“You make me brave”
No one truly likes mystery. Especially not doctors and surgeons. They are forever searching for exact readings and tests in order to do their jobs. The unknown is a burden that leaves everyone clamoring. The unknown is terror for many. Nobody knows where they might end up…nobody knows. Any Grey’s fan remembers those little words. It’s a mystery within itself. However, sometimes, what the unknown can do is force one to finally make the right choice--the only choice. The legacy of Cristina Yang is irrefutable--one of the best television character journeys ever brought to life. This is no overstatement. In fact, I might be cutting Yang’s journey and character progression over the past ten years short: Season one, we saw her ambition. Season two, we saw her motivations. Season three, we saw her endurance. Season four, we saw her vulnerability. Season five, we saw her compassion. Season six, we saw her love. Season seven, we saw her distress. Season eight, we saw her strength. Season nine, we saw her excellence. And in season ten--in Cristina Yang’s tenth and final season, we see her bravery. And even now--at the finish line, her journey is not over. “Fear (of the Unknown)” is undoubtedly the best episode of the season and for many other reasons, one of the series’ best episodes ever. These past few weeks of bidding farewell to one of television’s most memorable and complex characters leads up to something worth talking about until Grey’s Anatomy returns this Fall.
Assuming the worst (as one should know to do when it comes to Grey’s Anatomy season finales), the entire Shondaland fandom may have braced themselves for the end of Cristina Yang as the literal end--death--of Cristina Yang. But Shonda knows better than that. Cristina Yang is not one for long, drawn-out goodbyes--that’s not her style. Everything is set. Her replacement is in toe, her office in Switzerland is ready and she even had a night out with Meredith as their final goodbye. Cristina can literally leave at any moment. However, Owen certainly is not ready for it. He is holding on for dear life--he’s been holding onto her for a while with his puppy dog eyes staring up at her, begging her to reconsider. Owen isn’t interested in what the unknown will bring him once Cristina is gone, but he has more to juggle when a surprising mall explosion causes Grey-Sloan Memorial Hospital to fill up with casualties. Of course, the writers have to scare everyone with the idea of Cristina being in the explosion for a while--just dangling the horrid possibility at us. As such, the first twenty minutes of the episode is a rollercoaster that has you on the edge of your seat, bracing yourself for the worst--the unknown is the worst kind of emotional terrorism and Shonda Rhimes uses it to her advantage.
While the media and a few zealous homeland security officers entertain the notion of a terrorist attack--in which Owen directly and on-camera denounces--an obvious critique and admonishment of American media’s obsession with sensationalizing incidental happenings. The episode itself does a masterful job at tricking the audience into assuming the worst--although one cannot blame us given the history of season finales on this show! Not to mention that fans were worried sick about the writers killing off one the show’s best characters. The unknown unquestionably got to the fans as well, huh? Owen remains haunted by Cristina’s impending departure throughout the day. This entire season has seen him and Cristina finally coming to terms that they cannot change one another and accepting each other even amongst their random rump sessions--they are good friends now--lovers that cannot be. They are too different, but in accepting this, they’ve learned to simply live and love understanding one another from a safe distance. It’s probably what hurts the most about Owen and Cristina as the episode moves towards what will inherently be a quietly devastating goodbye.
