Through the process of juggling busy professional lives alongside meaningful personal relationships, we saw the doctors of Seattle Grace/Mercy West stepping into dreams they never thought they’d have or want, which created both unexpected stresses and rewards.
As the impact of these different versions of their dreams began to be felt, these characters discovered life could rapidly become more than that for which they had bargained and yet that it also broadened their perspectives and allowed them to approach their lives and their relationships more deeply while also still sometimes finding themselves stymied by how to move forward.
A late season voiceover from Meredith explained the dilemma: ‘We are responsible with our patients. The problem is... In our own lives, we can't think things through. We don't make the sound choice. We did that all day at the hospital. When it comes to ourselves, we've got nothing left.’
Some hid from change, as Chief Webber did initially in deciding Adele’s health concerns were simply an unfortunate confluence of forgetfulness and household accidents. Some bought processing time for themselves in explaining their reluctant reaction to the other people involved as Arizona did in telling Callie a life raising a child with her and Mark Sloan was ‘not my dream. My dream does not look like this.’ Some avoided the subject all together as Meredith did in not telling Derek her fertility treatments were impacting her eyesight. And some attempted to flex new emotional muscles and found themselves flummoxed by that process into retreating into old behavior as Owen and Cristina were as they stumbled into discussions of whether or not to have children.
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The latter part of season seven found Owen and Cristina settling into their marriage and in that process, becoming more of a team. While Cristina’s PTSD in the wake of the season six hospital shooting had presented she and Owen with both a challenge to their bond and also an opportunity for them to deepen that bond, they were now faced with figuring out what the future looked like for both of them. A simple joke from Cristina about being glad Owen wasn’t trying to knock her up in light of their friends’ fertility struggles developed into a series of workplace conversations about children, communication and shared vision.
Cristina angrily reacted to Owen’s belief that her interest in having children might change as she got older as his own view had shifted over time. ‘Well, I've grown up as much as I plan to, and I don't come around,’ she said. Owen later responded to her insistence that as the potential mother in question she had ‘veto power’ by imploring her to ‘think about it…You have an obligation to at least pretend that you care what the hell I want.’
Owen and Cristina were soon thrust into a new series of professional challenges that limited their time to delve into the deeper implications of what these discussions might portend for their future. A virtual feeding frenzy occurred as the residents continued to outbid each other for the honor of being chief resident. The combined weight of dealing with his wife’s ever deteriorating health alongside developing his own clinical trial was taking its toll on Chief Webber. Bailey encouraged Webber to find someone else to evaluate the residents. Adept as both a surgeon and a teacher, Owen was the prime candidate to select chief resident. The implications were not lost on Cristina, ‘you can’t pick me…everyone’s going to say it’s because you’re my husband.’
As everyone gathered for this most important series of surgeries it was not just Owen and Cristina’s relationship that was impacted by the situation. Arizona and Mark found themselves unsteady partners in making decisions about care for both Callie and the baby; Meredith finally let go of the rein on her tightly held emotions as she admitted to being jealous of how easy it was for Callie to get pregnant while she and Derek had struggled to do so; Lexie, who had found a new relationship with Avery, also found herself drawn to comfort Mark as he faced Callie’s and the baby’s grave condition; and additionally Teddy found herself on the outside of both her role as Cristina’s teacher and Owen’s friend and colleague as he ultimately gave Cristina the go-ahead to perform her procedure in the OR when Teddy’s proved to be taking too long.
The absence of cardio in Cristina’s professional life due to Teddy’s refusal to work with her after their disagreement about Callie’s surgery certainly rankled, but it also took a temporary backseat while Callie struggled to heal from her profound injuries. Cristina took on a sort of caretaker role for her friend, much as she had for Izzie when she’d been diagnosed with cancer in a previous season. While Callie’s newborn daughter Sofia was in isolation in the pediatric ward, Cristina enlisted the support of her fellow residents to reunite mother and child in a poignant scene in which Callie got her first look at her daughter through a NICU window. Lest we think Cristina had become entirely warm and fuzzy she assured Owen that while Sofia was cute that her ‘small features and oversized eyes trigger a hormonal response from humans. It’s autonomic. It’s what keeps us from eating them.’
‘Chief resident is more than just a resume boost. It’s managing schedules, overseeing interns, pushing papers, working within the system, that isn’t you, it’s never been you. And it will kill you. You’re a surgeon and anything that keeps you from being a surgeon will hurt you and make you crazy, we saw it today. You’re not built for this job. You will hate it and you will resent it. You will fight against it until you fail. So just be a surgeon. It’s what you are. Just be excellent at what you are.’
Surprisingly enough, Cristina processed Owen’s message after dispelling her initial burst of anger and rededicated herself to being excellent both ‘as a surgeon…and I’m gonna be excellent in bed tonight,’ when he appeared at Joe’s bar to collect her at the end of the day.
And yet in a season of change and re-definition of self we saw a focus be drawn upon the three remaining original residents as they strove to move forward and found themselves stepping back into old behavior in that process. Meredith, having tampered with the medication/placebo ratio in Derek’s clinical trial, faced both her husband and Chief Webber’s disappointment and a possible suspension alongside news that she and Derek now had temporary custody of a child they were adopting. Alex found his burgeoning relationship with Lucy disintegrating before his eyes along with his dreams of being chief resident after he shared his knowledge of Meredith’s actions with Owen. And Cristina, finding herself unexpectedly pregnant, decreed herself not to be ‘this beautiful vessel for all that might be good about the future. I’m not carrying your hopes and dreams…’ and she and Owen were forced to revisit their earlier discussion about children, communication, and shared vision.
Throughout this season we got glimpses of all of the characters struggling to step into a future that looked not at all like they thought it would appear. In that fearful and exhilarating place it was sometimes easier for them to step backwards than it was to begin utilizing their new and hard-won abilities to step into the future alongside their partners and colleagues. Here’s hoping Season eight continues to show them that making new choices is better than holding onto old ways of reacting and that taking those chances just might get them somewhere even better than they thought they would find themselves.