There’s something about Grey’s Anatomy that taps into the primal, hormonal urge to cry, however cheaply won the effect might be. So why, then, in a much-hyped episode in which not one, but two of the main characters in the show come near death, did our eyes remain completely dry?
Katherine Heigl’s Izzie spent this entire season hallucinating sex with her dead lover Denny, only to realize (finally!) that the experience was sparked by a brain tumor. But Heigl’s public battle with Grey’s overshadowed the Izzie plotline; it wasn’t so much that she had cancer as the actress wanted off the show. So when she flatlines after experimental surgery, we already know it’s coming and want it over with as soon as possible. For a moment, our hearts go out to Alex (Justin Chambers), Izzie’s brand-new husband. But then we realize how much better off his life will be without naggy wife Izzie.
T.R. Knight’s George, meanwhile, got little to no screen time this season until the finale, where he signs up for the Army and is promptly hit by a bus. This plotline really disappoints: Shonda Rhimes claimed this episode would be true to the characters, but if you’re familiar with George’s five-season arc, his Army enlistment seems mighty suspect. He had just started his hard-won residency at Seattle Grace after failing his boards the first time around, so why would he leave now? And then he get hit by a bus. The only believable thing? No one notices George’s absence (since he was never around this season). The five minutes from when Meredith finally realizes that the no-faced man is George to when he shows up, ghost-like, in an Army uniform, is certainly not enough time to ready our tear ducts for the final farewell. No weepy goodbyes? No musical montages?
Which makes use wonder what, exactly, has kept us watching Grey’s for all these years. The parts that leave us teary involve patients at the periphery (kid with cancer, mom who loves him, family torn apart), not the ensemble cast. Perhaps it doesn’t matter which star lives or dies, or how satisfying a finale turns out. There will always be those cheap, heart-wrenching moments to satisfy our need for cathartic crying jags. Season six, here we come!