As Season 9 of Grey's Anatomy opened we found the surgical service staff dealing with loss, pain, and transitions after the charter plane
carrying six of Seattle Grace/Mercy West's surgeons crashed on its way to assist a Boise hospital's staff with an intricate surgery. At the same time that they mourn for those lost to and injured in the crash, these doctors must also continue to save lives and run a hospital.
To some extent, we saw a full circle having been attained for the initial crop of interns we met in Season 1 as they have now completed the majority of their training and have graduated to attending surgeon status. They must now cope both with the aftereffects of the plane crash and step into teaching a fresh group of interns as green and excited to learn as they themselves were once.
Meredith Grey was coping by pretending she's fine when she's anything but and was tough enough on her interns to have earned her the nickname 'Medusa.' Alex Karev unfurled romantic lines to some of the female interns while preparing to exit the small pond of Seattle for the prestigious playing field of Johns Hopkins. And Cristina Yang had fled Seattle, both the hospital and her fractured marriage
to Owen Hunt, to lose herself in the rigors of an intense fellowship at the Mayo Clinic. She seemed brittle and fragile yet she
kept everything just on the surface in a diligent attempt to obscure her deeper emotional state.
As the new interns jockeyed for opportunities to learn, the rest of the existing staff drew themselves together under the watchful and concerned gaze of Owen, their Chief of Surgery, who took seriously his responsibility to his staff while also clearly missing his wife. Callie Torres, Derek Shepherd, and Jackson Avery took turns sitting vigil by Mark Sloan's bedside as he fell into an unresponsive
state after the crash. Arizona Robbins remained bitter and withdrawn while she recovered at home from surgery to amputate the leg
she injured in the crash. Miranda Bailey took care of everyone while balking at the process of remarriage. Richard Webber stepped into a new relationship himself, having reconnected with Catherine Avery, Jackson's mother. And April Kepner had fled home to her parents' farm after failing her boards and getting fired.
Owen endeavored to be a calm and supportive presence for his employees to lean on, yet his frayed edges were also sometimes on display. He defended Meredith's harsh workplace attitude to an intern, citing her strength upon facing the adversity of the plane crash, her sister Lexie's death, and her husband
Yet more telling were Owen's words to April, his former resident, in trying to convince her not to give up on her professional dreams. His fraught emotions were clear when he talked to April about second chances and voiced his desperate urge for a 'do over' of his own, wondering aloud what might have happened if he'd said something to Cristina sooner. While Owen's caring demeanor is evident in this situation, what is also clear is that he is taking care of everyone around him in place of not yet knowing how to reach Cristina.
At the same time, Cristina clings to her surgical duties in Minnesota as a way to guide herself through her own post-crash healing process. When she is assigned a surgical buddy to help her learn the systems in place at her newly adopted hospital environment, Dr. Thomas at first seems like a pesky punishment. Old school in the extreme, his meticulous work is at first hidden behind his verbose lessons about surgery. He soon sheds his dinosaur disguise and turns out to be a focused and quirky teacher and a kind, if somewhat prickly, friend and mentor.
As more of the immediate post-crash details emerged we saw why the survivors and their friends and family members struggled so intensely with the impact of this complex event. In an affecting series of scenes told in flashback, we see the up close and personal toll the crash took on all involved.
We see Callie faced with instructing Alex to amputate Arizona's leg when her wounds turn septic; we also learn the derivation of Callie and Derek's deepened bond as she is charged with operating on his wrist in repeated attempts to restore his ability to operate. We see Mark begin to make what seemed like a recovery only to decline into a comatose state complicated by his living will request to be removed from all life saving measures should that state persist for 30 days.
Hauntingly, we saw Cristina in a state of reactive psychosis post-crash. Seemingly frozen within herself, she fought anyone who tried to
get near her upon her arrival at the Boise hospital to which they were flying to see patients. It is only in Owen's arms that she was momentarily calmed even as she still appeared glassy-eyed and emotionally vacant.
When Owen took Cristina home to tend her after a psych hold is recommended for further treatment of her injuries, she once again found her voice and shared with him her experience in the woods before they were rescued. After Owen had tenderly bathed her in their tub, Cristina related how she spent four days awake taking care of her fellow crash survivors.
The impact of her vulnerable and frightened words upon Owen was apparent as he leaned in and wrapped his arms around her. Her splintered status remained clear as she said ‘Don't you see? I’ll never get out (of the woods)’ – and it was in this heartbreaking moment that we began to grasp why she ran to Minnesota to disappear into surgery and a world in which no one knew her, her story, or was emotionally connected to her. We also got a glimpse of Owen's deep understanding of her brokenness, and why he would let her go, perhaps remembering how he couldn’t have been diverted from his own obstinate path to healing post-war until he was ready to accept help.
As the season progressed we saw Owen continue to put his efforts into helping his staff. While he drew energy from seeing his friends and fellow doctors succeed and heal, it remained evident his heart was still directly tethered to Cristina. As Cristina's bonding with Dr. Thomas began to draw her out of her shell, she and Owen also began talking, albeit about the sizable court settlement on offer.
