Warning: Spoilers ahead for Grey’s Anatomy’s “Love of My Life.”
Grey’s Anatomy has been on the air for almost 16 full seasons and given viewers well over 350 episodes of television. At this point, it’s easy to assume we know everything there is to know about the doctors of Grey Sloan Memorial Hospital. But, Thursday night’s “Love of My Life” revealed just how wrong that assumption is — all thanks to a series of flashbacks exploring the life of Teddy Altman (Kim Raver) circa 2001.
“Love” reveals that Teddy is a queer woman and was in a relationship with a woman named Allison (The Fosters/Good Trouble mom Sherri Saum) prior to the 9/11 terror attacks. This backstory “twist” could easily feel like a cheap bit of inexplicable queer baiting. Instead, learning about Allison explains so much of Teddy’s previously empty past — and hints at her complicated future as Grey’s rockets towards its final episodes of season 16.
Teddy’s “Love of My Life” reveal, at its most basic, explains why she named her daughter Allison, of all the names in the world. After all, Grey’s is a show where baby names matter. Meredith’s twins are named after her late mother (Ellis), her now late husband (Derek), and her mentor (Derek Jr.’s middle name is “Bailey”). Despite the fact that we never see Izzie Stevens (Katherine Heigl) in Alex Karev’s (Justin Chambers) goodbye episode “Leave a Light On,” we do know Izzie named one of her secret twins with Alex after him (their daughter's name is Alexis).
Unbeknownst to us, Teddy followed in that memorialist tradition when she gave birth to baby Allison, her child with on-again, off-again partner Owen Hunt (Kevin McKidd), in season 15. Baby Allison is named after Teddy’s previously unheard of late love interest Allison, who worked at the World Trade Center in 2001. Teddy admits as much in “Love,” when she tells Claire (Rya Kihlstedt) — a new character and Teddy’s old roommate from New York — that she had a baby. Claire was Allison’s live-in girlfriend at the time, while Teddy was the one having an affair with Allison.
When Teddy tries to pretend she named her daughter after her dead “best friend,” Claire refuses to let her old pal lie. “That seems odd,” Claire responds, revealing that she had long held suspicions that Allison was cheating on her with Teddy, who had no romantic or sexual interest in women prior to moving in with them. Even now, the actor who plays Teddy, Kim Raver, isn’t prepared to label her character’s sexuality, telling People, “I don’t know [if Teddy is bisexual]. For Teddy, love is love. I just know that she loves who that person is and was.”
What we do know is how the loss of Allison has colored every facet of Teddy’s life since September 2001. Teddy — who met Owen as an army doctor post-9/11 — tells Claire that despite “practically being a socialist” before Allison’s death, she decided to enlist in the army as a tribute to her. “I wanted to support the soldiers who were trying to get the people that killed Allison,” she says.
Now, almost two full decades later, it appears Teddy’s grief for Allison is still affecting her love life. Teddy approaches Claire in the final minutes of “Love of My Life” to apologize for falling in love with her girlfriend while they all lived together. During the conversation, she brings up her current relationship with Owen, saying, “For years, I loved him so much I felt guilty. Guilty for loving him half as much as I loved Allison. Guilty because he was with someone else. And guilty because maybe I wasn’t capable of letting someone love me fully.”
We’re meant to realize that Teddy has essentially recreated the most toxic parts of her Allison romance with Owen for years. First, she experienced a similar dynamic in the Teddy-Owen-Amelia (Caterina Scorsone) love triangle. When that was settled — and Owen picked Teddy for good — she rebuilt the drama by beginning to sleep with ex-boyfriend Thomas Koracick (Greg Germann) during a rough patch with Owen, who is now her fiancé.
In 2001, Teddy didn’t believe love could be “divided” between two people in the way that Allison supposedly cared for both Teddy and Claire. In 2020, in the middle of the Owen-Koracick crisis, she understands the full depth of Allison’s feelings.
With this type of clarity, it seems inevitable that Teddy will finally fix the mess she created by cheating on Owen with Tom, even if she genuinely loves them both. As we see in a pillow talk flashback, both Allison and Teddy knew the former eventually had to come clean to Claire. Due to the tragedy of 9/11, Allison was never given the chance. Teddy may have named her child after her girlfriend, but telling Owen the truth about Koraciak would be the bravest way to keep Allison’s memory alive.