that are deeply different than directing in television, and it’s exhilarating and exciting and I have an incredible mentor in our producing director, Debbie Allen, and I have an incredible cast to work with and crew and I feel so, so lucky to get to have this experience this year.
DEADLINE: Can you tell us what episode you direct?
VERNOFF: Yeah. I’m directing Episode 7, 1507.
DEADLINE: From the beginning, this show has been in its own lane when it comes to being inclusive and representative, and that’s something that we’re seeing more of now. But Grey’s was kind of ahead of its time when it came to all those issues. For you, what’s been the highlight working on this show?
VERNOFF: Grey’s was really ahead of its time and I have often said that Shonda Rhimes pretty much single-handedly changed the face of television. I remember the first couple of years of the show watching dailies come out where it was five black actors in a room on ABC where the guest cast and the series regular featured in a scene were all people of color, and that was a thing I had not seen on network television prior. You’ve hit the nail on the head of what was the most exciting thing to me early on, and what is the most exciting thing to me now is to be here in this very powerful matriarchy in a very powerful position where I can change the industry from the inside out. One of the things that I did when I came back is I hired four diverse female writers rather than one mid-level person.
I committed to change…I want to change those statistics from the inside out. Yesterday we had three women directing three episodes written by three women. That’s pretty powerful, and I am forever grateful to Shonda for inviting me back into this at this moment. I feel like our country needs examples of where women who empower other women and create a powerfully successful product. Grey’s Anatomy is breaking records and has always been a matriarchy because we hire the best artists for the job and very often those artists are women. So it’s not just a recipe for what’s right, it’s a recipe for success.