E: Now, this is a fun idea. Let’s visit our favorite characters and see what they used to be like, back in the day. Which is to say, back before they were slick and intimidating. Chief Webber’s tale probably has the most resonance for the hospital and the show, but Bailey always and forever serves as the heart and moral center of Seattle Grace. We’ve already established that her fierceness is layered on top of old insecurities, so it’s exciting that they’re going to slice all that open and look beneath.
And, is it just me or was that the best opening narrative ever? For the first time I can remember, the v.o. isn’t merely a break in the fourth wall, talking out to the audience; it’s the Chief talking about his alcoholism at rehab. The subject of the day? Surgery as adrenaline addiction. Can you survive it? Does it make you a better person? Or will you sacrifice everything for that high?
Three cases, seen in flash back. Pivotal cases in the lives of three surgeons, as explained during Derek’s newly (re)instituted lecture series. Bailey, Callie and the Chief, (who will not be given his job back, but a provisional job as an Attending, which he initially turns down) will benefit their colleagues by detailing the patients who made them doctors. Chief Webber will give a lecture, though, about learning from your coworkers. He just walks right in and speaks, because he is The Chief. Callie, on the other hand, vomits in horror at the thought of public speaking. And Bailey checks her look in a mirror, where Dr. Warren catches her, of course. He grins and tells her she looks good. She chases him away, gruff but clearly charmed. Oh my goodness. That was so adorable I can’t stand it.
We flash back and forth between the lecture room (with Meredith, Cristina, Jackson, Lexie, Alex and Arizona in attendance) and the past. The Chief lectures gravely. Callie can barely read off her cue cards. Bailey is interactive, making her audience guess the diagnosis, pelting them for not paying attention, and rewarding them with chocolate if they’ve made a good guess. She would have done well with peds.
A mere three days into her internship, Bailey meets a woman with unexplained abdominal pain. Do I buy Bailey with dreads? I don’t know. What I’m not sure I buy is Missy Pyle (so memorable in Galaxy Quest) as the nasty resident Bailey is constantly showing up. You’re swimming with sharks now, the Chief tells her. Make sure you’re a shark too. Mandy, as she was known then, struggles with her upbringing, which has taught her to be polite and deferential. She doesn’t want to be a minnow, but she doesn’t want to be a shark, either! We meet Joe the bartender with a really bad wig. And Bailey with a denim vest. Yuck. Is it just me, or do they all look more 90, grunge-like than 2003? She did say 2003, didn’t she? The whole timeline is a little confusing, since the characters intern year played out over several (was it three? four?) seasons. Be that as it may, in the present we get to see a lot of Dr Ben Warren smiling at Bailey, and that makes up for a lot of ills. Not slimey, just warm and confident; he likes her, he appreciates her, and he knows that it makes her feel good when he shows it. He’s like a big ole luxurious blanket you wrap yourself up in.
Anyway. Bailey’s intelligence and her meticulous research make a difference, sure, but more than anything, it’s her connection with her patients – with this patient – that enables her to find the proper treatment after months of Pyle’s misses. She doesn’t let her own vanity get in the way (she doesn’t have to cut if the problem isn’t surgical) and she learns not to let anyone else’s vanity or ignorance get in the way of her patients care, either. And it turns out the poor woman has Porphyria. That’s the vampire disease, right? We see Bailey come in to her own in that one speech where she tells off Pyle for being incompetent and uncaring, and it’s perfectly written and delivered.
I like the interweaving of the storylines. Nicely done, writing staff! Callie’s case is more recent, and it was Alex – sniffing out a potentially great case – that brings it to her, works it with her, and coaches her through the debilitating nerves until by the end, she’s sitting on the stage, just chatting. Alex found an Indian grad student whose legs were bent and atrophied from polio. Callie – though they never say how – reconstructs his legs. She tries to do it one massive surgery, but it’s too much, so they spread it out over many. And that’s what she learned – to be bold, yes, and take risks, but also to consider her patient, and not to bite off more than she can chew. In an interesting twist, Alex lies to Callie about being the heart in the elevator guy (which of course was Callie’s eventual husband, George). It’s neat to see her get all excited about that, considering what a major crush she had on George. And then of course the patient codes during a surgery, and Alex is forced to admit at the worst possible moment that it wasn’t him and he doesn’t know how to do save the guy. Just because you haven’t, doesn’t mean you can’t, she tells him. And when the patient could walk, as she promised, Callie and Alex “celebrated.” Arizona catches on to what that means immediately, even though she can’t quite believe it. Oh, gross. Really? I’m sorry, but there’s no way Alex wouldn’t have brought that up before to torment George. It’s consistent with their personalities that they’d have sex to celebrate. I absolutely buy that. If they’d worked that closely together for months … no, there’s no way that Alex wouldn’t have used this to get at George. We would have seen signs. You can’t rewrite the past that way. It’s a fun storyline, though perhaps less emotionally resonant. We get a lovely moment when the student moves his toes for the first time since he was seven.
