fond farewells

Cristina Yang Deserved a Better Send-Off From Grey’s Anatomy

Photo: Kelsey McNeal/ABC

To love Grey’s Anatomy is to love schmaltz. Bring me the montages; give me the sad songs. I want to cry. Hell, I want to sob. This is a show that’s basically a Viking funeral of emotions, and restraint is not part of its vocabulary. So yeah, I got a little misty with Cristina Yang’s Farewell Episode last night — but not as misty as I expected to or wanted to. This is Grey’s Anatomy, for God’s sake, a show where more is always more. I wanted more.

We’ve known for a while that this was Sandra Oh’s last year, so every story line in season ten has seemed like the one that could prompt Cristina’s exit. I thought for a while that the big fight between Meredith and Cristina was going to be the jumping off, though it turns out to have had no lasting effects. Then it seemed like the current iteration of the Cristina/Owen romance was going to be the catalyst for her to pack her bags. With the news that Burke was going to reappear for an episode, some of us wondered if maybe he and Cristina would get back together. (This was my fondest dream.) Instead, he made her drag her ass to Europe so he could tell her about his wife and kids, and then he offered her a prestigious position at a hospital, which she eventually accepted.

In life, that’s a perfectly good reason to move: “I got a better job offer.” On TV, though, and particularly on a show like Grey’s that has never met a metaphor it didn’t love, there’s not much resonance there. There’s nothing significant about that hospital or symbolic about it; it represents only what it literally is, which is a prestigious, fancy facility. The Burke connection is tenuous at best. Compare that to what Seattle Grace (well, Sloane-Grey) represents to Meredith: It’s her mother’s hospital, the place her mother loved more than she loved baby Mer, the place that ruined her parents’ marriage. I’m not saying Cristina has a place like that — of course she doesn’t — but of all the ways for the character to leave, this feels like the least emotional, the least significant.

That’s why all the good-byes, even the Teagan and Sara dance party, didn’t have much of an impact. When Cristina moved to Minnesota following the plane crash in season nine, she and Meredith discussed all the awful things that had befallen them at Seattle Grace, and Cristina said she couldn’t take it anymore, that she needed to leave all that agony behind. That decision process wasn’t just about Cristina — it had narrative impact for everyone else, too, and prompted Meredith to look at her life differently. “I’ve lived here as much as I’ve survived here, it just depends on how I look at it,” she told Cristina. “I’m gonna choose to look at it that way and remember you that way.” Remember when she was all “dark and twisty”? It took Cristina leaving to make her reevaluate her whole life, to see things in a new light. Cristina’s exit this time — the real exit, with her really leaving — didn’t prompt any such reaction. There wasn’t even a “look how fast they grow up” moment from the Chief.

At least she didn’t die? I’ve come back to that several times in thinking about the episode, about Grey’s, and about longtime cast members being killed off of long-running shows. (Mark Greene and Bobby Simone, you live on forever in my heart.) Cristina mentioned George in passing twice last night, the first time he’s been mentioned in ages, and it served as a good reminder that there are a bunch of ways to leave Grey’s Anatomy, and they’re all horrible. Mostly it’s death — George, Denny, Henry, bomb-squad guy, Charles, Reed, etc. Izzie fled. Teddy bailed. Burke vanished. But Cristina deserved more because Cristina was the best character on this show, by a lot. As sad as Meredith and Alex were to see their comrade go, I can’t help but feel like I’m even sadder.

Cristina Deserved a Better Grey’s Send-Off