When the path you've been on your whole life suddenly diverges from the map, the shock waves have a way of sneaking up on you, especially when your emotional tools aren't yet fully up to the challenge. Once the reality of your situation rises to the surface, once you stop running from it, that action alone doesn't ensure you'll know what next step to take or what this new dance will evolve into as you realize you’ve missed some steps. It may at first seem as if your feet are nailed to the floor as your old ways of doing things – avoiding words, hiding out, hoping the world will get simpler on its own – hold tight until you can roll up your sleeves and figure out how to step out of the shadows and further into your partner’s arms. It is from this vantage point that Cristina
and Owen find themselves in stepping into the second half of Season 8.
Midseason begins with an episode from an alternate universe predicated on the
life Meredith could have had if her mother, Ellis, had found the happy marriage she craved with Richard Webber, the love of her life. We soon see that while this familial foundation may have provided Meredith with the stable childhood she craved and wants to provide for her own daughter, it also would have had unexpected and unpleasant impacts, like turning her half-sister Lexie Grey from the much-beloved daughter of Thatcher Grey’s second family into a drug-addled screw up.
Likewise, in this episode we also see a very different life path imagined for Owen and Cristina. Emotionally closed off after being left at the altar, Cristina was not able to forge a connection with Owen the night he arrived back in Seattle. Instead, Owen and Callie built a life together in this universe. Yet even in this world where their relationship seems far from possible, Owen and Cristina nonetheless find respite only in each other, connecting over a clear understanding of life’s pain and yet also its possibilities. Cristina is the only one who is unafraid to step into Owen's PTSD symptoms with him and he is the only one who draws out the depth of Cristina's emotional responses and her vulnerability. Even in an alternate universe Owen and Cristina yearn for the
understanding found only in each other. As the voiceover says at the end of this
episode, ‘Your life is a gift, accept it. No matter how screwed up or painful it seems to be. Some things are going to work out as if they were destined to happen, as if they were just meant to be.’
And it is from this perspective of their enduring bond and emotional connection even in times of uncertainty that we find Owen and Cristina as we return to their storyline outside of this stand-alone episode. Their old shared avoidance techniques – hiding from their inability to find words to communicate their feelings and utilizing their physical bond to retain their closeness - are no longer working. However, they have yet to get their feet under them enough to step into taking appropriate action to regain themselves and each other.
Cristina initially hides out in bravado, telling Meredith she can't make Owen stay if he doesn't want to do so, while Owen goes further within himself via stepping into his professional duties. You can see by their lost expressions how distant they feel from each other, how lost they are without their connection, how incapable they each feel to regain it. Yet the combination of Valentine's Day and a florist's van crashing into the hospital, almost taking out Cristina in the process, underscores their bond even in its current fragility.
In a haunting and powerful scene in a hospital elevator, Owen announces he's moving out, that he'll be at his mother's until he can figure something else out. Cristina and Owen look anywhere but at each other in this scene, highlighting both their emotional separation and yet how they are missing the signs of hope for their marriage each displays. Even as Owen stands at the front of the elevator, delivering this painful message with his back turned to Cristina, the tears in his eyes and the many pauses he leaves her in his short speech make it clear he is waiting for Cristina to react, to give him something to believe in, that he would step back in with her at any sign of hope from her. Meanwhile, Cristina crosses her arms protectively in front of her, her gaze directed towards the floor as tears fill her eyes at Owen’s words. Her downcast
expression makes it seem as if she’s both feared and expected these words, yet
the subdued sobs we hear echoing from her as Owen exits the elevator makes her devastation at them plain.
Yet by the end of the day, stunned by the possibility her marriage could be crumbling beyond the possibility of repair, Cristina goes to Owen on their vent, their place in the hospital to reconnect, and it is once again their place of safety. As Owen said to Cristina in Season 5 'anything can happen on the vent.' And it is here that Cristina finds him and her words to great effect as she begs Owen to stay in it with her, 'Don't hate me...please...I'm begging you.' The yearning on Cristina's face and the tears in her eyes as she says these words to Owen mark her need for him. He turns to her immediately, tears filling his eyes too. His expression shifts to one of hope, belief, and relief as Cristina reaches out, putting her hand on his chest just over his heart. Owen reaches for her too and as they lean toward each other you can sense the sustenance each draws from their bond even in these trying times.
