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[This story contains spoilers from the season 17 finale of Grey’s Anatomy.]
Meredith Grey is a survivor. And she’s ready — and willing — to teach the next generation how to fight for their patients.
ABC on Thursday wrapped the 17th season of Grey’s Anatomy with a finale that brought its COVID-themed season to a fitting end as Ellen Pompeo’s now fully recovered Meredith is training the next generation of surgeons to advocate for their patients.
Season 17, which showrunner Krista Vernoff and Pompeo dedicated to health care professionals, was set a few months in the past as Grey’s depicted every facet of how the novel coronavirus pandemic impacted frontline employees. Pompeo spent the bulk of the pandemic-shortened 17-episode season filming scenes from a hospital bed — where Meredith was on a vent after getting COVID-19 — and on the beach visiting loved ones from her past as she fought for her life.
The season illustrated how the pandemic affected doctors both at work and at home, including Meredith’s finale admission that COVID survivor’s guilt never truly goes away. As Vernoff created the beach scenes to help offset the serious nature of the COVID storylines, several fan-favorites — Patrick Dempsey (Derek), T.R. Knight (George), Eric Dane (Mark), Chyler Leigh (Lexie) — returned to help Meredith fight for her life.
A perennial survivor, Meredith beat COVID and used her newfound sense of purpose to teach interns to fight for what’s right — even if it’s a procedure that hospital administrators (sorry, Bailey) don’t immediately agree with. “If this year has taught us anything, it’s that we could die sooner than any of us want,” Meredith tells Bailey (Chandra Wilson) of the lessons she learned from her serious battle with COVID.
The finale spanned from August 2020 to April 2021 as docs at Grey Sloan Memorial received their COVID vaccines and hope began to seep through the walls of the hospital. With Meredith getting stronger each day, she has taken over running the intern program (from Richard) and is imparting her wisdom on the next generation. (A generation, as Bailey fittingly called them, “of little yous.”)
After blowing off rounds of applause from her peers, Meredith finally gets her recognition after a months-long fight for a procedure that ultimately saves the life of a COVID patient. The moment arrived after Meredith and Teddy (Kim Raver) left Maggie’s rescheduled beach wedding for surgery, with the reception ending up at the hospital in a moment of celebration.
“We initially wrote Meredith’s clap-out to be when she was discharged from the hospital, in episode 1715. But we quickly realized that moment seemed like the end of the season, so we came up with the brilliant idea of Meredith escaping her own clap-out, which felt very Meredith Grey to us,” says longtime exec producer Meg Marinis, who co-wrote the finale alongside Andy Reaser. “So many people had struggled with COVID, and she didn’t want to feel any different than anyone else. So we decided to clap Meredith out of the OR instead, which felt like the ultimate victory to her journey this season. That shot of Meredith, in the OR corridor, surrounded by her people, laughing and smiling in her scrub cap…it gives me all the feels. It gives me hope after such a hard year.”
This season put COVID-19 at the top of the call sheet and featured multiple docs waging their own battles with the deadly virus. (Teddy even tested positive and quickly recovered in the finale alone.) While not every character had a hopeful ending (sorry, Link), the season found a way to fast-forward through the past eight months and catch up to where the real world is in its battle with COVID. The series also found a way to honor its past in a season when that has been so vital as Meredith texted her person, Cristina (Sandra Oh), about her surgical accomplishment.
Vernoff had been vocal this season about depicting the stark realities of the pandemic, with Grey’s altering its timeline to be a few months behind where the country was in real time. What remains to be seen is what role the pandemic will have on the recently announced 18th season of Grey’s Anatomy. Showrunner Vernoff is on vacation and opted to not do press after a particularly taxing season in which she ran Grey’s and its spinoff, Station 19, as well as ABC’s since-canceled Rebel.
For a powerful season that oscillated between darkness and light — and one that featured only the fifth series regular character to be killed off and the departures of two others — it ended with a sense of gratitude, on screen and off, as producers placed a title card before the end credits that acknowledged the 12-person Grey’s Anatomy Health and Safety team “whose dedication made the telling of these stories possible.”
As for what’s ahead, the finale set the stage to explore Amelia (Caterina Scorsone) as a single mother battling her past, a potential romance between Link (Chris Carmack) and new mother Jo (Camilla Luddington) and a wedding between Teddy and Owen (Kevin McKidd). Meanwhile, Meredith and Cormac (Richard Flood) continued to flirt as their paths seem destined to cross in a romantic storyline.
Click here for a gallery of Grey’s Anatomy’s biggest departures.
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