Eight seasons into a television series, it’s hard to keep things fresh. The very elements that contribute to a show’s ongoing success can also become tedious over time. So I give Grey’s Anatomy credit for mixing things up now and again and being willing to take risks with the narrative structure of the show. These variations on the familiar theme have included a documentary, an episode in real time, and the infamous musical. Now we can add one more to the list: alternate reality. The premise of “If/Then” is simple. Would our lives have been completely different if we’d made other choices? What if fate had dealt us a different hand? Or do we find our true path despite these variables, because all roads lead to an inevitable destination? Is there such a thing as destiny?

Happy, Shiny Meredith

According to GA creator, Shonda Rhimes, this one shift is the foundation for the entire alternative universe. What if, instead of being dark and twisty, Meredith Webber (!) was happy and shiny? What if Ellis hadn’t gotten Alzheimer’s disease and died? What if she had married Richard Webber and become the Chief of Surgery at Seattle Grace Hospital? What if Meredith was engaged to Alex Karev (!) and her “person” was April Kepner (!)?

It turns out that life still wouldn’t have been a bed of roses for Mer. Sure, she finally had a loving parent in Richard, but Ellis was controlling and pushy, despite her best intentions.  Meredith was being led to cardio (and sparring with Cristina Yang) as a result) and Alex turned out to be fooling around with April. Yet, in the end, Meredith still ended up connecting with the two people most important to her: Derek and Cristina, not necessarily in that order.  Destiny? I think so.

And Speaking of Cristina

What an entrance. I had to laugh as Cristina Yang swept into the Residents’ Lounge, taking no prisoners. In the AU (alternative universe) she’s clearly a badass surgeon, but she’s also alone, having neither Meredith nor Owen in her life. It’s odd to see the Twisted Sisters not even being friends, but-of course-that ship is righted by episode’s end.

More intriguing in my view is the undercurrent between Cristina and Owen. Apparently Cristina was still involved with Preston Burke but he retreated “to another state” after things ended.  And Cristina’s cardio mentor isn’t Teddy (who is still in Iraq) but Callie (!) who is married to Owen (!) with whom she has three adorable children. It’s immediately clear that Callie and Owen aren’t right together. Callie is more than a little interested in the Head of Pediatrics, Dr. Robbins, and Owen, who still suffers from PTSD in the AU, has apparently been sharing moments with Dr. Yang. She’s witnessed some major flare-ups and not only kept her mouth shut, but also actively helped the brooding Dr. Hunt. Somehow, no matter what the universe, these two wounded souls find each other.

It’s fascinating to me that in this world Cristina and Owen both have what they think they want. She’s got a life that’s all about surgery to the exclusion of everything else, but without Owen her life is lonely, indeed. He’s got the children he so desperately wants, but married to the wrong woman/without Cristina, his life is a mess. This gives me more than a little hope that back in the real GA world, Cristina and Owen will be able to reconnect and find their way back to each other. Destiny? I know so.

Everything Is Topsy Turvy

It’s interesting, too, that some things just don’t work, even when the reset button is pushed. In an inspired turn, Addison Montgomery Shepherd is still married to Derek “McDreary” Shepherd. Although they are outwardly “perfect” they are actually miserable. It even turns out (in the evening’s best twist) that the baby Addison is carrying isn’t Derek’s, but Mark’s. Ah, some things never change.  

And what fun to see Mark Sloan waltzing into the hospital carrying the unconscious druggie-with-a-heart-condition, Lexie Grey (!). I assumed he’d be, like Teddy, MIA in this episode. Psych! Plus, Lexie’s doctor was none other than Jackson Avery, so there was something for the Jaxie fans as well as the Mexie shippers. Win-win!

Finally, there were a few choice references to the past and hints about the future. Charles Percy was amongst the living once again and people paying close attention in the cafeteria scene found out the fates of Izzie and George. Longtime fans of the show were rewarded with lots of little “easter eggs” from the choice of music in the episode to dialogue and plot points that evoked memories of days long gone. In short, “If/Then” was a highly entertaining success.  As for future days, I’m seriously wondering if that Alex/April scene was foreshadowing. How about you? Then there’s that jaw-dropping promo. Oh. My. Is it Thursday yet?

The next new episode of Grey’s Anatomy, “All You Need is Love” will air Thursday, February 9 on ABC.

Janalen Samson

Contributing Writer, BuddyTV