Season 13, episode 20: In The Air Tonight (Written by Stacy McKee, Directed by Chandra Wilson)
Have I ever told you how much I love bubble episodes? I think it’s because they’re easier to review since it’s one plot line I’m dealing with instead of seven… it makes my life easier. And this one just happened to focus on Meredith which makes it 10x better. Welcome aboard everyone!
“Turbulence: it means anything from a few little bumps to a catastrophic weather system that could knock your flying tin can right out of the air. In surgery, we call it a complication — we’ve hit a snag, a bump in the road — turbulence. So, you know, you better buckle up.” -Meredith Grey
I’m not going to go through the entire episode like I usually do this week. What I’m going to do today is try to get inside Meredith Grey’s head. I’m wading through the murky grey area that her life has become, and this episode gives me the perfect opportunity to do this. (Special shoutout to Stacy because I feel like she always gives me the best, most complicated, Meredith Grey episodes to pick apart and I love that.)
We all remember season 11 episode 21. It’s forever engrained in our brains. It’s the same way for Meredith. That isn’t something you forget nor is it something you will ever just “get over.” This whole episode, we watch her interact with Nathan, someone who wants to be with her and someone I think she wants to be with too. The problem? There’s always something in between them, blocking their way. In this episode, that’s Ingrid. Literally. But figuratively, it’s Maggie or it’s Derek or it’s Meredith’s conscious telling her that she’s still married… there’s always something.
We watch Meredith and Nathan bond over things (ahem plane crashes) and we watch them talk to each other, it’s clear there’s chemistry between them. Meredith feels it but maybe she’s freaked out by this? The only other guy since Derek was Thorpe and we all know how that went. This time, she can’t seem to shake him. That means something. I think Meredith trusts Nathan. I mean, how many times have we seen Meredith Grey speak so openly about that plane crash before? Not many. Nathan is easy for her to talk to. They have both lost people they loved deeply, they understand each other better than anyone else can or maybe ever will. These small, seemingly unimportant conversations they continue to have are building a strong foundation for what could become a very strong relationship — now whether or not that relationship is romantic or not is up to Shonda.
I think another issue Meredith is having is revealed when she says this to Nathan: “Sometimes I feel like I’m cursed. A lot of people die around me.” It’s true, it seems to be anytime Meredith gets close to someone and really lets herself love them, they are ripped away. It started with Doc and then we lost Susan and Ellis and George and Lexie and Derek and… you get it. She’s scared. She has every right to be scared. Maybe she’s scared to get close to him, to really let herself… love is too strong a word right now, but to really jump in with him and then lose him. Is this a twisted way of Meredith protecting him? Maybe in her head it is.
On top of all the Nathan overload for her in this episode, I think there’s a little bit of Derek overload going on in her head, too. I mean, she is performing brain surgery on a moving plane with a syringe and a cocktail straw. That has Derek Shepherd written all over it. She’s caught between a rock and a hard place. She loved Derek so fiercely and she lost him. You don’t forget that. You don’t get over it. But getting over it and moving forward are two very different things, and I think this may be the episode she realizes that.
Meredith’s “boom” is in the last scene. (Remember Riggs telling her to wait for the “boom” before she goes back in? Yeah, I’m stealing that and using it here.) She’s taking it all in. She won and that is not something she’s used to, especially in situations where she’s in a position to lose people (let’s say like… A PLANE). I think this moment, the second she steps off of that plane, alive, is her boom. She walks away from what could’ve been a disaster, without having lost a single person. She is still ok, she still has a life. And she gets to live. The question is, is she going to? Will she finally let herself?
I think I got pretty deep inside Meredith’s head, and I could’ve written twice as much as I did, but I have more to say about this episode, so I cut myself off. Here’s the rest of the review in bullet points because they’re scattered and random things I wrote down in the margins of a notebook.
- ELLIS GREY I think Meredith also gets a little dose of Ellis Grey in this episode. Again, you all know what a hardcore Ellis Grey stan I am, so you should not be surprised that I found a way to sneak her in. The way Meredith interacts with Diego is so pure and cute and so very opposite of Ellis Grey. It’s a continuous theme in Grey’s that Meredith wants to be better than Ellis. We always knew that Ellis felt like Meredith only held her back but here we get to see Meredith using her children as a way to connect better with patients. That’s not something her mother ever did.
- LEXIE GREY *TISSUE WARNING* This point doesn’t so much have to do with this episode. It’s more of a revelation about the season 8 plane crash I had while watching this episode. And it made me cry so get ready. I’ve been asking myself for the past 5 years why Lexie Grey had to die. And I think I know the answer now. Lexie Grey had a job. And I think that job was to show Meredith that she was allowed to love, she was allowed to have a family. When Lexie shows up, Meredith is on the rocks with Derek, her mom is gone, Susan is gone, her father won’t speak to her… she pretty much has nobody besides Cristina and she’s pushing everyone else away. When Lexie leaves us, Meredith’s life looks totally different. She’s married, she has a daughter, she considers her co-workers family and she loves them like family. Lexie’s job was done. Meredith Grey had a family and had love. And I think Lexie is the one who showed her that she deserves it.
- TECHNICAL SIDE First of all, Chandra Wilson everybody! Directing an entire episode of TV on a freakin plane? That deserves some recognition and she’s getting it. Let’s talk about the flashbacks first. Did you notice the timing? Every time Meredith zoned out to the plane crash, the plane she was actually in was hitting bad turbulence. It makes us seem like we’re being pulled back and forth with her, the camera is shaky, the pace is urgent… that was a good move on Chandra’s part and some awesome camera work too. And I have one more thing to talk about, but it has to do with the closing VO, so I’m putting that first:
“One of the most unpredictable things about encountering turbulence is its aftermath. Everything’s been shaken up, undone, turned on its head. So, if you have the choice to avoid the plane crash, do you take it? Do you play it safe? Or do you get on board and take your chances?” -Meredith Grey
- This point goes with the question I italicized from the VO. That’s the question Meredith asks right before the flashback of the MerDer love story. And I have two things to say about that:
- Hanging onto that story, hanging onto Derek and not being with Nathan, is the safe choice. We zoom back to real life and Meredith takes the leap. She’s taking her chances, again because of her “boom.” She can love Derek and still move forward. That love was forever BUT is it the only love she gets? She finally realizes she has a life still left to live and she’s going to live it.
- Why did Shonda choose to play the MerDer love story backward? Why did it run from end to beginning in Meredith’s head? Here’s what I think: I think she did it to show us, and to make Meredith realize, that an ending does not define a story. Meredith has been focusing on how her story with Derek ended rather than looking at all the good memories she has because of him. She’s scared to get close to someone new because she’s scared it will end. But it will. That’s the thing… everything has an end. You can’t let that fear keep you from diving in and loving and living. Because then, you really don’t have a story at all. We see the love story play backwards so that our focus shifts. The last thing we see, and the last thing she sees, is good. Her focus shifts to something brighter, something worth living for, something she just might go after again.