Saturday, February 4, 2012

"If/Then" introduces an entirely new Grey's Anatomy

On this week's episode of ABC's Grey's Anatomy, "If/Then," Meredith (Ellen Pompeo) wonders what her world would be like if her mother, Ellis (Kate Burton), didn't get Alzheimer's, and if Richard (James Pickens Jr.) left Adele (Loretta Devine) for Ellis all those years ago, thus raising Meredith as his own daughter. So during the hour, her world is seen drastically different than in the normal run of the show. Ellis is Chief at the hospital. Meredith is happy, bright, and cheerful, wearing pink, and best friends with April (Sarah Drew). She is also engaged to Alex (Justin Chambers).

But it's far from an ideal life. Meredith feels suffocated under the high pressure that her mother exerts. And she's not the only one. Alex can't help but stray with April, which crushes Meredith when she finds out. Ellis is not sympathetic. Bailey (Chandra Wilson) is so why that she gets fired for not speaking up at a critical moment. Derek (Patrick Dempsey) is still married to a pregnant Addison (Kate Walsh), but miserable, especially when he learns that the baby isn't his. Callie (Sara Ramirez) is pressured into cardio and marries Owen (Kevin McKidd), with whom she has several children. Meredith doesn't even know her half sister Lexie (Chyler Leigh), who is a coked up criminal. And Cristina (Sandra Oh) is shunned by all after the Burke incident.

"If/Then" is a classic "be careful what you wish for" episode. Meredith thinks that her life would be better with a more nurturing upbringing, but in truth, the obstacles she overcomes shape her into the great woman and surgeon that she is today. Why the others have to be miserable, too...? Well, that is just to make fans glad that everything is the way it is in "reality." Though, to be fair, if Ellis would have become Chief, things would definitely be quite a bit different at Seattle Grace. Just maybe not so different as they are shown in this episode. The message is clear: everyone is better off the way things are.

But are they really? After all, the beloved characters go through a number of dark, drama-filled experiences in the "real" world. Sure, Callie is happier married to Arizona (Jessica Capshaw), and Lexie has a much better existence when not living as a junky, but that doesn't mean that everyone's paths are easy, and that they all get happy endings. Which leads one to think, what if this different world were the series? It can easily be imagined as such, with the characters dealing with separate, but equally engrossing, challenges. Perhaps Ellis may have stifled the cast as the star, but perhaps not. The others would all still get their angsty stories, just in a different way. So really, either world is an acceptable one for Grey's Anatomy to explore.

Which does not mean the universe as it is in "If/Then" should be revisited. Grey's has chosen the series it wants to be, and it's too late to change that now. "If/Then" is just a fun little side trip to show another version of things, if different paths had been taken. In that, it's an amusing, welcome little experiment, but certainly not all that important in the overall arcs of the series.

The ending of "If/Then" seeks to restore balance. Despite everything that happens differently, Meredith eventually stands up to her mother. She also finds friendship in Cristina. Derek wakes up and realizes that he is completely unhappy, and should try to change things. Callie has a sweet moment with Arizona. Mark (Eric Dane) shows up at the hospital carrying Lexie, their lives intertwined. In this, the writers want viewers to believe that these people are destined to be together. It's a naive, and probably unrealistic, view of existence, but for a television series, it's a fitting ending.

Now, anticipation build up to get back to the normal timeline. After all, there is still much drama to work out there. Can Cristina and Owen's marriage be saved? Will Mark ever be back with Lexie? And, as heartless as it sounds, at least the not-so-great character of Charles (Robert Baker) is no longer around.

Grey's Anatomy airs Thursdays at 9 p.m. ET on ABC.

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