This essay includes spoilers for the Season 19 finale of “Grey’s Anatomy.”
Before the 19th season finale of “Grey’s Anatomy” aired Thursday night, I thought it might be my last. Don’t worry. It wasn’t the series finale. “Grey’s” is returning in the fall for its 20th season. I just wasn’t sure I’d be tuning in again.
I’ve been watching “Grey’s” since I was 12, which means I’ve watched a lot of season finales. I’ve been with the characters since Addison’s arrival at the end of Season 1 and all of the end-of-season cliffhangers that followed, including the infamous prom, the deadly plane crash, the storms, the car crashes and the many weddings (along with the almost weddings).
“Grey’s” has been my show year after year, and I’ve watched it with my people. In high school, I watched on the couch with my mom. In college, I called her as soon as the episode ended. After college, I watched the TGIT lineup (“Scandal,” “Grey’s Anatomy,” and “How to Get Away with Murder”) every week with two of my best friends. Then, in the fall of 2018, when my mom was dying of cancer, I drove to her house to watch with her every Thursday night. The last time I remember her getting out of bed was when she sat next to me on the couch to watch the midseason finale 2018. It aired exactly a month before she died.
For almost two decades, “Grey’s” has been an important part of my life, a touchstone during the best and worst parts of growing up. Its voiceovers, dialogue and vernacular have also shaped how I see the world. This is why, as friends and family have given up on the show over the years, I have remained steadfast in my viewership.
I always expected to be the last fan watching, and that faith seemed to pay off in Season 17 when Derek, George, Lexie and Mark appeared for cameos. Once again, I watched live every Thursday because I didn’t want the internet to spoil anything, and each episode was once again a touchstone, proof that time was actually passing during pandemic isolation.
Season 17, like the show at its height, brought me 42 minutes of joy every week. It also raised the bar for what “Grey’s” could still be — even after all this time — and I think that’s why last season and this season have felt so disappointing.
For the first time ever, I’ve contemplated not watching.
At the end of the Season 18 finale, after the intern program is shut down, the episode ends with Meredith’s voiceover: “The end of an era is easier said than done.”
That struggle has defined Season 19, which attempted to revive “Grey’s Anatomy” with the arrival of a new intern class: Benson “Blue” Kwan (Harry Shum Jr.), Jules Millin (Adelaide Kane), Simone Griffith (Alexis Floyd), Lucas Adams (Niko Terho) and Mika Yasuda (Midori Francis). (TV and film writers, including those who worked on “Grey’s Anatomy,” are currently on strike over pay and working conditions.)
While this new crop of interns is enjoyable to watch and has a chemistry reminiscent of the original intern class, they suffer from the show’s bloated cast and long history. At first, I enjoyed how the show uses the interns to pay homage to its past: living in Meredith’s house, throwing a party and dancing in the living room. There’s even a love triangle between two interns (Simone and Lucas) and an ex (Trey) who shows up without warning.
But, midway through the season, I wondered if I had the stamina to watch a new class of interns repeat storylines and emotional arcs I’d already seen. This feeling intensified when Pompeo departed the show as a series regular in an episode that was rushed, unceremonious and disappointing.
Without Meredith anchoring the show, it made this season’s struggles even more apparent, and these challenges were perfectly exemplified in the season’s finale.
The intern storylines were too predictable. Did anyone really think Simone was going to marry Trey? Did it surprise anyone when Simone showed up at the hospital in her wedding dress and ended up in the on-call room with Lucas?
Also, while the group has chemistry when acting together, each character — except Mika — seems to fall flat when forced to hold a scene alone. This is less a problem of the characters and more the issue of having an overcrowded with too many storylines.
While the Season 19 finale focuses on the two major storylines of Simone’s wedding and the Catherine Fox (formerly Harper Avery) Awards, there are so many subplots. Teddy has a toothache, Winston and Amelia are fighting, Nick must see Meredith again, Link is jealous of Jo flirting with a patient, Meredith has a new groundbreaking theory, Richard is tempted to drink (and possibly does), Jules’ 81-year-old roommate is intubated against the wishes of her DNR, Helm is back as co-chief resident (with eight weeks of vacation), and Miranda is flying with the others on a flight full of turbulence (both actual and emotional).
