Grey’s Anatomy Season-Premiere Recap: To the Limit

Grey’s Anatomy

All Tomorrow’s Parties; The Center Won’t Hold
Season 17 Episodes 1 and 2
Editor’s Rating 5 stars

Grey’s Anatomy

All Tomorrow’s Parties; The Center Won’t Hold
Season 17 Episodes 1 and 2
Editor’s Rating 5 stars
Photo: ABC

Whoa. Whoa. Whoa. YOU GUYS. There is no time for niceties welcoming you back to the world of Grey Sloan Memorial because, um, that was fucking DEREK SHEPHERD. The Derek Shepherd. McDreamy. MCDREAMY. It’s not a flashback or special effects. That was Patrick Dempsey on a beach. We don’t see him for very long but could someone report back on how his hair is doing? Even in the afterlife, you know Derek is keeping things right and tight. Perhaps the operative word in that sentence is afterlife, because unfortunately Derek has not been raised from the dead, but rather his appearance signals a dire situation for Meredith. She’s already been to an afterlife limbo dream world once, but you know Grey’s Anatomy loves to have its heroine constantly teetering on the line between life and death. This time, when Cormac finds her in the parking lot unconscious and not breathing after two weeks at the hospital in the COVID-19 wing, in her mind, she’s on a beach and she can hear someone calling her name. That someone is Derek. He’s so happy to see her.

Thankfully, we’ll get at least a little more time with him in that dream next week. And yes, obviously we all know that Derek is not the sun, Meredith is, and I think we can all agree that Derek was kind of a dick sometimes, especially toward the end, but wow, wow, wow, truly what a sight for the sorest of eyes. We needed that.

The reappearance of Derek Shepherd (sorry, I have to keep typing it to make my brain understand what just happened) was especially necessary after a two-hour premiere that focused on how our doctors at Grey Sloan Memorial are coping with the coronavirus pandemic. As far as them having to deal with new protocols in their work — Grey Sloan is only taking COVID-19 patients for the time being and is closed to all trauma — they are doing the best they can. As far as them having to deal with the emotional trauma of the pandemic, well, things are pretty terrible.

The show wisely uses Richard Webber’s return to work after his cobalt-poisoning situation to give us a tour of how things have changed since the pandemic hit. In short: Everything has changed. This is not the Grey Sloan Memorial Dr. Webber left a few months prior. Now in April 2020, when the episode takes place, employees have to line up for temperature checks before entering the building, there are no visitors allowed unless the patient is a minor, the O.R. board is blank since only emergency surgeries are allowed, and the COVID-19 wing is a complete hellscape. This part is especially harrowing both from the standpoint of looking back at what things were like for doctors and first responders back in April and maybe even worse from the standpoint of knowing that today COVID hospitalization numbers are climbing at alarming rates. It’ll be interesting to see how the season progresses.

We mostly see the COVID-19 wing through Meredith, who spends her days calling codes and then having to tell people that their loved ones died alone. It is all death, all the time. She’s exhausted and frustrated and angry and at one point she takes it all out on an unsuspecting supply closet. Her only real reprieve is when the Station 19-ers bring in a few teens burned in a wildfire they started while breaking quarantine. They force Grey Sloan to take it, which means Meredith gets to go into an O.R. and save a life. But it’s been two weeks since she’s seen her kids or had any kind of break, so when DeLuca (we will get to him!) finds her asleep at the nurses station he forces her to go home and get some sleep. He’ll tag in for her. Which of course leads to Cormac Hayes finding Meredith in the parking lot and again, say it with me, DEREK SHEPHERD. We’ll have to wait until next week to find out what’s up with Mer.

Aside from dealing with the pandemic, the two-hour premiere pretty much caught us up, even if very quickly, on where every character’s drama from last season stands. Three of those stories took precedence over the rest, so let’s talk about them. Since the episode marks Richard’s first day, we’ll start with him.

At the end of Grey’s shortened season 16, Richard had come out of his cobalt-induced haze and ordered Catherine to get out of his sight. The two had been separated since earlier in the season when she thought Richard was cheating on her with Gemma, an old AA friend (he wasn’t physically, but a little bit emotionally), and Richard was left humiliated, first when Catherine didn’t back him up as Bailey fired him for helping Meredith commit insurance fraud, and then again when she bought the hospital he was working in just to merge it with Grey Sloan. Suffice it to say, Richard was not having it.

When he returns to Grey Sloan he and Catherine are either avoiding each other or making snide remarks. They’re both extremely stubborn people. At one point, Catherine and Maggie are yelling their frustrations at the top of their lungs because honestly, what else can they do? “I hate that everyone is dying!” “I hate that I can’t fix it!” And then Catherine gets quiet: “I hate that my husband hasn’t come back to me,” she says. Everyone hates it, Catherine!
Mostly, it’s the pandemic that puts things into perspective for Richard and Catherine. At the end of the episode, Catherine pages both Richard and Tom Koracick to come see her. Tom is the Chief of Chiefs, basically in charge of everything, but he is floundering in this crisis. Everyone can see it. Catherine demotes him back to Attending and offers the Chief of Chiefs job, along with her deepest apologies, to Richard.

Richard’s response, rather than just saying he accepts, is to ask for some COVID-19 tests. Not because he feels ill: “I just want to make sure it’s safe to do all the things I want to do with you.” Friends, I applauded. Richard and Catherine are back on.

