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[Warning: This story contains major spoilers from the “Bend & Break” episode of Grey’s Anatomy.]
ABC’s Grey’s Anatomy delivered one hell of a gut-punch Thursday, when one of TV’s most influential couples was forced to turn the microscope on themselves and rip off the Band-Aid that was holding their relationship together.
During the hour, Callie (Sara Ramirez) and Arizona (Jessica Capshaw) finally sat down in couple’s therapy to address the issues that have been rapidly piling up since Arizona returned from Africa to learn that Callie had slept with Mark and was pregnant. Among them: Arizona’s infidelity, their current impasse about adding a second child to their family and more.
The episode, which spanned more than 30 days, featured incredible flashbacks to the couple’s early days: their first date, first kiss and more as Grey’s continued to mine from its rich past. But the end result was a real blow when Callie, who thanks to an in-home separation, learned that she no longer wanted to try and mend her marriage. Instead, Callie voted for herself after recognizing the couple had become codependent and lost their individuality along the way. Arizona, on the other hand, had the opposite reaction and realizes that the break helped her see how rich and amazing her life with Callie was.
The Hollywood Reporter caught up with stars Ramirez and Capshaw during a recent set visit to discuss the fan-favorite couple’s split and what they’d like the diehard fans who saw themselves in the couple and found the courage to come out to know.
How did you respond when you learned that Callie and Arizona would be breaking up?
Capshaw: The conversation about their issues started with the infidelity, and [showrunner] Shonda Rhimes was very honest and said they had a 50-50 chance. I knew Callie and Arizona weren’t back together and happy by the end of last season even though it seemed like they were. I got so many responses from people asking why they weren’t in therapy and that might have been because they hadn’t really dealt with it yet. With this episode, you see what’s broken, what needs to be fixed and if it can be fixed. Both of them are very honest about who they really are. It is a shock at the end because they take this break.
Ramirez: I wondered how fans would receive it but I had to let go of that concern. Having played the relationship for so many years, I knew it was a really big deal and the challenge of the emotional workload of that episode terrified me. After being in every scene in episode nine last year, I felt the weight of the emotional workload of it all. It’s like any breakup: It’s terrifying and exciting all at the same time.
Why does Callie walk away from her marriage?
Ramirez: Initially, Callie is very resistant to therapy; I don’t think she knows what to expect and she’s terrified of losing her wife. When they do go, Callie is also resistant to the idea of an in-home separation. She’s pretty much resistant the whole time, while at the same time having a glimpse into her professional life at work without the drama of trying to fix her relationship. As the therapy sessions move go on, Callie starts to see that her life outside of the relationship is so full and that the drama is trying to fix what’s wrong with this relationship. Unbeknownst to her, Callie ends up realizing that when she’s not trying to fix this relationship, she’s finding herself more connected to who she is.
Callie lost herself in the marriage, which is something that happens to a lot of people in long-term relationships.
Ramirez: She lost herself and she starts to find herself again — and that’s something she did not expect in all of this. It’s terrifying to make the choices she makes and it breaks her heart because she loves Arizona so much and because they obviously have this beautiful child together. It’s the hardest decision Callie’s ever had to make when she decides that she doesn’t want to try to fix the relationship anymore.
Which is incredible since she still loves Arizona romantically.
Ramirez: It’s not about whether she loves Arizona or not; she still loves her. But what she lets go of is trying to fix the relationship. Instead, Callie chooses to focus on finding herself again. They’ve been through so much that they’ve changed a lot as people. Callie subconsciously is resistant to therapy because she’s afraid of being alone and has become codependent. Callie ends up being forced to be apart from her wife and then starts to recognize herself again and realizes over time when she’s in the therapy session in the very end. It all slowly unfolds for her and I don’t think she expects what she says; I don’t think she goes in there planning that. There’s also a pattern for Arizona where when she’s having difficulties at work and feeling insecure and like things aren’t going well professionally, she tends to lean on Callie. Those are the moments when she says things like, “I love you so much” and “You’re all that I need.” There are some repetitive things in Arizona’s speech in that last scene that make Callie realize what’s happening and — even when they have a very intimate night together — these are all patterns. Before, Callie is willing to let that keep going. But in that therapy session, Callie realizes she has to do something drastic because they can’t keep doing this over and over again. These patterns start to reemerge, and Callie starts hearing similar things that she’s heard before. That’s the tip of the iceberg for Callie, so she does what she knows is right for her, and what she knows, Arizona doesn’t want, so she makes a very brave and scary choice.
Do you think they should have broken up?
