Following up on a previous post, Grey’s Anatomy’s ‘fuck it’ phase of melodramatic writing is once again illustrated in the episode ‘If/Then’. The episode is an experiment in alternate reality storytelling, halfheartedly parading the what if’s that no one was asking, and aggressively asserting something like “we are who we are, no matter what.”
By the end of the episode, we discover Yang and Meredith are kindred spirits despite ostensibly conflicting personalities and ambitions. We see Alex Karev self deprecating and lamenting lost love. We find Meredith and Derek flirtatiously ogling one another after Derek’s failed marriage and Meredith’s maternal strife. Callie hints at being gay. Owen more than hints at having PTSD. Bailey finds her strong Black woman cliche in adversity. And so on. Fundamentally, this episode is a sheepish rerun dressed in a new episode’s clothing.
But the gimmick of the what if’s is an intriguing one. The 1998 film ‘Sliding Doors’ starring Gwyneth Paltrow adopts the technique and comes to mind throughout the episode for its similar dramatic tone if not for its identical assertion by the end of the film that “we are who we are, no matter what.” Where Grey’s falls short in comparison is the actual exposition of its contrary to fact alternatives. The premise of Meredith being engaged to Karev or Derek and Addison staying married doesn’t offer much to advance what we know of the characters other than awkward happenstance. In the case of Derek and Addison’s dysfunctional marriage, this has been explored ad nauseam from the onset of the series and surely every season since.
The tweaks to the familiar dynamic are impotent and superficial throughout the whole outing. Despite a new hairdo, Yang being overly competitive and surly could have been pulled from many previous scripts verbatim. And another new hairdo reveals alt-Little Grey to be as transparent and ineffective as the original. The episode functions more as a reinforcement of the things we already know about the characters. One problem is that this episode also reveals that we may know too much about these characters, especially if there’s so little left to reveal that even when we flip the whole Seattle Grace universe upside down nothing changes. It might be argued then that that’s the point as Meredith narrates throughout. But another problem is: NOTHING changes. Absolutely nothing. The episode ends less on a note of fate and destiny and resolute identity, and more on a bleak appraisal of its characters one-dimensionality and predictability. PTSD is a serious affliction and probably can’t be remedied by marrying a shapely (read: sexy) Latina surgeon. And homosexuality probably can’t be wished away with baby making and a handsome ginger husband. But if the covert hopelessness that Grey’s Anatomy is peddling claims that gaining two parents that love and support you still leaves Ellen Pompeo as one of the most listless leading ladies in primetime, then truly, fuck it.
Go watch Fringe. Grey’s will be here when you get back, unchanged. Promise.