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Grey’s Anatomy – Spotlight on Cheating: Can Callie & Arizona survive?

My episode review for 10.05 = It was better, still messy though. Loved Cristina and Meredith, loved Callie's wifeyness. Loved the retrospective-ness of the episode for MerDer, Crowen, MerCris & Calzona. Too much Stephanie. But I had a feature in mind... so I wrote about cheating.  

Cheating. It’s the real deal isn’t it? The heart breaker; the final straw, the emotional train wreck. It tears your heart out, leaves you skittled, humiliated, vulnerable.
The one person in the world you trusted is the one person you now cannot.
Are there levels of cheating or is it a case of sex ‘only once’ and it may as well be a full-blown long-term love affair for the devastation ‘only once’ creates? Is there ever a way to come back from cheating be you the cheater or the cheated on? How do you make sense of it, how do you heal from it, can anything mitigate it? How do you learn to trust again? Can you ever trust again? And if it’s done to you twice can your relationship survive? Can you?

Grey’s Anatomy has once again led us down the path of infidelity, a well-worn route with footprints of many still visible in the dirt. Shonda Rhimes has repeatedly exclaimed that as a couple Callie and Arizona must be allowed to be just like every other couple on the show. They must go through the heartbreak, the trauma, the disasters that befall all couples. This is of course a reference to the fact that this is an all female couple and they should go through the angst that any hetero couple goes through irrespective of their gender and sexuality. It must be the case, says she, that they are not always ‘happy’. But that would imply that cheating is something normal, routine, regular. It’s not. According to the Journal of Marital and Family Therapy in the USA the percentage of married women who have strayed at least once during their married lives is only 14%. We can deduce then that Shonda’s unfaithful storytelling antics are melodramatic devices to move characters forward. Cheating is used to tell the story in Grey’s Anatomy with startling regularity and the act itself is either a fundamental plot point in a relationship’s development – whether that be with the original spouse or the lover – or as a minor (and I use that word generously) indicator to direct the story in a certain way.

To put Arizona’s cheating in context and to understand a little about how the Grey’s writers view this as a device and possible implications to the characters and to us viewers it’s useful to remind ourselves of just how much adultery has occurred and where the couples ended up.

At the centre of them all we find Richard Webber and Ellis Grey. This is the ultimate infidelity because theirs was an enduring love affair where not only did each of them cheat on their spouses physically (though the physical act of cheating is also emotional cheating) they also fell deeply in love and remained so until Ellis’ death. The emotional betrayal was utterly complete. It was an important arc for the show from the beginning and throughout the entire ten seasons. The writers remind us of it frequently and use it to develop the relationship between Meredith and Richard. It was traumatic for Meredith, for her father also and it facilitated the character of Lexie. The affair took place in the hospital, in the on-call rooms. It was passionate for Richard and devastating for Adele. In the end Richard and Ellis parted, physically, but we know that emotionally they were always together. Through sensitive writing Richard became a vibrant and respected character and, despite his infidelity, returned to his wife - before the series timeline started and with her knowledge of the affair. This deeply flawed and at times dark character was allowed to survive not just a number of dramatic violent Grey’s moments but also through exposure of his human weaknesses. Not only survive, he’s beloved. Even if he is a grumpy old patient at the moment.

Addison Montgomery arrived in Grey’s Anatomy as an antagonist for Derek and Meredith. Having cheated on Derek during their marriage (again, before the timeline of the show began) she followed him to Seattle in a bid to get him back and for a little while she succeeded. Her infidelity is compounded by the fact that she cheated on Derek with his best friend.
*shhh just pausing for a moment to recall the exit from the shower scene*
And so we were introduced to Mark Sloan, on the surface a man-whore, underneath a conflicted man deeply in love with Addison. The entire situation further complicated by an unwanted (on Mark’s part) abortion. This story arc really set Addison up as the bad guy – she cheated AND she had an abortion. Yet despite this rather unpleasant introduction the Grey’s writers quickly crafted an empathetic story to build Addison up to be a character we could believe in. So tough was this belief that she was able to carry a spin off series, lasting six seasons.

It’s a powerful statement for how the show creators view and use cheating that the two main protagonists of Grey’s Anatomy, Meredith and Derek, are shaped by infidelity in their lives. Both victims, both came through, though I suspect for both subconsciously it continues to influence their lives.

