Grey’s Anatomy won’t completely close the door on Meredith just yet

Ellen Pompeo in Grey's Anatomy

Ellen Pompeo in Gray’s Anatomy
Photo: ABC

Before anyone asks: Yes, Gray’s Anatomy is still on.

Even after 19 seasons, the ABC medical drama continues to bring in viewers. The fall finale in November 2022 was watched 3.72 million people live there (that number nearly tripled within a week, courtesy of Hulu). Grays returned on Feb. 23 in an episode that marked a major milestone as series star Ellen Pompeo left the show. If you are one of the 3.5 million viewers who hoped a swipe, emotional exit for Pompeo’s Meredith Gray – well, it didn’t happen that way.

In a relatively relaxed outing entitled “I will follow the sunMeredith takes her three kids to Gray Sloan for her last day as Chief. Her latest operation there to save a beloved author is unsuccessful. Her farewell party is disappointing (wrong cake! Bad decor! No sad speeches!). Her relationship with Scott Speedman’s Nick Marsh ends because, although he finally confesses his love for her, she leaves for Boston with her family for a new professional start. And no one deserves a new beginning more than Meredith Grey.

Meredith has been put through the wringer over the years. I’d venture to call her one of TV’s most unfortunate characters: her mother died of Alzheimer’s disease, her half-brother died in a plane crash, her best friend left the country for a new job, and her husband suffered a fatal car accident. There’s more: she nearly drowned, had a miscarriage after watching her husband get shot, and gave birth years later during a hospital power outage. A patient brutally assaulted her, she was in a coma after getting COVID and her ex-boyfriend died while she was in that coma. And I’ve only scratched the surface. Is it any wonder she’s ready to leave Seattle, or that Pompeo is ready to step out of Mer’s shoes for a well-deserved break?

All this is exactly as soapy as it sounds. Meredith has overcome an insane amount of trauma to become a successful surgeon and mother. But precisely because of everything she’s been through, fans expected a grander farewell. The only notable moment in “I’ll Follow The Sun” was a parallel to her season two epic “Pick Me, Choose Me, Love Me” speech to Derek (Patrick Dempsey). Now she makes it clear to Nick that she chooses herself, her job and her children, an excellent way to emphasize her evolution. Otherwise, her “last episode” was lackluster; unlike other character endings, there were no tear-inducing montages to be found. Maybe that’s a good thing.

Grey’s Anatomy 19×07 Trailer “I’ll Follow The Sun” (HD) Meredith Grey’s Farewell

for seasons, Gray’s Anatomy has been quite a mess, and this current season works as its own kind of messy revamp. Five regulars have joined as interns, but they’re too fresh to commit anyone to the show. As always, chaotic potential romances dangle in our faces (Link and Jo, Jules and Blue), while married couples go through poorly crafted problems (Maggie and Winston, Owen and Teddy). Pompeo — one of the last three original cast members left standing — is now gone, while Chandra Wilson and James Pickens Jr.’s Bailey and Webber haven’t had meaty storylines in a long time. As much as Grays trying to go to the future, they are not yet ready to completely close the door to the past.

With several episodes to go, Mer’s move along those lines is the clearest example yet of Season 19’s strategy. If fans are ever going to hang on and support the new regulars, they’re going to need a reason to stick around. A huge, mournful episode, beautiful as it would have been, could have suggested a more permanent farewell Grays. But we already know that Pompeo will return in the finale and she’ll continue to narrate every remaining episode of the season.

Another big change is lurking, with Krista Vernoff leaves at the end of Season 19. After working as a writer for several years, she became the showrunner in 2017. While she’s helped lead a resurgence, her narrative choices have been questionable, including Justin Chambers and Alex Karev’s ill-handled exits, April (Sarah Drew), and Arizona (Jessica Capshaw) is written out for no good reason. Some new blood on the other side of the camera would also offer the chance to breathe new life into the series.

So if Grays renewed for (one last?) 20th season, it will look even different. To ensure some familiarity, the writing has quietly left the door open for Pompeo to return whenever she pleases. It may not happen – Sandra Oh, Katherine Heigl and Chambers haven’t done it yet – but it gives audiences something to look forward to. Listen, at this point, we take all the crumbs we get. That’s why I’m already looking forward to all the progress Mer has made in Boston when Pompeo returns to wrap up Season 19. Maybe then we’ll get our emotional goodbye and a clearer answer to the show’s future.

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