Shonda Rhimes is an evil genius. I was close to giving up on “Grey’s Anatomy“ until last season ended with a harrowing plane crash that claimed Lexie’s life and left everyone else in danger. Just when I thought I was out, she pulled me back in. After watching the shocking tearjerker of a season premiere, I’m going to be glued to my TV every Thursday night for the rest of the season. That plane crash was a lot more than an attention-grabbing stunt. It set up a years worth of stories. It’s going to be a dark, depressing ride, but it definitely won’t be boring.
The episode begins weeks after the accident, without any explanation of how Meredith (Ellen Pompeo) and the gang made it out of the wilderness. She is back at Seattle Grace, apparently having changed her mind about the job in Boston. In fact, she has become the scary Attending, nicknamed Medusa by the new crop of interns who include Gaius Charles (“Friday Night Lights“) and Tina Majorino (“True Blood.”)
Cristina (Sandra Oh) is at the Mayo Clinic. We can tell she is in Minnesota because she is dressed like an Eskimo and all of the other doctors are super friendly and non-competitive. This, naturally, is hell for Cristina. Bailey (Chandra Wilson) is much happier. Ben (Jason George) has flown in for the weekend from Los Angeles for a little loving. Derek (Patrick Dempsey) is seemingly recovered from the hand injury he sustained in the plane crash and ready to perform surgery again. Alex (Justin Chambers) is about to start his new job at Johns Hopkins. Avery (Jesse Williams) has grown out his hair. There is no sign of Arizona (Jessica Capshaw), Mark (Eric Dane), or April (Sarah Drew).
We soon learn Mark’s fate. He is in a coma, on life support. Per the instructions in his living will, he is due to be taken off life support at 5PM. No! McSteamy is too sexy to die. Callie agrees. She tells him she is taking off her shirt in a vain attempt to get him to open his eyes. A series of flashbacks, interspersed throughout the episode, ostensibly videotape of Mark, highlight everyone’s relationship with him. We see him as Derek’s best man before his wedding to Addison, making a sex tape with Callie, videotaping an operation with Avery and talking about his love for Lexie at Callie and Arizona’s wedding. It’s an effective device. By effective I mean guaranteed to make even someone as hardened and cynical as Cristina well up.
The new Atttending for pediatrics arrives. He tells Callie he’s sorry about her wife. What the hell happened to Arizona? He immediately establishes himself as a jerk by telling Alex he’s canceling the program that brought kids from Africa for life-saving surgery.
As five o’clock approaches, everyone’s day gets worse. Derek’s hand goes numb when he attempts to operate. Bailey discovers that her new nickname is Booty Call Bailey. Cristina spars with the same older surgeon who questioned her during her boards because he wants to scrub in on her surgery. Her boss orders her to take a couple days off.
When the clock strikes five, everyone gathers at Mark’s bedside. The Chief solemnly explains the procedure for removing someone from life support, warning that it could take hours for him to die. He unplugs Mark from the machines, and, sure enough, death does not come quickly. Only Derek and Callie can stand to stay in the room with him. Meredith decides to visit Christina in Minnesota. Unfortunately, that involves getting on a plane. She freaks out before take off and demands to be let off the flight. She avoids getting arrested by the TSA, and ends up in an airport bar with Alex, who has of course decided to stay at Seattle Grace so he can save his project.
Owen (Kevin McKidd) actually makes it on to a plane. It looks like he is headed to Cristina. Actually, he has gone to visit April on her family farm. He finds her wearing overalls and tending to a pig. Ha! He wants her to return to Seattle Grace, and apologizes for hiring her after she failed her boards, blaming himself for being a lousy mentor.
After several hours, Mark finally dies. Callie is devastated. Derek is devastated. I am devastated. Callie goes home and yells at Arizona, who is lying in bed, telling her to get up and snap out of it. Callie pulls back the covers, revealing that her leg has been amputated! She says that she can’t get over the fact that Callie cut off her leg! Wait, what?!
The episode ends with stark white letters on a black screen: Mark Sloan 1968-2012. In his honor, use your best cheesy lines to flirt with someone this weekend. Or perform lifesaving surgery. Your choice.