Season 10 was all about missed connections for Owen Hunt and Cristina Yang. While they struggled to find their own paths as each, on some level, accepted being outside of their personal relationship this was also a season in which their deep and abiding love for each other and their shared inability to fully step outside of their intense emotional connection was another constant part of their story.
While the two-hour season premiere brought us right back into the thick of the storm which had descended upon Seattle and flooded the hospital with patients at the end of the previous season, that external action was featured mostly as the backdrop for the stormy emotional situations in which the doctors of Grey Sloan Memorial Hospital found themselves. In Owen and Cristina’s case it meant tabling the simmering tension between them as a result of the reappearance of their difference of opinion on the topic of family while treating trauma patients and assessing damage to the hospital. Yet even as they both showed up as dedicated surgeons facing enormous professional challenges, they remained in personal contact with each other as well. Glimmers of their ability to read each other and their enduring bond showed in how they discussed patients and supported their colleagues. Those glimmers turned into a conflagration as they sought solace in each other’s arms as the tension of their personal and professional paths grew too much for them to bear individually.
Even as Owen and Cristina found their attempted separation exceedingly painful, they both tried to find ways to move forward. Cristina entreated Owen to try dating someone else and he grudgingly agreed. Given the theme of missed connections for this pairing, we saw Owen wounded by Cristina’s suggestion yet persevering when he was surprised by someone’s overt interest in him at the same time that Cristina’s regret over her decision was visible only to viewers while she tried to keep up a pretense of being happy for Owen in his presence. Cristina channeled her energy into creating professional challenges for herself even as she remained personally rootless while missing Owen and also fighting with her friend Meredith Grey. In Owen’s case as well, mostly viewers were witness to his emotional struggle to let go of Cristina even as he stepped into a potential new relationship as Cristina had asked him to do.
Owen and Cristina’s work lives continued to be busy in the meantime to allow them both a respite from their turbulent emotional storylines. Owen wrangled with the board, made up of his fellow surgeons, to help him rebuild the hospital in the wake of damage sustained in the season opening storm. Cristina found success in performing innovative surgeries as well as in pursuing her own research interests. While they were avoiding the intensity of their usual emotional interactions, it was ultimately medicine that brought Owen and Cristina back together in a pivotal way. When a one in a million case showed up in the ER, Owen immediately thought of Cristina. The grin on his face as he brought her the patient’s X-rays belied his personal motivation, a motivation Cristina missed in focusing on the medicine of the moment as she believed Owen to be happy in pursuing a dating life without her. Her reaction, in turn, caused Owen to step further into a potential new relationship with a surgeon at another hospital as he believed Cristina had moved into considering him simply her colleague. It was misreads of their feelings such as this that were believable and yet heartbreaking for fans to witness.
Midseason we saw Owen and Cristina’s emotional struggle heighten after an unexpected suggestion from Meredith to host Thanksgiving dinner at her house and for it to be cooked by Owen’s date. As the guest list grew, Owen pondered how to break that news to his date and yet he spent more time acting on his concern for Cristina’s holiday plans and figuring out ways for her to be included in this potentially awkward social event. As it turned out, Cristina’s fractious friendship with Meredith as well as her denial of her wistful reaction to seeing Owen and his date interact at the hospital kept her at work instead. While we never ultimately saw the holiday event in the episode, we definitely saw Owen and Cristina’s emotional clarity about themselves and each other begin to find its way to the surface soon after as they attended another major event, April Kepner’s wedding. While Cristina attended solo and Owen sat with his date at his side, the poignant looks exchanged between Owen and Cristina during the ceremony and the way they seemed incapable of keeping their eyes off of each other indicated they weren’t anywhere close to being done with each other.
After hiatus Crowen fans were shown an even more emotionally intense arc as Owen and Cristina began to process their reactions to having acknowledged to themselves and each other that their bond was very much present for them both. Using Mark Sloan’s words as a backdrop, we were reminded of how important it was to tell someone you love them, even if you feared it might cause havoc in their life or your own. In a couple more believable yet also heartbreaking scenes we saw Cristina tell Meredith how being with Owen had made her life better while viewers were left to decide whether Owen’s heightened emotions at finding out Cristina had a short-term dalliance with someone while they were apart was professionally or personally motivated, as brought up to him by Richard Webber.