This reconnection remains tenuous as Owen and Cristina step into the murkier places within their marriage during a fractious therapy session. While there is definite hope to be found amidst their willingness to face each other, one can see the toll it takes on each of them as their tears flow and they take turns being available to each other and the therapeutic process and hiding behind self-protective emotional barricades.
What begins as a calm recitation of their past and the issues now before them soon turns to raised voices and heightened reactions as their masks slip to reveal the emotions they’ve tried so diligently to keep inside. Owen’s pain and anger render his words inelegant and harsh, as he cites his belief for why their marriage lacks intimacy, ‘We’re not on the same page because you had an abortion’ and as he later says with some incredulity, ‘nobody doesn’t want kids.’ While his yearning to understand Cristina’s viewpoint is clear, his feelings of loss overshadow his ability to communicate in a measured way.
Cristina rises to his anger and lashes back at Owen when he brings up the topic of her friendship with Meredith. Cristina cites a concept deep from the Grey’s Anatomy gospel, that this friendship is closer than most because ‘she’s my person.’ As Owen struggles to further express himself, he quietly breathes these powerful words, ‘be my person,’ a concept that will be revisited even more powerfully near the end of the season in a way that elicits further hope for Owen and Cristina’s marriage.
It is late in the session during a breathing exercise when we see them hit the wall. Cristina’s vulnerability and Owen’s drawn demeanor are visible when they are asked to look into each others’ eyes, to match their breath with the others’ as a way to reconnect. When Owen tries yet is unable to hold Cristina’s gaze it reduces them both to tears once again and underscores both their passion for each other and how it has been strained through lack of communication. Cristina quietly admits to Owen, ‘We used to be able to look at each other and I’d feel like we were gonna be okay. There is a reason
we’re together Owen, there’s a reason we’re married. Please, look at me.’ Her palpable pain and the emotion behind her words clearly impact Owen yet he reacts by going even further within his shell, uncertain how to feel that things are going to be okay, much less reassure Cristina of that idea.
In the days which follow this fraught attempt to regain their communication tools, we see Cristina and Owen spiraling. Owen remains emotionally unavailable, putting more effort into work than ever, convincing the board to grant Teddy a sizeable grant to pursue her stem cell research. Cristina, meanwhile, finds paranoia overtaking her as she reacts against the distance in her marriage, wondering if Owen is having an affair with a nurse who seems to be flirting with him. Cristina spends a series of crazy-making days observing the nurse’s interactions with Owen and trying to connect with her husband
with decidedly mixed results. When Cristina pages Owen to an on-call room words fail her as she attempts to reach across the ever-growing divide that separates them. When she puts her arms around his neck and pulls Owen in for a kiss he is impatient and brusque with her, telling Cristina 'I don't have time' before walking quickly out the door. It is disheartening to see that not even their almost chemical physical connection can sustain them in this troubled place within their marriage.
Later, as she spends yet one more night alone at home, Cristina resigns herself initially to a glass of wine and flipping through TV channels, until her worries return. In a sad comment on the mess they've made of their marriage, upon hearing Owen open the door downstairs, Cristina immediately shuts off the light and hops into bed, pretending to be asleep when he walks in. Owen, looking haunted and exhausted, steps into their home and quietly calls out Cristina's name. When she doesn't answer, he steps into the
bathroom and turns on the shower. It's heartbreaking to watch these two people who keep up such a strong, brave front in public show us privately how much they are torn between their own fears and wanting to reach out to each other - again, afraid to find their words for fear of what they will tell each other when they do.
