The COVID-19 era has made Grey’s Anatomy more morbid than usual. The ABC medical drama’s heroine has been in spiritual limbo for the majority of season 17; Meredith Grey’s (Ellen Pompeo) sole activity now is debating the merits of living and the unfathomable release of death. Meredith’s fantasies have been populated by the ghosts of Grey’s Anatomy, giving viewers cameos from long-dead characters like Derek Shepherd (Patrick Dempsey) and George O’Malley (T.R. Knight). Last week Grey's upped the tear-jerking ante by killing off Andrew DeLuca (Giacomo Gianniotti), a generally beloved Grey Sloan Memorial Hospital resident.
In the wake of DeLuca’s untimely death — a rarity for exiting series regular Grey’s Anatomy characters — his portrayer Giacomo Gianniotti and the series’ showrunner Krista Vernoff promised viewers they hadn’t seen the last of the late surgeon. Thursday night’s episode “It’s All Too Much” started to clarify what that promise meant — and next week’s chapter, “In My Life,” is poised to truly dig into how DeLuca can stay on our screens from the afterlife. The answer comes down to grief.
“It’s All Too Much” follows the immediate aftermath of DeLuca’s death. In last week’s two-hour Station 19-Grey’s Anatomy midseason premiere crossover event, DeLuca was fatally stabbed in the torso by the accomplice of a sex trafficker. Thursday’s “In My Life” confirms DeLuca died from the normal complications of massive blood loss. The autopsy ordered by chief of surgery Miranda Bailey (Chandra Wilson) reveals DeLuca’s spleen removal, stomach and diaphragm repair, and heart surgery were all intact at the time of his death. The doctors of Grey Sloan Memorial did everything they could to keep their friend alive. Their work was faultless.
With everyone’s name cleared of any lingering whiff of misconduct, “In My Life” can end with an emotional memorial to DeLuca. This is the character’s first opportunity to return to Grey’s Anatomy after technically dying. As the moving video tributes to DeLuca taper off, the man himself appears on screen: it’s his application video for the Grey Sloan surgery residency program. DeLuca is charming, optimistic, and intense, as he always was. Oblivious to the tragedy ahead, this hopeful DeLuca shouts out his sister Carina (Stefania Spampinato) — who is now, five years later, sitting in the crowd sobbing over her loss — and geeks out over the possibility of working with the “legends” of Grey Sloan. DeLuca has no idea he will one day save the life of one of his heroes (Richard Webber) or fall into a complicated romance with another (Meredith Grey, naturally).
This heartbreaking scene fulfills the guarantee Gianniotti and Vernoff made last week. “You will see [DeLuca] again, just not on the beach,” Vernoff told The Hollywood Reporter. DeLuca closes “All Too Much” leaving Meredith’s limbo beach with his dead mother (Nancy La Scala). Gianniotti added some context to Vernoff’s words, telling the publication, “Even though [DeLuca’s] life has come to an end, there's many ways to show our characters who have passed. I look forward to telling some other stories in those ways. Maybe there's flashbacks or other scenarios where we can see DeLuca.”
The promo for next week’s episode, “In My Life,” clarifies why Gianniotti listed many post-death options for DeLuca. The late character won’t be limited to a single sad cameo in his own memorial video. “In My Life” centers the mental health of Teddy Altman (Kim Raver), one of the main doctors on DeLuca’s trauma case. Although DeLuca’s autopsy proves Teddy did nothing wrong, she suffers through “It’s All Too Much” wracked with guilt. She sees DeLuca in different people, mistaking her own ex, Owen Hunt (Kevin McKidd), for her dead colleague at one point. Teddy spends DeLuca’s memorial at the very edge of the crowd, alone and slowly growing more despondent as time goes on. At the end of the episode, Owen finds Teddy unmoving and silent on the curb where she watched the tribute. Everyone else is long gone. Realizing Teddy can’t get herself up, Owen picks Teddy up and carries her away.
It’s important to remember DeLuca is only the latest death in a string of upsetting losses for Teddy. Her “best friend”/actual lover Allsion (Sherri Saum) died in the September 11 terrorist attacks. Teddy and Owen both lost many people in the subsequent war as army doctors. Teddy’s most recent attempt at a real relationship with Owen blew up on their wedding day when he found out she had an affair.
The trailer for “In My Life” reveals that Teddy’s post-memorial condition has not improved. It appears to be at least a day later, and Owen tells someone over the phone that Teddy still hasn’t spoken or eaten. In her own fantasy world, Teddy comes to terms with the fact that she seemingly feels responsible for DeLuca’s death, saying, “It’s all my fault.” We also see Fantasy Teddy in the operating room with senior coworkers like Owen, Miranda, Richard (James Pickens Jr.), and Amelia (Caterina Scorsone) looking down on her in judgement. Yet, Teddy has a saving grace: DeLuca. He too appears in the fantasy as Teddy’s imagining of her dead friend. Teddy asks DeLuca “What if it’s not too late?,” as though she can reverse his death. The ABC synopsis for the episode promises Teddy “must face some long-standing truths.” DeLuca will apparently be Teddy’s companion in this painful journey.
DeLuca has gotten the rare gift of popping up in two back-to-back episodes after his on-screen death. But, if you take a look at Giacomo Gianniotti’s IMDb page, the character isn’t slated to appear on Grey’s Anatomy after “In My Life” (Gianniotti will be directing season 17’s eleventh episode, though). No matter how painful it is, remember to really say goodbye to Andrew DeLuca next week — you probably won't see him again.