‘Grey’s Anatomy’ Sends Meredith Grey Off With a Genius Callback—and a Cliffhanger

It’s been years since Grey’s Anatomy’s theme song featured its original lyrics, but viewers who’ve been following Meredith Grey since 2005 can probably hear them in their heads already. Like a silk scarf weaving its way around those bright xylophone-like tones, there’s a sultry voice crooning on a loop: Nobody knows where they might end

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It’s been years since Grey’s Anatomy’s theme song featured its original lyrics, but viewers who’ve been following Meredith Grey since 2005 can probably hear them in their heads already. Like a silk scarf weaving its way around those bright xylophone-like tones, there’s a sultry voice crooning on a loop: Nobody knows where they might end up. Nobody knows

On Thursday night, as Ellen Pompeo staged her long-anticipated “farewell to Seattle,” the lyrics to the full song—“Cosy in the Rocket” by Psapp—came rushing back to my mind. Grey’s Anatomy has spent years exploring the terrifying borderlands that separate self-discovery and self-destruction, all through the eyes of a deeply gifted survivor of family trauma. Meredith’s journey from sheepish intern to medical superhero stands among TV’s most satisfying character arcs, and Thursday’s episode underscored that journey with a brilliant callback as it bid Dr. Grey a warm, intentionally incomplete farewell.

Meredith might be leaving Seattle, but she’s not leaving Grey’s entirely, at least not yet. Deadline reported in November that Pompeo is expected to return in the Season 19 finale and will stay on as an executive producer and provide voiceover narration for the rest of the season. This week, Meredith makes a big move to Boston with her family—leaving Grey Sloan Memorial Hospital, née Seattle Grace Mercy West Hospital, née Seattle Grace behind.

“Surgery is not the ‘happily ever after’ our patients hope it will be,” Meredith says at the start of the episode. “Like everything else in life, it’s an evolution.” It’s unclear whether she’s talking about the hospital that shaped her career, or about her most recent on-and-off flame, Nick (Scott Speedman), who is very mad at her for moving to Boston soon after he arrived in Seattle without giving him more warning. Meredith does not mince words as she lays out her priorities, and the words she chooses will prick the ears of longtime Grey’s fans far and wide.

“I want you in my life if you want to be in my life,” Meredith says. “But if I have to choose, I’m going to pick me. I’m going to pick my kids, and I’m going to pick what’s best for us. And I am not going to beg you to love me.” As someone who’s always loved Meredith’s infamous “pick me, choose me” speech for reasons I do not have time to explain, I gotta say—that callback, however brilliant, was a dagger to the heart!

Perhaps disappointingly for those who’ve tuned in after some time away, Meredith’s exit does not dominate this week’s season return. She does, however, get a sweet farewell party, where everyone sings her praises and the camera pans to show the faces of everyone Meredith loves, beaming back at her as she smiles at them.

As Richard Webber (James Pickens Jr.) puts it, “This place won’t be the same without you.” No kidding! As for what might happen between Meredith and Nick? Well, in the end he professed his love after a rousing speech from Grey Sloan burnout Taryn Helm (Jaicy Elliot), who reminded him that, yes, Meredith is utterly impossible, but she’s also once-in-a-lifetime amazing and he’s absolutely in love with her. Unfortunately, we’ve been left on a bit of a cliffhanger: When Nick calls Meredith to share his feelings, she pretends not to hear him and reads her kids a story instead. Meredith gonna Meredith, am I right!

As long as we’ve had to adjust to the idea of “Grey” leaving Grey’s Anatomy, it’s still hitting hard. At this point, Meredith was one of our last original characters standing. Sandra Oh’s Cristina Yang is living in Switzerland while Izzie Stevens (Katherine Heigl) and Alex Karev (Justin Chambers) live the family life in Kansas with their twins. (RIP, George O’Malley; it was a pleasure seeing you on the beach.) Only Webber and Miranda Bailey (Chandra Danette Wilson) remain. Things just aren’t gonna be the same around Grey Sloan! But let’s be honest, if we’re still watching at this point, we’re watching forever.

“He’s Not the Sun. You Are.”

Still, there was a time when some might’ve welcomed this exit; as anyone who remembers the mid-aughts knows, Meredith Grey has not always been the most popular character on television. At times, it feels fair to say she was pretty reviled—considered by her detractors to be too whiny, too reckless, and too sad all the time.


Few would have predicted when she and her friends were frantically trying (and failing) to save Denny Duquette that Meredith would go on to become the no-nonsense surgeon and administrator who today inspires immense respect and just a little fear among her subordinates. (Even if she still does things like committing insurance fraud on a whim every so often.) And yet, here she is—an award-winning surgeon, a loving and present single mom, and now, the woman who will probably cure Alzheimer’s in Boston.

