When this season of Grey’s Anatomy began, the ABC medical drama seemed brave for choosing to center the unimaginably horrid effect of COVID-19 so thoroughly. Not only did viewers watch patient after patient battle the deadly virus — but the series put its money where its mouth was and followed its heroine of 16 years, Meredith Grey (Ellen Pompeo), through a painful COVID battle of her own. Yet, as the months went by, the high stakes of Meredith’s health emergency have waned. She has been breathing on her own for weeks and has been simply refusing to leave the comfort of her Limbo Beach for the consistent “pain” of reality. As hundreds of American continue to die every day in the real-world pandemic, Meredith’s casual flirtation with death became infuriating.
At last, thanks to Thursday night’s new episode “Good As Hell,” Meredith is awake, alert, and unlikely to ever return to her macabre fantasy beach. It's even confirmed Meredith is officially COVID-negative. However, Grey’s Anatomy itself promised us Meredith’s immediate future still may not be so easy.
The true draw of “Good As Hell” is Meredith’s final beach day with her late husband, Derek Shepherd (Patrick Dempsey). The episode was long promoted as Derek’s final appearance this season, and likely in Grey’s Anatomy as a whole. The chapter lives up to the hype, giving Derek and Meredith the wedding they never had as a living couple. Over Grey’s Anatomy's initial seven seasons, the pair had two nuptials: a private Post-It commitment ceremony and a legally binding wedding at City Hall. Much to their daughter Ellis’ (Ella and Gracie Faris) chagrin, there were never any white dresses or fancy suits for her parents. “Good As Hell” fixes that, putting Meredith and Derek in perfect beach wedding duds and having them kiss on the sand. It’s lovely — and the pinnacle of Limbo Beach. Nothing, narratively, will top this.
That means it is time for Meredith to wake up. “I don’t want to leave the kids,” Meredith says to Derek. “I don’t want you to leave the kids,” Derek responds. Later he tells Meredith, “It’s not your time yet … You have to go.” Luckily for both of them, their doctor friends in reality agree. Meredith’s soon-to-be brother-in-law Winston Ndugu (Anthony Hill) decides to call in Meredith's eldest child Zola (Aniela Gumbs) to help wake her mom up. Technically, there is nothing medically wrong with Meredith — she simply won’t snap out of her state of permanent slumber. Richard Webber (James Pickens Jr.), the closest person Meredith has to a father figure, and Maggie Pierce (Kelly McCreary), Meredith’s sister, pitch in to the endeavor.
As Zola tells her mom what’s going on in the lively Grey home, Meredith opens her eyes and is fully responsive. “That’s so nice of you, Zozo,” Meredith says to the joy of Zola, their doctor loved ones standing outside, and viewers everywhere. “We love you,” Meredith tells Zola repeatedly, speaking for both herself and the memory of Derek. This is one of the happiest scenes of Grey’s Anatomy season 17.
Unfortunately, Teddy Altman (Kim Raver) signals earlier in the episode that we shouldn’t expect to see Meredith running around Grey Sloan Memorial Hospital anytime soon. In the first half of “Good As Hell,” Teddy complains to Thomas Koracick (Greg Germann) about Meredith’s inability to remain awake and the lack of “consistency” in the medical complications of COVID-19. “We have no idea how this disease is going to effect these patients in the long-term,” Teddy says. “There could be permanent lung scarring, vascular damage, neurological issues.” Then Teddy realizes she is speaking to Tom, a person who was fighting COVID-19 at the exact same time as Meredith earlier this season, and stops talking.
Still, to underscore the unpredictability of the virus, Teddy and Tom’s conversation is directly followed by a scene of Owen Hunt (Kevin McKidd) losing a formerly almost-healthy COVID patient named Carolyn. The day before, Carolyn’s doctors thought she would be going home soon; today, she died of cardiac arrest. Grey’s Anatomy has gone out of its way to stare into the dreadful reality that is the pandemic for 13 episodes straight. It is unlikely the series and its production team will abruptly change their outlook now that Meredith is awake.
At least there is a small kernel of hope hiding in “Good As Hell.” Towards the end of the episode, Miranda Bailey (Chandra Wilson) approves Jo Wilson (Camilla Luddington), currently Grey Sloan’s attending general surgeon, to change specialties to OB-GYN, thereby leaving the department without active leadership. After all, its official head, Meredith, has been in a coma for weeks. It’s doubtful Grey’s Anatomy would wake Meredith up only to allow her department to go into free fall. If general surgery is fated to be up and running sometime soon, so will Meredith Grey — you can’t have one without the other.