SPOILER ALERT: This story contains details about tonight’s Grey’s Anatomy episode “Danger Zone” on ABC.
On tonight’s Grey’s Anatomy we finally witnessed the moments leading up to Dr. Megan Hunt’s (Abigail Spencer) disappearance in Iraq.
But the episode also marked the quiet exit of Hunt’s lover Dr. Nathan Riggs, played by New Zealand actor Martin Henderson, who is departing the medical drama after a little more than two seasons as a series regular.
Watching the episode, we’d hardly know it was the last we’d see Riggs; the final shot of him is alongside a beaming Hunt and her Iraqi son Farouk on the beach as they start a new life in Southern California. Riggs’ storyline tonight, which involved bonding with Farouk, was rather low key next to the evening’s biggest turning point: Dr. Owen Hunt and Dr. Amelia Shepherd finally calling quits on their marriage. Yet for those who believed that Riggs should wind up with Meredith, “Danger Zone” provided enough backstory as to why his destiny would lie with Hunt.
“I loved that we were able to give Riggs a happy ending worthy of his character and talent,” Grey’s Anatomy creator Shonda Rhimes said in a statement to Deadline.
Grey’s was Henderson’s third project with Shondaland, following pilot Inside the Box and series Off the Map, and Rhimes hinted it may not be the last. “As for Martin, this is not an ending for our relationship,” she said. “He has been part of the Shondaland family since the pilot of Inside the Box and he will always be family. I can’t wait to find a new project to work with him on in the future.”
We spoke with Henderson about his Grey’s departure (and possible future return), how it may impact the show, what future he envisions for Nathan and Megan, why Nathan and Meredith didn’t work out as a couple and what’s up next for him:
DEADLINE: When did you find out that Nathan’s story was coming to an end, and what were your impressions? Did you have any leeway with the writers on how he would exit?
HENDERSON: It doesn’t work that way in Shondaland. It’s handed down. If there are certain concerns or tweaks in a scene, the writers are open to hearing your thoughts and collaborating, but the direction of the major storyline is decided on high. I only had a short-term contract with the show. This is my final year so I was expecting Nathan’s storyline to be wrapped up. Bringing in Megan and tying up loose ends, provided a reason. That was always intended when they brought Megan back with a twist. The triangle played out nicely, the way they gave perspective leading up to her disappearance, the mutual infidelity; the way it was handled was interesting. It’s been a couple of fun years on the show.
DEADLINE: We last see Nathan on the beach with Megan and Farouk. What do you think is next for them, how do you envision their future?
HENDERSON: I think there’s probably going to be a tenuous start to their life together given all the circumstances leading up to their separation, then their reunion, and the complications of the relationship with Meredith. In a real-world scenario, I don’t think the transition will be seamless. They’ve embarked on a commitment to start a new positive change and a new energy. Thinking symbolically, the image of them on the beach looking at a new horizon, for me signifies a sense of a new beginning and hope. Obviously raising the child, and Nathan finding his feet in a new town, won’t be without its challenges. They’re committed to a life together.
DEADLINE: Is there a possibility for you to return to Grey’s Anatomy for a visit?
HENDERSON: I would never close the door. In my mind it’s been left open-ended enough. This is the third time that Shonda and I have worked together. I think providing an exit for the character where there’s a possibility for him to return is always nice. It was always a short-term thing and I was happy to spend a few years doing the show. For now, it’s about exploring some other areas and I think that suits me. I’m not use to do doing long-term things creatively, so for me it’s a nice amount of time. If the opportunity came in the future with an interesting storyline, I’d be happy to explore. I definitely feel connected to Shonda and am grateful for the opportunity she has given me.
DEADLINE: What about doing another Shondaland series down the road? This is your second medical drama with Rhimes after Off the Map?
HENDERSON:There’s nothing at this point. We both expressed a keen desire to work with each other again. She intimated that she’d like to put me in a show with a gun in my hand. I don’t know what that means if it’s a view on my virility or something darker.
DEADLINE: What did you think about Nathan’s arc this season, him ending up with Megan after he had feelings for Meredith for so long? What would be his advice for Meredith?
HENDERSON: I think there was clearly something for Nathan in those relationships. Feelings like that, I don’t think they go away. The nature of his previous commitment to Megan and his feelings around that put him in a horrible state of having to choose between two people he cares about, but honoring his commitment to Megan and following through on that is the right thing to do. It doesn’t negate his feelings for Meredith. The complications of Meredith’s emotions, the loss of Derek and moving on from that still plagues her. And there’s as much ambiguity around all those feelings. The two of them found each other and that provided good drama. I feel bad for fans who were keen on Meredith and Nathan making it, and not being privy to where each character would go. It’s hard to hear those outpourings from those who didn’t know it was going to end up like this. But it makes for nice drama and it’s something that Shonda does brilliantly: Dashing people’s hopes and expectations. That’s why the show continues to be successful. You can’t predict what will happen to people at any time.
DEADLINE: Do you think Nathan and Owen have left the bad blood behind them when it comes to Megan?
HENDERSON: I guess that would remain to be seen if Shonda brings characters back together, how they would move forward. Megan shedding more light on the details of the break-up and what was going on, that would go toward healing that rift. It’s interesting that they didn’t bring Owen to say goodbye (to Nathan). It was left hanging in that way. It was interesting how that was left open. Owen might need a bit of time to get used to the idea of Nathan and Megan being together in real life. It takes a while to get around a situation like that in real life. When you’ve built up thoughts and feelings we think are true, and then when you find out that they’re not true, it takes a while for our ability to recalibrate.
DEADLINE: What is next for you? What are you working on at the moment?
HENDERSON: That’s a bit of a work in progress at the moment. I’m finding the right thing. I’m fortunate at this point in my life and career where I can take a bit of time. One of the things that I was grateful for on Grey’s was having the opportunity to live and work in the same town. So much of my career has been on the road. It spoiled me in a way. I’m not interested in projects that will take me out of L.A. I’ve reached a point in my other relationships and community, and my connection with the community and my career; these things are important to me. I’ve got a movie early next year, a horror film, a sequel to Strangers (Strangers: Prey at Night). I’m talking to my agents and looking at a range of projects that suit me creatively and what I want to do lifestyle-wise. I just got off a boat that sailed from New Caledonia down to New Zealand. I’ve been doing that for the last week or so. I’m just spending some time with my family, and plan to get back to L.A. to my girlfriend and my dog.