In a superbly crafted episode (is this veteran drama is on a roll or what?), this week’s Grey’s Anatomy, “Only Mama Knows,” explores the idea of memory, which is both notoriously unreliable and incredibly subjective. Gustave Flaubert said that, “There is no truth. There is only perception.” Indeed, we bring our own points of view, life experiences, and personal histories with us whenever we remember anything. By the time we add our wishes, hopes, dreams, successes, failures, regrets and disappointments into the mix, the result is often a hot mess, as Meredith Grey discovers when she attempts to piece together the past of her “audacious” mother, the late Ellis Grey.
Bit By Bit, Putting It Together
The episode opens as Ellis Grey discusses her storied career, in what the viewer soon discovers is a videotape of an old interview. Ellis talks at length about the challenges she faced early in her career when she was a brilliant surgeon who happened to be a woman, struggling to succeed at a point in history when the medical establishment wasn’t ready for either women or minorities. Via the use of Ellis’ journal entries (referenced back in season five but expanded upon here) and flashbacks of footage from early seasons (circa seasons one through three-ish, if my own memory is accurate) plus newly created materials (Meredith’s memories as a young child, Richard’s memories of his time with Ellis, the aforementioned Ellis interview), a composite begins to emerge, like a puzzle waiting to be solved. Slowly but surely, Meredith gains a fuller understanding not only of what happened so long ago, but also begins to ponder the ongoing ramifications of the choices made both by Ellis Grey and by Richard Weber.
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She’s My Sister!
In the meantime, Derek (with a little covert help from Amelia, who I’m liking more and more) manages to discover the truth. Interestingly, the Intel doesn’t come from Meredith. MerDer are still fighting like crazy and misinterpreting each other at every turn. Instead, McDreamy manages to pry the truth out of Maggie. She tells him that her parents are Ellis Grey and Richard Weber, which makes Meredith her half-sister. To Dr. Pierce’s surprise, Derek is delighted by the news. He gives Maggie a hug and welcomes her to the fold, telling her not to worry. Meredith is bad with sisters (!) but he’s great with them. And just like that, things seem a little bit brighter and hope is no longer lost.
I Think She’s Leaving Because of You
Newly-minted hospital board member, Bailey, is distressed to learn that Maggie Pierce intends to resign her position and leave Seattle. She’s also convinced that Richard has something to do with this turn of events. Eventually Nancy Drew Miranda gets Richard to admit that Maggie is his daughter. In a humorous moment amongst the angst, this relieves Richard’s protegee’ to no end. Miranda (like Jackson last week) had suspected that Richard had been sleeping with Dr. Pierce. All together now: eeeeeewwww! Once the truth is out, Bailey is nothing but supportive. Thanks heavens.
Bad News, Good News, Bad News, Good News?
In the “B” story of the week, Alex is still reeling from not getting the board seat. On the upside, however, he is no longer jobless since the hospital hired him back as an Attending in Pediatrics. He’s distressed to discover (from blabbermouth Stephanie) that the board vote wasn’t “close” as his mentor, Arizona Robbins had assured him. Rather, the vote for Bailey was unanimous. Feeling betrayed, Alex confronts both Meredith and Arizona. Meredith gently explains that Alex was good but Bailey was better. Simple as that. Arizona, meanwhile, confesses to having a personal stake in the decision. Now that Alex is rockin’ it again in Peds, AZ can take a step back and put more time into her fellowship with Dr. Herman. Win-win! And, thankfully, Alex seems kind of touched and proud that Robbins has such faith in him. I can now exhale. This guys deserves a break.
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The Carousel Never Stops Turning
Back to the main event. By episode’s end Meredith (with more than a little help from Richard) has finally figured things out. Richard (in a burst of professional jealousy that would end up changing the course of many lives) broke up with Ellis that day at the carousel. He went back to his wife, Adele. Ellis, having already broken up with her husband (and Meredith’s father) Thatcher Grey, attempted suicide. When she recovered, Ellis packed up herself and Meredith and moved to Boston. She secretly gave birth to Maggie, whom she gave up for adoption and then began her fellowship as planned. She also won her first Harper Avery Award for creating The Grey Method. As the episode closes we see Ellis basking in the recognition of that video interview. We also witness a brief memory hiccup, which is an eerie foreshadowing of the Alzheimer’s Disease that will one day ravage her incredible mind. But let’s not dwell on that for now. Let’s focus, instead, on Ellis Grey dedicating her Harper Avery Award to all of the women surgeons who would come along after her. Gifted surgeons. Surgeons like Cristina Yang. Or Meredith Grey. Or Maggie Pierce.
Quotes and Trivia
“You sound just like your mother.” – Derek to Meredith, who doesn’t take it as a compliment
“She doesn’t know you or she would stay.” – Miranda to Richard about Maggie
“I made the wrong choice for the wrong reason.” – Richard
“I have a sister.” – Meredith
“Where were we?” – Ellis, towards the end of her interview
Neither Callie nor April appear in this episode. Owen and Jackson make only cameo appearances.
The next all-new episode of Grey’s Anatomy, “Bend and Break”, airs October 23 on ABC.
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(image courtesy of ABC)