Cheating is at the very heart of this show.

It’s no surprise then that Shonda’s two other favourite characters, Callie and Cristina are both given the same treatment. Having married on a whim in Vegas Callie and George’s marriage quickly descends into the abyss ending when he cheats on his wife with Izzie. Did we think less of George for cheating? After all he ended up with Izzie, another beloved character (by many, though I didn’t). Theirs was a love affair. As a character George recovered from this. He maintained his appeal as the quiet studious ‘nice’ resident. We know also that Izzie’s character recovered, enough to become Alex’s wife anyway. It’s difficult to say if their departures were facilitated by their tryst. T.R. Knight and Katherine Heigl’s exits from the show were more actor led than character or show led.
Where did that leave Callie? We know that through the rest of season four and the first half of season five she went through a transition. The writers took her down and then brought her back up by taking her on a journey of self-discovery with both Mark Sloan and Erica Hahn. In different ways these two characters gave her strength to embrace herself, gave her back herself. There is a familiarity with the current story arc.
And then came the Shonda styled ‘made for each other’ pairing with Arizona.

When it came to Cristina, Shonda deviated from her ‘norm’. Owen had a very brief cheating moment. It was more a reaction to his circumstances than an emotional draw away from his marriage, a deliberate plot device to disrupt the situation already created between the couple. It was retrospective and shown in flashback, and clear that the tryst was devoid of emotional attachment. Don’t get me wrong, it still hurt Cristina but the purpose of introducing the story arc was to even the balance of the relationship problems. Remember cheating is not as serious in Grey’s Anatomy as it is in real life. Both the foundation infidelity stories were recovered – Richard and Adele ended well (okay, not so well for Adele eventually) and Addison and Derek came back together, albeit briefly and maintained a good relationship going forward after their eventual final split. Even to the end Callie was heartbroken when George died.

Now, seasons later, we see Owen and Cristina divorced and separated but not because of the cheating, but because they want different things in life. The passion and love is still there is abundance. The cheating did its job as a tactical move in the plot. It’s not even mentioned now. And besides, the quick among you will realize that Cristina has a certain moral flexibility when it comes to cheating:
Season 321. Meredith: "Addison showed up, I had months of pain and self-loathing, crazy ranting mother and near drowning off the side of the dock, I mean, it's no fish in my ho-ho, but it's certainly not an easy ride."
Cristina: "Well, you know, I cheated on my boyfriends and I'm fine. I mean, am I the only one?"

The latest version of perfidy follows a pattern more similar to Owen than Richard, Addison or George. Arizona has a very brief fling with a visiting doctor. The screen time leading up to the actual physical deed shows a gifted, strong, beautiful, blonde flirting shamelessly with Arizona. The interesting dynamic here being that entire description could be leveled at Arizona Robbins. She almost sees a mirror image of herself in this woman and is devastatingly attracted to her. But it’s not love. Or if it is it’s only the manifestation of trying to love herself again. It’s entirely self centred. Her cheating is an external expression of her internal conflict. She’s actually not interested in the other woman at all. Only in trying to make sense of herself.
That is no excuse for betrayal. It’s a reason but nothing can excuse the act of cheating on your wife. But can it be in the same league as Richard’s or Addison’s or George’s? Is their cheating the same level of emotional betrayal to Owen’s or Arizona’s? Or is Arizona’s a momentary leave of senses, a more tactical device to uncover some untold story of her marriage to Callie?

Whatever your personal opinion about cheating, whether you hate the character for doing it or not, this story is not about infidelity. Though it is a major thing, it won’t be swatted away like Owen’s, but equally it will not be the permanent end that was Addison and George. For Arizona and Callie this is a device to blow open their marriage, and dig into the issues that fester beneath. There will be a dissection into the route of the cheating but ultimately it will turn into an analysis of all that was already wrong. This story is about broken trust on each side, PTSD and it’s lasting effects and probably the biggest issue, the loss of self for both of them. We got to know Lauren a bit over three episodes so we were more engaged with this event than we were with Owen, however there is a similarity, the writers have used it to attempt to even out the existing issues. In real life there is no comparing the cheating with chopping off the leg. In Grey’s it’s entirely possible. 

