Grey’s Anatomy has long held a singular party line: The show is done when its titular star Ellen Pompeo is. You can’t have Grey’s Anatomy without Meredith Grey, right? Creator/superproducer Shonda Rhimes reiterated that sentiment as recently as 2017, when her ABC medical drama hit 300 episodes, telling E! News, "Ellen and I have a pact that I'm going to do the show as long as she's going to do the show … If she wants to stop, we're stopping.”
Then, Pompeo, whose current contract reportedly ends in 2020, began suggesting she was actually considering putting that agreement into motion. She even told Entertainment Weekly this past fall that her record-breaking series had probably “told the majority of the stories” it could, and she was “definitely looking for a change.” She has since slightly walked back those comments.
But, fast forward to the last few episodes of season 15, and it looks like Grey’s is laying a foundation in case the Pompeo-less worst ever comes to pass. Just look at the most recent Grey’s installment for proof.
Thursday night’s “Good Shepherd,” revolves around Amelia Shepherd's (Caterina Scorsone) homecoming. Amelia and hookup Atticus “Link” Lincoln (Chris Carmack) head to New York City to perform an extremely rare surgery on a teen boy. As the Grey’s gods would have it, Amelia — the “Black Sheep” of her high-achieving family, as her high school nickname reminds us — runs into big sister Nancy (Embeth Davidtz) seconds after walking into NYC’s Fox Medical Center. By the next commercial break, Amelia and Link are in a cab to Nancy’s massive Connecticut home, going through Owen Hunt (Kevin McKidd) trivia. Since Amelia’s family doesn’t know about her divorce, she’s going to convince Nancy that Link is Owen.
If you can pretend Grey Sloan can withstand every tragedy it has over the last 15 seasons, you can pretend the Shepherds have never seen Amelia’s Instagram.
Although Grey’s often seems unsure of how to utilize Amelia, she shines in “Shepherd” since her subterfuge is slowly pushed to a fever pitch. First, we realize “the Hunts” aren’t only having dinner with “bossy”-but-forgiving Nancy —she also invited third Shepherd sister Kathleen (Angel’s Amy Acker). Kathleen, a psychiatrist, is, as Amelia complains during the episode, The Worst. In a private moment, Kathleen tells Link-as-Owen her worst opinions about his “wife” under the guise of concern. We learn Kathleen placed a bet on Amelia’s marriage. She says terrible things to a now-sober “Amy” like, “If you’re really clean, then we can’t blame the drugs, or the tumor, which brings us back to personality disorder.”
This suburban nightmare is brought about by the final unexpected, painful dinner appearance: Shepherd matriarch Carolyn (Tyne Daly). Carolyn is the one who announces “Owen” isn’t Owen at all, forcing Amelia to come clean.
This entire disturbing familial play is so engrossing that you don’t realize Grey’s Anatomy’s leading lady is missing from the proceedings until the very last scene. Amelia closes out her big episode by returning home to Seattle and the house she shares with her true sisters, Meredith and Maggie Pierce (Kelly McCreary). When you see Mer smile from the kitchen table, it’s like a bucket of cold water hitting you. Oh, yeah, this is her show, and she has been MIA for 41 minutes. Pompeo’s only other contribution during the episode is her traditional, agenda-setting opening and closing voiceover.
The nearly Meredith-free structure of “Shepherd” is one Grey’s has already coaxed you into accepting with its best episode of season 15, “Silent All These Years.” That installment followed two unforgettable plots: Jo Wilson’s (Camilla Luddington) long awaited, excruciating meeting with her mother Vicki Ann Rudin (Michelle Forbes), and the the treatment of a rape survivor named Abby (Khalilah Joi). Elsewhere, amid this emotional chaos, Miranda Bailey (Chandra Wilson) worries about giving her teen son the sex talk. Meredith doesn’t appear until about the 34th minute of a 44-minute episode, which grapples with consent, sexual assault, domestic abuse, trauma, and how society handles all of them. After all, the doctor who backs up Jo’s care of Abby is Teddy Altman (Kim Raver), rather than Meredith.
Is Grey’s Anatomy trying to prove to viewers there are still stories to tell without Meredith Grey — or is it trying to convince itself?