Grey’s Anatomy Season 8, Episode 8: Heart-Shaped Box

This week the writers gave us something we all really needed: nostalgia and unconditional love. Who’d have thunk anyone had fond memories of 2009? Spoilers after the jump, as usual.

Grey’s loves to wax all philosophic about how surgeons cut through the crap to put trouble behind them, and of course, this only works in the space of the operating theater. So as Meredith does her voiceover and talks about how doctors can cut away whatever has gone to hell and then move on, we flash over to Lexie running to catch up to Avery in the hallway, him sipping at Seattle’s omnipresent coffee in a cardboard cup. She asks if anything’s wrong, and he says no, but Lexie, this is where you need to catch the look in his eyes. He’s not smizing at you anymore. In two episodes we’ve gone from Avery being in love with Little Grey to Avery using Seattle’s Best as a shield against conversation with her. She lets him go for the moment, but as we’ll see, he’s anything but fine.

Of course it’s Mark Sloane who pops out of the elevator, going on about some surgery that he’s excited to do later that day with Jackson. Again, people, you’re missing the grumblecloud over Avery’s head. Nod nod from our troubled doc and the doors close, and Jackson walks away with a frown. It really sucks to have your career trapped in a love triangle, I suppose.

Bailey finds Meredith, who is now on her service, and she points to a room where their next patient is. This is an important, VIP patient, and anything that is transacted with said patient needs to be reported back to Bailey tout suite. The doctors head into the consult room and who is there but George O’Malley’s mother, Louise. Oh, George. Hit by a bus after joining the army George. It’s a little jump back to when these characters were different people.

Dr. Robbins takes two charts from Alex because some hotshot resident from Utah is coming in as a candidate for her fellowship, and Arizona wants to see her in action in her OR. Alex is obviously ruffled by this development, but hey, maybe his whole African kid rescue thing will win out in the end.

Derek’s patient of the week is . . . Alfre Woodard? Chica gets around on the silver screen. She’s got a bleeding aneurysm but refuses to get anywhere near a clip until she’s finished writing her latest novel. This is dedication to characters only Kathy Bates in Misery can understand. Derek charges Lexie with making their patient capitulate before something really terrible happens, like a new sequel to Breaking Dawn.

Getting ready to do a heart transplant, Teddy asks Cristina why she hasn’t yet written up her bucket list of procedures. Yang stammers a bit so the audience doesn’t know what her motivation is, and then it’s time to put the heart in a box. Not a cooler, a box, where it can keep beating. Okay, so on the “whoa, medical science is cool” range, what wins out this season? Heart in a box, or transplanted penis? Leave your votes in the comments, folks.

So it turns out that George’s mother went to some other hospital in Seattle so she wouldn’t have to return to the place where her husband and son died. Now she’s got a complication, however, so begrudgingly she shows up to fix what turns out to be bad scar tissue. Sheesh, they could have at least left a clamp or towel inside her. Scar tissue? My questions here really is why she’s all by herself—aren’t there four or more sons in this family? She does a little catching up with Bailey and Meredith and we’re quietly reminded that a lot has happened since T.R. left the show at the end of season 5. What’s he even doing now? I picture him on the set of some bad sexy horror remake, but actually, he’s only got one acting credit, as a guest on Law & Order: SVU. That would put any mom in the hospital.

The scenes with Louise are like sparking crystal. “Do you know how proud it makes me to have you as my doctor,” she asks Meredith, who almost breaks character with her broad smile in return. It really was touching to have a moment where the relentless push of medical training caved in to heartfelt warmth and bittersweet memory.

Looks like Yang will have to be the consort for the heart in a box (HIB) while a new transplant recipient is located, since the last one just passed away. And while she’s hanging with the HIB, she should finish her bucket list, says Teddy.

Shepherd, meanwhile, has a new scheme to boldly go where other neurosurgeons fear to tread, inspired from last week’s patient, I suppose. New Chief Hunt is not excited by this plan and all of the liability that will come with it, but Derek has his mind made up, and he wants to take Lexie through his new journey with him. It’s nice to see them bonding. But when Little Grey presents him with an against medical advice discharge form from Alfre Woodard, Derek says no uber-cool patients unless you get her to agree to have a simple aneurysm procedure. Lexie gets a determined look on her face, and off she goes.

