In Thursday’s episode, How to Save a Life, Grey’s Anatomy ended the life of a fictional character. It has done this before, just like so many entertainment forms in the past. But this time it’s different. Grey’s Anatomy used the twist of fictional death to celebrate its life. In this, it defined what television series are.
Solid as a Rock
Where albums are played on repeat, books are read over and over again, movies are watched almost religiously, television offers that same repetition but with continuity. Viewers do enjoy the same expected concept from a TV show every week, only the story goes on. Every week. Every year. When a show is renewed as often as Grey’s Anatomy, it becomes a habit. A solid hour of your weekly routine. In that respect, ten years is an awful long time. Characters come and go. Big events come and go. Stories mature. The characters that stay change, slowly. As do the viewers. I was in high school when I started watching Grey’s Anatomy. I’m a working professional now. Millions of people have spend the past decade living their lives alongside this fictional show. Relationships, friendships, deaths, houses, cars, jobs, cities, they all have come and gone where this show has remained in their week, like a solid rock. Viewers know it’s fiction, but that doesn’t diminish the very real bond that you can foster with only such a persistent habit. The show, like the viewers, grows. It changes. It lives.
Where love songs contain the same lyrics, romance novels tell the same story and romantic comedies tend to end on a high note, TV has this unique mirroring effect on life, because it goes on. Once, Meredith and Derek fell in love and their story never stopped since. They got married. Got kids. Pursued their careers. Despite the ridiculousness they endured, there’s a familiarity and recognition with characters you see as often and as long as these two. And now Derek is dead. In his final hour, our bond with him was celebrated. His love for ferries and fishing. His catchphrase. His love for Meredith. He got to be the hero again. It was the perfect homage to this fictional person we have known for so long. Suddenly, it’s not just a fictional character that dies. It’s the end of a ritual. Like any love story, Meredith and Derek celebrated at least the illusion that an amazing love could exist. And for ten years, we happily bought into that. So with Derek this familiarity, this bond, this safe fantasy of love, died. Because it needed to. His death doesn’t diminish the love story that we’ve seen. It enhances it, because unlike most love stories, we saw it from start to finish. That’s how life works. We don’t get to check out when things are looking up. And so Grey’s Anatomy tells not just a love story. It tells the story of a woman named Meredith and how her love for a man named Derek changed her, even after he has gone.
Thanks For The Memories
Life is an ongoing journey and in its very foundation, television shows are a journey too. As long as the show goes on, so does the story. This is where Grey’s Anatomy’s consistency has a brutal bond with time. No other show, heck no other medium, could have pulled off this same emotional punch. It required ten years, ten very long, very real human years. When Meredith says her husbands name, knowing he won’t respond, and flashes back to every memory she ever had, so do we. Those moments are as long ago for fictional her as they are for real us. We saw everything. We lived everything. We remember everything. The show isn’t just escapism anymore. It’s not just fiction anymore. It’s not like a song, book of movie capturing one moment or one feeling or one thought. Grey’s Anatomy keeps on going. Meanwhile the viewers go on too. You grow together. Change together. Live together. Indeed, the carousel never stops turning.