Elsewhere, there is more baby drama. April has become an asset to the hospital, especially in the trauma wing. She’s excelling and her marriage is back on track. However, the terror of the unknown gets to April--still trepidatious about what it will mean to bring a child into a world that is occasionally devastating and even when it isn’t we still tend to vilify our world more often than not. Cue a beautiful piece of advice from mother-in-law, Catherine Avery about the ubiquitous ambiguity of our world. The key is to stand bravely above it all. Anyone can tell you that the world is a scary place--this is common sense--everywhere we look there are people struggling to wade through the devastation and find a purpose to keep going. It must be profoundly difficult when one is preparing to bring a child into this kind of world--a paralyzing fear of what could happen. That’s every parent’s worst nightmare. The fear is defeating, not the accidents or the devastations. Mama Avery’s word of wisdom is a rudimentary and amenable truth: “This is the way the world changes. Good people raising their babies right.” April is good people, Jackson is good people. It’s a start. More good people: Callie and Arizona, both of whom discover a way of moving forward in expanding their family: a surrogate mother. But who will their surrogate be? Another unknown…
Most Grey’s fans will not hold back when asked about their opinions on the character of Leah. Not many liked her during her two-season run, but I will admit that she began to grow on me definitely and seeing her go in these last two episodes has a surprising sting. Leah’s exit is poignant and hopeful--surprisingly sad especially when one considers that she is not an indelible character--the show could certainly do without her, but they do make her exit count. Leah’s final scene at the hospital is so silently poetic it can go unnoticed amongst all the other chaos--in fact, it does. No one bids her goodbye. She comes in, does the work and leaves gracefully. However, just because Leah won’t be with Grey-Sloan Memorial Hospital anymore does not mean her journey is over either. She is certainly a gifted individual--Leah may not be a surgeon in the sense that the rest are, but she’s going somewhere. As such, something about Leah’s exit is eerily prophetic. However, her exit is not the most pivotal…
Cristina’s return at the hospital before her big exit is the goodbye everyone needs. First, Cristina has a few choices of words for Alex who is slowly but surely devolving into a Dr. Junior Butthole--he’s willing to lay stagnant for glorified symbols like money and shiny cars. Lame, if you ask me. It takes some nostalgic reminding on Cristina’s part that Alex’s gift is worth more than shiny cars and big bucks. He’d be stifling himself, being less than and restricting the talents that have taken so long for him to hone with surprising confidence. Cristina has been there before a number times and she always comes back out of it with a staggering level-headedness and a new, mature confidence. Cristina and Alex’s relationship has always resembled that of an older sister keeping her oft dim-witted younger brother who gets distracted by shiny toys on the track to greatness. Alex is very good--more than good at what he does. Cristina is the kick in the ass he needs to realize it.
Why throw a gift away for less than what it’s worth? Cristina leaves one last thing behind for him--her shares of Grey-Sloan Memorial Hospital. Unfortunately, Webber prematurely offers Bailey the empty seat on the board that Cristina will be leaving behind…impending drama for Season 11! Speaking of impending drama for the upcoming eleventh season: Cristina’s ambitious replacement is discovered to be Richard Webber's and Ellis Grey’s lovechild--a reveal no one saw coming or wanted to see coming with Cristina Yang making her big exit in this episode--and Shonda Rhimes takes it as an opportunity to drop this massive game-changing bomb on us. It’s a major narrative twist that holds a humungous amount of weight in the lives of all the characters. This new cardiothoracic doctor is no Cristina Yang replacement, not even a Lexie replacement--Dr. Maggie Pierce is a whole other legend waiting to be explored…
Cristina aims for one last surgery before she ventures off--a final pivotal heart transplant--she needs something to feel finished. There come to be a number of overwhelming reasons for Cristina to say--a number of unsaid sentiments, goodbyes and thank-yous that will eventually hinder her from making the necessary moves she must make in order to properly flourish in her own right. Cristina ends up trembling in the wake of unknown territory and Meredith, in all of her bravery, is the push Cristina needs to make it out of the door with her protégé, Shane by her side. Everyone should give major props to Meredith: The bravery and strength it takes for one to allow their person to leave them and thrive elsewhere is astounding--because Cristina isn’t the only one faced with the threat of the unknown, Meredith is losing things too--her person and her home, as she prepares to venture off to D.C. with Derek essentially to become a trailing spouse. Cristina’s goodbye to Derek is a tinge of bittersweet awkwardness in its brevity as well as her goodbyes to her mentors, Webber and Bailey.
Then there is the heartwrenching goodbye between Cristina and Owen--soundtracked by a lullaby-like cover of “Ruby Blue” by Sleeping at Last. I was thinking of just how Shonda and her team would allow these two to say goodbye to one another--what would be the right words. It seems obvious now that there are none--the two will always find a reason to stay around one another, even though they are split over something that hasn‘t even happened yet, but would eventually kill them. The way Cristina loves Owen is how Burke loved Cristina: All-consuming. This is why Owen and Cristina are not allowed what some would call a “proper-goodbye”. They have tried that before and it did not work--it never will. Both parties need to be dissected from one another’s grip in order for Cristina to really leave. The pained expressions Cristina and Owen share in their brief, poetic last moment is excruciating and perfect…and devastating and certainly heartbreaking, but it couldn’t have been done in any other way that would be true to who these two are together. It's makes me emotional just thinking about it...
