Time stopped for “Grey’s Anatomy’s” fans when Derek Shepherd died in the unbearably sad episode “How to Save a Life” that aired on April 23 on ABC. Shonda Rhimes and her brilliant writing staff have unquestionably held a captive audience for 11 seasons because of the rich stories and indelible characters they have painted. Central to all of it is the vibrant, complex and beautiful love affair between Meredith Grey (Ellen Pompeo) and Derek Shepherd (Patrick Dempsey). Suddenly, “tragic” must join the list of adjectives used to describe their love story. But, Derek’s death also sends a strong message.
It’s not surprising that Derek Shepherd’s shocking death has left fans outraged, devastated and somewhere in between. Meredith and Derek were a globally beloved TV couple and their ongoing story has abruptly ended. All sorts of unanswered questions are looming with Derek’s death. Two of the biggest are why did this have to happen and how will Meredith go on from here? The “why” may remain an eternal mystery.
In an “EW’ exit interview published April 23, Patrick Dempsey hinted that he knew it was coming, He said, “Things happened very quickly, where we were like, “Oh this is where it’s going to go.” It just sort of unfolded in a very organic way. I don’t remember the date. It was not in the fall. Maybe February or March. It happened very quickly.”
As for how Meredith will go on from here that remains to be seen. Derek Shepherd was the love of Meredith Grey’s life. She lost her parents. She lost her sister, Lexie. She lost a cherished friend in George O’Malley. She almost took her own life and Derek saved it. She miscarried when he was shot by the crazed hospital shooter. How then, will Meredith find the strength to go on without Derek, her treasured soulmate?
Shonda Rhimes told EW that “Grey’s Anatomy” is about to enter “unchartered territory” as the story moves on from here and Meredith enters a new chapter in her life. Patrick Dempsey left a creative legacy, as Derek “McDreamy” Shepherd will forever remain imprinted on the hearts and minds of millions of loyal fans and viewers that have followed him for years. And that is all to Dempsey’s credit. He made Derek dashing, smart, romantic and yet so human and flawed.
Obviously, Meredith is going to grieve this utterly tremendous loss. But now, Meredith is a mother. She’s got two young lives that need her to pick up the pieces and find a way to live on. It’s going to be hard and messy and unpredictable. But, Meredith Grey is a brilliant surgeon and it makes sense that she’ll delve deeper into her own work and her own mission to save lives, to honor Derek’s memory. Given the scope of dramatic timelines, things will assuredly not be resolved quickly. So, fans should brace themselves for a long and bumpy ride.
Here’s another question: What about Amelia (Caterina Scorsone)? How will she react to her brother’s sudden death? Will she keep it together? Or, will Amelia suffer a relapse in her sobriety? (Let’s hope not!) Hopefully, she will continue to play a big part in her niece and nephew’s lives. Hopefully, she will give Meredith a shoulder to lean on. After all, Amelia just lashed out at Meredith for not knowing what it’s like to lose the love of her life. Unfortunately, now they have that in common and maybe their bond will strengthen.
There is really no reason to sugar coat it. Derek Shepherd is dead and it totally sucks. In fact, as far as central TV character deaths go, Derek’s just may rank as the toughest fictional death of all time. For anyone who has remained faithfully invested in MerDer’s future for 11 years, Derek’s sudden death is a swift, piercing stab in the heart.
But, in reality, “Grey’s Anatomy” is a TV show and even more, it’s a dramatic series and life and death of characters makes its carousel turn. Let’s hope fans keep that point in perspective. Let’s hope they celebrate the fact that Patrick Dempsey himself is alive and well and will most likely go on to deliver a variety of future projects.
Questions and speculation aside, “How to Save a Life” is a beautifully written and played episode and may arguably go down as one of “Grey’s Anatomy’s” best. Derek Shepherd saved four lives from a very freak and sudden accident. Unfortunately, he was not so lucky. Derek’s narration as he helplessly willed his untrained doctors to make different choices in his treatment was terrifying and intense. Furthermore, Ellen Pompeo’s brilliant portrayal of Meredith’s shock, desperation and bravery in pulling the plug to end Derek’s life is something we’ll never forget.
More than anything, this episode underscores the fact that life is always changing and is never guaranteed. Tragedy can strike in an instant and take loved ones away. Therefore, it is important that we not only tell the people that we love how we feel about them, but that we also show them in as many ways as possible, as often as possible. Life is short and in the end, how we loved those around us is what matters most.
“Grey’s Anatomy” airs on ABC on Thursdays at 8 p.m. ET.