This is a guest post by Scarlett Harris.
Now that Dr. Meredith Grey’s husband, Dr. Derek Shepherd, has dearly departed Grey’s Anatomy, we can focus on the real relationships that drive the show: Meredith and the women in her life.
Of course Dr. Cristina Yang was Meredith’s one true love, not McDreamy. Cristina was there for her when she broke down over the execution of a death-row patient even though they were fighting about the intern self-suturing debacle of season five. Cristina helped Meredith with newly-adopted Zola when Derek left her for tampering with the Alzheimer’s trial even though Cristina was having her own relationship and motherhood issues. She was there for her again in season 10, despite Cristina’s resentment toward Meredith for leaning out of work to focus on family. Cristina supports Meredith through her tumultuous life which includes multiple near-death experiences, the death of her husband and mother and sister. (Seriously, how many tragedies can one person handle?!) Despite the actress who plays Cristina, Sandra Oh, departing the series in season 10, she left an indelible mark on Grey’s Anatomy and its title character.
In addition to Cristina’s impact, you’ll notice a recurring thread throughout Meredith’s most trying times: women were involved.
Meredith’s very existence is in the shadows of her famous and brilliant mother, Ellis Grey, to whom she was never good enough. Her dementia colors the first season of the show and how we come to know Meredith. Ellis’ death in season three also throws Meredith for a loop and reverberates throughout the following seasons, culminating in the arrival of Meredith’s previously unknown half-sister, Maggie Pierce, in season 11, bringing with it a whole host of sister issues Meredith has to work through.
Which brings us to Lexie Grey, yet another half-sister, this time on Meredith’s father’s side. Introduced at the end of season three as an intern at Seattle Grace (now Grey Sloan Memorial Hospital) before her aforementioned death (and one of the reasons for renaming the hospital) in season eight, Lexie had her fair share of tragedies that in turn affected Meredith.
While Meredith was working as her doctor, Lexie’s mother died which put further strain on her difficult relationship with her estranged father. Lexie also struggled with the Seattle Grace Mercy West (yes, yet another formation the Grey’s hospital took!) massacre that claimed the lives of several fellow surgeons and threatened Derek and Alex’s, Lexie’s partner at the time.
The repercussions from Lexie’s death in a plane crash made the following season one of the most emotionally interesting. Meredith became known as Medusa for her ruthless treatment of her interns while Cristina took off to Minnesota to work at the Mayo Clinic. Meredith also discovers she’s pregnant, without her sister and best friend there to support her through what’s supposed to be one of the happiest times in her life.
And let’s not forget the most recent woman to shake up Meredith’s world: Callie’s girlfriend, who also happens to be the doctor who treated Derek prior to his death and is a new resident at Grey Sloan to boot! In one of the best episodes of the show’s 12-season run, “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?” Meredith attempts to swallow her grief over her surprise dinner guest and not tell Amelia, Derek’s sister, or Callie that the new woman in the fold is actually one of the last people to see Derek alive.
If these examples aren’t enough to convince you that women influence Meredith and the trajectory of Grey’s Anatomy as a whole, remember the season one cliffhanger that succeeded in throwing Meredith’s life even more off course than her mother’s illness had?
Addison Shepherd’s—that’s right, Derek Shepherd’s wife!—arrival set the tone for many of the aforementioned women’s introductions into Meredith’s life. They sneak up on her unawares, throw her already messy life into total disarray, but are then accepted into the fold. In a community as close knit as the doctors at Grey Sloan it’s not really surprising that enemies soon become friends.
What is surprising is how close women like Lexie and Maggie have become to Meredith despite the fact that she kind of treats people like shit. Yeah, we know she’s “dark and twisty” to say the least but, apart from Cristina and sometimes Callie, the interactions she has with these women are usually tense, when she’s speaking to them at all.
But can you really blame her? Everyone she’s ever gotten close to, with the exception of Alex and Dr. Weber, has left her. Meredith doesn’t easily open up to people, but there is some disconnect between how she’s portrayed and the characters she’s supposedly written to be close to. She’s the quintessential unlikable female character.
Grey’s Anatomy, like all of Shonda Rhimes’ creations, is a lesson in depicting people from all walks of life, warts and all. Meredith and her relationships to the women in her life can be tense at times, but Grey’s succeeds in portraying them as the result of many strong personalities and highly skilled surgeons attempting to coexist in a high pressure environment, not because women can’t be friends. The women Meredith does get along with passionately she makes “her person” and will go to bat for them under any circumstances, as we saw in recent episodes when she supports Cristina’s ex Owen in his vendetta against new doctor Nathan Riggs because she told Cristina she would.
Many new small screen offerings, such as Orange is the New Black, Broad City and Playing House, take a page out of Grey’s Anatomy’s book and center on the close and complex relationships between women. Sure, Grey’s may have started out as a romance gone awry but, as in real life, relationships evolve and sometimes the most intense and long-lasting ones can be between female friends.