The Evolution of Meredith Grey: How Grey's Anatomy Got Here
Meredith Grey might just be heading to jail, but she’s also in love and finally not afraid to say it, so at least we’ve got a bright side to look on.
In the season 15 finale of Grey’s Anatomy, Meredith (Ellen Pompeo) wrestled with the fact that her boyfriend Andrew DeLuca (Giacomo Gianniotti) had decided to take the fall for her well-intentioned insurance fraud and had been carted off to jail, and after trying the Spartacus trick with Richard and Alex—only to get all three of them fired—she made a huge decision.
She visited DeLuca in jail, and through the glass, said three little words she hasn’t said to anyone since (or aside from) Derek Shepherd: “I love you.” And she also said a few other words about how she’s turning herself in, going to jail herself, and hoping to plead her case with an understanding judge.
In other words, Meredith Grey is about to finally face some consequences for her impulsive actions. And it’s kind of about time.
“We were really excited by exactly that in the writers’ room,” showrunner and executive producer Krista Vernoff told E! News. “Ellen and I were laughing on set. She was like, ‘what do you mean this is my first offense? I break rules all the time!’ And I was like yeah, but you’ve never been busted. It’s your first offense.”
Meredith does love to break the rules, always in the name of saving or helping and without much thought for what it might do to her—she’s the queen of self-sabotage, remember.This time isn’t much different, other than the fact that insurance fraud is a really, really big deal, and a really bad way to solve a terrible problem.
For those of us who have been wondering why on earth Meredith’s first instinct was to write down her own daughter’s name to help out a patient when she’s got so much of her own money and a whole money-filled foundation within arm’s reach, Vernoff says Meredith’s decision wasn’t one made out of logic.
“To me, she was looking at a system that is broken, and a system that is asking [this father] to quit his job if he wants to be able to afford the surgery for his daughter, but quitting a job will basically get him deported. Quitting his job will mean he can’t provide for his family. His wife is being held…the systems are so broken and it enraged her. And when you make a decision from a place of rage, it’s rarely a well-thought-out decision.”
Plus, that girl’s going to need a lot more surgeries than Meredith herself could pay for, at least not without that father feeling extremely indebted to one particularly kind doctor.
Whatever reason she did it, it’s done, and Meredith’s legal troubles are only just beginning.
Vernoff says they purposely “really laid the groundwork” for viewers to think that this would turn out like every other time Meredith has done something very stupid in the name of saving a life, and that it would be a one-off episode, or a mistake that would eventually cease to matter, like that time she screwed with the Alzheimer’s trial. This time, it’s very much not.
“We had her smuggle Megan Hunt’s kid into the country, basically illegally, and we never came back and talked about it. It just was done. So we’ve seen her break a lot of rules and not have consequences, so we were like, everybody will think this story is over when she does this thing. They’ll think it’s a one-off story because we’ve done that several times before, and it will shock the hell out of the audience when very real consequences and ramifications come down because of it,” Vernoff says. “And very real consequences and ramifications have come down, and they will be played through the next season.”
That means that yes, this firing is real, and yes, this potential jail time is very real.
“You’re not going to come back in the fall and find all the fired doctors working at the hospital, and everything’s handled. That’s not what’s happening,” Vernoff promises. “I don’t know what’s happening, but I know when we get into the writers’ room in June, we are going to follow through on that story.”
It’s obviously hard to take your main character, your title character, and threaten to send her to jail, because we’re all going to immediately assume that Meredith Grey will be just fine. That’s especially the case with two more seasons ordered and no real talk of the end of the show, but it’s also a prospect that has the writers’ room excited heading into season 16.
“I mean, it’s a bold stroke,” Vernoff admitted. “We were pretty excited. We were pretty excited when we figured out that that’s what we were going to do. It really felt like look, we’ve been making this show for 15 seasons. It’s almost 350 episodes, and what do you do that you haven’t done before? How do you keep it fresh? How do you keep it new? How do you keep the audience from getting ahead of you, and this felt like an answer to that.”
The other new territory Meredith is exploring is a new and very serious relationship with DeLuca, which is now inextricably tied with her crime. He watched Mer write down her daughter’s name in place of a sick little girl’s name to save a stranger’s life, and that only confirmed how in love he was. He said “I love you,” and Meredith couldn’t yet say it back, but he was still immediately ready to sacrifice his career to take the fall for her.
Meredith later revealed she was only unable to say it back because it scared her to say it after the last person she said it to was Derek, and then the next thing she knew, she was stuck in a hyperbaric chamber and DeLuca was handcuffed and on his way to jail, for her.
As new as these legal consequences are for Meredith, season 15’s love story has been equally as new and a whole lot of fun.
Ever since Derek died in season 11, Meredith had kind of taken a step back from her own love life. She tried a little bit of reluctant dating, but one night resulted in her screaming at a guy to leave in the morning, and her fling with Nathan Riggs (Martin Henderson) was discarded (by Meredith) the moment his presumed-dead fiancée returned.
The Riggs storyline, as Ellen Pompeo described it in her iconic 2018 THR essay, was a result of ABC racing to “get a penis in there,” and when the network didn’t love the storyline, it ended.
Then Vernoff, who had left the show after season seven, returned, and the show gave Meredith some space to get some s—t done.
In season 14, Meredith finally achieved her lifelong goal of winning a Harper Avery (as complicated as that award would become), and cemented Meredith Grey as the sought-after surgeon her mother raised her to be, and that she and Cristina Yang had always dreamed of being.
“When I came back to the show in season 14, Ellen wanted to make sure I wasn’t just coming in to pair her up with another guy,” Vernoff explains. “She was a little tired of playing romance. She’d been doing it for a lot of seasons, and I said, great, let’s not.”
Pompeo, in fact, had a request.
“She said, ‘I want to be like a medical superhero,’ and I said, ‘Done.’ And that’s what we did for that season,” Vernoff says. “It was great, and we loved it, and I think that I earned her trust and we became creative partners, and then it was like, OK, are we ready? Can we dip our toes back in?”
As Vernoff reminds us, at the end of the day, the show is about the romance, and season 15 was even dubbed by the writers the “season of love,” a season full of “fun and joy and light.”
“It’s a romantic…medical romantic…it’s a romantic dramedy with a little bit of medicine thrown in,” she says. “It’s not a medical procedural, right? So romance is a key ingredient, and Ellen was super game coming into this season. She really enjoyed everything she got to play last year, and then this year, she was ready to play with this.”
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