Having been a victim of spousal betrayal previously this is going to be a long haul for Callie. Her trust not only in Arizona but also in relationships has been destroyed and she’s externalizing her feelings robustly to everyone who happens to cross her path. There is no holding back her hurt and this is entirely understandable. I was intrigued this week listening to Callie’s dialogue at the end regarding her apartment. She wants to move back into HER apartment not THEIR apartment. She doesn’t want to ‘take care’ of Arizona as if that was what she perceived herself to be doing. This is an extremely cold speech, again in public with colleagues listening. Her own concept of ‘wife’ has disintegrated. She’s processing Arizona right out of her life again, as she did with the airport scene and she’s not giving her any airtime. She’s simply not listening at all to Arizona.

Callie’s two fantastic speeches from Episode 404 are once again relevant in this space and will echo long into Season 10. She is once again humiliated, confused and attacking, and through this season we will be reminded of it constantly.

To Izzie: “You feel terrible? You took advantage; he was your best friend. I tried to trust you. So much that I convinced myself that it was all in my head, that I was crazy. But I wasn't, was I? And then you pulled that thing in the cafeteria today. It's not bad enough that you humiliate me by getting in bed with my husband; you have to humiliate me at work too. George may be the one who broke his vows but you... we're women, Izzie. You did this to another woman. You took something from me. You stole something from me like a petty little thief. YOU are the one who should be humiliated. YOU are the one who should be ashamed. You are the one... don't you dare come to me for forgiveness you traitorous bitch.”

To Patient’s husband: “You didn’t love her. You just didn’t want to be alone or maybe, maybe she was good for your ego or, or maybe she made you feel better about your miserable life, you didn’t love her because you don’t destroy the person that you love”

Those of you with a sympathetic ear for Arizona may question where is her voice? Well she’s keeping her thoughts locked up tight. This is not a case of poor writing or low screen time. This is the writer portraying her faithfully as someone who not only doesn’t air her personal laundry, but also locks it up inside away from even her wife, and then swallows the key. She spent the entire season nine doing this. Despite an attempt to get Callie into marriage therapy Callie called it right telling Arizona to go in alone. We don’t know what’s going on in Arizona’s head and until we do we cannot judge if anything can mitigate her cheating. At the moment for Callie, nothing can. What is quite clear though is that we are being taken back in time with these ladies, reminded of who they were before they met each other – Callie dancing in her underwear, Arizona supping a drink, fighting off the ladies.

But there is a difference with this couple. Unlike Richard and Ellis, Addison and Mark or George and Izzie, the true love here is already within the marriage, already between Callie and Arizona, as it is for Owen and Cristina. Each of the two women has externalized their pain, one through cheating, the other through public humiliation and ostracizing.  This is not a case of a marriage breaking beyond repair. Rather we finally get to see the raw pain of it already broken. If played well we will see this couple first of all challenge themselves and then each other. If anything can mitigate Arizona’s cheating it may lie in answering these questions - whether Callie believes that their marriage was already in trouble before the cheating and whether they love each other enough to see hope through that pain.

Cheating is a despicable act of betrayal in real life, though not always the end of a relationship. However Grey’s Anatomy, taking artistic license, tends not to condemn the protagonists. In the case of Callie and Arizona, cheating is the thing that will eventually bring them back together when they finally realize they were actually already apart.

Of course I could be wrong J

To finish I leave you with one final Callie quote, to remind you that Callie has a heart, even for those who have fallen from grace. Episode 515, in the chapel:
“You`re an amazing doctor, you save tiny humans. God knows who you are.”

Oops. See what I did there. I meant:
“You`re an amazing doctor, you save babies. God knows who you are.”

Cause we all know Callie and that cheeky cheatin' chick Addison are besties. 

Written by Brouhaha aka @PipMaxine

Maxine (aka Brouhaha) is a Grey’s Anatomy devotee, from the very beginning and through the dark period of George and Izzie as a couple. Her other TV 'loves' include the British series Foyle's War, Criminal Minds and TBBT. In real life she's a new mum, self-employed and can often be found arguing about politics or current affairs, attempting to write fiction and buying hair products. Maxine reviews Grey's Anatomy. Got a question - go to Tumblr ask!
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