That last scene between Meredith and Cristina is everything it needed and should have been: heartbreaking, bittersweet, emotional nostalgic and certainly classic Twisted Sister. The two finish by dancing it out to “Where Does the Good Go” by Tegan and Sara. It's a literal celebration to what these two strong, complex and gifted women have become together and what they mean to the Grey's Anatomy fans that have grown with them: The real one-true pairing! It could not have been more appropriate. After all of what Cristina and Meredith have journeyed through together in the many seasons, they both come out of it of it the wisest and strongest--definitely the bravest. Many consider Meredith to be the most whole and healed character on the show, as if her journey is over and she doesn’t have more to discover and grow from. Well, Cristina’s last words of poignant wisdom (and the best bit of dialogue in the finale) would suggest otherwise or at least suggest the start of reevaluation: “You are a gifted surgeon with an extraordinary mind. Don’t let what he wants eclipse what you need. He is very dreamy, but he is not the sun. You are.”
It is pretty clear that Meredith and Cristina’s friendship is the most beautiful and important love story ever to be produced for television. So while everyone hinges on Meredith and Derek and Cristina and Owen, the real romance of the show is and has always been--will always be--Meredith and Cristina, the Twisted Sisters. As we know, some of the series’ best moments have involved the evolving friendship between Meredith and Cristina. This season, their friendship went through the ringer because their lives were beginning to go in completely different extremes. Meredith attempted to find a middle ground in her work and her family, but ultimately her work began suffering. Cristina let go of the prospect of family and a relationship with the man she loves and made a surprising medical breakthrough. How can Meredith be a Grey and hold true to the legacy of that name while becoming a trailing spouse in the same way that her father, Thatcher Grey did?
Everyone needs that friend who will tell them the truth when you really need to hear it and Cristina knocks some sense into our lead heroine before she finally ventures off. Meredith has been eternally giving of herself--her patience and her career--this entire season all because of her husband’s medical grandstanding. Meredith was literally left in the periphery this season as everyone else around her made some very impressive medical breakthroughs. In fact, I was thinking about it the other day and I came to the conclusion that Meredith has become stagnant--her character did nothing special this season and at first I thought that was maybe a writing flaw because, well c’mon, Meredith is much more badass than this--but then I realized this was all in the plan. The season has planned this meticulously. Cristina’s exit is a necessary catalyst for Meredith realizing the ugly truth that she has been stifling herself for the betterment of a romance that was never her most imperative. So what is next for MerDer? Meredith makes it clear that she is not going anywhere. She is making a legacy for herself at her home. As such, the next season needs to focus on Meredith fully recognizing her brilliance in the same way that Cristina Yang has and will continue to do.
There are so many things Cristina Yang has taught viewers of the years, some of the most important I think are lifelong philosophies to live by. My personal favorite: It’s alright to define yourself by your passion and recognize your own brilliance. It’s certainly gotten Cristina farther than anyone would have ever thought. Cristina’s belief in herself and her skill have created for her a bountiful future in which her love of medicine takes precedent--and she wouldn’t have it any other way. She’s reached her dream and achieved her happily ever after. It is very different from Meredith’s (although one might take notice that Meredith is in the middle of reevaluating her “happily ever after”) but just as satisfying. The Grey's Anatomy Season 10 finale is a fitting send-off for such a legendary character and while Cristina Yang throws herself and the rest of us into a world of fearful mystery without her, we have to remind ourselves that there is no finish line nor an endpoint for any of us. We just have to go for it and feel confident that whatever the next step is, it will be brilliant. Goodbye, Cristina and good luck! “Fear (of the Unknown)” gets 5 out of 5 stars!
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© Patrick Broadnax 2014