Capshaw: Filming that scene was so powerful because people ask all the time if I want them to be together. I am a romantic at heart because I want two people who are supposed to be together, who show up for each other and earn each other, to be together. I don’t want people to be together when that’s not happening. In this particular story, that’s not happening. What’s so beautiful about the episode is that you do see all the moments of their relationship: The highs like when they first meet and their first kiss; then you see Arizona sleeping with another woman; you see Callie having gotten pregnant when Arizona went to Africa. There’s so many things that set them off course — and that’s reality. These stories that are being told are meant to thrill you, excite you, disappoint you, and it’s meant to break your heart because that’s the ride that you’re on when you sign up to watch this show. I’m empathetic, and I feel for the people who will be saddened by this, and yet at the same time I think there’s so much possibility for story. I hope that both characters stand on their own as unique, varied, nuanced and fully formed people. What they choose to do from now on will be exciting. The direction they’re both moving in is to be happy.
Will they explore divorce?
Capshaw: I don’t know. You always point out, “Were they legally married?” I don’t know if it will work out. I just know that there was a ceremony and that was all that they needed to feel married.
Could they date other people? What’s their next journey?
Capshaw: I’m not sure. I think their next journey for these two characters is finding their joy again. They may end up being best friends who co-parent.
Ramirez: There is nothing on her radar right now. It’s all about work and processing the choice that she’s made. She actually starts to immerse herself in her new program with Owen (Kevin McKidd) and we see her immerse herself in those challenges. She has some difficult days coming up at work.
Theirs is a really interesting relationship, too, since Owen is coming to terms with Cristina’s departure.
Ramirez: That budding friendship is really grounded in the work, but also absolutely in recognizing that they both are going through transitions. They bond over that. This is a professional friendship that they have, but nothing more.
Unless you’re talking about the alternate reality episode …
Ramirez: I don’t know what’s happening, but if anything, I think Owen and Amelia (Caterina Scorsone) share some similar things. But yes, Owen and Callie have been there for each other and they remain professional colleagues.
Will Arizona fight for Callie?
Capshaw: Right now it’s much more a period of accepting that something is forever changed and ultimately not going to be saved. What do you do from there? How do you go forward? We all weather the ups and downs of relationships and to not tell a story about something that happens all the time would be remiss on some level.
Do you think anyone is to blame for their split?
Capshaw: From my perspective, it’s been balanced on some level because Callie and Arizona have both been through so much. Being together for seven years is not a failure. Being together through a premature baby, a car crash, a plane crash and an amputation is not a failure. This is not a failed relationship. It is a relationship that underwent tremendous amounts of stress. They always wanted to be back together, and this story is now about what happens when it’s actually not right for them to be together. It’s not what you should want for them. On some level, you try and champion relationships that are healthy, hot, passionate and earned, and this one has started to operate at a constant deficit.
How will their breakup impact their working relationship at the hospital?
Capshaw: There is going to be a period of destabilization and unsteadiness, but my hope is that they find the things that they loved about each other — and that they continue to love about each other because they still do love each other — and figure out how to parlay that into being in a really successful relationship as co-parents, friends and colleagues.
Ramirez: They don’t cross paths professionally, but Callie does concern herself with how heavy Arizona’s workload has become. The potential that’s there is just as exciting as having these two women get married on television: seeing two women who still love each other and share a child be willing to shift their relationship into a different kind of loving relationship that’s not necessarily romantic but that exists for the sake of the child’s wellbeing. What if they work together better as friends sharing a child? And what if the lesson there is actually even more meaningful than the discomfort and fear around them breaking up? The potential is there, but I don’t know if Shondaland writers are going to explore that. But that could be really interesting.
A healthy break-up would certainly be a different story to tell.
Capshaw: Exactly. That’s a story worth telling. A lot of people are going through it. In seven years of playing Arizona, I have gotten so many young people who tell me their stories and part of it is having felt emboldened by watching a character on television live through what they were feeling inside. That it could give them any inspiration, solace, peace and entertainment is enormous. That being said, if fictional characters reaching into people’s homes and telling stories can impact people on some level, then surely there could be some good to telling this story of two people who love each other very much, who were in a relationship together and in a marriage that didn’t end as they wanted it to, but maybe turned into and parlayed into something else.
See more ‘Grey’s Anatomy’s’ Famous Departures
Do you have a message for the diehard fans that looked at these characters to help them come out and find themselves?
Capshaw: When I hear that Arizona has inspired people, I always say that the people who are living that experience inspire me. I don’t know that I ever thought that I was going to be a part of something that would change people’s every day, on any level, so to hear that people were wrestling issues, and again, found peace, found rest, found inspiration in a character that I have played, I could not be more pleased.
Ramirez: I understand that for some fans it’s going to be really hard to watch a couple that they have related to and felt really strongly about being together. I know that that’s going to be really hard for some people because some people see themselves in that couple. Try to remember that just because this couple is going through what they’re going through doesn’t mean that you will, too. And couple’s therapy doesn’t always lead to break ups. Don’t be afraid to work on your issues. This isn’t a representation of every lesbian couple out there. Please try to remember that.
What do you think about Callie and Arizona’s breakup? Sound off in the comments below. Grey’s Anatomy airs on Thursdays at 8 p.m. on ABC.
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