The plot grew complicated and yet further clarifying when we saw Owen consider moving in with the surgeon he’d been dating. Even as this might have been sad news for Crowen fans, Owen and Cristina’s arcs were so fiercely interwoven in this episode as to underline how magnetically drawn to each other they remained. Trying to acclimate to deepening their separation proved to them both that their connection was still at the forefront of each of their hearts and as easily accessible to them as it had always been. Cristina’s raw reaction to Owen’s news betrayed the stoicism with which she’d tried to appear to take it, while Owen’s own reflective follow-up to his impetuous decision to find a new place to live showed us that he, in fact, felt a similar internal conflict. When Cristina’s drunken celebratory visit to Owen’s trailer evolved into a wistful and affectionate walk down memory lane for them, Owen’s gentle reach for her hand was all it took to put them gratefully into each other’s arms again.
In a neatly executed pair of moments we saw Owen and Cristina further ponder how their perspectives on life and their history continued to influence them. While Owen stood poised to potentially have the home life he seemed to want, he realized while in conversation with Derek Shepherd how his standards had changed and, as a result, that life was no longer enough for him on its own. Additionally, Cristina told Meredith how stepping away from something sometimes allowed you to approach it with fresh eyes and the situation would feel better than it ever did before, like returning home. This episode gave us one more tumultuous twist when Owen broke up with the woman he’d been seeing, citing reasons fans had long believed to be true, that what he wanted was a life with someone who shared his passions, someone who sounded an awful lot like Cristina Yang, in addition to the home life he craved.
What followed were several episodes in which Owen and Cristina’s bond reasserted itself and their communication regained a more sure footing. More lighthearted conversations occurred between them which quickly edged into flirtatious banter as each was aware of the mutual attraction they still felt. They also worked well together, uniting on stressful medical cases and working to support their patients and to brainstorm medical solutions. However, as the season progressed fans were ever more aware that we had dwindling episodes in which to enjoy both characters on our screen as we also saw Cristina’s deepening concern over their differences on the topic of family.
Cristina was forced to confront her concerns when Owen openly approached her to reunite and she considered how to respond. In an episode largely devoted to that consideration fans saw two possible options for Cristina and Owen’s future through the filter of her beliefs about both her and Owen’s needs. Disconcertingly, both options showed Cristina’s fears that if she and Owen got back together that they might be on a course in which one or the other of them would have regrets – that Cristina might regret not focusing on her research if she chose to have the family life Owen seemed to want or that Owen might regret not having that family if he focused on a future with a Cristina who focused more on her research. Reassuringly, their love for each other was vividly present in both imagined options which made it somewhat clear that this conflict may be something Owen and Cristina would figure out together if only actor’s contracts weren’t going to get in the way.
As we saw Cristina emotionally challenged by how to respond to Owen, we also saw her facing professional challenges. Through it all, we were shown how she leaned on her ties to Owen even as they both tried to face what a future not based on their relationship might look like. When an innovative surgery garnered her a nomination for the Harper Avery Award, Cristina tried to focus on the work at hand rather than the circus-like reaction others at the hospital entered into upon hearing about her nomination. Even so, the person she let in to celebrate that nomination with her was Owen who took her to their vent with a bottle of champagne. There they celebrated both her work and their bond as they smiled and laughed together and shared the giddiness of the moment via an emotionally intimate toast to her success.
The sad, yet also joyous, bookend to their moment revisiting one of their meaningful old hospital haunts arrived when Cristina traveled out of town to the Harper Avery Award dinner. Focused on maintaining a business as usual approach, she traveled on her own yet found once she was there by herself that she wanted Owen and Meredith there with her. When she called Meredith to admit her mistake, viewers soon discovered that Cristina’s ‘persons’ had taken it upon themselves to override Cristina’s decision and were waiting for her in the dining room. The glowing smile that lit up her face and the way she clutched Owen’s hand throughout the awards presentation made it clear how significant his role remained in her life. We later learned that while Cristina had the Foundation votes to have won the award that the decision was made to disqualify her from winning given the Foundation’s ties to Grey Sloan Memorial Hospital. When news of this disquieting turn of events reached the hospital the surgeons had strong reactions. Some surgeons wanted Cristina to take on the Foundation and file a grievance while others, including the Cardio Chief, decided to put in their notice as they were convinced the situation would negatively impact their work if they stayed put. The person who remained the most focused on how this situation impacted Cristina was Owen. When she showed him how vulnerable she felt while standing fully clothed in a hospital shower, a touching callback to a scene they shared around the beginning of their relationship in Season 5, Owen chose to share the Foundation’s politicized approach to the award with Cristina. Owen’s words galvanized her as we saw the fire return to her eyes as she once again seemed to regain her energy.
