SPOILER ALERT: The story includes details about the Feb. 23 midseason premiere of Grey’s Anatomy.
On March 27, 2005, Grey’s Anatomy launched on ABC with its pilot episode, which chronicled Meredith Grey’s (Ellen Pompeo) first day at Seattle Grace as a new surgical intern. Almost 18 years later, tonight’s episode of the Shonda Rhimes-created medical drama followed Meredith’s last day at the hospital, now named Grey Sloan Memorial, where she has been overseeing the new group of interns.
Titled “I’ll Follow the Sun,” the episode, written by outgoing Grey’s Anatomy executive producer/showrunner Krista Vernoff and directed by the series’ executive producer/director Debbie Allen, marked Pompeo’s last as a full-time cast member. She is leaving to do a Hulu limited series and other projects — but will return for the Season 19 finale and could appear beyond that if the show is renewed for Season 20, which is fully expected, as Deadline reported.
Meredith’s last day in Seattle featured a heartwarming moment when Maggie and Winston performed successfully a first-of-its-kind risky partial heart transplant surgery on a newborn baby, and the surgical staff later gathered together to see Meredith off with a toast and heartfelt speeches.
But the day was mostly filled with heartbreak — for Maggie and Winston, who, shortly after “taking in the miracle,” had another bitter fight over their future, for Lucas, who was beating himself up over not pushing harder to save a patient, and for Meredith. She got to perform one last surgery when famous author Tessa Hobbes (Patricia Richardson) who had undergone a Whipple in the previous episode, was back with sharp pain after lifting groceries and was rushed into the OR with a massive internal bleeding. Meredith and Nick teamed up on the surgery but could not save Tessa who died on the operating table.
The star-crossed lovers could not save their relationship either. Nick first walked into Meredith’s office to confront her about not returning his call and planning to move across country without speaking with him. Meredith brought up an earlier office encounter where she told Nick “I love you” and he didn’t say it back, blaming his desire to take things slowly for not consulting with him when she made the decision to move to Boston. Feeling that Meredith was making their falling-out his fault, Nick stormed out.
After more teasing by Meredith about a woman living alone who is set in her ways and is hard to change and ask for help while she and Nick were reviewing Tessa’s CT scan, the two found themselves alone immediately following Tessa’s death.
“I hate this day, I hate everything about this day,” Nick said, to which Meredith replied, “Me too.”
Nick tried to explain why he was taking things slow: “I’m a transplant surgeon, I’m trained to wait.”
But Meredith was not having it. “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’m not going to beg you to love me,” she shot back.
The last act of the episode played like a romcom trope — Nick sitting at a bar, with a sidekick — in this case surgical-resident-turned-bartender Taryn — telling him what a fool he is and urging him to go get his girl.
He obliged and rushed to the hospital to only be told that Meredith had left for the airport. He followed her there but his mission was thwarted by traffic so he ended up calling Meredith when she and her kids had already boarded the plane.
“I love you. I fell in love with you the first day I met you, I fell in love with you the second day I met you, and I’ve loved you every minute of every day that I’ve known you,” Nick blurted out to dead silence on the other end.
Meredith clearly heard every word but opted for a cold, “I can’t quite hear you. We are about to take off. I’ll call you when we get settled,” before hanging up.
A despondent Nick sitting in his car may be the last we see of Scott Speedman, at least for the time being. But Grey’s Anatomy could take a page out of its own playbook and give fans a Meredith-Nick update when Pompeo returns in the Season 19 finale.
Last season, Grey’s veteran Jesse Williams also departed as a series regular in midseason, leaving Jackson’s potential new romance with ex April up in the air. Williams, along with Sarah Drew, then returned as guest stars in the Season 18 finale where they confirmed that Jackson and April have rekindled their relationship by kissing in the Grey Sloan elevator.
In another possible nod to the Grey’s pilot, whose first scene was in Meredith’s house where she woke up after a one-night stand with Derek, tonight’s episode wrapped at the same house, with Lucas, Simone and Mika all moving in, giving the ending a passing of the baton feel.
What’s more, the traditional end-of-episode montage featured mostly the five new interns introduced this season. Mika, as well as Lucas and Simone who have been fighting off their physical attraction, became roommates in Meredith’s partially burnt-down house, which is steeped in Grey’s lore, while Benson and Jules had a steamy encounter in a dark hospital office, another longstanding Grey’s tradition. There is also the fact that, in addition to her multiple rendezvous with Nick, Meredith’s only one-on-one scene in the episode was with Simone, as the freshmen are being positioned as a new backbone of the series, which is preparing for a future without its title character.
During the montage, Meredith was reading Tessa’s final book, “Tessa and the Rising Sun”, to her kids on the plane after a thumb drive with the manuscript was found in Tessa’s purse. The reading replaced the traditional Grey’s Anatomy end-of-episode voiceover. And while it was written by Tessa, the excerpt very much applies to Meredith.
“I’ve flown rockets and slayed dragons, I’ve saved lives and I’ve had my life saved. I’ve been through broken bones and a broken home and the death of people I love but I’m still here,” it went. “I’ve had adventures that most people only dream about and I’ve had losses that I still dream about, and if there is one thing I’ve learned in all my adventures, is that there is no such thing as a life lived happily ever after, unless the happily means simply that we are still alive, that the sun is rising on another day because with every sunrise comes the possibility of happiness and also the possibility of heartache. And sometimes, it’s all rolled up together.”
Tessa’s book, Meredith’s Seattle chapter and Pompeo’s 19-season run as Grey’s Anatomy‘s star all came to an end on a hopeful note: “As long as the sun rises on your life, there will be new dragons to slay. So the end of my story is not any kind of ever after, because I’m still alive, I’m still here, and the sun still rises on my life.”
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