Finally, we see Chief Webber and Ellis Grey back in 1982, discovering the first (fictive) documented case of HIV in Seattle. Ellis – talk about stunt casting – is played by Sarah Paulson of Cupid and Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip. She’s fierce, cold and bitter; not as bitter as late in life Ellis, but waspish none-the-less. The actor playing Richard wasn’t particularly inspiring. I don’t buy their chemistry in the slightest, unfortunately, which is too bad because they should have been smoking. He does an awesome, awesome job, the closeted aids patient. He was very moving. “How can I hate them for being scared when I’m the one living a lie?” He walked in with a girlfriend, threatened to sue them for suggesting it might be GRID – the gay disease – but eventually returns with the now familiar lesions and everyone has to admit they were right. Their Old Boy attending doesn’t even want to treat the patient; he’s a pariah, an untouchable just like Richard and Ellis. We get to see 80s sexism and racism (wow, I wonder if the early 80s were really that bad? 70s I’d buy easily enough- I guess ’82 is close enough) which is a fascinating contrast to the diversity of the doctors in the lecture hall. Or, for that matter, when I think of my own doctors or those at our pediatricians office.
And of course, Ellis and Richard are living a lie, themselves, although they disagree over which life is the false one, the affair at the hospital or the time home with their spouses. We see toddler Meredith and her surgery doll – that was a nice touch, but Ellis’s coldness and lack of interest in her child are shocking. We know that’s how she was, but to see it is something different. The whole thing breaks my heart. Later, Ellis snaps at Richard (who’s not wholely comfortable with Ellis operating on the AIDS patient, since no one knew back then how it was transmitted) that being a mother doesn’t make her less of a person or professional. That’s all well and good and true, but what she fails to see is that the physical act of being a mother gave her responsibilities. The very idea of Meredith is an affront to what Ellis wants; it brings back all Meredith’s acting out, and makes a whole lot of sense. (Which makes it even nicer to see tiny moments of happy, healthy Meredith.) Why didn’t she get an abortion, I wonder – do we ever hear? Aside from the fact that then we’d have no story, of course. Richard and Ellis form a circuit, holding hands with the dying patient. I can’t help being reminded of Derek and Meredith putting their dog to sleep – visually, that is, not that I’m equating a person with a dog. Later, her bitterness palpable, Ellis practically forces Richard to take his first drink (to “grow up”), somehow feeling it will make him leave Adelle. And I suppose that was what destroyed their marriage in the end, when Ellis herself couldn’t break it.
The Chief sums it all by saying that this was the day he “lost the sense that I was a superhero”. Learn from your colleagues, but be careful where that takes you. Remember why you came here, he says, with his years of pain and guilt and experience staring out at us. You took the physicians’ oath. Remember it. It is to easy to lose your way. Consecrate your life to the service of humanity. The oath is long, and he knows it by heart. Bailey tears up.
Generally the episode was enjoyable, though exploring the past brings up some – how do I say – technical, casting issues. There’s isn’t an actor in this show who’s the age they’re supposed to be. Your average med school intern would probably be in their mid-twenties, right? Yet they decided to cast the show from actors who are chiefly now in their late thirties and early forties. This makes it all a little weird. I love the cast, but this had to be a conscious choice, right? And I’m puzzled as to why they made it. I’m puzzled by their timeline in general; Bailey tells Cristina (back when they were both pregnant) that she has been trying to get pregnant for 7 years. That basically means she must have been married in college, and started trying to have a baby then, if you don’t assume she waited a long time between college and med school. Which is a little weird, don’t you think? And I didn’t even notice her wearing a wedding band in this episode, though she’d have to be to keep consistent with that timeline. Although, my goodness, can you imagine Tucker marrying minnowy, mousy Mandy and ending up with the Nazi instead? That would explain a lot about why their marriage imploded, more than the whole “you never have time for me” stuff we got at the time. I felt like a bits of this were sloppy, basically. Not that I didn’t enjoy, but it doesn’t hold up to close scrutiny.
What did you think? Did you like the peek into the past?