shot in the foot by chekhov’s gun

(Or “Mari’s take on Grey’s Anatomy“. I promise this is going somewhere.)

I think we should all commit to a five-year rewatch of Babylon 5.

J. Michael Straczynski* did something remarkable. He plotted out his show from beginning to end, and even when something went wrong with his actors, he fixed it while remaining true to the existing narrative. And things went wrong! I won’t tell you what — some of you may be unfamiliar with the series — but bless him, he had a guiding arc encompassing all his other arcs that allowed him to say “Okay, this is what has to happen next.”

It’s a show for writers to really enjoy, because JMS never wasted an inch of film** or a line of dialogue. He knew how an epic should work: what payoffs to put where and when, what pitfalls to avoid, how to make a mundane day on Babylon 5 relatable. Even when I was upset at a twist, sticking with the show either gave me the why or allowed the viewer to draw her own conclusion. (Science fiction is, admittedly, better for this than most genres.)

I suppose JMS spoiled me in the same way reading decent fiction has. I’ve gotten used to competent writing and plotting. Unfortunately, sometimes I lie down with dogs, and you know what comes of that, don’t you?

Much as it pains me to admit this, Grey’s Anatomy is a bit of a fleabag.

I started watching it because I thought the premise was interesting and I wanted some escapism. For a few seasons, it went well enough, though I was never comfortable with how Meredith and Derek got their start. I don’t think cheating is ever okay. Did they suffer for it, though? Did they atone? I think they did, along the way. Or Shonda Rhimes sure put them through hell trying to make it look like they did.

Two characters who grew together began to grow apart at some point, and that’s rich territory for a writer. If your story requires the characters to separate, and you have already planted the narrative seeds — loaded Chekhov’s Gun; do they teach that anymore? — then you take the characters through the logical path of the narrative. Fandom would’ve been okay eventually if we had been given Meredith as a woman who ultimately did not need Derek in order to be brilliant. Fandom might’ve protested somewhat at Derek leaving Meredith the way he left Addison, but it would have made so much sense. It would’ve given us something natural, something that happens to women out here in the real world. The two-body problem is a documented phenomenon. You have two experts in their field, there may not be room in one city for the both of ’em. There isn’t even one room in one marriage sometimes.*** So what was happening to Meredith and Derek, between the likelihood of an exit affair and the two-body problem, that made sense. In the end, sometimes lovers have too much working against them.

Instead, we got a cheap trick of an ending. They reconciled — unlikely, but I was willing to run with it if Shonda Rhimes had any reason for it. Then she killed Derek. Presumably this is to kick off sweeps, because we get a two-hour mournfest next week, and a gambling woman would put good money on Meredith being left with a souvenir bun in the oven.

What’s the point?

We’ve had major deaths. We, and Meredith, have already done trauma. The show feels like it’s winding down or changing gears, with most of the old guard gone, so why not let the remainder of that old guard go in ways that don’t leave the viewer shouting “What the hell?” Meredith should be a gibbering wreck by now, with everything she’s endured in a decade. For a woman with that much loss under her belt and very little reward, she is in shockingly good nick.

I get that apparently Patrick Dempsey was behaving like “a diva”. You know how you get your revenge on an actor who’s misbehaving? You make the audience grateful he’s gone. If you want to be relatively gracious about it, you make his exit forgettable. But you do all that in a way that’s organic to your work. One could well argue that unnecessarily dramatic deaths are a Rhimes hallmark, and my response would be the same: that’s terrible writing. That’s a cheap shot. You’ll get great sweeps ratings out of it, or a great finale/premiere pair, but the base becomes more cynical.

When I lay down with this dog again and again, I expected fleas, not black widow spiders.

I think the show could’ve died a dignified death by now. (Unlike Derek Shepherd.) I think three shows is one too many for this particular showrunner, and that if you will insist on juggling series, each must feel dramatically different from the others. Grey’s was never as high-stakes as either Scandal or How to Get Away With Murder. It was lighter fare, a hospital-centered soap that usually leaves the viewer feeling great. It has to, if anyone’s going to watch the rest of the Thursday night lineup.

Scandal isn’t my bag, so I’m used to watching Doc Martin instead. It’s just that I didn’t need the change of pace quite so much until now. I want the show we were starting to get, which was about the people who still mattered at (I’m always going to call it) Seattle Grace. I wanted to see the relationship dramas unfolding, not more tragedy. Game of Thrones is that way, she says as she points to HBO. Sometimes, darker and edgier falls flat.

I probably will watch what happens next, but I’m not really invested in Meredith anymore. The changes coming for her are all forced, her locus of control as external as it ever was. There is no growth. I care much more about the characters around her, who have grown, who are still growing. Look at Karev! His growth was realistic, the way a main character’s growth should be. What has happened to him has given him complexity. He’s not one-note anymore. He’s a whole piano. Seeing Amelia brought back from Private Practice was awesome, and if she and Owen can fight it through, get past who they’ve been, maybe they’ll find healing in each other. Bailey has always been incredible. I love the Chief in ways I never thought I would, especially with the introduction of Maggie, and Kepner, oh, April, you were the one I thought was the most pointless of all until you suddenly were this center of calm and sanity.

Meredith is irrelevant to her own show. That should not be possible. But it’s happened. I don’t care about her. I can’t, if I want to go on liking anything about this series. For the sake of the other characters, I am actually prepared to ignore Meredith. This is what happens when a show that’s supposed to be about one person works better, in the long run, as an ensemble drama. It’s the other problem a writer has, if she isn’t going to do what JMS did and write a finite work. Ideas evolve with new input. Without a solid plan going forward, without knowing the last chapter like JK Rowling, characterization will surprise you. I have a lot to say about how Harry Potter played out, but Rowling was internally consistent, sometimes infernally so. Rhimes is not even of that calibre.

My mother suggested one long shot that would save this whole misbegotten twist: Meredith and Derek will wake up in a few years and turn to each other. “Wow, I had a weird dream…” Yeah, sure, it’s been done****, but when you cross the line from the sublime to the absurd, sometimes the absurd is the only hope you’ve got.

* I remembered how to spell it! Go me!

** Yes, kids, film used to be measured in inches. #gettingold

*** Much to my shock and chagrin, in one case.

**** This is not a blog for millennials. Sorry.


One thought on “shot in the foot by chekhov’s gun

  1. I have watched Grey’s with a couple of years left in between when it turned too unbelievable. I’ve always felt that Meredith’s story was the weakest though. Anyway, Shonda seems to like killing off the characters so she does not have to decide to bring them back (Re: Izzy, George). Then there’s no room for discussion. If anyone’s behaving like a diva, it’s gotta be her. I think the living in DC could have been very believable too. And please, they’re on that road, 3 cars in a row, no cars for hours, then everyone leaves (and the medics are blocking the road!) suddenly a truck comes by? And it’s the way to the airport? In freaking Seattle? Makes no sense!!! And who stops in the middle of a turn like that? Might as well have died in a plane crash.

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