The minds behind Grey’s Anatomy have been teasing something big since the season 17 premiere way back in November 2020. That episode marked the return of McDreamy himself, the late, great Derek Shepherd (Patrick Dempsey), through the magical abilities of Meredith Grey’s (Ellen Pompeo) COVID-19 limbo beach. Ever since Grey’s revealed the spirit summoning powers of Meredith’s seaside paradise, Grey’s producers couldn’t help but hint that someone even more exciting than Derek — or, Meredith’s late friend George O’Malley (T.R. Knight) — could pop up at the beach.
Now, we finally have our answer: It’s Lexie Grey (now-Supergirl star Chyler Leigh), Meredith’s late sister, who died all the way back in Grey’s Anatomy season 8. Lexie will appear in next week’s upcoming episode, “Breathe.” Considering just how secretive Grey’s Anatomy has been over season 17 about its surprise, back-from-the-dead visitors, this early notification of Lexie’s appearance is noteworthy. The ABC medical drama either wants to give fans a week to prepare for Lexie’s emotional return — or “Breathe” has a second trick up its sleeve.
The trailer for “Breathe” sets the apparent stakes for Lexie’s cameo in a very straightforward manner. In the clip, Jackson Avery (Jesse Williams) and Owen Hunt (Kevin McKidd) appear to give an update on Meredith’s COVID-19 case via voiceover. After episodes of improvement, Meredith sounds stable — she might even wake up from her COVID-induced coma. In Meredith's fantasy, a “surprise beach guest,” as all-caps block letters announce, shows up to hand her a scarf. It’s Lexie with blunt dark auburn bangs. The Grey sisters giggle at the unexpected meeting.
“I like it here,” Meredith says about the beach. “Are you going to stay?” Lexie asks. Then it’s fade to white. The rest of their conversation is left as an enigma.
For fans who have been keeping track of Grey’s Anatomy staff interviews, the reemergence of someone as beloved as Lexie isn’t shocking (I, however, thought it would be Sandra Oh's Cristina Yang). In November, following Dempsey’s initial cameo, The Hollywood Reporter asked showrunner/executive producer Krista Vernoff if Meredith’s dead mother Ellis Grey (Kate Burton) would visit her daughter on the beach. “You have to tune in and see who comes to the beach. It’ll be a joyful discovery,” Vernoff teased. Executive producers Andy Reaser and Meg Marinis were similarly effusive when they told People that same month that “wonderful and completely surprising things are absolutely possible” thanks to Meredith’s beach stint. Back in December, when Variety questioned Vernoff about the possible return of fan-favorite Mark Sloan (Euphoria dad Eric Dane), she laughed it off and said, “You can ask, but I can’t answer!”
It’s the Mark Sloan of it all that hints Lexie may not be the only jaw-dropping return of “Breathe.” Both characters are the casualties of Grey's Anatomy 2012 finale “Flight’s” horrific plane crash. In the final moments of Lexie’s life, Mark reaffirms his undying love for Lexie after years of turbulent romance. “We’re going to have the best life — you and me. We’re going to be so happy,” Mark promises as Lexie’s breath falters. Her last words are “meant to be,” in reference to her relationship with Mark. In the season 9 premiere, Mark also dies from injuries sustained in the crash. Mark and Lexie effectively entered The Great Beyond together.
Vernoff has already admitted she is approaching Grey’s Anatomy season 17 like it may be the historical medical drama’s last. Few twists could feel more full circle than confirming Mark and Lexie found their “meant to be” happy ending in the afterlife, at least. One of the most impactful ways to achieve such an aim is by convincing fans they’re getting a simple Lexie cameo — and then serving up a reunion between Meredith, Lexie, Mark, and maybe even Mark's best friend Derek (it’s a complete mystery how many scenes Patrick Dempsey actually shot for this season).
For that reason I say: Go buy the tissues now.