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TV REVIEW: Grey’s Anatomy Looks to the Past in “Only Mama Knows”

By on October 17, 2014

(ABC/Richard Cartwright) SARA ROWE, ELLEN POMPEO

“Only Mama Knows” was so good I kept checking my watch to see if this really was the eleventh year of the doc drama that keeps on ticking, Grey’s Anatomy. In one of the best episodes of the series, not just season, this installment gave us glimpses of Meredith’s mixed up, complicated past with mixed up, complicated mom, Ellis Grey.

Through a series of flashbacks, Meredith and Richard confront the ghosts of Ellis past with the entrance of Maggie Pierce as the impetus for the trip down memory lane. Everything building over the past couple of episodes came to a head and then a tearful resolution in this one.


Meredith Goes Round and Round on that Carousel

It’s flashback central in “Only Mama Knows” with the opening scene showing Meredith watching mom on video talking about winning the Harper Avery. She’s a confident woman in charge, but as the episode unfolds, we see there was so much more to the brilliant doc, mom, wife, and lover.

Meredith’s voice over begins … “This is how my mother wanted to be remembered. My memory is a little bit different” and the night of unearthing those buried flashes begins. Meredith knows that nobody’s memory is perfect. The carousel keeps spinning. She seems to be stuck on that carousel searching for answers in the recesses of her brain, knowing it all goes back to that day at the carousel when Richard met them.

Mer/Der is still going round and round in this one. They are fighting and not that cute, “we’re both whining” fighting, but more the “we’re heading for divorce” battling. Meredith yells, “You’re waiting for me to pay up for this grand sacrifice you made.”

Derek says he stayed so she could thrive in her career, be a star, shine. He tells her go ahead, I’m waiting, shine away.

Meredith tells him, “You should go to DC and shine.”

Derek says, “Wow, you sound just like your mother.” Oh no he didn’t! Who on God’s green earth wants to be told they’re like dear old mom? Divorce papers being written up now…



(ABC/Richard Cartwright)


Alex Cannot Have Nice Things

Alex is back at the hospital! Did they reconsider and he’s getting that shiny board seat? Nah, they hired him back as a peds surgeon. Aw, Karev got the consolation prize. Alex hears from Stephanie (in the witch move of the night) that the board vote was unanimous in favor of Bailey. He’s furious. I’m furious. I would have voted for you Karev and not just because you’re the hottest forty something year old around who does not age, but because… well, just because.

Alex confronts Meredith first and she admits it’s true. “You would make a fine board member but Bailey will make an exceptional one. You want my pity vote?” Meredith, that’s your person! You always vote for your person! Why can’t Alex have nice things like a beautiful board seat bequeathed to him by Yang? Ever?

Later, he confronts Arizona about the betrayal and she explains, “I need you to be me. You’re the only one I can trust to do that.” Her new fellowship is taking so much from her she needs a clone, an Alex clone. He seems okay with it now, the flattery doing its trick.


Maggie Says, “I’m Outta Here, Crazy People!”

Maggie Pierce is resigning! What?

Bailey decides she will convince Dr. Pierce to stay, even adding they are SO lucky she’s infusing new blood into the board. “Maybe I can keep this place from looking like a clown car.” So humble in victory, Miranda.

Bailey pressures Webber to talk to Maggie. He blows up saying, “Just let it go!”

Derek does his best to convince Maggie to stay telling her he knows from personal experience it’s a bummer to turn down a great job. Maggie says, “You don’t know anything. You should talk to your wife.”


Strange Case of the Night

A young girl comes in –  a really young girl. She’s ten and looks about ten months pregnant! Oh, Grey’s what are you doing? Karev does a sonogram and she’s NOT pregnant… it’s a soccer ball sized mass. Whew!

7.8 pounds of a mass come out in the surgery with Alex bitching about the Dutch braid she has. He goes into the intricacies of the French vs. Dutch braids reminiscing about doing his sister’s hair. Another reason he should be on the board. Does Bailey even know how to do a regular braid? He asks why a mom would spend so much time on the kid’s hair and no time getting that monster inside her checked out.

This crazy case sparks a rush of memories, first from Richard who joins the surgery and remembers Ellis in a similar surgery. He recalls telling Ellis that he’s going to tell his wife tonight; she says she’s telling hubs tonight also. It’s a mystery unfolding through each recollection. How did Grey and Webber not end up together?

