I am a Shonda Rimes fan. She creates deeply layered, flawed, interesting, incredible passionate characters and tells a mean story. When I tuned in for the first-ever Grey’s Anatomy in March of 2005, the racially diverse characters and unique plot lines mesmerized me. Over the years, the show has won Emmys, Golden Globes, SAG, and GLAAD awards. While ratings have slipped in recent years, I have never missed an episode.
Shonda also turned me into a Gladiator. I’ve been fascinated by Scandal and all of its twists and turns. Last week, she knocked my socks off and KILLED JAKE! KILLED HIM! Until this week, when the show started with Jake a bloody mess and in critical condition, everyone at home and on the show hoping and praying he wouldn’t die. Happy that he might have a chance to live.
But I digress . . . and need to head back to what hashurt my heart the last 12 hours.
Derek Shepherd is dead.
Now my heart has hurt during other seasons of Grey’s. I know actors sometimes throw caution to the wind and give up that steady gig of a weekly show. They move on to new challenges. And that means they have to be written off somehow. Just asked disillusioned Downton Abbey fans. We still haven’t recovered from Matthew’s death from a few seasons back. Thankfully the writers have allowed Lady Mary grieve and not rush into another relationship (BTW—Mary actually has my blessing now to find another man to marry in this upcoming final season. See? I can be a reasonable viewer and fan!).
FOGs (Fans of Grey’s) have suffered over the past decade. In simple 1-hour episodes, we have become invested in patients that have dropped into our little world of Seattle Grace (or Grey Sloan Memorial Hospital—more on that later). We hang onto hope. We cheer when they live. We’re sad when they die. And that’s just the patients who come into our households for a single episode.
If you ask a FOG about death on the show (up until last night), one of the first names that would come up is George O’Malley. A sweet resident who delivered Bailey’s baby, George finally decided to enlist the army, inspired by Owen Hunt’s experiences. Before he can announce this news, George sacrifices himself and prevents a stranger from being hit by a bus. Brought in to the very hospital he formerly worked at, he’s such a mess that the staff in ER don’t even know who he is. When they realize it’s George they’re working on—and they can’t save him—it was a seminal moment in TV history. Viewers felt as if a piece of them had died with George.
But Shonda was just getting warmed up. Other FOGs would choke up over losing Denny Duquette, the soul mate of resident Dr. Izzy Stevens. Denny had a bad heart and a multiple episode story arc, but in the end Denny was toast and Izzy never was the same.
Some FOGs actually stopped watching the show after the Season 9 premiere when Dr. Mark Sloan (aka McSteamy) died from injuries sustained in a plane crash. He’d spent the season finale of Season 8 telling a fellow plane crash victim, Dr. Lexi “Little” Grey, that he loved her and always would. Those final moments of Mark holding Lexi’s hand and talking about their future were gut-wrenching. The plane crash led to a lawsuit, lots of money, and a new name for our favorite Seattle hospital.
But all these major cast deaths can’t hold a candle to the passing of Dr. McDreamy. Derek was there from the beginning, always a part of Meredith’s story as she grew personally and professionally into the strong woman, brilliant surgeon, and compassionate mom that she is today. Derek had already been shot before. He’d almost lost his ability to operate as a neurosurgeon due to his hand injury from the plane crash. He and Meredith had been to hell and back . . . and finally they were in a good place. A great place. They had their dream jobs. Built their dream house. Had two adorable kids. And love. They totally, absolutely, 110% had love together.
And Shonda Rimes just ripped their (our) world apart.
Derek died after saving 4 car crash victims, doing extraordinary things and also taking care of a young girl emotionally. I fell in love with him all over again in these moments. But he’s hit by a semi and brought to the same facility where those he saved were transported. We hear Derek’s thoughts as the doctors struggle to save him, knowing they’re doing the wrong things, knowing he won’t make it. He dies of a head injury that occurred when the semi hit him. His brain shuts down first, but the machines are keeping him alive. And Meredith? She has to let. Him. Go.
Just as when Denny died, Show Patrol’s Chasing Cars played in the background, the poignant lyrics tearing my heart out. I’ll never hear that song again in the same way. As I think on this, fresh tears are spilling down my cheeks.
As a writer, I want to tell great stories. I want readers to be invested in my characters, wrapped up in what happens to them. I want to make readers laugh and cry and hurt and cheer.
Just like Shonda does . . .