Another Grey’s Anatomy fan favorite is returning.
Chyler Leigh, who played Lexie Grey from seasons three to eight, will appear in the April 1 episode of the ABC medical drama. The news was revealed Thursday in a promo for next week’s episode. (Watch the promo, below.)
Leigh’s Lexie was the younger half-sister to Ellen Pompeo’s Meredith Grey. She arrived as one of the new batches of interns in season three and was written out of the series in the season eight finale, the first victim from the deadly plane crash — but not before finally reuniting with her “person” — Mark (Eric Dane).
Leigh’s Lexie becomes the latest former Grey’s Anatomy castmember to return from the dead and appear alongside Meredith on the show’s somewhat magical beach. The beach is a bit of an “in-between place” for Meredith as she remains on a ventilator while battling COVID-19. Leigh joins former original stars T.R. Knight (George) and Patrick Dempsey (Derek) as castmembers who have returned to reprise their formerly killed off characters this season on Grey’s.
“We’ve carefully designed that beach so that whatever your belief system is, that beach fits into it,” showrunner Krista Vernoff told The Hollywood Reporter earlier this month. “For me, that is a real place that exists in between; it’s an in-between place where Meredith can hang out and the dead people she loves can visit her. That’s where it started. But not everybody believes in a life beyond this body.”
The beach is not, however, exclusive to characters who aren’t alive; Bailey (Chandra Wilson) and Richard (James Pickens Jr.) have also spent time on the sand this season.
“Those scenes are carefully designed so that any time anyone appears on that beach, they are also in Meredith’s [hospital] room and/or the information that Meredith would need to imagine them on that beach has happened in Meredith’s room or earshot,” Vernoff said. “When you saw Bailey and Richard join Meredith and George on that beach, they were in her hospital room with her talking. The idea is if you don’t believe in this magical place, you can imagine that Meredith is creating this space in her own imagination based on the information that she has in that hospital room that she’s hearing.”
Giacomo Gianniotti’s late Dr. Andrew DeLuca most recently joined Mer on the beach. “DeLuca joins her on that beach, but you see her hear that something has happened to DeLuca; she hears something or there’s a way to imagine she heard something off-camera so that she knows DeLuca is hurt,” Vernoff said. “When DeLuca is then there on the beach with her, in my magical reality, he is in between life and death and hanging out with Meredith in this in-between place. But in somebody who has a different belief system’s reality, they can believe that Meredith is dreaming it.”
Knight, Dempsey and Leigh’s returns are all part of a larger storyline in which Grey’s is shining its spotlight on first responders during the pandemic and putting COVID-19 atop its call sheet. Pompeo and Vernoff have said that season 17 is dedicated to the front-line health care workers. “We hope our show inspires you to wear your masks to protect [front-line health care workers] and each other,” the showrunner said in a Nov. 12 statement after Dempsey’s return was revealed.
Vernoff, who also serves as showrunner on Grey’s spinoff Station 19, initially balked at the idea of writing the pandemic into Grey’s Anatomy. Instead, producers opted to tell a powerful story that reaches a vast audience. Pompeo is the face of Grey’s, which has a global audience and is licensed in more than 250 territories around the world. “We saw an opportunity to dramatize and illuminate [health care workers’] plight through the incredibly well loved and well-known character of Meredith Grey,” Vernoff told THR of the decision to give Meredith COVID-19. “Doctors and nurses are fighting for us and falling for us. The least we can do is wear a mask, socially distance and stay home whenever possible. Meredith has a real fight ahead of her. And … she has that beach. Darkness and light. It’s a powerful season. Stay tuned.”
Grey’s is currently in its 17th season. Talks for a potential 18th season are ongoing, with the first hurdle — a new deal for Vernoff — having been completed. Meanwhile, Disney continues to negotiate a new deal with star Pompeo. Sources tell THR that a renewal for the Shondaland-produced medical drama is imminent as Pompeo and Disney continue to hammer out financial terms that will continue to make her TV’s highest-paid actress on a primetime drama series.
For her part, Leigh continues to be a series regular on The CW’s Supergirl. The DC drama films in Vancouver, which likely means the actress had to quarantine in order to film Grey’s. Supergirl returns Tuesday for its final season on The CW.
Grey’s Anatomy airs Thursdays on ABC.