Given where Meredith started and what she’s become, it’s easy to think of her early-seasons self as a “before” photo in her life’s journey toward greatness—an empathetic but also slightly pathetic shadow of the inner strength she would one day grow into. That feels unfair. Meredith’s biggest and challenging love story was never with Patrick Dempsey’s McDreamy or any other guy. As much as she would cringe at this framing, Meredith’s most important relationship has always been with herself. She had to learn, as Cristina once told her, that she really is the sun—no one else. But just like Meredith’s chaos has continued into her successful professional years, the greatness was also there all along.

When we first met Dr. Grey, she was a floppy intern in Converse shoes who found out on her first day of work that she’d accidentally slept with her boss, Derek Shepherd—aka McDreamy, aka Dempsey in scrubs. The Meredith-McDreamy push-pull would come to define the first half of the series, as the two broke up and made up, fought and kissed, hated and loved each other. Among the show’s most infamous early moments was the three-part saga dedicated to Meredith’s near-death after a ferry accident—a moment that would help define both the show and the relationship. As Meredith lay there pulseless and purple after drowning in freezing water, a tearful Shepherd murmured, “She’s a good swimmer.”

“Dark and twisty” has long been a favorite entry in the Grey’s Anatomy lexicon, and Meredith does make a solid poster child for the term: Her father, Thatcher (Jeff Perry), abandoned her after her parents’ divorce, and her mother, Ellis (Kate Burton), emotionally abandoned her both for work and because of her own personal struggles. The semi-adult Meredith we meet during her intern years is an aimless workaholic who struggles with personal relationships. She’s got “daddy issues,” she says, and her will to live is tenuous at best.

How to Save a Life”

When Meredith first met Derek, she thought she was “done with all that”—the that being not just her dating woes, but also her broader struggle to feel worthy. Older viewers, at least, likely knew (and Meredith would soon find out) that love doesn’t work that way. Regardless of relationship status—dating McDreamy, hating McDreamy, marrying McDreamy, grieving McDreamy, dating DeLuca, saying “I love you” to DeLuca from prison, grieving DeLuca, dating Scott Speedman…—Meredith’s fight against her instinct to self-abandon is ongoing. It’s up to her to work with herself, and as we see episode after episode, she does not give up.

And so, Meredith has self-sabotaged. She could be withholding with others—even, and perhaps especially, those who’ve clearly worked to earn her trust. Over time, however, and especially after Derek’s death, she’s learned that no one is going to save her from that darkness by herself—and that even if it sometimes creeps back, there’s always more unexpected joy ahead. (It never hurts to live in a universe where spontaneous musical episodes occur.)

Meredith’s hard-earned peace has been on display for years, in episodes like Season 15’s “Flowers Grow Out of My Grave”—in which Meredith reflects on people she’s loved and lost on Day of the Dead while facing a grim prognosis for her father. O’Malley, Shepherd, Meredith’s sister Lexie (Chyler Leigh) and her one-time boyfriend Mark Sloan (Eric Dane) all appear as spirits as some of Grey’s favorite music plays in the background. (That would be “Chasing Cars,” but in Spanish, because of course.)

And her self worth was really on display last season, when she rebuked the idea that her leaving Grey Sloan to work elsewhere would be a slight. “I’ve earned the right to leave,” she said. “Other people from my residency class, they left, and they took other opportunities. I stayed; I worked. I researched. I won awards for that place. I did everything that was expected of me and then some. And now, if I want to leave, it’s considered disloyal? It’s ridiculous! It’s absurd! You know what else it is? It’s my decision, and I’ve made my decisions, so this is all very patronizing.” She’s right, and she should say it!


Meredith might or might not have found the love of her life with Scott Speedman—an enviable future if you can get it!—but the ultimate success of their relationship is also not the point. In 18 years, we’ve watched her grapple with a very complicated personal history, even when it’s nearly killed her.

“You Can Build a House Out of Anything”

Over the years, our once closed-off Meredith has found kinship with multiple sisters she never knew she had—women who, in many cases, she’d initially mistrusted. (Only on Grey’s!) She’s discovered a new kind of love in having children. And most importantly, she’s found a way to love herself—to stand in achievements like the coveted Harper Avery Award and the regard that they bring rather than shrink away. She still makes mistakes, as everyone does, and she still has bad days, like everyone does, but she’s solid.

‘I’ve saved lives and have had my life saved. … I never chose the safety of what was known when there was the possibility of more to be discovered.’

At the end of the episode, Meredith reads to her children on the plane. The book she’s chosen were the last words of a patient who died in the episode, the author Tessa Hobbes. “I’ve flown rockets and slayed dragons,” Meredith reads aloud. “I’ve saved lives and have had my life saved. … I never chose the safety of what was known when there was the possibility of more to be discovered.”

“… If there’s one thing I’ve learned in all my adventures, it’s that there’s no such thing as a life lived happily ever after—unless the happily means simply that we’re still alive,” Meredith continues. “That the sun is rising on another day. Because with every sunrise comes the possibility of happiness, and also the possibility of heartache. I came to understand as a very young child that when the imagination is limitless, life’s possibilities are endless.”

Wherever it goes, Meredith is cozy in the rocket. Now it’s time for her to take off again.

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