How do you process finding yourself inches away from attaining the professional aspirations around which you've built much of your life only to find those goals by themselves are no longer enough? What happens when your long-held career drive and its related skill set is no help whatsoever as you start building relationships you never thought you'd have, when the man you dated moves in and becomes your husband and the colleagues you used to view as competition are now relied upon friends? And worst of all, what do you do when you've found yourself making hasty or ill-thought out decisions which puts both those relationships and those aspirations in jeopardy?
As we head into Season 8 of Grey's Anatomy we find the fifth year surgical residents of Seattle Grace/Mercy West Hospital embarking upon their final year of training prior to taking their medical licensing boards in preparation for fellowships. The residents are in a state of both personal and professional flux. At the center of it all are the three remaining original residents we first met as interns seven seasons ago.
Alex Karev finds himself the most hated man on staff after sharing with hospital administration his knowledge of Meredith Grey's actions in her husband Derek Shepherd's clinical trial. Meredith's switching of medications in Derek's trial shuts it down and puts her job, their marriage, and their preliminary custody of the baby they're adopting in jeopardy.
At the same time Cristina Yang and her husband Owen Hunt find themselves facing a dilemma when they each have very strong opposing feelings upon finding out she's unexpectedly pregnant, which temporarily separates them and leaves them pondering the future of their marriage. Owen has, for the first time in their relationship, found Cristina unreachable when she schedules an abortion appointment without discussing it with him. And Cristina fears her marriage with Owen may be contingent upon going through with the pregnancy and worries that Owen considers her 'unforgivable' for not wanting to have a baby.
When a sinkhole opens up in a Seattle street and traps motorists, Owen channels his energy into using his trauma surgeon skills in the field. Faced with the site's rampant instability, Owen's frustration is apparent as he watches orthopedic surgeon Callie Torres attempt to talk a man through amputating his wife's leg to free them from the sinkhole. The man refused to leave his wife behind when emergency staff attempted to evacuate him from the scene. After stepping in to assist these patients, Owen finds in this couple's struggle to face painful challenges together a mirror for his experiences with Cristina.
Owen soon finds himself feeling even more pressured when he encounters Meredith upon returning to the hospital. Yet it is within that pressure that Owen finds his first sign of hope for his marriage when Meredith tells him Cristina hasn't been able to go through with the abortion on her own, that even though she wants to have the procedure she has struggled with the decision because she loves Owen. Later in the day when Derek complains about Meredith's apparent disappearance with their daughter, Owen cautions Derek not to assume the worst. '...sometimes, even with Cristina, sometimes they surprise us.'
And by the end of the day we see Owen and Cristina's individual journeys through instability and fear reunite them when Owen finds himself ready to approach Cristina. For Owen, it is a combination of Cristina's love for him factoring into her actions regarding the abortion and his acceptance of and love for her that leads him to step into going to the appointment with her.
When Owen makes it clear he loves her enough to stand behind his Season 7 finale words, 'I love you Cristina, not the incubating potential of your womb,' Cristina falls apart, releasing the emotion she'd kept so tightly under control. The loving looks they share through the tears in their eyes during the ensuing appointment combined with their studied contemplation of the decision they are stepping into together makes plain the depth of their bond and their reliance upon it, even in this heartbreaking situation.
In the immediate aftermath of the appointment Owen and Cristina's communication alternates between forced civility and stilted attempts at well wishes on both Owen's new position as Chief of Surgery as well as Cristina's first solo cardio surgery. After one such attempt at talking with Owen, Cristina expresses her concerns to Meredith, who has ironically admonished her friend to talk to Owen while having not yet had a conversation with her own husband regarding the issues within their marriage.
'How do I bring it up? I mean, does he even want me to bring it up? And what is there to talk about 'cause it's done. I can't undo it, it's done,' Cristina says as she ponders the state of her marriage. Later on at home, a tentative peace is found via the leveling factor of a shared case of food poisoning which leaves Owen and Cristina laid low on the floor of their bathroom, laughing together about their predicament and, in the process, regaining some of their ease with each other. As the voice over says, 'We see a path forward, we see a path and we take it.'
Other staff at the hospital are also beginning to find their footing in unusual circumstances. Richard Webber finds himself oddly relieved at no longer being Chief of Surgery as it affords him more time with his ailing wife Adele. April Kepner, after a rocky start, begins to assert herself in her new role as Chief Resident. And Meredith and Derek decide a first step in healing their marriage is not working together on surgical cases. Yet that is not to say that any of this growth is easy.
