On Thursday’s season 17 premiere of Grey’s Anatomy, fans happened upon a terrifyingly realistic scene at Grey-Sloan Memorial Hospital. The coronavirus had hit Seattle hard, turning the surgical hospital into a COVID-19 center overnight. Under the meticulous direction of Chief Miranda Bailey (Chandra Wilson), every staff member was forced to abandon their usual duties to respond to the mass of patients being wheeled into the building on the hour. Just like in real life, the cases are physically and emotionally overwhelming for Grey-Sloan doctors; for weeks, they’ve had to watch their patients die from coronavirus complications while staying away from their loved ones to prevent the spread of the disease.
Meredith Grey (Ellen Pompeo) seems to be hit the hardest by the pandemic. Sure, she puts on a strong face — that’s Mer for you — but the constant fight against the disease ultimately takes a toll on her. After clocking out from an especially long shift, our leading lady collapses in the hospital parking lot. In her unconscious state, Meredith begins dreaming of a beach. And that’s where she sees him.
“Oh, I know you are lying to me," I murmured from my couch as I watched the show from home, squinting at the TV. "Is that Derek Shepherd??”
It certainly was. After being written off of the show in true Shonda Rhimes style, Patrick Dempsey re-entered the chat as Meredith's dead husband. Derek suddenly appeared, all smiles and sparkly blues eyes and perfect hair, waving at her from the other side of the sandy beach.
"Hey," they greet each other warmly, as if it hasn't been five whole years since they've seen each other — as if Derek isn't dead! Cue the Grey's Anatomy fandom absolutely losing it it on the timeline.
The excitement about Derek's return was tinged with anxiety because of what it could mean for Meredith. While we can't be certain about what made her pass out at the end of the episode, the preview for next week shows her being treated at Grey-Sloan Memorial, presumably for the coronavirus. In addition to trouble breathing, muscle aches, and more, hallucinations have been identified as possible symptoms of COVID-19 — if Meredith is seeing Derek, her diagnosis might be more serious than we know. Plus, they're both wearing breezy white linen and walking around in paradise...has her husband appeared to help guide her to the afterlife so they can be together? Aw hell.
I wish I could say with certainty that Grey's Anatomy wouldn't kill off its main character, but after 17 seasons and so many character deaths, I truly don't know. After all, we did lose Derek, who was kind of the glue that held so much of this story together, and the show still went on. Knowing that this could very well be the final season of Grey's Anatomy, Meredith's declining health could really go any way.
Good to see you, Derek. But you can't stay, and you can't have Meredith.