Owen and Cristina’s emotional collision draws ever nearer when he assigns her to assist a man making the decision to take his husband off of life support after being critically injured in a car accident. The case is further complicated when Owen assigns the nurse whom Cristina has imagined is having an affair with Owen to work with her. Owen and Cristina bicker over her role in supporting the patient's husband in this case, as Owen counsels his wife 'to help him through this…find some damn compassion.' One is struck by the double-edged comment as a possible throw-back to Owen's quest
for answers from Cristina in their intense therapy session.
In a fateful monologue, the patient's husband details the many flaws he felt himself to have in their relationship, while Cristina stands by, her identification with this speech evident in the hollow-eyed expression on her face. ‘It took three years for me to tell you that I loved you and another three years before I moved in with you. You thought I was scared to commit. I was scared of this…scared of how much I loved you…scared of feeling I’d never be able to find happiness without you.’
This heart-wrenching speech breaks something open in Cristina and allows her to access that compassion Owen urged her to find to help this man let go of his spouse. This painful situation galvanizes Cristina, reinforces her need to take action in her marriage, so she waits up for Owen. He is taken aback to find her up and yet as much as he fights it, as much as he tries to keep up his own walls, they begin to crumble as soon as Owen hears from Cristina how aware she has been of his distance, how it has impacted her.
As he slumps down on their bed you can see Owen's mask slip a bit as his eyes fill with tears at Cristina's urgent question, 'do you love me anymore?' Owen replies quietly 'I love you so much that it hurts.' As she responds with hopeful words 'good, we can work on this…’ we know things are about to get a whole lot worse as Owen’s expression shifts to one of resignation. 'Stop... I said I love you so much that it hurts...it hurts to
love you.' Cristina, sitting behind him instantly goes still, wipes the tears from her face,
takes a deep breath and urges Owen 'just say it.' He then lets his face go impassive,
making it clear he's ready to take in whatever her reaction may be when he says 'I’m not
cheating on you with (that nurse) but I did cheat on you.' And just like at the end of their
fight in episode 12, it's as if all the air has been sucked from the room.
As cleansing as it can be to face your own truth and someone else's, it can also take
some deliberation, some pondering of the directions available, and Cristina and Owen
are not alone in experiencing this sort of struggle at this point in the season. Alex Karev
is facing the extent to which a doctor can be personally involved in a case when his
intern’s premature baby takes repeated turns for the worse; Mark Sloan danced around
his feelings for Lexie Grey versus the plans for the future he had made with his girlfriend
Julia; and Richard Webber faced his emotional debt to his wife Adele as her mental
capacity declined further due to her Alzheimer’s.
Yet once the talking has started and you know things you need to know but also wish
you didn't, you have no choice except to take the next step on the path and see where
it will lead you. After taking this challenging new direction - Owen admitting to a truth
Cristina had already suspected, that he'd cheated - they find themselves at a new fork
in the road. Owen is ready to talk, wants to talk and Cristina is still processing, still
assessing how she feels at having her painful suspicions backed up.
Cristina has gone inward in an attempt to process how she feels and what her course
of action should be, purposely working in the lab building hearts from scratch as part of
Teddy’s research study. The silence of the lab is a distinct counterpoint to the painful
emotional crescendo quaking within her and it provides the quiet necessary to work
through the unpredictable nature of her emotional responses. Owen, meanwhile, is
intent on finding words to help them through this situation. When he attempts to talk to
Cristina at home and at work we see her walk away from him silently, averting her eyes
in both situations.
While preparing for surgery Owen’s urgent need to reconnect with Cristina is clear as
he humbles himself by asking Meredith to share his regrets with his wife, to apologize to
her on his behalf since she’s not yet speaking to him. Meredith cuts him off, and angrily
tells Owen, ‘she didn’t want me to hate you. Do you know what that means? It means
she’s planning to forgive you or she’s desperately trying to find a way to forgive you.’
This perspective on Owen’s emotional status is one that is much needed and shows us
how while there is hope to be found in Cristina’s unexpected approach to this shattering
news it also exists in how desperate Owen is to reach her.
