On one hand, it’s kind of mind-boggling that just five seasons after the crash that took Lexie and Mark and maybe some years off our own lives, Grey’s Anatomy would be subjected to yet more plane drama. But, on the other hand: CUTE PEDIATRIC DENTIST ALERT. Oh, sorry — while helpful Dr. Harrison Peters (Callard Harris) is a lovely addition to my television screen, the real upside of this episode is that it is very, very good.
Directed by Dr. Miranda Bailey (Chandra Wilson) herself, the tight quarters and constant turbulence we experience for the full hour expertly heighten the drama as Meredith and Riggs — who, unbeknownst to each other, are headed to the same medical conference — attempt to tend to an entire plane full of patients. It’s exciting, a little scary, and paced so well I could barely believe it when I looked up and saw there were only ten minutes left. And, you guys, I haven’t even gotten to the Derek stuff yet. Because there is a lot of Derek stuff.
Meredith is not enthused when she switches seats in order to help a family sit together and winds up sitting in the same row as Nathan Riggs. To Riggs, it’s a sign; to Meredith, it’s an annoyance. They bicker back and forth a little bit about not being a thing and why they aren’t a thing and how Riggs knows Meredith totally wants to be a thing — you know, the same thing these two have been arguing about since they hooked up LAST SEASON. Listen, Meredith is my homegirl, and Dr. Dimples is very enjoyable, but the back-and-forth was old months ago. It’s time to put up or shut up!
Before long, Meredith puts up … err, puts out, really. Yes, Riggs follows her into the bathroom because he thinks she’s making eyes, which she swears she is not. After Riggs reminds her that there is no one around who they know (mainly, Maggie), the two doctors join the Mile-High Club. Let’s be real: Riggs is totally already in that club. He navigated that airplane bathroom like a pro.
Just as Meredith and Riggs return to their seats, and Meredith returns to her “we are not a thing” schtick (seriously, they go from on-again to off-again in the span of minutes), the plane goes through some serious turbulence. People-thrown-up-into-the-air kind of turbulence. The plane is headed through a big ol’ storm. Welp, here comes the craziness.
Meredith, Riggs, and the aforementioned cute dentist, Harrison, swing into action, helping the many, many people who make use of their call button when asked who needs medical assistance. This plane just became a very busy emergency room. The doctors spend time with various passengers (Grey’s has always been great at making you care about relative strangers within a few minutes — and that talent is put to great use in “In the Air Tonight”), but the majority of the episode is focused on trying to save Max (Jai Rodriguez), a very nice man with a very cute boyfriend. Max was too good for us — you knew something dramatic was headed his way.
Max hits his head pretty hard, and almost immediately Meredith diagnoses him with a brain bleed. If they were in the hospital, he’d be rushed to the OR and they would drill into his skull to relieve some of the pressure. As it stands, they are stuck on a plane with limited medical supplies and a pilot who refuses to land until it’s safe. (Grey’s, of course, gives us a female pilot, because Grey’s is good.) That may not be for hours, since they are currently navigating their way through two separate storms. All Meredith can do is wait it out.
During a rare break, Meredith and Riggs take a seat on the floor. Riggs wants to know more about the plane crash Meredith mentioned to him earlier. At first, Meredith doesn’t want to get too into it (WHO WOULD?), but she begins to talk about the Seattle Grace Five — now only three — and how she lost Lexie. Things are starting to make sense to Riggs. He understands Meredith’s overwhelming desire to protect Maggie at all costs. But Meredith disagrees. She makes sacrifices for her family, sure, but that’s normal. Riggs presses and presses until Meredith finally blurts out the real reason she can’t fully commit: She’s married.
Oof. Was the air sucked out of your room, too?
Before they can take a deep dive into that little nugget, Meredith and Riggs are called back to Max’s side. He’s getting worse. They can’t wait for a proper OR — they need to do something now. Meredith has an idea: There’s a syringe in the medical kit. She’s going to stick that in the dude’s skull and drain blood. Then she’s going to do it over and over again until the pressure is relieved. On a very unsteady airplane. In case you haven’t guessed: This is insane.
But when has something being insane stopped Meredith from doing it before? This is the girl who stuck her hand on a bomb inside a man’s chest. Who stands in front of a gunman and tells him to shoot her in order to save her husband. Meredith isn’t afraid of insane. So, the woman who just a few minutes earlier told Riggs how she’s cursed and that everyone around her seems to die, sticks a needle inside a man’s skull. The sequence that follows — with Meredith, Riggs, Harrison, and Candace the Flight Attendant (Spencer Grammer) working together to save Max amid some major turbulence — is excellent. Things get dicier when Riggs has to leave to go resuscitate an annoying dude with pulmonary hypertension and Meredith decides her syringe isn’t cutting it, so she deftly turns a cocktail straw into a surgical tool. Finally, mercifully, the plane lands and Riggs turns out to be right: No one dies today.
Okay, so taking a step to the side to allow for a bottle episode of Grey’s Anatomy that does very little to push most of the main stories forward, it does get a pass for the action-packed storytelling.
And not all storylines are put on hold: Once the plane lands and everyone is ushered to safety, Riggs once again confronts Meredith over the reason why she keeps pushing him away. It’s not because of Maggie, and not because she is “prioritizing her family.” It’s because she’s scared. She’s scared of letting go of Derek. Riggs obviously knows how she feels, but he also knows that the two of them are alive, and he wants to live his life. He wants to move forward … and he thinks Meredith should too.
And then it arrives. The Meredith and Derek montage for the history books. Meredith sees their story told backward, with very familiar flashes of car crashes and hospital shoot-outs and Post-it notes and elevator proposals and one very fateful meeting in a bar. Meredith considers it all — all the turbulence in her own life, and how sometimes, knowing it may get bumpy, you still have to get on the plane anyway. So, she looks at Riggs and takes him up on his offer of a hotel room in Sioux Falls. But it better be nice.
It’s good to see that even though Meredith is embarking on a new adventure, she’s still the same old girl we know and love. And that means absolutely no hand-holding.
Laughter Is The Best Medicine, Except For Real Medicine:
— Of course Meredith is the type of person to shame a stranger for shaming a mother on a plane. It’s a perfect character moment.
— Spencer Grammer is great as a doesn’t-take-shit-from-anyone flight attendant, and her not-so-subtle hints at wanting to see Riggs again are both hilarious and understandable.
— What patience Harrison has for all the doubt cast over his chosen occupation. And when Meredith and Riggs just assume he has drills with him on his flight because he’s a dentist, he responds with gentle, spot-on sarcasm. THE CUTE DENTIST HAS JOKES. Don’t let his non-goodbye to Meredith be the last we see of him.
— The elderly lady on the aisle never really gets her due, so I shall give it to her here. She shades Pulmonary Hypertension Guy perfectly and has Viagra at the ready when Riggs needs it to save said guy’s life. She seems like a great time.
Sob Scale: 4/10
It was all too thrilling to really sit and have a proper cry, but the reverse flashback that left us with that image of Meredith and Derek meeting at the bar was a nice touch. A low blow, but a nice touch.