Owen walks an awkward professional tightrope between stepping into his promotion to Chief and the baffling array of paperwork it requires him to interpret and act upon, while at the same time Cristina seems stalled by the back to basics approach her teacher Teddy Altman has urged upon her to shore up her surgical foundation. Instead of displaying her usual professional zeal, Cristina has become a play by the rules, color inside the lines kind of surgeon, clinging tenaciously to her zero bad outcome operating room record rather than participating in cutting edge procedures. Considering the shared basis of their lives in many ways consists of their reliance upon the love they share and their need to be surgeons, that their struggles to communicate makes it difficult for Owen and Cristina to lean upon each other during this time of transition lends an even more overt bittersweet quality to their situation.
As they continue to be uncertain how to talk about the recent troubles in their marriage, Cristina and Owen do rely upon one aspect of their bond which is always available to them, their intense, almost chemical, physical attraction. Seemingly a way to stay connected while protecting the fragility of their emotional relationship, we see even this consistent aspect of their marriage under duress after a work day spent teasingly texting each other in between indulging in a few romantic interludes. Dr. Webber calls Owen to task for his behavior, reminding him 'You're the Chief now. Act like it.'
When Owen tells Cristina 'we can't do this anymore' one can see in an instant the fear that comes into her expression, as if she is worried he might mean something more dire than what his comment goes on to refer to, 'we can't be having sex all over the hospital.' Once Owen suggests they get dinner it becomes clear they both are at a loss as they imagine sitting across a restaurant table from each other with nothing to do but eat and try to talk to each other. When Cristina suggests they simply go home and have sex there Owen quickly agrees. As this episode's voiceover drives home, 'it's not always easy to speak your mind.'
As tensions continued to simmer amongst the staff we saw Owen trying to draw the surgical service together by establishing a hospital league softball team. It was an interesting contrast to see this team of professionals who are quite capable in an operating room be so bungling on the field.
Alongside Owen's somewhat outside the box attempt at a lesson in teamwork for his friends and colleagues, we saw Cristina settle a bit into her own skin as a member of a surgical team via an emergency consult on Callie's service. Cristina's behavior garnered her a graduation nod from Teddy, including a promise from her teacher that she would attempt to get Cristina access to some of the surgeries on her wish list.
We see the true depth of the benefits of being on a team reach Cristina as she watches Owen deliver a time-out pep talk on the field. The Seattle Grace/Mercy West team is losing to Seattle Presbyterian, a potential bad outcome, yet such a thing is eminently survivable as long as you have a team to support you. Her love for her husband and pride in his impromptu words are evident as Cristina watches Owen speak eloquently and from the heart.
'I just want to say how proud I am of all of you. You are an incredible team. I've watched you work together, solve problems together, I've watched you teach each other and learn from each other. You step up when you need to and you do more than anyone asks you to do. You're the finest team I've ever been a part of. ... As doctors you're pretty great and I'm proud just to get to lead you. And you're all here so I just wanted to tell you.'
When Cristina leans over to tell Owen 'you're a good chief' in the bleachers after the game you can see the love and gratitude on his face as he leans in to kiss her. For this night, they are able to connect heart and mind, let go of the recent hurts and stresses they've experienced and just be together.
Further reminders that the heart is the key to unlocking the mind come from Dr. Webber, as he encourages Cristina to relax her usual cerebral approach to life and to dream big when it comes to her surgical wish list. Their conversation, in fact, inspires him to come up with his own list as a reminder to himself that he's no longer trapped in the Chief's office but is able to flex his skills again as a surgeon.
After tragedy strikes in Cristina's OR we see Owen take in her reactions as she processes all the stages of grief. We see Owen acting very much as her husband as he pulls Cristina close. She clings to him while he comforts her, reminding us that while the intensity of their conflicts remains, so too does their bond, their love, their need for each other.
As an early season voiceover from Meredith attests, such challenges show us what matters to us. Also, that the only way through the pain of life is to experience it, feel it, and let it ebb as we step into the arms of the one who loves us. As Owen and Cristina cling to each other after Henry's surgery, facing the night's events head on, we are reminded how fleeting life can be but also how as long as you have the support of your team you can get through anything.
Do you have what it takes? If your marriage is in trouble, can you weather the storm? When the ground gives way and your world collapses, maybe you just need to have faith and trust that you can survive this together. Maybe you just need to hold on tight and no matter what, don't let go.
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