Avery admits to April, who is clearly a queen of the colored Post-It sticky note (and I love her for that) that he wants off of plastics, just for the day, even though Sloane is doing a cool nerve graft today. Kepner is not happy to oblige him, but since Alex has been cleared of his schedule for the swanky fellowship candidate, he’s more than willing to fill in where Avery left off.

It can’t be surprising to anyone that Lexie gets totally embroiled in Alfre’s fictional romantic trysts, figuring that if she can help the writer get to the end of the book, she’ll have the surgery that much sooner. I’m sure this plan will go well and nobody will collapse in their bed with a bleeding brain artery. I also just want to point out here that not all writers are loners with no loving family. Ahem.

Out by the nurse’s desk Callie comes face to face with her former, short-lived, mother-in-law. She stammers through an introduction of Arizona as Dr. Robbins. Oops. Just a couple of seasons back Arizona was more than miffed at a similar less than open conversation, but she says she’s okay with it, once the two of them have a chance to catch up. “Wait, really,” asks Callie. And then Arizona delivers what has got to be one of the top three lines uttered this season:

Look, coming out is important, it’s everything with your family and friends. I’d kick your ass if you tried to hide me from them, but coming out to your dead ex-husband’s super Catholic mom? Not necessary.

In the cafeteria line, Alex grouses to Avery that he wouldn’t have taken the nerve graft surgery if he’s known he was breaking up “the plastics posse.”

“He’s using that in public now,” asks Avery, who seems more overwhelmed by the idea than amused. Come on, plastics posse? It’s awful and awesome all at the same time. Before Avery can see the beauty in it, Lexie pops in the middle of them. Alex points to her book, and she goes on to explain the plot, and oh crap, it’s just like the plot of one of my books! Nooooo! Damn, you, Shonda Rhimes, for making me derivative of something that doesn’t even exist! At any rate, we get another moment of Avery making a jaded face and his colleagues missing it. Maybe it’s just that the stale fries in the buffet seem so enticing.

Former Chief Webber has looked at Cristina’s bucket list and found it wanting, way too long with too many so-so procedures sketched out on it. I’m really enjoying the mentoring he’s been doing with the residents since stepping down as chief of surgery. Taking a look at her list and the HIB, he declares that the HIB is the key to her list. At lunch, Cristina admits she has no earthly idea what he was talking about. “She’s not talking,” says Yang. “Heart in a box, what should I put on my list? Heart in a box, what should I put on my sandwich?”

This is a perfect moment for the American Heart Association to step in with its heart-healthy meal recommendations, but whatever. When the “key” aspect of HIB becomes clear, Yang will know it. Actually, all it takes is a mention of George’s “heart in an elevator” moment for Cristina to Get It. Yang declares Webber is a genius, and starts flipping through her list excitedly. HIB creeps April out, and Yang admonishes Kepner: “Don’t talk about her that way.”

Surprise, surprise, Lexie loves living in Alfre Woodard’s fantasy land, not far from the True Blood series in romantic heartache. Also not shocking is Meredith Grey doing some kind of laparoscopy to investigate what’s wrong with George’s mother, without first alerting Bailey. She’s unamused, of course. Calmly, Bailey asks why Grey just can’t do the things that she asks her to do. Honey, that’s the whole point of the series, isn’t it? Instead of answering, Meredith points out a fissure that needs immediate surgery to repair. And now we can have a juicy power struggle over who will get to perform this surgery.

Teddy introduces Henry to the sleeping quarters for the surgeons, and by “introduces,” I mean she starts getting it on with him. Ah, 30-something love. Quick cut to George’s mom who is getting prepped for surgery. She tells Grey that she noticed a ring on Callie’s finger, and wants to know if she remarried. Uh-oh. Yes, confirms Meredith. Is she happy? I think she’s happy, says Meredith. Clearly Louise misses Callie, even if her marriage to George was rather short.

In surgery, Sloane spies Avery in the gallery and tells him to come join them, but Jackson begs off. The quiet mentor Former Chief Webber leans in like a ghost and tells Avery he’s a fool to miss the procedure like this. “You’re lost. Adrift. You know what you need? You need to see heart in a box. Maybe you’ve looked at it, but if you really saw it, you’d be down in that OR right now.” This is where my partner turned to me and said, “Oh my God, he’s the heart whisperer.”

