Against the backdrop of a disaster that is capricious as it is confusing, Yang's oft-promised farewell—how can we miss you if you never leave?—was, appropriately, back-burnered in different (and poignant) ways for each of the other characters in her immediate orbit.
Meredith accepts the job early on of strong-arming her ass out the door, once she sees what Cristina Panic looks like (it looks like Cristina but times a thousand, like she is taskin' hard on a handful of Adderall while having a megalomaniac psychotic break), which is delightful: "Whattayou need, a fuckin' I love you? Fine. I LOVE YOU." And then she not-quite-cries as the taxi pulls away.
Of course, Cristina can't really leave until they revisit the entire ten years of this show's history, so she runs back so they can "dance it out" to Tegan & Sara, "you're my person" it up for a bit, and discuss how the Fab Five are always and forever unfinished: George got gay-bashed to death by that bus, Izzy's melanoma renegotiated her right out of a job, and so forth. And in a way, I guess that's why—even though the Big Money was on Mer/Yang being the tearjerker of the night—I found myself less destroyed by it than the rest of her goodbyes: They are unfinished. They will always be what they are.
Their love has always been nonverbal, physical—sweaty, like a toddler waking up in the middle of the night and crawling into bed with you. They recognized each other the first time their eyes met, with Yang on that motorcycle and Meredith having the worst in a series of dark and twisty days. That doesn't ever stop, even if it sometimes changed. So as mortifying as I usually find the dancing interludes on this show, they are also saying something very true, and something that's hard for Ravenclaws like us to swallow: There are many, many ways to love each other. Words are just one.
You may know that I am obsessed with the politics and mythology of place on the show: It's one of the first things I bring up when furiously backpeddling to explain why I'm so passionate about the show, even ten years on. You emotionally know what will happen on the Bridge, you know what will happen in the Back Hallway and Back Alley, you know what happens in God's Own Vent Room: Grey-Sloan Memorial has many hearts.
And so—just as, in unrelated news, Meredith and Amelia McDreamy discuss their passion for surgery, cementing their new situation as "almost friends"—you know the Bridge is a place for deep decision-making, life-scuttling, set-it-on-fire choices are made. It's where Izzy quit, in her beautiful Prom gown; it's where Chris O'Donnell and Derek Shepherd whistled for Meredith like a dog. And of course, it's where Cristina says her rough and sweet goodbyes to Webber and Bailey, with Meredith tapping her foot as her designated GTFO partner. It's also where Shane abruptly quits the hospital to follow her to Switzerland, which is a graceful exit for his character as well. May you live on to kill many people by accident, Smash, in your new home.
Out in the ER, Cristina gives Derek a calm goodbye that somehow gets to the heart of their many beefs/Team Meredith alliance, and their embrace is surprisingly touching for its very unlikelihood. While we see bits and pieces of similar chilled-out goodbyes, though, the last two are very moving indeed. One is no surprise, but the other took my breath away more than once.
Owing to the Event of the episode—a Boston-Marathon disaster with a supposed dirty bomb that turns out to be a regular bomb that eventually proves to be no bomb at all, which is a great metaphor for the way this show conflates personal tragedy with world-ending tragedy and vice versa—Owen spends the episode constantly one step behind Cristina, seeing her in every curly-haired intern across every crowd, terrified that she has been blown up and desperate to make a Big Romantic Scene. Their relationship this year, to me, is the best it's ever been, and it seems like even Owen has finally gotten the memo on what Cristina's actually about.
When she finally appears to him from the Gallery, Owen's so caught up in an emergency surgery that he splits in two, one in Trauma Surg mode and the other half falling apart. Since he arrived, he's been chasing a Cristina that was half a phantom, of course; but then too, a silent goodbye through glass seems somehow perfect to help heal them both. (He also has a tremendous Hero Chief moment in which he takes the fourth estate to task for drumming up chaos simply because terrorism is fun to watch on the news, setting the tone hopefully for a more revolutionary turn as Chief next year.)
But the absolute killer—out of nowhere!—has to be Cristina's intense series of goodbyes to, of all people, Alex Karev. First during a shared surgery, in which she takes him to task for entering private practice and in the process unloads ten seasons' worth of praise for his technique, his skill, and even his character. That killed me. Then, she makes Meredith solemnly promise to watch out for Alex in particular—on the way to cautioning her against letting Derek pull a Burke and drag her to DC, which has huge consequences down the road—but she's not finished: In one of the last scenes of the year, we learn that she has secretly gifted Alex with her millionaire's shares in Grey-Sloan, meaning that he'll never have to bust ass on buttholes ever again and can return to the babies, and the Arizona, he loves the most.
