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TV REVIEW: Grey’s Anatomy Breaks our Hearts in “How to Save a Life”

BY Lisa Casas

Published 7 years ago

TV REVIEW: Grey’s Anatomy Breaks our Hearts in “How to Save a Life”

We all need a hug. A huge, love filled, “it’ll be alright” hug right now.

Grey’s did the unthinkable tonight and in the process left its viewers in the fetal position, probably in a corner with a box of Kleenex, sobbing uncontrollably.

Derek Shepherd is dead. McDreamy will never grace the halls of our beloved (if somewhat cursed) hospital again. “How to Save a Life” was billed as an episode we will never forget and it delivered. This one was all Derek focused, just as a send off should be. Before we get to the darkness, let’s talk about the light.

Super Derek to the Rescue

Derek was MIA last episode and tonight the mystery of his disappearance is answered. We see how he kissed Meredith goodbye saying he’d be back before she knows it. We watch as he takes a “shortcut” to the airport through a remote area with no cell reception. We look on as a fast and furious sportscar causes a horrific accident with a minivan, both flipping like a tilt a world. Derek is unscathed and immediately dons a cape to save the day, or in this case, a life.

He first checks on the minivan, a super cute mom and daughter pair, Sarah and Winnie, who are banged up but alive. Winnie thinks she might be dead. Derek says no one’s going to die, reasoning that he feels her pulse so she must be alive. It’s a cute exchange with Derek adding, “It’s a beautiful day to save lives.”

Next up, the sports car and that crazy driver. The car is empty but a quick scan of the area turns up a teen girl, Alanna who says Charlie was driving, Derek finds him Walking Dead-stumbling down the road, a huge chunk of his skull missing, exposing BRAIN.

Now it’s back to the van where Derek first has to get the mom out and then pop her dislocated hip back in place. She’s hilarious telling the doc, “I hate you.” This is not an episode for the weary.


(ABC/Kelsey McNeal)

Flash over to the sports car and it’s now going up in flames. The exploding car turns out to be a blessing, serving as a giant smoke signal in the sky. Help is surely on the way!

Alanna is rambling on about her Pre-AP boring life and how Charlie, Mr. Prom King, asked her to go for a ride. The universe must be turning on its axis because “I am not supposed to be here.” Our stomachs are churning on their axis when Derek takes a look at the teen’s stomach. All of her intestines are coming out. ALL of them! She asks if she’s gonna die and Derek says, “You have a little cut in your tummy.” He gets some dry cleaning bags out of the van and saran wraps the girl.

Derek has time to reminisce about his first kiss with Meredith and how it was the best kiss. Bathed in the bright sunlight, Derek Shepherd is on his A game, saving everyone, doing what he does best. He’s so confident; we know everyone will be okay. If only.

Fire trucks and ambulances arrive to take the injured away. Derek gets into his car and as he turns it around, BOOM! His car is smashed by a semi truck! Now to the darkness…


(ABC/Kelsey McNeal)

Bumbling Docs

We see Derek taken to a hospital still thinking clearly but unable to speak. He’s in bad shape, but still analyzes every move the docs make with a voiceover that only we can hear. The little girl from the accident sees him, and says, “You’re not dead. You know how I know? I feel your pulse… eyes on me.” When she says, “It’s a beautiful day to save lives,” we all lose it and we all know this is the end.

Derek’s voiceover is begging the docs to take him for a head CT. They don’t.

“I’m going to die because these people aren’t properly trained,” Derek thinks.

Sure enough, they do everything wrong. The neurosurgeon’s at dinner and will be there in 20 minutes. The arrogant doc shows up an hour and a half later with Derek still narrating and realizing it’s too late.

We are praying for a miracle and seem to get one. The police show up where we left them last week, on Meredith’s doorstep. We see Mer enter a hospital room and Derek’s okay. Thank God!

Not so fast. It was just a dream. Wow, that was a low blow, Shonda Rhimes. “I’m afraid there’s been an accident. Can you come with us please,” the officer says.


(ABC/Kelsey McNeal)

McDreamy Slips Away

Meredith shows up at the hospital and Derek’s hooked up to machines obviously brain dead. She’s stoic, numb, and doesn’t cry, just holding her hands out for the her husband’s chart. “The call to not get a head CT was a bad call,” she says immediately.

Meredith cuts the neurosurgeon to his knees as he tries to have “the talk.” She says she knows the routine. What to do now? Long term facility? Pull the plug? She finally explodes saying, “Give me the papers!”

Meredith storms out and one of the doctors is outside crying. She says, “I’m so sorry… It was my job to save him and I failed. And now he’s gonna die because I was not a good enough doctor to keep him alive.”

Meredith says, “You’re right, but you know what tomorrow is?” and she gives her a pep talk. She says, “He was your one.” The one you see in the face of every patient from here on out, the one that makes you better.

Meredith goes back in and before she lets Derek go we see a montage of flashbacks from their first meeting and everything through the years that makes us go, NO. Those Grey’s writers used some cruel and unusual punishment tonight, even playing the Denny death song Chasing Cars as Meredith says, “Derek, it’s okay. You go. I’ll be fine.”

We will never be fine. How can a fictional character’s death cut us to the bone? It is a testament to the character that was created, crafted out of words, and developed into a “real” person that we love and care about like a member of the family. Derek Shepherd wasn’t just Meredith’s McDreamy; he was all of ours.

“Are you ready?” asks the nurse.

“No, but go ahead,” Meredith replies.

Derek is gone.

It feels like a big chunk of Grey’s Anatomy’s heart was just ripped out and the hemorrhaging has just begun. We knew this was going to be bad when Meredith began the episode remembering being lost in the park and talking about that always turning carousel.

As that darn Chasing Cars song plays, we know the aftermath is going to be epic and the feels have just begun.

Let’s take a look at what Meredith has already been through. She’s lost her dad, her mom, her best friend George, her sister, her other bestie Cristina (thankfully not dead), and now has to unplug her soulmate. The shock of this is sure to reverberate into the next five seasons (if there will be that many). Meredith remained pretty stoic in tonight’s episode but we all know that’s about to change. Mer is sure to go down a dark and desperate road, one that is going to leave us dark and desperate.

Now, it’s time to sleep. Time to try and push away those Derek death thoughts. Time to dream of McDreamy and post it notes and operating room sex and camping. You were a dream Mr. Patrick Dempsey. Good night and sweet dreams.

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

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