Can Grey’s Anatomy Actually Survive Without Derek Shepherd?

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Grey’s Anatomy is my ultimate comfort-food TV. Other shows will linger on my DVR but somehow I manage to always watch Grey’s within 24 hours. Even after all these years, the show remains compulsively watchable.

But this has been a weird season. A lot of time was spent on Geena Davis’ Dr. Nicole Herman, a doctor we had never met before, who suddenly became crucial to Arizona’s (Jessica Capshaw) career. Patrick Dempsey’s Derek Shepherd was missing for six episodes as the show put Derek and Meredith’s (Ellen Pompeo) marriage in a crisis. And Meredith seemed to be in the midst of some sort of psychotic break. Remember the episode where she abruptly left her kids with the half-sister she barely knew, went to a hotel for the weekend and never once checked in on her kids? There was a lot of talk about Meredith trying to define who she was without Derek or Cristina around, but I never quite bought into it.

And then we had last week’s episode. Dempsey wanted to leave the series, so McDreamy met his demise. I can’t deny it was extremely compelling television. In a sly bait-and-switch, Derek saved three people before being fatally struck by a car. He’s taken to a hospital ill-equipped to deal with trauma, and experiences the nightmare of knowing that they aren’t doing what’s medically necessary for him to survive. It was an hour of nail-biting tension and tears. The hour worked. But what now?

Fans are in an uproar, to say the least. There’s a change.org petition that already has over 95,000 signatures. Can the show survive without Derek?

Well, in a way, yes. The show is a large ensemble drama with many characters to follow. But its foundation is the Derek and Meredith relationship. As much as I miss Will on The Good Wife, his relationship with Alicia was just one aspect of the series. The very first episode of Grey’s was about Derek and Meredith meeting for the first time. The early seasons were all about the will-they-or-won’t they. Things like their post-it note wedding vows have become almost iconic.

Meredith and Derek-greys.jpg

Suffice it to say, Grey’s is in trouble. This loss is too much grief for Meredith Grey—a woman who has suffered far too much. At this point, she could take on Job. Her mother died. Her father almost died. Her half-sister died. Her best friend died. She was in a plane crash. There have been bombs and floods. She gave birth in a hospital with no electricity. Remember after the plane crash, when Cristina yelled, “I don’t understand why this keeps happening?” She has a point! Meredith is a great character, but let’s face it—she’s cursed. Doomed. A jinx. Like, I wouldn’t want to be anywhere near her. She’s the common denominator in all the disasters. Not the other characters—Meredith.

I’d argue that Derek’s death is officially too much for any one person to bear. And, let’s be honest, it’s not like Meredith was a happy-go-lucky gal before this happened. I know long-running shows need to have a heightened level of dram, but this particular loss tips the show over to the tragedy-porn arena.

After Meredith is done grieving, does anyone want to see her date again? Meredith and Derek were the show’s power couple. This series is so incestuous at this point, who could Meredith date? Certainly not Owen (Kevin McKidd), or Alex (Justin Chambers), or Jackson (Jesse Williams). They’ll have to bring in a new man for Meredith because this, after all, is Grey’s Anatomy. The show is all about supply closet hook-ups. How long until Meredith laments to Callie (Sara Ramirez) that she hasn’t had sex since Derek died? I mean, you know that’s coming. There are only three more episodes this season (including tonight’s two hour episode), so Meredith probably won’t meet anyone new this season. But next year, watch out.

Unless it’s a well-kept secret, Sandra Oh’s Cristina Yang is not expected to return for Derek’s funeral this week. And that will be weird. Cristina is Meredith’s person. Wouldn’t she be on the next plane out? It will be even stranger if the show tries to explain away Cristina’s absence. “Oh Cristina, wanted to be here but her flight got canceled.”

I can understand the predicament executive producer Shonda Rhimes was in. If Dempsey wanted off the show, the options are limited. Having the power couple divorce wouldn’t have been great. And it certainly was awkward having Dempsey on the show, but not really on the show for the majority of this season. But killing him off was a mistake. That means he can’t come back for any very special episodes, or a swan song for the series finale (whenever that may be). (Unless of course Meredith starts hallucinating and talking to her dead husband a la Izzie and Dead Denny. But nobody wants that… I don’t think). It means everyone, not just Meredith, will be sad and depressed. We’ve seen the show do death before. We know they can do it well. We didn’t need it this time.

The press releases for the final two episodes of the season (the series signs off for the summer on May 14) say the doctors will be dealing with an “unfathomable crisis.” Ugh. Wasn’t this already an unfathomable crisis?

I’m not ready to declare Grey’s Anatomy DOA quite yet, but I’m very concerned about its future. How about you? Are you upset about McDreamy’s death? Do you think the show can survive without Derek? Talk about it below.


Amy Amatangelo is a Boston-based freelance writer, a member of the Television Critics Association and a regular contributor to Paste. She wasn’t allowed to watch TV as a child and now here parents have to live with this being her career. You can follow her on Twitter or her blog.

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