Grey’s Anatomy fans have been waiting since early January 2020 to find out how the series would write out Alex Karev (Justin Chambers), a doctor who has been with the ABC medical drama since the very beginning. Would Alex be killed off in the wake of his portrayer Justin Chambers’ abrupt exit? Would he abandon his wife without any real explanation? Would he forever stay in “Iowa” to help his ailing mother (Lindsay Wagner)?
Thursday night’s “Leave a Light On” finally answers that question —and purposefully leaves a lot of space for an Alex Karev return in the process.
“Light” centers on three letters Alex sends to the most important women in his life: best friend Meredith Grey (Ellen Pompeo), wife Jo Karev (Camilla Luddington), and boss/mentor Miranda Bailey (Chandra Wilson). In those notes, we find out the truth behind Alex’s exit. He wasn’t really in Iowa, as he claimed. Instead, Alex was meeting ex-wife Izzie Stevens (Katherine Heigl), whom he helped create embryos in the wake of her cancer diagnosis years ago. In one of the letters, Alex explains he signed documents giving Izzie the right to do whatever she wanted with the embryos.
Alex’s goodbye episode confirms the embryos were eventually carried to term and are now glitter-happy kids. Alex and Izzie have twin children, Eli and Alexis. Alex learned this information after he reached out to Grey’s alums to support Meredith in her medical board trial. Izzie was one of those calls, although Alex admits Meredith’s legal crisis was just a “good enough” excuse to reach out to Izzie. Alex then went to meet Izzie — who is now a surgeon of oncology — and their children, who live on a farm in Kansas.
Once Alex met this easy-to-enter family, he could not leave. The children are now his children, and he is creating a happy life with Izzie. As Alex tells Jo, he’s staying in Kansas to make a relationship work with Izzie, whom he immediately picked back up with the second he spoke to her. Alex has already signed divorce papers for Jo and gives her his shares in Grey Sloan Memorial Hospital.
However, Grey’s gives Alex more than enough space to return to the series.
From the jump, Alex is gifted the possibility of remaining in the narrative in the same way Mer’s very best friend, Cristina Yang (Sandra Oh), has stayed in the story. Cristina has been sending Meredith texts since her portrayer, Sandra Oh, left the series in 2014. Alex’s three letters are essentially a series of very long text messages. So, he is already in the Cristina Yang exit camp.
However, Grey’s also gives Alex space to return on-camera, should Chambers ever want to walk the halls of Grey Sloan again. In his letter to Meredith, Alex lovingly explains what his children are like. Eli and Alexis are sweet, stubborn, and want to become doctors. “I”m finally exactly where I should be,” Alex writes in the letter. “I hope you do come here one day … I hope you come to meet my kids and they get to call you ‘Aunty Mer.’” This line suggests that Mer could either go to Kansas to check in on Alex — the Midwest must have medical emergencies, too? — or that he could bring the kids to the Grey’s home base of Seattle for a special episode.
As Alex repeatedly says in his letter to Bailey, he is a “damn good” pediatric surgeon. It’s easy to imagine a crisis that only Alex could fix, which would drag him back to the Pacific Northwest.
No matter how Grey’s may bring back Alex, it’s simply important to recognize that the production team gave the character the chance. In a series as murder-happy as Grey’s Anatomy, that wasn’t always a definite upon learning of Chambers’ exit. The medical drama could have easily killed the character off, as they did with Meredith’s husband Derek Shepherd (Patrick Dempsey) or Meredith’s sister Lexie Grey (Chyler Leigh). Adding a dead best friend to Meredith’s plate would be in line with Grey’s most tragic habits. Refusing that impulse nods towards the writers’ interest in allowing Chambers the return, should he ever want to.
So cry for the loss of Alex Karev now, but know it’s definitely not the last you’ll ever hear from him.