While Cristina mulled over what to do in the wake of this news, Owen encouraged her to take on some of the speaking engagements she’d been offered as a way to distract her from the Award fallout. It soon grew evident that this was how they would write Cristina out of the show as the speaking engagement she accepted in Zurich lead to an incredible professional offer to take over as hospital administrator. She would have seemingly unlimited resources and the opportunity to focus on her work without being hampered by the Foundation, even as it would mean moving several time zones away from her home in Seattle.
What followed was an attempt on both Owen and Cristina’s part to reconcile themselves to this situation and what such a geographic shift would mean for their bond. In an incredibly touching scene Owen confessed that he wanted to offer the Cardio Chief position to Cristina as a way to keep her there yet he knew she needed this opportunity to stretch her wings. As tears filled Cristina’s eyes, Owen quietly yet firmly declared that he would ask one thing of her and then he pulled her into one of their legendarily scorching kisses. When they both paused for air we heard Owen ask Cristina to step overtly back into their romantic bond with him until she leaves. That it took her not even a split second to agree and lean back into him showed us how much they both still rely on the love between them.
And yet even as we got to the end of this ultimately heart-squeezing season for Owen and Cristina, there were scenes of resonance for their story as we saw that their love for each other retained both its potency and intensity even up to the end of the finale. In that episode, we found Owen and Cristina had taken full advantage of their reunion. While Cristina checked the day's weather report in preparation for her flight overseas to her new hospital posting, we saw Owen attempt to entice her with another try at goodbye which seemed to involve them not being able to keep their hands off of each other. Owen and Cristina have always had a passionate connection, as evidenced by how playful and romantic they remained with each other, yet we also learned crucial information from their exchange as Owen outed Cristina's struggle over the past two weeks to leave town as she stated was her intention. In keeping with the light hearted poignancy of this scene, we saw Cristina wave off a formalized goodbye with Owen, stating she'd see him later at the hospital.
In reality what we saw was a day in which trauma cases flooded the ER which kept Owen and his team of surgeons too busy to process the brutal and poignant reality of Cristina’s exit to Zurich. However, we did gain further insight into Cristina's two-week struggle to leave town as it turned out she felt like her life in Seattle was unfinished, personal and professional combining into something she didn't know how to leave behind, feeling as perpetually bonded as she does to Owen, her friends, and her work. Meredith, who also struggled to let go of her friend, in a moment of clarity reminded Cristina that this was not about there being a finish line, that this was simply a new chapter for them all.
As Season 10 drew to a close we saw Cristina race to find Owen who was still operating on his tenuously surviving patient. Even as we'd hoped for them to have words, hugs, and kisses for each other, we saw all of Owen and Cristina's passion poured into their tearful expressions as they stared longingly at each other through the OR's gallery glass. And here’s where my hope as a fan shows up again as I do believe that the unfinished nature of Cristina and Owen's business together and their love for each other, which all their personal struggles together has done nothing to diminish, will lead them back to each other for a shared future. Especially considering how both Sandra Oh and Kevin McKidd have gone on record as saying they have the same hopes for their characters and Shonda Rhimes has said in interviews that Sandra is welcome back anytime.
In the meantime, my hopes are that we will see Cristina and Owen do some individual exploring while she’s away from the show. I’ll imagine her research moving forward in a substantive way that will make it less dependent upon outside funding and in such a way that might allow her to return home. At the same time, perhaps Owen will have explored his options for having family in his life, a family that would have plenty of room for Cristina in it when their next chapter together begins. Considering our last sighting of Cristina in S.10’s finale was of her in her new office prepping for a staff meeting, a photo of her at her wedding with Owen prominently displayed on her desk, I’m going to say their door being left open is a good sign.