It also seems to mean that he'll get a seat on the Board, but I don't know if that contradicts or conflicts with another hugely touching moment, in which Webber sends Bailey (privately) over the moon by offering her a spot as well. It was touched on, lightly, throughout the season—this idea that Bailey feels hamstrung by not being lucky enough to have crashed in a plane and thus become the boss of things—so I hope that works out, because she is exactly what the Board needs. But a Bailey/Karev fight for newbie power also sounds very intense, so either way.
April is finally telling people about the baby, but in the first half of the episode when the event seems like a terrorist bombing, she goes full-Kepner about it, freaking out to (of all goddamn people) her mother-in-law about bringing a baby into this fraught world. But Dr. Avery is no fool, and certainly no asshole whatever Webber thinks about her right now, so instead of going the harsh way another authority on this show might do, she calms that girl down like she's fully internalized April as her daughter, promising—by way of a painful story about growing up in the South—that the only way the world changes is by good people raising their babies right.
There's something neat about April taking this wisdom back to Jackson without confirming that he's right about where it came from: I don't like dealmaking behind family's backs, but I do know April has a long row to hoe when it comes to that family—and she seems appropriately grateful for the counsel, above and beyond its exquisite kindness. In an episode of tears and constant running around, how crazy is it that April Kepner and Catherine Avery provided the stillest, brightest, most compassionate point?
Also taking part in the big bomb-that's-not-a-bomb is my beloved Leah, back for one more helpful spin through the ER—including a fairly gross but mostly fascinating moment where she, Shane adoringly looking on, pops a dude's eye back in his head. While I haven't been a huge fan of the dopey cover-song score this year (The OC did it better in their fourth season), when it works—two or three times an episode—it friggin' works. (And will never be as humiliating as the white-people funk that plays every time the Associates of Olivia Pope are dorking out at their most smug.) Versions of both "Ruby Blue" and "Take On Me" were used in pretty lovely, haunting ways this week, and the juxtaposition of Leah's easy-breezy, self-respecting exit with Cristina's yelpy, paralyzed sudden-terror response was heightened all the more by the tone the music set.
And finally, we see the results of Cristina's abortive search for a new Cardio Chief, as my favorite supporting castmember from Emily Owens M.D., Kelly McCreary as Maggie Pierce, shows up having been hired two weeks ago. While her first day is considerably dampened—by the chaos of the big ersatz terrorism, sure, but mostly because she bears the worst brunt of Cristina's acting-out in her last few hours on staff—she is clearly positioned as something of a Big Deal for next season... And that's even before she reveals herself to be Ellis Grey's bastard daughter.
While the "secret sister" reveal has now happened to Meredith a record three times (if you count Melissa George, which I do, because all these secret sisters begin life as mirrors to Mere's relationship with Cristina) I can't say I'm mad about it. First because I love the actor, secondly because Meredith has little connection to anybody besides Derek and Bailey and Webber at this point, and third because a new Chief of Cardio is going to wreck everybody anyway, because there's only one Cardio God and she has now ascended to Swiss Heaven.
But mostly because our version—Meredith's version, Ellis's version even—of the perfect world is one in which Webber was actually her father, and Thatcher was never in the picture. Maggie's not only the opposite of Lexi biologically (unrelated, both half-sisters to Meredith) but also the opposite of Meredith herself: All of Ellis's genius, all of Webber's solidness, and a stable adoptive family that gave her a resilience and humor we've already seen. If there's anything that's going to piss the formerly dark and twisty Meredith Grey off about her, it's going to be that: She has the father, and the life, that Meredith deserved. On the other hand, Meredith is fucking awesome now, so maybe we'll see her build bridges as a way of repenting for the hell she put Lexi through. But I doubt it.
...Because Meredith is going down in flames, I think, a little bit. After Yang's final speech—"You're my person, I need you alive. You make me brave... Don't let what he wants eclipse what you need. He's very dreamy, but he's not the sun. You are," which, gah—she finds herself back home kind of pissed off out of nowhere, putting her foot down and demanding to stay in Seattle, with the family and the hospital she's rebuilt (and keeps rebuilding), ending on an incredibly touching reference to how the hospital bears her sister's name, her mother's name, and her own.
If you had told me ten years ago that Meredith Grey would look Dr. McDreamy in the eye and tell him to go screw, because she finally has a home she built with her own goddamn two hands, I would have laughed in your face: Dark and Twisty is feral, forever homeless, raised by fucking wolves—as all Five of the Fab Five were, except sweet George—and cleaving only onto Cristina Yang, who was broken in just the right places.
But Meredith, like the show, has grown so far past that it now seems like a regrettable memory. And so while Maggie can never—nobody can ever—replace Cristina Yang, she could possibly be a new kind of sister, and friend, that Meredith doesn't even know about yet. If anybody's strong enough to figure all that out on her own, it's our girl.