So many storylines make it hard for me to care too deeply about anyone, so I didn’t feel the same urgency to watch the show when Season 19 rolled around. The interns felt fresh but unoriginal, and the veteran characters continually pulled focus from a show trying to redefine itself amid its main character’s departure, a departure made even more complicated and awkward because Pompeo was still doing the show’s voiceovers.
For these reasons, instead of watching every Thursday like I always have, I found myself binging multiple episodes weeks after they’d been released. So this week, I did the same thing, trying to catch up to watch the finale before I saw spoilers online.
Despite the lackluster parts of this season, there were still successful moments. I found Season 19 most enjoyable when it deviated from those intern scenes that paid homage to its past. Mika’s character stood out because of her funny under-the-breath comments as well as her important season-long fight for a living wage. I also enjoyed when “Grey’s” bucked the show’s recent trends. Specifically, “Grey’s” has repeatedly focused on social issues with didactic storylines in a single episode or, sometimes but rarely, a multi-episode arc.
Going into this season, Pompeo was also critical of this tendency. In an episode of her podcast, she said that she wanted the show to be “less sort of preachy” and thread important social issues throughout the season.
This season, “Grey’s” did a much better job of that, focusing on the impact of overturning Roe v. Wade on women’s healthcare and medical professionals. The season’s best episodes were when Kate Walsh reprised her role as Addison to help Miranda open a women’s health clinic, provide access to abortions, and deal with the horrific and dangerous harassment they both face. Despite a world that feels on fire, Addison’s strength and Miranda’s power kept this storyline realistic, relevant and non-didactic.
My favorite moment of the finale is when Meredith announces that Miranda has won the Catherine Fox Award for these efforts, becoming the first recipient of a non-surgical accomplishment. However, this moment was also my greatest disappointment from Season 19 because the scene ended before Miranda could give her acceptance speech, a moment 19 years in the making that I desperately wanted to see.
Another moment that made me swoon like “Grey’s” of the past is when Nick and Meredith finally talk in the hallway. It was their first time alone since Nick told Meredith she loved her on the phone in her last episode as a series regular, and she pretended not to hear him.
“I never should have let you walk away and to say that I want to live a whole life with love and mess and pain and you,” Nick says while standing in the hallway outside his hotel room. Cue me swooning as Meredith replies, “Well, OK then.”
I love that the show saves this moment for the end of the season for not delivering it when Pompeo leaves the show. It feels authentic and reinforces that Meredith’s story is not about “any kind of ever after.” This is one lesson that I’m OK with “Grey’s” repeating ad nauseum because Meredith is so much more than who she is dating or married to, especially McDreamy.
I also loved that her potentially groundbreaking Alzheimer’s research may undermine everything Derek accomplished during his career. This took me back to their massive season-long fight before his death when Meredith refused to let her career take a backseat to his. I especially love that this research and its implications leave the door wide open for Pompeo to return in the future.
This also seems to be a trend. “Grey’s” leaves many doors open, especially for characters like Meredith and her sister Maggie (who also departed this season) to return occasionally.
When the finale aired, I wasn’t sure I’d still be watching to see who walks through those open doors or what happens to the characters left on a cliff: Teddy lying pulseless on the OR floor, and interns Lucas and Simone standing next to a pool of blood after performing an unauthorized surgery in a scene that gave me major Izzie Stevens cutting-Denny Duquette’s-LVAD vibes.
Unlike finales in the past, I’m not wondering how I’ll survive an entire summer without knowing what will happen. But I have decided to tune in and find out to see what direction Meg Marinis, the new showrunner, will take the series.
After almost two decades and everything “Grey’s” has been through with me, I think the show and I deserve the chance to see what happens next.