Cristina was, in one conversation, practically girlish on the phone with Owen, letting her discussion meander away from court matters and into light work topics. While this behavior gave some hints of her remaining connection to Owen, her declaiming of any real interest in whether the crash survivors chose the settlement or a court case showed us a woman who was still in emotional avoidance mode. Owen's reaction to her behavior on the phone was a bemused smile and a willingness to let her ramble as a way to prolong his access to her.
Yet they both knew they couldn't keep pretending things between them were normal as he managed a splintered surgical service in Seattle and she’d started a fellowship in another state. When Cristina sadly pointed out that her life was in Minnesota now Owen quietly agreed to her request that he not call anymore. You can sense their sad resignation to their inability to quell the remaining distance, both emotional and physical, between them.
Meanwhile, the unlikely friendship forged between Thomas and Cristina allowed her much-needed support as she felt herself unmoored and saddened by having let Owen go and trying to settle for a one-dimensional professional life in Minnesota. Thomas' simple stoicism seemed to both tap into her own currently stunted emotional state and also allowed her to begin to heal.
Back in Seattle, Owen held onto his love for Cristina and received a bit of support from Callie, who was missing Mark and also feeling the intense personal strain within her own marriage, and from Derek, who loaned out his trailer to allow Owen a temporary respite from living surrounded by memories of Cristina in their firehouse while their relationship itself remained uncertain.
Concurrently, Cristina found out their department chair, who was also her occasional casual sex partner, intended to oust Thomas claiming he was one surgery away from a malpractice suit. Her intense anger upon further finding out he expected her full cooperation in setting Thomas up, when his primary sin was that Thomas refused to play by anyone’s professional rules but his own, left her filled with her own plans to quietly assist her friend in keeping his job. In this process we saw a bit of Cristina's former fire had returned and that her heart's connection to the world was what really lit her up as she began to heal.
In a heartbreaking sequence of events, just as their friendship really had turned into something upon which each of them relied, Cristina and Thomas treated a patient who had developed a sizeable aneurysm. Mayo department administration believed the case was beyond Thomas' abilities, that it would be what would get him out the door. It was, quite literally as he collapsed during the surgery, leaving Cristina to choose between saving the patient's life and trying to save her friend who was already beyond resuscitation.
When hospital administration attempt to congratulate her on a tough patient save Cristina instead walked past them to the locker room and then out the door. As she prepared to leave Minnesota, Cristina recalled some of Thomas' prescient words, 'You have greatness in you Yang. Don't disappoint.' So with only a stop at the liquor store for a little liquid courage, Cristina was on her way to the airport and a return flight to Seattle.
Upon returning home, Cristina and Owen stepped immediately into a tenuous emotional dance with each other. Both of them seemed hesitant to expose their own feelings as they guardedly began to explore how to be back in the same physical space again. The first concrete step in this dance grew out of Cristina finding out that, unlike his words upon her arrival, it was Owen who fought for her to have a place back on the surgical service at Seattle Grace.
And it was from that opening that Cristina began to explore why Owen might have made professional space for her. He claimed initially it was because she was capable of surgical greatness and that he wanted it to be accomplished under the Seattle Grace banner. Yet the intensity upon his face and in his tone of voice as he stepped into her physical space to ask her what she wanted belied the casualness of his initial claim. His challenge left Cristina feeling uncertain of her own response until later in the day when she realized with great certainty that what she wanted was another chance with Owen.
However, their dance remained complicated as it turned out the hospital's attorneys counted on Cristina and Owen's marriage and the resultant potential for conflict of interest derailing the lawsuit aimed at suing hospital administration and board of directors. Upon learning this news Owen was also reminded of the confidentiality clause he'd signed, disallowing him from sharing this information with Cristina. In a parallel response, Cristina found clarity in her own feelings and asked Owen to meet her at their home so she could ask him if they could try again. Crushingly, after arriving, Owen told her he wanted a divorce without letting her know it was motivated by protecting her and the rest of the crash survivors' options in the court case.
As Grey's Anatomy reached its winter hiatus, the episode we last saw pulled out a lot of stops for Owen and Cristina. The imminent arrival of their divorce papers played out against the backdrop of Bailey and Ben's wedding and major changes in everyone else's relationships: April and Avery remained estranged yet agreed to set each other up with dates for Bailey's wedding; Meredith and Derek continued to keep their good news to themselves; Callie took back a bit of power in her marriage by sharing her frustrations with Arizona for the first time
since the crash; Alex was set up on a wedding date with the intern around whom he'd been dancing for the last several episodes; and Adele Webber was brought into the emergency room with severe medical symptoms.
Crucially, upon having suggested to her the possibility of Owen's divorce request being a direct result of the court case, Cristina approached
him to talk not once, but twice in this episode. Topics included in the ensuing discussions ranged from Owen's guilt about the crash and Cristina's forgiveness and her attempted consolation of him to her outright request of a new try for them and their marriage. Owen's response was to pull Cristina into his arms, making his feelings on the matter abundantly clear. While we'll see the beginning of the next
phase of their relationship this week, this voiceover might shed some light on the direction they'll be going in together:
We have to be willing to give up what we used to believe. It can be scary to find out you've been wrong about something but we can't be afraid to change our minds, to accept that things are different, that they'll never be the same, for better or for worse. We have to be willing to give up what we used to believe. The more we're willing to accept what is and not what we thought, we'll find ourselves
exactly where we belong.