Once Cristina is ready to talk we see with heartbreaking clarity both the all-consuming
passion she and Owen have for each other in the intensity of their feelings in the
ensuing discussion and how deeply at cross purposes they are in their attempts to
heal both themselves and their marriage. Owen's regret and shame is clear, as is his
disinterest in further injuring Cristina by torturing her with the details of his one night
stand. Yet Cristina, who is adamant that she needs information from Owen to process
mentally what her heart cannot understand, warns Owen 'if you don't want to get into
this with me, then get out.'
And as the details emerge of how Owen met a woman at the hospital who invited him
out for a drink, how he ended up having sex with her, we see Cristina and Owen's
attempts to maintain control over their emotions dissolve. Soon, Cristina is sobbing
in their bed, incapable of keeping her pain under wraps. Owen seems initially frozen
in place, haunted by his impact on their marriage after being so focused on the pain
Cristina had caused him in not wanting to have a baby. When Owen goes to her, lays
down behind Cristina, puts his arms around her, their love and need for each other is
palpable. Initially she fights him, the hurt of Owen's nearness is too profound, yet soon
Cristina relaxes into him, allows him to hold her for a moment before she bursts from
their bed and runs into the bathroom.
As one would expect, the pain and intense processing of this day takes its toll. Their
circuits are fried and while both want each other, they have no idea how to move past
this place in which even when they have opened themselves up to each other, the
immediate pain is too deep to wade through. Owen, concerned for Cristina's safety
as she remains quiet, locked in their bathroom, finds himself ever-increasingly more
desperate to reach her. Cristina, on the other side of the door, finds herself facing the
conundrum of having built her life around being a badass double doctor, cardiothoracic
god and finding that she's also the simple girl who wants her guy and a life with him, a
life for which she feels suddenly ill-prepared after listening to how Owen got so sad and
angry as to be in a bar with another woman.
At the close of this intense day we find Owen and Cristina emotionally spent, still
connected even as they don't know how to take the next steps in their marriage together
just yet. As Cristina tries to reconcile herself to Owen’s words, she asks him one more
time about how he got to that place where another woman was an option. The two of
them stumble into what they haven't managed to get to all day - how as much as it was
about how lonely Owen felt, cut off and distant from Cristina, it was also about how
deep his pain was after going through the abortion appointment with her, how from the
basis of that pain part of him was lashing out at her. The wind is knocked out of each of
them as they realize how deep the rift is in their marriage, how much work they have in
front of them to find their way back, how much this current pain adds to an already full
At the end of this long day, one in which they have both finally faced each other, their
mistakes, their pain, their love, their hearts, both of them are in need of a time out to
continue processing this realization, that even though they've taken steps to move
forward, to find their words, that they are still only a few steps along the path. After
packing a bag and preparing to exit their home, Owen tells Cristina 'I will always be in
love with you, you are the love of my life, I will never love another woman.' The look on
Owen's face is one of complete devastation, as is the one on Cristina's as she tearfully
sits alone in their bed, weighing the pain and minimal progress of the day.
Soon thereafter arrives the combined anvils of a patient, long-abused, long disallowed
her identity, cut off from all she knows, incapable of finding words to describe her
experience or to step back into the comforting parts of a world she knew - family and
home primary among them – coalesces with Cristina and her fellow residents studying
for medical licensing board exams and fielding fellowship opportunities.
As offers pour in from health organization, hospitals, and colleges, Cristina sees her
bright medical future right in front of her, the one she's spent her life working toward,
yet the nearness of this threshold is undercut by the intense pain in her marriage and
her desperate longing for her husband. And as Owen's heart breaks under the weight
of not being home with Cristina, of not being the man he wanted to be in his marriage,
his leadership abilities are tested as he must coordinate the abused patient's care while
also managing a police and press presence at the hospital.
