The episode title for the seventh season premiere of Grey’s Anatomy, which aired 23 September, is “With You I’m Born Again.” Ever faithful to the show’s structure, Meredith Grey’s (Ellen Pompeo) opening narrative voiceover explained, “Every cell in the human body regenerates, on average, every seven years. Like snakes, we shed out skin. Biologically, we’re brand new people.” It was a fitting, if heavy-handed, analogy for a show beginning its seventh season. Physical regeneration may be an empirical fact, and one that Meredith wanted to focus on, but psychologically, things at Seattle Grace remain impossibly and predictably messy.
This premiere had a lot to live up to. After several lackluster seasons, Grey’s wrapped up last season with a bloody and extremely stressful finale titled “Death and All His Friends” (second only, in my experience, to the Six Feet Under episode when David is abducted and almost burned alive). Seattle Grace was terrorized by a grief-stricken Mr. Clark (Michael O’Neill), who set out to shoot and kill all those surgeons who carried out his late wife’s AMD. Derek was shot in the chest in front of Meredith, but was saved by Christina (Sandra Oh), who continued to operate despite a gun to her head and her love interest, Dr. Hunt (Kevin McKidd), being shot. Meredith begged Clark to shoot her instead (he didn’t) then miscarried the baby she never got a chance to tell Derek they were expecting. Alex (Justin Chambers) nearly bled to death and several of the Mercy West-ers were killed before Chief Webber (James Pickens, Jr.) talked the gunman into committing suicide.
The season opener focused on how the survivors were, well, surviving. As expected, none was doing particularly well. Derek had been arrested multiple times for driving over 100mph. Meredith scolded and enabled. She ridiculously refused to tell Derek about the miscarriage and swore all witnesses to secrecy. Christina agreed to marry Dr. Hunt for all the wrong reasons, and Alex reverted to trolling for “tail.” All were ordered into therapy before they can be cleared for surgery again.
Being cleared for surgery was the sole focus of each doctor, save for Meredith’s sister, Lexi (Chyler Leigh), who has always been more than happy to dig into her own psyche and anyone else’s within reach. This common focus united the group, as did their lack of self-awareness: each doctor ignored the fact that he or she was suffering from PTSD, but was eager to point out the others’ symptoms. This is familiar territory: shooting or no, such myopic observations have always plagued this group.
Of the many banal defense mechanisms on display here, Meredith’s miscarriage offers the most hope for any sort of insight. As much as she’s tried to distinguish herself from her legendary mother, Ellis Grey (Kate Burton), her denial of the miscarriage and determination to get back to surgery mimicked Ellis’ bad behavior, when she treated her daughter as an impediment to her career. And yes, Ellis denied Meredith’s father access to her, as Meredith was denying Derek access to the knowledge of their pregnancy. So much for progress.
Unfortunately, the best bits of the premiere were the flashbacks to the finale, though their impact was watered down considerably in the context of an action-less storyline, filled with Grey’s usual rambling pontifications. Grey’s made a big deal in this episode about rebirth and renewal (the cells again), and Lexi even explained that it’s common for people to “up and change their lives” because of a trauma. But most of these characters were merely changing back to what they were several seasons ago. This is not a good thing and it’s not meant to be, for them, at least. Frankly, it’s even worse for us. Before getting to the relative mental good health and growth of last season, we trudged through seasons of waffling and dysfunction, and put up with things like ghost sex and Post-it weddings. No one wants to go back there.
So far, “change” here is just another flashback, less a rebirth than a reincarnation.