At the beginning of Grey’s Anatomy season 17, Amelia Shepherd (Caterina Scorsone) and Atticus “Link” Lincoln (Chris Carmack) felt like the singular bright spot in an unfathomably dark storm. Leading lady Meredith Grey (Ellen Pompeo) had just contracted COVID-19, the Grey Sloan Memorial staff was drowing in the unmitigated carnage of the pandemic, and most people were either fighting with their significant other or unhappily single. Even Maggie Pierce (Kelly McCreary) and Winston Ndugu (Anthony Hill) — the newlyweds and happiest pair in this Thursday night’s season finale, “Someone Saved My Life Tonight” — were still suffering through the difficulties of a long-distance relationship in a global health emergency.
But not Amelia and Link — they carved out time for genuinely hot sex while caring for four kids, including their own new infant son, Scout. Amelia and Link had a beautifully lit solo sex together session in the backyard! In an ocean of despair, Amelia and Link were, at least, somewhat happy and unquestionably horny, a reminder of Grey’s Anatomy past.
Then the season 17 finale broke them up. “Someone Saved My Life Tonight” ends with Link’s attempted (but failed) proposal. Considering the strength of Amelia and Link’s partnership for much of this season, fans should hypothetically be enraged by this split. But, when you really think about it, the breakup is actually a good thing. It’s a sign of tremendous, laudable growth for Amelia.
“Someone Saved My Life Tonight” tracks the very divergent viewpoints of co-parents Amelia and Link when it comes to their relationship. Link, seemingly energized by Meredith’s recovery and the general optimism of a world with COVID vaccines, starts seriously considering marriage. During the December 2020 section of the time-jumping finale, Link tells best friend Jo Wilson (Camilla Luddington) that he has been planning a proposal for weeks and brought three possible engagement rings for Amelia. He nearly pops the question on Christmas morning. At this point in the episode, Amelia has already admitted to her Narcotics Anonymous group that she wishes Link “really got” her struggles as someone with addiction problems and that she “doesn’t want what he wants” in terms of more children. “I feel lonely in it,” Amelia sighs early in the episode.
These cracks have been visible since season 17’s eleventh episode, “Sorry Doesn't Always Make It Right.” “I haven’t thought about it. I haven’t had time,” Amelia tells Link about marriage after he attempts a stressed out proposal and she refuses. “I haven’t had time either, but I’ve still thought about it,” Link responds. When Link says he would marry Amelia “in a hot minute,” all she can ask is “Why.”
Amelia’s problems are fully illuminated by a finale conversation with Richard Webber (James Pickens Jr.), another doctor constantly striving to overcome the disease of addiction. “It doesn’t have to work,” Richard tells Amelia about her relationship after a meeting. He points out a mental fallacy that plagues people with addiction: the assumption that the disease is “the only reason our lives are a mess.” Since Amelia is in recovery and sober, she has convinced herself everything else should be clicking. “But that’s not always the case,” Richard continues. “You’re allowed to want what you want. Even if it’s not what he wants.”
It’s life-changing advice. It’s also advice Amelia traditionally would not accept during earlier seasons of Grey’s Anatomy.
So much of Amelia’s Grey’s Anatomy journey has been defined by her tireless effort to prove she can live up to other people’s version of “normal” as she works through her own isolating substance abuse issues and mental health needs. A lot of the time, that desire pushes Amelia to make big commitments she would rather avoid, including weddings. Amelia often refers to her troubled marriage with Owen has proof of her self-perceived dysfunction; during “Sorry Doesn't Always Make It Right’s” two initial failed proposals, Amelia tells Link she was a “terrible wife” to her ex Owen Hunt (finale director Kevin McKidd). When Link reminds Amelia she had a brain tumor at the time, she still credits her own personality as the main source of the problem.
“Someone Saved My Life Tonight” gives us an Amelia who no longer feels diminished due to her disease. She can confidently (if sadly) refuse a proposal most people would quickly accept. As Amelia says in an NA meeting, Link, a gorgeous, tall, compassionate and successful surgeon, is “nothing but wonderful.” That doesn’t change the fact that she doesn’t want more kids and the traditional life Link — another personal originally reticent of marriage — has warmed to over the last season. So, when Link proposes with a perfect speech on a private section of beach during Maggie’s wedding reception, Amelia doesn’t say “Yes.” She stays silent in the face of her three smiling nieces and nephews, each holding a different spectacular engagement ring for her. Link understands that silence is a tacit “No” in this situation and closes the ring box he’s holding.
While we don’t see Amelia again in the finale, Grey’s Anatomy does follow up with Link. He shows up to Jo’s new apartment — which is Jackson Avery’s (Jesse Williams) old apartment — to ask if he can crash there. It’s an upsetting scene. But the alternate option would have been Amelia accepting his proposal, followed by countless monotonous season 18 episodes of Amelia questioning whether she should actually be married to the man who desperately loves her. No one wants that. You went through it with Cristina Yang (Sandra Oh). Twice.
If you are struggling with substance abuse, please call the SAMHSA National Helpline at 1-800-662-4357 for free and confidential information.