Richard Webber, as former Chief of Surgery, offers his support and his advice to assist
Owen, yet the poignancy of the weight of both his personal and professional life is
apparent as Owen breaks down in a conference room with Cristina the only witness to
his vulnerability. As she sees the cracks in his veneer widen she allows herself a wifely
moment as she tells him quietly 'you're doing the best you can.' The immediate relief
on Owen's face at these words before she slips from the room makes his reliance upon
their bond clear. Later when this patient is finally healed enough to be discharged the
surgical staff allows themselves a moment of celebration. As Richard leads a round of
applause for Owen's handling of a tough situation, he is bashful until his gaze meets
Cristina's and the import of this additional support is clearly meaningful to them both.
And soon it is time for all of the fifth year surgical residents to fly to San Francisco
for their board licensing exams. Even as she prepares to step into this final training
hurdle, the weight upon Cristina at the prospect is apparent in her downcast eyes and
measured demeanor. Likewise, we see Owen wanting to go to her, to wish her well, yet
holding himself back, not knowing how to intrude back into her life after stepping back to
give her space. The disconnect amidst their yearning for each other and their confusion
about how to move forward is clear as they cross paths in the ambulance bay before the
Upon reaching the hotel at which they will sit for their board interviews, a statistic is
announced that plays itself out with the test group of our SGH/MW residents - one in
five residents fails the boards As excited as they all feel to attain this stage of their
careers, they also begin to unravel. Meredith is feeling poorly yet trying to maintain her
confidence, Jackson Avery is thrown off by his mother's appearance as one of the board
proctors, Alex is torn between sitting for the exam and the state of a pediatric patient
who is failing back at the hospital, April's nervous energy exerts itself in a barroom
confrontation with a resident who is up for the same job at another hospital, while
Cristina's 'mind over matter' mantra begins to fail as she unburdens her fears about the
state of her marriage in conversation with Meredith.
Cristina's painful heart and need for Owen is apparent as she talks her way through
Meredith's strident responses, defending both her feelings and her marriage. Upon
sharing the depth of her pain at her husband's infidelity with her friend, Cristina gets
mostly judgment instead of support which seems to leave her feeling even more
burdened and alone than when she started talking. Cristina tenaciously continues, as if
she is talking herself through her own feelings. Upon hearing Meredith offer up solutions
like Cristina taking up residence in the spare room at Meredith's house or the offer of
her attorney's phone number, Cristina tries another approach in asking Meredith ‘be on
my side…If I had done what Owen did… I wouldn't want him to leave me, I would want
him to forgive me.'
Against the backdrop of boards, all the attendings are back at the hospital worrying
about their students, wondering how they're faring in this important test, also facing
the potential of having to work with the seemingly inept applicants touring the hospital.
Without the buffer of working with their residents, the rift in Owen and Teddy's friendship
is laid bare by Callie and Bailey's observation of how the two friends now appear
incapable of even the straightforward effort necessary to treat a patient together.
Bailey calls Teddy to task for her treatment of Owen in the OR, and says he wasn’t
arguing with her personally, he simply disagreed with her treatment plan, as doctors
sometimes do, how Owen has already lost his friend and now he's about to lose his wife
and maybe Teddy could show a little compassion. Suitably chastened, Teddy quietly
informs Owen later on when Cristina has notified her that she is preparing to walk into
her first board interview, that she feels ready. The relief is evident on Owen's face at this
news and that the battle lines with his friend seem to be down, at least temporarily.
Upon completing boards it seems as if, at least in some ways, the residents' lives have
gotten easier with this hurdle out of the way. When they learn that one of them hasn't
passed the exam they all begin to find reasons that the one unlucky resident could be
each of them. It isn't until they return to Seattle that they find out which one of them will
be resitting their boards in the spring, which throws up its own challenges. Finding out
she's passed leaves Cristina fully able to step out into the professional offers made to
her by many hospitals, yet even after receiving a sweetened offer from a prestigious
hospital to lure her their way she is both excited and confused. This news sends her
from a room full of her fellow residents who are drunkenly celebrating their potential
professional futures, into the firehouse and Owen's arms.
