After weeks of waiting, Grey’s Anatomy’s sixteenth season has finally premiered on Netflix following its 2019-2020 run on ABC. It should be easy to assume you know who the new batch of episodes is truly about — it’s right there in the name. From the very first second of Greys, the historic medical show has been driven by the greatness of Meredith Grey (Ellen Pompeo), surgeon extraordinaire.
Meredith’s shocking move to comfortable grounding character — rather than explosive, narrative-pushing dynamo — begins slowly over the 22 episodes of Grey’s Anatomy season 16. The new batch of installments starts with Meredith as head-strong and commanding as ever. Premiere “Nothing Left to Cling To” picks up directly in the wake of season 15’s very Meredith-heavy drama. Meredith is suspended from working at Grey Sloan Memorial Hospital, brought up on legal charges for allegedly committing insurance fraud during the prior season, and completes weeks of community service (aka roadside garbage pickup).
Still, she manages to cause lots of chaos at Grey Sloan Memorial hospital — without even stepping foot in the building.
At one point, Meredith is video called into a surgery because her expertise is so necessary. Her crusade to improve healthcare for our most vulnerable citizens helps beef up the Pacific-Northwest Hospital side project and ends up sending shockwaves throughout Grey Sloan when she writes an article that is published with a damning, unapproved headline. Without Meredith, many early Grey’s Anatomy season 16 storylines simply wouldn’t work.
As you approach the end of the season, it is difficult to apply that same sentiment. In the back half of the season, Meredith has returned to Grey Sloan and fully broken up with love interest Andrew DeLuca (Giacomo Gianniotti). That means she isn’t writing inflammatory blogs or accidentally pissing off Miranda Bailey (Chandra Wilson). Instead, she does her job and has small flirtations with new hot doctor Cormac Hayes (Richard Flood).
Meredith’s colleagues, on the other hand, are in throes of serious, story-churning drama. Meredith’s sister-in-law Amelia Shepherd (Caterina Scorsone) anchors the season with her fraught pregnancy, which juggles a drawn-out possible paternity crisis, real romantic yearning, and past trauma from the first time Amelia gave birth. The conclusion of Amelia’s paternity panic is one of the most moving set pieces of season 16. On the other side of Grey’s, Teddy Altman (Kim Raver) holds together a life-ruining affair as she plans her wedding to Owen Hunt (Kevin McKidd). Jo Karev (Camilla Luddington) is forced to rebuild her world as her husband Alex Karev (Justin Chambers) abruptly abandons her for his ex-wife Izzie (Katherine Heigl).
Meredith barely factors into these foundational storylines. Even her big Pro Bono Surgery Day bid in “Give A Little Bit” — which brings back her do-gooder mission from earlier in season 16 — ends up being more about Andrew, who may be experiencing bipolar disorder symptoms, and his mental health than Meredith’s personal journey.
The Grey’s Anatomy season 16 finale, “Put On A Happy Face” is the final piece of proof that Grey’s isn’t quite sure what to do with Meredith. One of the major plotlines in the unexpected season ender is figuring out the mysterious illness plaguing Grey’s patriarch Richard Webber (James Pickens Jr.). Meredith and DeLuca team up to crack the case. Meredith is the one who notices the most telling symptoms of the medical crisis: Richard’s numb extremities and extreme sensitivity to touch. Yet, it’s DeLuca who actually realizes Richard has cobalt poisoning from a bad hip replacement. The landmark find — which may effect countless similar cases around the country — is a career-defining moment. It belongs to Andrew.
While Meredith is helping Andrew blaze his own road to history, Amelia is giving birth to a baby fans have waited all season to meet — with a nod to Grey’s history, no less — and Teddy is accidentally sending a voicemail of herself en flagrante to Owen, whom is was supposed to marry that evening. This is jaw-dropping, heartstring-pulling stuff. Meredith, in her final scene of “Happy Face,” is simply left to pick Andrew up off the floor and carry him home.
While Meredith isn't the star of her closing scene, it does open up an important dialogue about mental health. Maybe that's exactly what Grey's Anatomy needs right now more than another another love triangle.