Whoa. "Sympathy for the Parents" was a good episode. It was really good episode. Maybe "best of the season so far" good. To answer the question as to why
it was so good, I think it comes down to emphasis.
This episode had the classic Grey's Anatomy structure of focusing on the characters we really care about (in this case primarily our Fab Three: Meredith, Cristina, and Alex) as they grapple with their professional and personal lives. The Mercy Westers were noticeably MIA. Other new characters (I'm talking about you, Teddy Altman) were woven into the tapestry of the show rather than being shoved down out throats. And as much as I've enjoyed some of the narrative and structural experiments this season, it was both comforting and effective to be enveloped in the traditional storytelling that GA still does so well.
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Of our original Fab Five interns (Meredith, Cristina, Izzie, George, and Alex), Alex Karev has remained the most enigmatic. Attentive viewers have picked up that Alex had a rough childhood and that he might have been abused as a child, but that's about it. Last night, that all changed in a major way. With the arrival of Alex's younger brother, Aaron, we learned more about Alex's past in one episode than we have in six seasons. We learned that he grew up in foster care and was a juvenile "delinquent", having stolen food for his family. We learned that his mom is on medications (presumably for mental illness) and we can infer that his dad did, indeed, abuse the whole family before being run off by Alex, never to return. And we learned that Alex hasn't seen his family for seven years, although he faithfully sends them medicine and financial support. Whoa.
My heart just ached for Alex as we finally got some insight into the brokenness that lies beneath Alex's sometimes-gruff exterior. Like Miranda Bailey, I found myself incredibly impressed with how much Alex has made of his life, despite his circumstances. Seeing him reconnect with his brother was heart-breaking (and realistic, too). We saw the underlying connection between them and yet it seemed perfectly reasonable to me that Alex chose to basically sever his ties to his family in order to make something of his own life. He loves his family, but he can never go back to Iowa.
One final thought: How great were the Alex and Meredith scenes? They have built such a strong friendship (they're really family in a sense) and it was great to see them have each other's backs. The scene in the bathroom was a hoot as Alex offered to "kick his (Derek's) ass" ... just as a brother would. And I really, really loved when Meredith told Aaron that she liked him a lot but she would not allow Alex to be mistreated ... just beautiful. Meredith also, in a series of pitch-perfect scenes, found the perfect balance of supporting Alex and giving him space, which brings me to Owen and Cristina.
Cristina is in love with a man who has big problems. Owen's PTSD is flaring up in a major way and Cristina is grappling with how to deal with it. How much does she leave him alone and not push? How much does she press and insist that he gets help? It's a hard call made even harder by the fact that Cristina is a "civilian" and has never served in a war zone. And then there's the complication that last season Owen's PTSD manifested itself in him nearly choking her to death while in the midst of a nightmare. She's understandably freaked out when things start to heat up again. Interestingly, this is the first time I really felt like the Teddy Altman character was headed in the right direction. She was truly being a friend to Owen and a support to Cristina, offering the perspective of someone who has served in the military and been in a war. I liked that Teddy acknowledged how much Owen loves Cristina while she was actually talking to Cristina. That's proof to me that this "triangle" is finally going where it should be going. I do have another wish. While I totally get that Teddy will have insights into Owen that Cristina could not, having not served in the military, I hope very much that Teddy will either learn about the choking incident or in some other way find out how much Cristina does understand about Owen, how much she loves him, and how much she has stood by him. Speaking of which, how amazing was that last Owen and Cristina scene? It was epic. The shot of them holding hands at the end will sustain me through four weeks (!) of hiatus.
Babies on the Brain
McDreamy wants a baby. After initially freaking out (and thanks to Alex's encouragement and support) Meredith will consider it. Owen learned that Cristina doesn't want kids. Well, that's an oversimplification that I'm sure will be revisited down the line. Callie and Arizona are finally moving beyond denial and realizing that they are going to have to talk about the fact that Callie wants children and Arizona doesn't. Bailey gives wise advice about how the perfect time to have a child is ... never. You just have to do it, because the rewards will outweigh the challenges. And just as Mark and Teddy are making a go of things, his daughter Sloan Sloan (ok, that's not her name, but I can't help myself) returns about to give birth at any moment. Fade to black. It's going to be a long four weeks. To find out what happens next, tune in to the next all-new episode of Grey's Anatomy, "Hook, Line, and Sinner" Thursday, April 29 on ABC.
(Image Courtesy of ABC)