Shonda Rhimes giveth and Shonda Rhimes taketh away.
(Don’t read if you haven’t yet viewed the April 23 and 30 episodes of Grey’s Anatomy.)
Shonda Rhimes eats her fandom’s tears for breakfast. She laughs at your heartache. She pokes needles in the voodoo doll hearts of our (fictional) loved ones and taps her fingers together maniacally as she bears witness to our pain through our furious Tweets and emotionally unstable Tumblr threads. Am I overreacting? Maybe—but I’m also still far too distracted from real life because I’m mourning the death of a person who doesn’t even exist. And I get to blame Shonda for that.
For those of you who have thus far been spared the trauma and turmoil single-handedly doled out by this monster, Shonda Rhimes is a television writer and a life ruiner. She ruins people’s lives. Her production company, Shondaland, has churned out smash hit primetime dramas like How To Get Away With Murder, Scandal, Private Practice, and of course, Grey’s Anatomy. Its logo? A literal emotional roller coaster, which couldn’t possibly be any more of an accurate depiction of what is guaranteed to happen to those who choose to become invested in one of her shows.
10 years ago, I fell victim to the same trials and tribulations that befell the new class of interns at Seattle Grace Hospital. I cheered for their medical victories, I wanted to hug them when they failed their patients, and I fell in love with their love—namely that of the title character, Meredith Grey, and her one-night-stand turned boss turned fling turned love-of-her-life husband, McDreamy.
So imagine my unadulterated rage on April 23 when our darling Dr. Derek Shepherd (a world-class neurosurgeon!) succumbed to a brain bleed and some truly terrible writing. Hell hath no fury like a fangirl scorned. The internet imploded and rightly so. This one’s personal.
Shonda’s Twitter bio makes it clear that she’s experienced this type of onslaught before: “I make stuff up for a living. Remember, it’s not real, okay? Don’t tweet me your craziness.”
That statement alone offends. We know it’s not real. But for someone with a hot air balloon for a head, she should realize that viewers connect to the characters she has so carefully crafted over the years. Newsflash, Shonda: It’s kind of why we watch television. It’s escapism.
While I understand that the shocks have to keep coming in order to keep ratings up, I have to believe that she finally shot herself in the foot. Fans are completely enraged and the fire isn’t cooling. Ratings may very well plummet, and to boot, it may be done purposely. Vindictively, even. Of all the chaos this particular group of doctors has had to endure (freak storms, plane crashes, mass shootings, cancer scares, bus accidents), you expect us to believe that a series of half-hearted unfortunate events would bring Dr. Shepherd to death’s door? Shove it, Shonda.
(And to try to soften the blow by cheapening his character with an impromptu cheating scandal just a couple short episodes prior? That’s just lazy.)
“How to Save a Life” is the first episode she has written since the devastating season 8 finale, according to The Hollywood Reporter, which saw fan-favorite Dr. Mark Sloan/McSteamy and Meredith’s half-sister Lexie meet their untimely demise, which proves she only picks up the pen when it’s time to send us all spiraling into a lovely summer pit of grief.
Unlike most of the people joining the cacophony calling for Shonda’s head on a spike, I don’t shed very many tears while watching television. I was in a state of shock throughout the entire episode, thinking they couldn’t possibly just up and off Derek with such a cavalier plotline. But then they had to go and create a montage of MerDer’s relationship and it suddenly got very real.
“You were like coming up for fresh air; it was like I was drowning and you saved me.” Hi, that’s just me, drowning in never-ending tears.
To add insult to injury, Shonda said, “Hey, what song do our viewers associate with debilitating agony? OK, let’s use that.” And then we had to witness that gut-wrenching montage and Derek’s last breath to a haunting cover of Snow Patrol’s “Chasing Cars,” performed by Sleeping at Last (the same band that broke our hearts in this year’s Budweiser Super Bowl commercial).
Shonda has a history of ruining actors’ reputations once she decides she’s not happy working with someone anymore (e.g. Katherine Heigl, formerly Izzie Stevens in Grey’s) and rumor has it she and Dempsey had a contract dispute, which would explain his abrupt departure. Not one to be accessible to the fans, she merely issued a blanket statement to various media outlets, saying:
“Derek Shepherd is and will always be an incredibly important character—for Meredith, for me, and for the fans. I absolutely never imagined saying goodbye to our ‘McDreamy.’ Patrick Dempsey’s performance shaped Derek in a way that I know we both hope became a meaningful example—happy, sad, romantic, painful, and always true—of what young women should demand from modern love. His loss will be felt by all. Now, Meredith and the entire Grey’s Anatomy family are about to enter uncharted territory as we head into this new chapter of her life. The possibilities for what may come are endless. As Ellis Grey would say, the carousel never stops turning.”
I would think that viewers aren’t angry that he left, but the way in which he was written off. It was too flippant. Casual. Dare I say, heartless. For a man we’ve spent the past ten years with, as our leading man, Derek deserved better.
And don’t even get me started on that nightmare of a follow-up on April 30, what was presented to us in previews as a memorial and tribute episode! Instead we got a two-minute funeral missing key players (are we expected to believe Addison and Cristina wouldn’t have made an appearance in this situation?) and the next two hours spanned almost an entire year. Meredith left Seattle and went we-don’t even-know-where, had another miracle baby, seemingly worked through her mommy issues, and returned to work head held high. You know, come to think of it, with that last shot of a scalpel slice, the episode really could’ve worked as a series finale.
After that convoluted mess, I can officially say I’m done with Grey’s. It’s been one of my all-time favorite television dramas for the better part of a decade, but Shonda has slammed the final nail into the coffin, so to speak. I’m eager to see what the ratings will look like for the season 12 premiere. (My guess? Not good.) Maybe then she’ll finally get a taste of her own medicine and instead of a character dying, her whole show will.
Derek will always be top of my list of favorite characters throughout the years, not only on Grey’s, but in all my shows. And I’ll remember him the way Shonda should’ve allowed us to: oozing charm and heroics, the kind of doctor who believed it was always a beautiful day to save lives.