Decidedly less sexy than that is all the shenanigans going on with Teddy and Owen. It’s just a whole lot of yikes over in that corner of Grey Sloan. By now, everyone in the hospital knows about the Teddy and Tom sex voicemail Owen got while in the O.R. and almost everyone is Team Owen here. In the present, Teddy and Owen are barely speaking. We get some flashbacks to right after Owen got the voicemail and postponed the wedding. Owen is pretty much begging Teddy to be honest with him. He gives her several chances to come clean. She continues to lie to his face so he whips out his phone and plays the voicemail for her. Owen is a petty drama queen and I do not hate it.

Back in the present timeline of the show, Teddy is spiraling a bit when they’re unable to save one of the teenage boys who came in with severe burns. It doesn’t help that Jo walks in and gives her attitude — she is especially sensitive about what Teddy did to Owen because of what Alex did to her. Teddy tearfully tries to explain herself, how she loves Owen but made a mistake and sabotaged her chance at something good and is suffering. Jo tells her she needs to try harder with him. Teddy tries. She finds him in the parking lot and makes a huge declaration of love and begs for forgiveness. Owen can’t. He drives away, leaving her in tears. How do they come back from this?

And then there’s Andrew DeLuca. One of the biggest storylines that didn’t get to fully play out because of Grey’s shortened season 16 was DeLuca’s bipolar disorder diagnosis. We watched him go through a manic stage and finally in the season finale we saw that it had passed and he was having an extreme depressive episode — Meredith had to pick him up off the hospital floor. I’m happy to report that DeLuca is back at work (in dark blue Attending scrubs, no less) and is on medication and going to therapy and taking care of himself. But it wasn’t an easy road to get to that place.

First of all, it should be noted that the show does give us some closure on that human trafficking storyline. DeLuca raised holy hell over a patient named Cindy, believing her to be a human trafficking case. No one else believed him and when things got really out of hand and he started screaming at Cindy and her “mom” the doctors called a Code Violet and surrounded him, leading him out of the hospital. Here’s the thing: DeLuca was right. We flashback to when Cindy, whose real name is Erin, came back after being left for dead by Opal, the woman pretending to be her mother. It’s hard for DeLuca, given his fragile mental state, but he has to be the one to keep Erin calm until they reunite her with her family.

But after that, the most important people in DeLuca’s life — his sister Carina, Meredith, Bailey, and Webber — know they need to figure out a way to convince him to get help. They have an intervention. This scene! THIS SCENE. It’s the most emotional moment of the premiere, which is saying something, what with all the Derek and pandemic stuff.

Carina, Meredith, Bailey, and Webber each try to appeal to DeLuca to convince him that he should get help. They tell him they love him, that he’s not alone in this, that he shouldn’t throw his career away. Bailey even brings up her OCD and tells DeLuca there’s no shame in dealing with your mental health issues. But DeLuca loses it. The one thing he wanted most in his life was to not end up like his father, and he failed, he tells them. He would “give up every life [he] ever saved if it would stop [him] from feeling like this,” he yells before he slams on the door and then falls to the ground in tears. His sister, also sobbing, comes and sits next to him on the floor, followed by Meredith. They want him to “fight as hard for [himself] as [he does] for everyone else.” Finally, he agrees to get help. It is a weeper of a scene and I’m tearing up just thinking about it.

For the moment, DeLuca seems to be getting his life back on track, but he, like all of the doctors at Grey Sloan, has a lot on his plate. We’ll see what happens as he has to continue to  cope with, well, this whole scary dumpster fire situation we’re in.

The O.R. Board

• Maggie Pierce is in love and it is about time! She and Winston Ndugu, her former resident who she reconnected with at the medical conference last season, are making long-distance work as he stays in Boston. They are adorable. He sends her a glamping tent so she can see her nieces and nephews at the house safely. If you recall, Maggie and Jackson broke up after a disastrous camping trip, so this little dig brought me joy. It’s not real camping, it’s comfortable, sexy camping. Winston needs to move to Seattle ASAP.

• Okay, how do I put this? Jo asks Jackson for a sex favor, by which I mean she asks him to have sex with her. She needs to get Alex out of her system so she can start to move forward. Jackson agrees with very little persuasion. When Jo shows up at his penthouse, she’s drunk and ready to get it over with, not at all interested in what looks to be a glorious cheese plate that he has set up. Once they start making out, she just starts sobbing. She is in no way ready for sex with someone else. After some hostility born from Jo’s humiliation, they agree to be friends again and forget it ever happened. So they’ll definitely be hooking up in the near future.

• Oh, in case you were wondering: Jackson and Station 19’s Vic Hughes broke up after she showed up at his penthouse completely naked under her coat and he answered the door with his daughter Harriet in his arms. So, that happened.

• New parents Link and Amelia are at home watching Meredith’s kids and their newborn son, who after much deliberation, they name Scout Derek Shepherd Lincoln. It is a lot. Link was very much against their son being named Gabe Lincoln, but is on board with a father and child being Atticus and Scout. He is baffling. He is also on board with a pandemic birthday that consists of sex and doughnuts. Okay, I understand him again.

• Last we heard, Nico had ditched Schmitt and Grey Sloan for a job with the Mariners, but with baseball on hold (this episode takes place in April, remember), he’s back for the time being. He and Schmitt are awkward as hell around each other, until Nico finds Schmitt in a supply closet and offers him some stress relief by way of a blow job. Whatever gets you through the day!

Grey’s Anatomy Season-Premiere Recap: To the Limit