If you haven’t gone and hugged your mom and/or dad after “The Winner Takes It All,” seriously, what are you waiting for? Did you learn nothing? Go now. We’ll wait.
Meredith’s voice-over gets to the heart of the episode, and honestly, the biggest lesson our beloved doctors have come to learn over 15 seasons of this show: “Some people live. Some people die.” That’s life and you can only do so much. Take Meredith, for example. She sets aside the flirty drama with DeLuca and Link to deal with another man in her life: Thatcher. She’s been avoiding going to see him on his deathbed, but Richard makes things clear: He doesn’t want Meredith sitting around and holding his hand during Catherine’s surgery, he wants her to go say good-bye to her father. Hesitantly, she goes, knowing there’s nothing she can do for him. She doesn’t even want to hash out old grudges — you know, like that old thing where she gave him a piece of her liver and he took it and pretty much vanished. Or that great bonding moment when Lexie died and he wasn’t there for Meredith. Oh, and let us never forget that she never heard a peep from her father when Derek died. Put these moments in the family scrapbook, you know?
Okay, so yes, they get into it. Thatcher tells Meredith that after he recovered from the liver transplant and got sober, he went out and he lived. He built schools in Africa and climbed mountains and shit. Meredith is all like, that’s cool, but how about maybe caring for your widowed daughter and her three children? She has a point! But here’s the thing, Thatcher did come home when Richard called him to tell him about Derek. But he saw Meredith at the funeral, a ghost person, and thought he’d do more harm than good. Honestly, guys, he was probably right. Meredith did not need that kind of baggage confronting her as she was burying her husband.
Once they clear that up, something kind of wonderful happens. Thatcher thanks Meredith because by giving him part of her liver, she gave him time to have a real, true, good life. They joke about Ellis, and Mer tells him about Maggie, who is he glad to hear about — it means something good came from that whole mess. Thatcher tells her a wonderful story about the night she was born and how Ellis laughed a big, joyous laugh that he had never heard before. He tells his daughter that regardless of the pain, he’d marry Ellis all over again for “that night, that laugh, and for [Meredith].” And Meredith tells him all about her beautiful, exhausting children, and holds his head in her hands, and he passes. Even Meredith, who has Seen Some Shit, is crying. It’s a gorgeous moment of closure on this fraught relationship, but also, like, how many people is Meredith going to have to bury on this show? The body count is staggering.
Don’t worry you guys, this is Grey’s Anatomy, so we get double the dose of a child dealing with the impending loss of a parent. Remember that giant tumor that lodged itself onto Catherine’s spine? It’s time to perform the risky surgery to remove it! What fun!
Jackson is not handling the potential loss of his mother well. No one is! Several times in my notes, as characters like Jackson, Richard, Tom, Amelia, and yes, even, Catherine repeatedly said they were handling the enormity of the situation just fine, thanks, I wrote down: NO ONE IS OKAY HERE. Because guys, no one was okay there! After Jackson has a little one-on-one moment with his mother in an empty OR where they talk about their first surgeries and her secret weapon for calming her nerves — singing “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” over and over again — he’s primed for a breakdown. He tries to keep his cool — he even facilitates a little pre-surgery dance party IN THE OR to his mom’s favorite song — but watching his mother lying there on the table proves to be too much. Maggie finds him on a gurney trying and failing to imagine a world in which his larger-than-life mother doesn’t exist. The man weeps!
Catherine’s doctors aren’t much better. They are employing the old Fake It Till You Make It strategy to survive this surgery. Both Tom and Amelia keep repeating that they are the best surgeons there are, they are the A team, they are going to remove this entire tumor, no problem. But even they know that their arrogance is a little over the top — even for Tom!
Tom decides it’s time they use Amelia’s coping mechanism: “The word vomit and the feelings.” Both admit how terrified they are to be operating on a legend, that the fate of her career lies in their dinky hands. Tom’s especially worried for all the men with penis problems out there. But he also confesses that he can’t lose his friend. He’s lost too much (his son) already! Aw, Tom! (Have I mentioned how much I love Tom as a character and think he should be a series regular? Because I love Tom as a character and think he should be a series regular.) Then they do the power pose, because the power pose always makes you feel better (seriously, try it!), and go operate the hell out of Catherine’s tumor.
You know things aren’t going to go smoothly because this is Grey Sloan and if someone isn’t walking that thin line of life and death, what are we even doing here? And so it goes that Amelia and Tom have to rethink their surgical plan on the spot and instead of operating from Catherine’s back, they need to turn her on her side and operate from both the front and the back simultaneously (Amelia recognizing that Tom cannot operate while looking at Catherine and switching places with him is a great character moment for both surgeons — Amelia is so much better when she’s just a doctor and not a human with too many feelings). Even when that risky move works, there is more trouble. They can’t remove the entire tumor in one piece without causing paralysis, but by removing it piecemeal there is a risk of leaving some of it behind.
But fear not, people! The most okay-est out of everyone is there to save the day! Remember Richard’s cancer pen? As he is sitting up in the gallery watching his wife’s surgery — everyone tells him that is a terrible idea, but Richard knows where his wife needs him (yes, it is as swoony as it sounds) — he realizes that his cancer pen is the key! They can use it to make sure all the cancer is out. Thank Shonda for that Innovation Contest Jackson funded, right?
The pen does help enormously, but it doesn’t solve all of their problems. They still end up with one nodule they are unable to remove. Catherine lives, but she will be living with cancer for the rest of her life. The keyword, Catherine tells her forlorn doctors, is “living.” No, Tom and Amelia didn’t get the entire tumor out, but they saved Catherine’s life. That is a true gift. It takes a while for two damaged people like Amelia and Tom to figure that out.
Catherine’s Scary, Giant Tumor story line didn’t play out quite as dramatically as it seemed to be building toward, but its conclusion is pretty smart — now the show can hang that disease over Catherine’s head whenever it needs to up the drama. You know that cancer is coming back to haunt us all!
Laughter Is the Best Medicine, Apart From Real Medicine
• I know this is beside the point but, who is Thatcher’s hospice nurse? He is kind and he is cute and Shondaland is in the business of making spinoffs, so I mean, why not? A show about hospice nurses seems like a natural place to go from here.
• Oh, boy. I very much enjoy Tom and Teddy becoming friends — they both need friends — but if this is leading somewhere romantic, I would like to opt out. Last week they were sharing French fries, this week Teddy catches Tom prepping for his surgery by playing Operation and then invites him out for drinks after his success. He declines because he has some Dad Grief to deal with, but it feels like a hookup might be inevitable.
• Two episodes in a row in which Meredith’s children are PHYSICALLY PRESENT? What is this world?
• What brought you a bigger smile during the OR Dance Party? Jackson doing a little MJ spin with his mom or Tom and Bokhee dancing together? If your answer isn’t the latter, you’re a monster.
The Sob Scale: 5/10
You read the part about Meredith telling her dying dad about her kids and Handsome Person Jackson Avery weeping, right? Okay, cool.