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TV REVIEW: Dr. Herman Faces Her Own Mortality in Grey’s “Staring at the End”

By on February 27, 2015

Photo Credit: ABC/Richard Cartwright

The shiny, happy people we saw in last week’s Grey’s Anatomy were replaced with doubting, anxiety ridden docs worried about tumors, and surgeries, and afterlife. “Staring at the End” focused on Geena Davis’ tumor ridden Dr. Herman and Amelia Shepherd’s struggle to take the offending mass down. This one didn’t have the raw emotion of the lost April/Jackson baby, but it did bring up some pretty heavy subjects including what happens when we die.

The happy Herman we thought we saw last week is gone at the start of “Staring at the End” leaving us feeling like we only imagined the giddy surgeon. Tonight’s offering begins with the sick doctor narrating. “Where do we go when we die? These questions without any answers will drive you nuts.” Staring at one’s own mortality can put a damper on all those happy go lucky feels. Grey’s takes us down the uncomfortable road of self-examination with a “what does it all mean” episode.


Is Amelia “the other Shepherd” or “the wrong Shepherd”?

Owen and Amelia continue their awkward, maybe romance barely able to talk to each other discussing tumors and coffee. Girl Shepherd doesn’t need the distraction of a budding romance with the Herman surgery so near, but she can’t help but love the Hunt attention.

“Owen, thank you for bringing me the coffee. I really like it,” she tells him uncomfortably. It’s this bumbling awkwardness that makes their new relationship so endearing; it really is the only reason we’re even considering allowing some Hunt happiness after Cristina. Another reason these two are so cute, is that Amelia is coming into her own as an actual character we care about. She’s earning her spot in Grey’s beyond just being Derek’s sister, beyond being the former druggie doctor from Private Practice. We realize she’s developed a personality, a voice.

We hear that voice throughout “Staring at the End” as we see Amelia preach about the Herman tumor to a packed lecture hall of Grey’s doctors. Her Tumor 101 session includes little gems like it can even grow teeth, hair, and a random eye. Ew! She compares the tumor to a fetus, wanting to develop and thrive.

“Why do I call it baby and try to kill it? Because this type of tumor deserves respect… It’s not just a tumor it’s adaptability… it’s poetry … it’s one of God’s masterpieces… This tumor thinks it owns the place.”

She is a jumbled mess of confidence, doubt, aggression and tenderness tonight. It’s the complexities in character that draw us in and root for her to kick that tumor’s ass.

Amelia admits to Stephanie, “My whole career, I’ve always been the other Dr. Shepherd.” She confides her nagging doubts. She worries that when she goes mano y mano with the tumor she will be “the wrong Dr. Shepherd.” Herman has her own confession, disclosing to Amelia that she needs a scan; she’s experiencing blinders, something’s wrong. Shepherd discovers the tumor’s grown and the Herman surgery needs to happen now. She’s about to discover just what kind of Shepherd she is.


(ABC/Kelsey McNeal)


Yes, I Want You to Just Be Happy (not really)

Throughout tonight’s episode, Callie watches Arizona from afar not genuinely happy that Robbins has bonded with Herman, laughing and giggling with the older doc. It’s easy to say you want your former partner to “just be happy” but watching it actually occur is another story. It’s a bitter pill for Torres.

“She found the perfect rebound without having to actually find the rebound… no chance of getting hurt, you don’t even have to wax,” she laments to her lunch bunch. Alex, with that perfect Karev logic, says she just needs to get laid. Maggie seconds that motion, fitting in with Sis and her crazy friends.

Callie pines away for Arizona, not happy with the friendship between her ex and Herman even asking Arizona about all this close braiding each other’s hair stuff. Robbins brushes her off, saying yes they’re buds, adding “she’s sick.”

Could these be the seeds of a Calzona reunion? Are the Grey’s writers setting the groundwork for Callie fighting to get back her blonde one? Or is it all the imaginings of a long time viewer hoping for a return to the good old days of the always arguing, but forever in love Calzona?


Can You Spare One Surgery?

Herman’s on a neonatal surgery sprint, trying to get four months of procedures done in a few weeks. The sense of urgency is evident, the doctor feeling her time ticking away.

Bailey pleads with Arizona to take a case, a very personal case. She has a pregnant patient whose unborn baby has a large tumor. This one hits a nerve because Miranda lost the woman’s husband and now wants to somehow make it up to her by saving the baby. Herman unsentimentally refuses saying that one of her scheduled baby saves will have to die if she takes the case. She tells Arizona, “You choose.” It turns out no one has to choose when the pair lose a baby in an emergency surgery, freeing up one of those positions.

Herman wants to do the surgery on the Bailey patient now, but the woman refuses saying her baby needs to grow. The surgeon is not happy, demanding that she be the one calling the shots, not the patient. Arizona laughs at the irony, pointing out that Herman is acting in exactly the same way, not listening to Amelia’s demands for more radiation treatments. These two have come a long way, developing from foes to friends through the course of this season. We’ve watched as Herman has gone from a one note player to a layered character we hate one minute but we love the next; someone we need to hang around these hospital hallways if for nothing else but to make Arizona smile.



(ABC/Richard Cartwright)

Leaving Us Hanging

The contemplation continues in a Fault in our Stars moment showing Herman and Arizona lying in the grass staring at the clouds discussing heaven, cremation, ventilators, and other heavy topics.

The final scene shows Herman lying down again, this time staring at the cold hospital lighting above. She’s being wheeled into surgery, facing her own mortality, perhaps staring at the end.

The final moments bring us back to the beginning … with Herman’s voice. “I never concerned myself with an afterlife. I wanted to break new ground. I wanted to leave a legacy. I wanted my life… to mean something… The thing I never thought about was … in order to leave something behind … you have to leave.”

Cut to black… Grey’s leaving us hanging until next week. Tonight’s episode was a challenging one to watch. It didn’t have any particular Kleenex moments that made it classic Grey’s Anatomy, instead relying on something not so manipulative. It was an episode that made us think, challenged our own “what’s the meaning of life” philosophies. Yes, this is a soapy hospital drama with too-beautiful-for-real-life people lining the halls, but it is so much more. Grey’s reminds us with episodes like tonight’s that this is your thinking man’s soap, asking those hard questions, not giving us a wrapped in a bow ending (never), and making us contemplate our own mortality, wondering how we would all react if it were us “Staring at the End.”

Next week looks like a heck of a ride with Amelia barricaded in the Herman surgery, perhaps doing some questionable things in her quest to win out over that tumor. What did you think of tonight’s episode? Will Herman survive? And if she does, will she be the same kick ass, neonatal surgeon she was before? We’ll see you back here next week for more contemplations on life, love, and how impossibly good Alex Karev still looks with another episode of Grey’s Anatomy.

Grey’s Anatomy airs Thursdays on ABC at 8:00 p.m.

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