We can’t say Grey’s Anatomy didn’t warn us that we were about to get a workout of the tearful variety. Maggie’s mom dying from her aggressive inflammatory breast cancer was never an if, always a when. Of course (OF COURSE) Ellen Pompeo’s directing debut would be an episode that emotionally destroys us. She’s been destroyed over and over again for our benefit for 13 seasons. It’s only fair. Good on you, E.P. This was a doozy.
The hour mostly focuses on Maggie and Diane, although there are some hints of life outside the Pierce ladies. Meredith and Riggs never set up that date because Mer knows Maggie is her No. 1 priority now. “Our timing’s just off, I guess,” says Doctor Dimples. Are these two unrequited lovers? I like them both, but it just doesn’t seem that tragic to me. Get some perspective, show. A woman is saying good-bye to her mother!
The other story line that gets a little play is, honestly, almost as emotional as losing Diane. The rift growing between Webber and Bailey is only getting worse. Even when it comes to helping Maggie’s mom, they initially refuse to work together. When Bailey knows Webber is too close to the situation to perform surgery, she wants to help him, but he pushes her away. She’s the last person he’d ever ask for help. I KNOW. So much shade it is practically nighttime. (Do kids say that? Don’t answer, I’m emotionally compromised.)
Thankfully, when Bailey spots Webber alone after Diane passes, she doesn’t let their argument stop her from going to check on him. (She can’t help herself.) She knows this whole thing has been hard for him, too. It’s tense at first, but eventually Webber softens. After he found Maggie upset and wanting to be comforted by her dad and realizing she didn’t mean him, he’s wounded. Of course, the guy goes and sends a helicopter to find Maggie’s dad and bring him to the hospital, but still, it’s a reminder that he missed out on being Maggie’s father. He’s realizing all of the things he was robbed of because Ellis could never forgive him. He doesn’t want that for him and Bailey.
Just punch me in the heart, James Pickens Jr.! What a well-earned moment of forgiveness and closure. Things don’t work if Bailey and Webber are fighting. It’s science.
Other than those small moments, it’s a Pierce story. It’s told through several montages and jumps in time. It’s not how I would want every story like this told, but it’s effective here. You know Grey’s can throw down an excellent montage set to the perfect music. Honestly, they may be doing us a favor— things go south fast.
Maggie, of course, wants to be as aggressive as possible. She’s a fighter. The rest of the docs want her to slow down a little, but this is her show. Diane needs another surgery to find tumors left from the first failed surgery. Meredith, Riggs, and Jackson think Diane needs to wait and build her strength, but Maggie wants it done immediately. Guess who wins that battle?
It goes fine and Diane heads back to Meredith’s house to recuperate. After a conversation you just knew was coming, where Diane tells Meredith she’s glad Maggie found her (insert skull emoji here because I am a dead person), Meredith asks about Diane’s stomach discomfort. It’s not a good sign.
Diane’s cancer has spread. Meredith doesn’t think it’s smart to perform surgery, so Maggie promptly fires Meredith. Okay, technically, Diane fires Meredith, but only because she’s doing whatever Maggie tells her. Is it a consolation that she seems quite sad to throw Dr. Grey out?
Have we talked about how wonderful LaTanya Richardson Jackson is in this role? Because I’d like her to feed me lasagna and tell me everything is going to be okay.
Although that would be LIES because nothing is okay. Maggie eventually gets Webber, Bailey, and Jackson to help Diane join an experimental clinical trial. It’s aggressive, and none of the doctors think it’s a good idea. Webber tries to appeal to Diane — sans Maggie — but Diane trusts her daughter. He tries to explain that doctors treating family members is never a good idea, but Diane shuts him down. Her daughter would never do anything to hurt her. Diane: Listen to your friend, Richard Webber. He’s a cool dude.
Of course, the side effects from the trial are awful. We watch Diane grow weaker, have night sweats, and suffer painful infections. As Meredith puts it to Webber, it’s “killing her faster than the cancer.” It’s hard to watch, but Maggie is a freight train, and nothing is getting in her way.
Eventually, during a big doctor-family dinner in which Diane has Maggie learn how to make lasagna from scratch, things get really bad. When Diane asks to pay her respects to Ellis, Meredith and Richard confess they poured her ashes down a surgical sink. I remember that scene being quite moving, but I guess it could be pretty horrifying to hear while choking down a third helping of lasagna. Diane loves it though, begins laughing … and tears her esophagus. When they arrive in the ambulance at Grey Sloan, you can see on Maggie’s face that she fears this may be the last time she walks into the hospital with her mother.
Both Maggie and Diane eventually have to face the reality of the situation. Maggie’s been fighting so hard against it because she feels guilty and scared that she can’t save her mother (she says as much to Riggs during a very comforting embrace). Meanwhile, Diane is putting herself through this because she doesn’t want her cheerful, special child to think she didn’t do everything she could. She doesn’t want to ruin Maggie. It’s Webber who reminds Diane just how strong her daughter is. But, like, maybe the rest of us aren’t as strong as iron, Webber. Maybe the rest of us can’t handle this. Ever think about that?
After Diane puts an end to her treatment, Maggie has a conversation with Meredith that is a highlight of the episode. It’s short and much of it is unsaid, but even Amelia comes in and doesn’t manage to ruin things. So right there, you know it’s a great scene. Maggie isn’t ready to lose her mom, and Meredith tells her that she’ll never be ready. But she still needs to go and sit with her and listen to her and memorize all she has to say. You know Meredith is speaking from experience, from regret. And then, it’s just the three sisters sitting there together. You guys, I love the three sisters.
Maggie takes Meredith’s advice and sits with her mom, who gives her all the motherly wisdom you could want — about falling in love and making mistakes and a bunch of other things that will probably make you cry. But really, it’s the moment Maggie whips out the nail polish that gets me. Such a simple mother-daughter moment that is layered with emotion knowing it’s one of the last. Maggie gets up for a second to open the window, and when she comes back, Diane has passed. Maggie sobs, but then she finishes painting her mother’s nails. One last time.
It’s sure to be a long road toward healing for Maggie Pierce. But as she sits down at the kitchen table in front of her mother’s lasagna, utterly gutted and in shock, she is flanked by her sisters. They don’t say anything, they just sit there, eating with Maggie. They say time heals all wounds — but lasagna and sisters help, too.
Laughter Is the Best Medicine, Except for Real Medicine
THERE IS NO LAUGHING HERE, ONLY TEARS.
Sob Scale: 10/10
Welp, see ya guys later. Need to go talk to my mom now.