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Oh The Grey’s Humanity! (Part II)

May 30, 2010

Original cast of Grey's Anatomy - photo courtesy of ABC Studios

Previously on Oh The Grey’s Humanity!

The Hobo left this insightful comment:

I’ve been watching this show since the beginning (and Private Practice) and what I like best about it is that all of the characters end up being complicated and interesting, and there is always a hint of the dark side in each of them. Even Derek has been called out on his need to be seen as a good man. And yet, look at his actions, and he is not actually as good as he wants to be. Contrast him with Karev, who could give a shit about how people see him, and Karev actually is a good man, because when he does good it’s because that’s the right thing to do, and when Derek does good, it’s because that is the good thing to do. Subtle difference, but still there…

As I processed the comment, which I thoroughly enjoyed and agreed with, it provided a framing device for this entry. What attracted me to Grey’s Anatomy was its characters and what keeps me engaged are those same characters. Despite plots and story arc, which are derivative – seriously, the doc living in a trailer thing was played out the moment Trapper John, M.D. ended its run – they do function effectively in support of character development. Besides the cute doc-living-in-a-trailer, there are some other striking similarities between Grey’s and the aforementioned Trapper John, M.D., particularly in the case of couple of main characters. Chief Webber reminds me quite a bit of old Trapper himself, though I’m certain it’s equal parts velvety voices and a similar approach to staff management. I see what you did there, Grey’s.

Mostly what I enjoy is seeing the characters develop organically, even if they aren’t necessarily going in a direction I want. In reflecting on the season finale I wrote:

Even though I have not liked Chief Webber’s story arc, I have appreciated its complex treatment of a black male character running afoul of life in a way rarely depicted on television. Chief Webber has long been one of the more fascinating characters on the show – to me anyway – so it’s been painful to watch him struggle with the aftermath of relapse and clawing his way back to sobriety. And thank you, Grey’s for not having playa rob a liquor store or engage any other activity, which would have endangered his medical license. It was enough to see him hit rock bottom at Joe’s bar with only the self centered Mer to provide comfort.

Each character has gone through something difficult and except for a few rare exceptions – the Chief being one of them – they have not necessarily grown, learned or changed. This is one of the basic craft rules writers get drilled into their skills as the begin to discover their voice. Their characters have to do at least two of these things (though three is better) in order to ensure a satisfying conclusion for the reader. Though I’ve not really understand why satisfied = not ambiguous. In real life people go through major life changing events – the kind depicted on Grey’s – and often do not CHANGE. While it might not be comfortable for audiences who are accustom to having characters engage in what amounts to After School Special emotional evolution, it is far more satisfying than having inauthentic portrayals of human behavior trotted across the screen as authentic.

That said, there’s been way too many characters in recent episodes who have been taking sharp turns in their character development in a way that feels inauthentic and veers close to problematic. In the episode “Insensitive” several characters are shown pondering, then ridiculing a fat man and his thin wife’s sex life – particularly Mer and Cris. Leaving aside the incredible amounts of ableism and fatphobia on display or the smackdown by the wife, what really surprised me at seeing these two engaged in such vile behavior was the compassion they’d shown to patients who were quite horrible. Mer’s death row inmate received far more humane and tolerate treatment than a man whose only crime was being fat. That seemed incredibly flawed character development. While it’s reasonable to assume doctors might become less compassion as they more further into their careers – if the countless sensitive trainings my M.D. bff attends are to be believed – there is no reason to assume these characters would have such a marked decrease in compassion in such a short span of time. The Grey’s timeline is wonky and I’ve never fully been able to grasp it, though I don’t think they are very far along in their journey.

In terms of how relationships between the characters evolve, I am finding a lot of uninspired writing going on of late. While the writers are doing wonderful things with Mark Sloan – who’ve always liked – I’m baffled by this weird Mer/Alex personality conflation happening. Karev is one of the few truly actualized characters on the show, which is not to say he’s heroic or even particularly likable. Mer, on the other hand, is one of the least. So I’m finding it hard to grapple with storylines framing Karev as “Mer three years ago” considering he was never as self deluding as Meredith. I really hope this has run its course, because it has not served its intended purpose – to present Meredith as more emotionally substantial or Karev as more emotional fragile. While it’s likely the latter is more valid than the former, as it has been presented it’s just cheesy writing.

If you haven’t done so already, check out the season six finale recaps done by Everett and me.

Moldavia in May: Grey’s Finale Part One – “Sanctuary”
Choice Takes a Holiday: Grey’s Anatomy Finale — Pt. 2, Death and All His Friends

to be continued in Part Three…

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