When Owen wakens, surprised at finding Cristina standing in their bedroom, she is
unable to do more than respond 'I don't know' when he asks her what she's doing
before clambering into bed with him, settling herself atop his chest. As Cristina nestles
into him Owen smoothes her hair, clasping her to him and they draw comfort from just
a quiet moment together, before Cristina exits. Later on that day Cristina once again
searches out Owen who has tried to keep himself removed from her professional
choices, giving her space to make those choices on her own. When he tells her she
can't go wrong with any of the professional options she's weighing, Cristina looks at
Owen with love in her eyes and goes to him, his solid presence calming her agitated
mind as she reaches for him, leans in and kisses him.
Owen responds with alacrity after checking in with Cristina, being sure this is what she
wants before giving in to his own need for her. The two of them urgently move together,
remembering this familiar dance they've not indulged in for too long as they make love.
Afterwards their momentary peace is shattered as they find too few words to adequately
describe the situation in which they find themselves. Owen smiles at Cristina, looks
into her eyes, runs his fingers through her hair, and tells her 'I'm happy...I know this
doesn't fix anything...but I'm happy.' Cristina tells Owen sadly, 'I'm leaving' before laying
her head on his chest. Both of them appear as if the wind has been knocked out of
them at the idea with which they've both been struggling, what if the best offer on the
professional table takes Cristina to a hospital other than Seattle Grace?
While viewers, along with both Owen and Cristina, feel gutted at the idea of Cristina
leaving Seattle, potentially leaving Owen too, we see a distinct ray of hope for their
marriage ironically when Meredith attempts to railroad Cristina with her plans for her
friend’s life. Meredith has earlier reminded Cristina of the flaws in her marriage in
telling her that 'Owen should be with someone who wants a baby and you should be
with someone who wants you.' Except as we've seen all too clearly, Owen does want
Cristina and her heart wants him too. When Meredith approaches a glum Cristina to
tell her she's decided which fellowship offer her friend will take, the one that’s most
convenient to Meredith’s plans to move to Boston with Derek and Zola. Cristina is
dumbfounded at her friend's assumptions and tells her it's not that simple because ‘He's
my person.' This statement, that Meredith's role as the closest person to Cristina has
been usurped by Owen, her husband, clearly rankles Meredith even as Cristina’s
confidence in this statement seems plain as she shares this reality of her life with her
And into this conflict-laden time in Cristina and Owen's marriage we find Cristina
destined for Boise, along with five of her colleagues, to help separate a pair of conjoined
twins at an Idaho hospital. In a jam-packed season finale we see the plane carrying the
Seattle team crash on a remote hillside, injuring them all and leaving them vulnerable
to the elements and their own fears. One of their colleagues dies on scene while others
are seriously injured, among them Derek who is forced to shatter his own hand to free
himself from the wreckage and Arizona who's got a severe enough fracture to a bone
in her leg that it is visible through the skin. Cristina, after her dislocated shoulder is
reduced back into the socket, alternately describes wanting to run like hell from Seattle
Grace, Mercy Death hospital where people get run over by buses and shot at in the OR
yet in a quieter moment she admits to just wanting to go home.
At the same time, change is in the air back in Seattle as well. Teddy, who has been
offered a management position at the Army’s MedCom leaves Owen in the unique
position of having to fire his friend as she refuses to take the job out of loyalty to Owen.
Meanwhile Bailey has accepted Ben's proposal even as he has also accepted a surgical
internship in Los Angeles, while April and Avery find the status of their own relationship
in limbo after Owen is forced to fire April as failing her boards renders her no longer the
best candidate for the job he'd previously offered her, and Alex weighs a substantial
offer from another hospital.
As we step into Season 9 the professional and personal status of the entire cast of
Grey’s Anatomy is up in the air, yet I remain hopeful that while the added pain of the
plane crash and the choices in front of them will add to the conflict already on their
plates, that Owen and Cristina are now clearer than ever on the intensity of their
feelings for each other and it is those feelings that will lead them both home.
Now we are ready for Season 9...