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Grey's Anatomy - Staring At The End - Review

This season Grey’s has had to rebuild itself. Faced with significant cast changes, the departure of Sandra Oh, the sabbatical of Patrick Dempsey and the introduction of two new regulars the show’s producers have had to take a step back and revise it’s format. You don’t need to be a passionate lifetime MerDer shipper to appreciate that Patrick Dempsey reducing his hours to part time would provide a challenging relationship issue for Meredith and it’s fairly clear to most fans that ‘you are my person’ probably doesn’t work when ‘my person’ is permanently absent. When both of these concerns primarily affect the show’s main protagonist and collide furiously at the same time the producers need to step up fast and with gusto. Throw in the inevitable break up of a ‘made for each other couple’ and season eleven becomes a make or break chapter in the life of Grey’s Anatomy. Throughout the season so far the writers and directors have sought to disrupt us, to change the creative execution of the show in order to shift the norm. We’ve seen flash backs, an abundance of ‘special’ episodes, changes to cinematography and artistic direction. Above all we’ve seen a seismic shift away from the previously central core of the show – the Meredith/Cristina/Derek triad. Without the relationship between Meredith and Cristina, with a reduced onscreen relationship between Meredith and Derek and an immediate need to establish Callie and Arizona as individuals away from coupledom (virtually recreating the latter as a doctor) the remaining cast and new characters have been shifted up and existing production rules broken.

Shondaland started immediately with the introduction of another ‘Grey’ sister, propelling her up front and centre, right next to Meredith in terms of character relationship building and medical prominence. And yes, despite her being a hugely likeable character Maggie was most definitely thrust onto the viewer. It was a risk, they created a cardio thoracic surgeon (Cristina’s specialty) and they insisted that she would immediately befriend Meredith (Cristina’s territory) as opposed to being a bitter adversary. We are conditioned to like her. The risk seems to have paid off so far with the viewers. However in case Shonda had any lingering concerns, Maggie finally got the Alex seal of approval in 11.13, over lunch, “I like her”. We are being given important messages during mid season episodes. Last week Dr Herman exorcised Arizona’s cheating, I believe for the sake of the viewer, (as I explain here), this week Alex is effectively telling us “I like her (Maggie), therefore you like her and she’s staying” – just in case that message hadn’t landed with any of us.

Reminiscent of season six where Arizona and Owen were introduced as series regulars with their own focused episodes 11.13, Staring At The End continued the Grey’s revival by giving Amelia her spotlight. Brought in as a big hitter, a Derek Shepherd replacement literally, Amelia has been woven into the fabric of Grey’s; already connected to Meredith she is immediately linked to Richard and Maggie, now partnering Arizona, mentoring Stephanie and with a potential relationship with Owen very much on the cards. This week her deepest insecurities are uncovered in a cracker of an episode, which sets us up for a humdinger next week.

Though at times I felt weighed down by lecturing and rather static monologue (has anyone ever had so much dialogue or monologue in one episode?), watching Amelia’s journey in parallel with Herman was at the same time both intriguing and heartbreaking. Neither of their journeys are uplifting (yet?) and by the end I felt an ominous presence, unfortunately for both. Amelia, battling inner demons is increasingly feeling alone in her quest to save Herman. She’s taken on a tumour of epic proportion in a story arc similar to Isaac in Give Peace A Chance, 6.07. Only here the stakes are higher. Had Isaac died Derek’s reputation would’ve taken a mild kick but the impact would have been on his already poor relationship with Webber. In 11.13 Amelia is still establishing her reputation in the shadow of Derek’s. She has much more to lose, she also has had questionable coping strategies in the past so is particularly vulnerable. I feel confident however that even if there is a bad outcome for Amelia, Shonda and her team will pull Amelia through stronger than ever. She will not be allowed to fail, even if Herman dies. I enjoyed watching Amelia’s torment and sense of being alone and in that moment I really enjoyed Stephanie’s speech. Finally that girl has been given some decent material to work with. The interesting undercurrent within this arc is the intangible presence of Derek. He is absent from the show currently and the writers have chosen an epic brain surgery for Amelia to bring her in to the show but also to illustrate that Derek is still around. He may not be physically present but when Amelia says “he has transcontinental smugness” the viewer knows that Derek is still around.

Good luck Amelia, I want a successful outcome ...I want Herman to stay.

The other difference from 6.07 is that we know the patient in 11.13. Dr Nicole Herman has spent the last few episodes completely winning us over. Having started out seemingly as a rather cold, and unemotional doctor (though let’s face it there are never any real villains in Grey’s), we now learn that the root of Herman’s pain is fear, fear of hope, fear of dying but more than that a fear of dying without leaving a legacy, her legacy... She is both living for the moment and living for the future. It’s an inspired and inspiring story and one I’m enjoying more than any story in recent seasons. To me the absence of many of the show regulars went unnoticed because I was so absorbed in Herman’s life. This is how the writers wanted it to be. We left Herman in 11.13 on the verge of her massive surgery. I don’t believe that this is the last we will see of her. I am quite sure that she will come out the other side. However I think it will only be for the short term. She will live for five minutes, five hours, five days, enough time for Arizona to graduate.

The other big character in this drama is Arizona. This is the biggest story Arizona has had that she really owns. It is her moment to step out and step up. Taking this job contributed to the break up of her marriage. She knows it, Callie knows it, so she’s jumped in physically and emotionally. The writers have also allowed her to become friends, indeed almost family with Herman. We’ve probably seen more platonic intimacy between her and Herman in the last two episodes than we have romantic intimacy between her and Callie in the last full season. On the edge of this we have Callie ‘worrying’ about Arizona, questioning Amelia’s ability. She thinks Arizona is headed for a big fall. I’m guessing Arizona just wants Callie to let her fall. Oh Callie, what are you doing?

This relationship between Arizona and Herman is refreshing, unique and entirely watchable. Perhaps it’s because this is a friendship based purely on common interest, and an insatiable drive to teach that makes this more interesting than any of the current or recent past romantic liaisons. It is especially good for Arizona because she was slowly becoming unwatchable.

It is a mark of brilliant writing that a story featuring a new regular, Amelia, a temporary guest star, Herman, and a series regular in dire need of saving, Arizona, could capture the audience so. Or certainly capture me. Honestly I did not miss the rest of the cast.

Throughout the episode Amelia is facing her demons and the closer it got to the inevitable surgery the more it seemed that those demons would defeat her.
I feel a bad outcome is on the cards and if this is the case I can only hope that in the end it is not because of Amelia’s ego. Whatever the outcome Amelia and also Arizona will win through.

With a cliffhanger worthy of being a season or midseason finale 11.13, Staring At The End was wonderful. But for the overly long lectures and monologues this would be one of the best so far this season.

About the Author - Brouhaha
Maxine (aka Brouhaha) is a fan of Grey’s Anatomy and writes episode reviews and occasional articles. Her other TV favourites include Foyle's War, Criminal Minds, TBBT and more recently Broadchurch. 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. Got a question - go to Tumblr ask!
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