'Grey's Anatomy': Our history makes us

Greys-anatomy-Chandra-Wilson-braids.jpgNobody starts off fabulous. Or brilliant. Or skilled, or even with perspective.

Everyone has a game-changer -- an experience that forms them -- and "Grey's Anatomy" explored the biggies for Bailey, the Chief, and Callie, complete with bad hair, bad decisions, and a not-half-bad soundtrack.

Derek and the Chief: We start off listening to the Chief talk about his group of residents with his AA meeting, where he also announces that he's 45 days sober. But that doesn't mean he gets his job back. Derek tells him that it'll be a while before the board is willing to consider his reinstatement, and says he's been authorized to offer him a general surgery attending position. The Chief refuses, but ends up participating in lecture day, in which he, Bailey, and Callie share stories about some of their most significant cases. In the end, Derek appeals to the Chief one last time about the job, so we'll see what happens there.

Bailey: For her story, Bailey went back to her intern year, 2003, at Seattle Grace, when she was meek and quiet, with long braids, pink glasses frames and a resident ( Missi Pyle) who was pretty much downright evil. Bailey proves that she's a born (and magnificent) teacher in recounting her case, supplementing her storytelling/Socratic method with chocolates thrown to the residents who correctly answers questions. It ends up looking a little bit like a trainer at Sea World offering sardines to the dolphins, but it was a good teaching tool and it cut through the typical Seattle Grace snark.

Bailey's patient was a young woman with chronic pain who had been through many surgeries, including having her ovaries removed, yet nothing worked. She diagnosed it as an appendicitis and got to operate with the Chief monitoring -- and was wrong, all with her resident giving her the hairy eyeball from the gallery. "Surgery is a shark tank," the Chief tells her. And she needs to make sure she's a shark too, with teeth -- not a minnow. The patient came back again, and they still couldn't figure out what was wrong, and to add insult to injury, her resident keeps stealing her ideas about what could be wrong and taking credit for them.

Bailey tells the room she went to the library and hit the books, and of course we see her downing fruity umbrella drinks at Joe's (Joe is sporting an odd, late-grunge era haircut) and fretting about being a minnow in the shark tank. The next time the patient comes back, Bailey finally puts the pieces together and cancels her surgery, incurring the wrath of her resident but diagnosing correctly and saving the patient one more surgery. And she lets fly on the resident and the Miranda (not Mandy) Bailey that we know and love is born (Go Bailey!). Even the Chief approves -- not that he wants the resident to know that. Her point: the patient's history is the most important part of diagnosis.

Callie: For such a capable surgeon, Callie picks some exceptionally odd circumstances to fall apart. She totally psychs herself out about the presentation and is basically a mumbling, stuttering, computer illiterate, water-swigging mess up on stage -- so the girl in the back of the class who eats her hair. But pushed on by Arizona and later by Alex, she tells the story of Sunder ( Ravi Kapoor), a 28-year-old graduate student whose legs had been twisted and his lungs damaged by polio as a kid. The case is supposed to have come up in Callie's third year of residency, and Alex, during his intern year, assists her -- a neat bit of revisionist history, since Callie wasn't on the show yet. But whatever -- her dress is great and it's an excellent case, so we stick with her.

Callie does a remarkable job during the first surgery, but is forced to end it after eight hours because of the patient's weakened lungs. Yet he's willing to move forward, and they end up doing a series of surgeries that are incredibly grueling for the poor patient. But he ended up walking. We also find out that Callie mistook Alex for George, having heard about their exploits with heart surgery in the elevator, and he doesn't correct her -- which becomes a huge problem when the patient crashes in surgery and she needs him to work on his heart.  They also celebrate their patient's success by hitting the sheets in Callie's makeshift living space in the hospital basement. Oh, you two.

Richard and Ellis: The Chief's story is incredibly interesting, because it gives us a glimpse into what Ellis Grey was like when she was younger. It's 1982, and Richard's the only African-American resident in the program and Ellis is the only woman. They both take more than their fair share of abuse, particularly from their too-broadly-drawn attending ( Gregg Henry, like an even meaner Mitchum Huntzburger), and end up working together on a patient with mysterious symptoms that they correctly suspect is GRID (Gay Related Immune Deficiency, an early name for AIDS). The patient throws a fit and threatens to sue for slander, and their attending has no interest in trying to save a lost cause.

The point of the Chief's story -- in addition to showing us how he and Ellis fell in love with one another and had their tortured affair -- is perseverance and fulfilling your Physician's Oath to always do right by your patient and by your fellow clinicians. The patient ended up back in the hospital with complications from Kaposi's Sarcoma, and even though they had no idea what caused his disease or how it spread, they operated on him. And they were there with him when he drew his last breath after suffering complications from pneumonia. Equally interesting was seeing how they struggled with their affair, and how desperate Ellis was for them to leave their marriages and be together.

We also got to witness Richard's transformation from a goody-goody who wanted to drink to their patient with soda to someone who took his first steps down a rough road with a big vodka on the rocks. Remember that these people are your colleagues, who will be your biggest influences, and while you never think you can lose your way, it can happen before you realize it, he tells the assembled Seattle Grace audience in present day. Then he re-takes the Physician's Oath from the stage, and it's more inspiring and effective than any kind of apology he could ever have offered -- and the whole room lights up.

On a side note, the casting for this section is just absolutely spot-on -- J. August Richards is a fabulous choice for Richard, and Sarah Paulson, whose work I'm not normally wild about, is so great as Ellis that it almost makes me forget about "Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip." And the little girl who plays a wee Meredith is an absolute ringer. Though a round of boos goes to the person responsible for Thatcher's insane hair.

Other thoughts: I can only guess that this may have been a week of heavy shooting on "Valentine's Day," because Eric Dane was completely missing and Patrick Dempsey was only in a couple of scenes. Which is a shame, because given Dane's excellent work last week (See? He's great when you give him something to do) it seems a pity to grind the momentum to a halt by having him be totally absent from the episode.

What did you think? Who had the best story? What did you think of the Chief's redemption? And how cute was Bailey's anesthesiologist checking her out?

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Photo credit: ABC

 
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