Meredith recalls mom telling her, “You grew up. It’s ashame, an awful thing to grow up. The carousel never stops turning. You can never get off.”

Meredith talks to Richard, asking if he remembers that day at the carousel? He says no. but there’s something in that look. We’re not done with this one.


(ABC/Richard Cartwright) SARA ROWE, ELLEN POMPEO

(ABC/Richard Cartwright)

I’m Sorry You Made Me Turn Down My Dream Job

Derek tries to apologize (sort of) to Meredith but she’s not hearing it. “Now, I get to live under the weight of something you gave up. Go. Just go,” she tells him storming out for some alone time to read mom’s journal. She sees a red stain on the pages, looking very much like blood. Mer flashes to mom slitting her wrists in a suicide attempt the day of the carousel meet up with Richard. Little Mer calls 911 saying in the teeniest voice, “My mother tried to kill herself.” Pulling at our heartstrings, the violin music sweeps in as we sweep away that first tear of the night. Emphasis on first.


I’m a Webber/Grey!

Maggie finally tells Derek that she’s Meredith’s half sister and Webber’s daughter. Derek actually smiles for the first time in three weeks, giving new sister-in-law a huge bear hug. “This is very strange,” she says.

The Maggie news is officially out tonight. When Bailey presses Richard asking, “What is the deal between you and Pierce? Did something happen?”

He admits, “She’s my daughter. Mine and Ellis Grey’s”

Bailey responds with the hilarious, “Oh, thank you God! I thought you had sex with that girl.”

Richard flashes back again, recalling one of his last conversations with Ellis where they talk about how they should have stayed together, how many kids they would have had, the house they would’ve lived in.

Webber finally admits to Meredith that he does remember what her mom said at the carousel. He says they’d made a pact to leave their spouses that night, but she’d just received her first Harper Avery nomination. “I was jealous, a hateful jealousy. I thought of what your mother could do, what she would do and I thought I will spend my life feeling like this, so I ruined it.”

He left her at that carousel. It’s Meredith’s memory now. Mom is crying with little Mer trying to comfort her. “Then she took me home. Then she attempted suicide. We would have had a whole other life,” Meredith realizes.

Webber says he made the wrong choice, for the wrong reason. “Hardly a day goes by that I don’t… I’m so sorry.”

“I bet you are,” says Meredith.



(ABC/Richard Cartwright)


It’s a Three Hanky Night

Derek calls a halt to the fighting with wifey, so they can talk about new sis. “You have a sister. You’re losing her Meredith and you shouldn’t.” He asks if she’s okay and it’s the most love these two have shown to each other in weeks. Old Mer/Der is back! Maybe overstating it but at least we can rip up the divorce papers.

Meredith does remember the pregnancy, her belly getting bigger, water breaking in the kitchen, going to the hospital, then everything going back to normal. There’s no denying the sister connection, time to jump off the carousel of denial and do something.

Meredith talks to Maggie at long last. She shows her Ellis’ journals reminiscing about crazy, complicated mom with Maggie hanging on every word… in the journal and coming out of Meredith’s mouth. The scene is so bittersweet, cutting straight to our hearts, sending me for some more Kleenex.

The final scene goes back to Ellis giving her big speech. “First time (I won) I said screw all those boys. I thought about everything I’d sacrificed. I dedicated that award to all the women surgeons who would come after me. Where were we?” she tragically asks never knowing that both her daughters followed in her footsteps.

What a powerhouse of an episode showing how to do the flashback to perfection. We unwrapped the story line bit by bit, piecing together the Webber/Ellis mystery through the glimpses into their relationship. We were treated to just what Meredith went through having Ellis Grey as her mom.

“Only Mama Knows” ranks up there with all the other Grey’s classics and leaves us wondering if the show has discovered the fountain of youth. So what did you think of tonight’s offering? Don’t you just wish Shonda Rhimes could write for all shows on all networks? TGIT could turn into Thank God It’s Any Night of the Week. Hang on tight Grey’s fans, it looks like we’re in for another Calzona blow out next week. We’ll see you back here same time, same place, same old hanky.

Grey’s Anatomy airs Thursdays on NBC at 8 pm.


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