Touche, my dear.

Callie checks in with Meredith on the seriousness of Louise’s condition, and Grey adds that George’s mom noticed the ring, and clearly misses Callie. It wouldn’t be a bad thing to be there when she wakes up, says Grey. And this will lead us to one of the sweetest moments on television this year.

Mark consults with Derek on why Avery is so distant and cold. My goodness, the GA writers sure love these feminine-coded discussions between the male characters. This time Sloane hasn’t brought scones to the conversation. But truth be told, Mark has come to start thinking about his love of teaching and his legacy, and he thought he had something special with Jackson.

The tour of the sleeping quarters is over, and Henry tells Teddy he’s thinking about going back to school. She is cooler to the idea than one might imagine, namely because I can’t imagine she likes having her hubby follow her around like a puppy all day. Let the guy have some aspirations, geez. Ah, but he means medical school.

Lexie gets to the end of the book with Alfre Woodard, all wrapped up in the creative process, and hates the ending. How can the protagonist pick Boyfriend #1 over Boyfriend #2? I know, we all wonder that, Lexie. They argue and then finally, finally it is time to go to the OR because writer lady is unconscious. I hope there’s time for a clip to help her. But hey, Shepherd is the best, remember?

Scrubbing for surgery, Bailey and Meredith have it out in a more muted fashion than last week. Meredith reminds Bailey that doctoring is all she has. Well, and Zola. She’s worried about her upcoming hearing, doesn’t know what to wear, but certainly doesn’t need Bailey second guessing her all of the dern time. Fine, do the surgery, says Bailey, who is clearly gearing up for a soliloquy. Bailey’s been having a rough time this season, what with her breakup and failing clinical trial. And so over George’s mother on the operating table, she lays out her own maternal hopes for Meredith and her extensive disappointment. Well, Ellis hasn’t been around for a few seasons to exclaim how “ordinary” Meredith is, so we’re due for some lecturing. Only Bailey is much more fair, ethical, and rational than Mother Grey ever figured out how to muster. From the look of it, some of her ideas sink in. And we learn what we already knew: O’Malley was Miranda’s favorite.

Avery does as Former Chief Webber, a.k.a. the Heart Whisperer told him to do, and pays a visit to HIB. Cristina is still there in the now-closed cafeteria, scribbling notes onto her bucket list. Clearly he doesn’t get the message about HIB so Yang explains: she’s never stopped beating, always been warm, always been alive. It’s a miracle in front of us. As for the list, if an item isn’t at least half as cool as HIB, Yang is chucking it. Only the most amazing things deserve to go on the list. “She lets you know what’s most important to you. That’s what heart in a box does.” Again, we get the look of recognition, lest one among us forget that Grey’s is, if nothing else, a soap opera set in a hospital.

Speaking of most important, it is most important to Teddy not to be living with a medical student and resident for the next 10 years. Ouch, Henry. She’s fine with him playing doctor dress up, but not actualizing his dreams? Looks like a Life Priority will soon be knocking on their door.

Avery pages Lexie to break up with her, saying there’s still something between her and Mark, which she denies. Gee, one thrown softball and it all comes unraveling for Little Grey. Also, once again Grey’s gives us an odd personal-work split: Avery wants to go back to working with Mark on his plastic surgery service, but not have a relationship with Lexie. I’m trying to wrap my brain around this, forgive me. Lexie is confused too. “So you’re picking Mark?” Yeah, he is. She doesn’t exactly put up a fight, signalling that perhaps she’s okay moving on.

At least the fictional characters from Alfre’s head will shift to meet Lexie’s preferences, and as a bonus, the writer is doing well. And Lexie gets a moment to grieve that she just doesn’t love Avery, even though she knows she should.

Callie visits Louise in recovery, blurting out that she likes girls, well, women, well she married one anyway and she knows this is a lot to take in and will somebody please halt the verbal diarrhea because the room is starting to smell. In the admission is mention of her baby, and then Louise asks to see a picture. Louise hasn’t even met HIB and still she knows the priority. Baby pictures. After all of the brouhaha about same sex kisses and relationships et cetera on prime time television, this is a peaceful, wonderful little moment. I am in love with this moment, and I’m even in love with where this moment comes in the episode, a pause in the heartbeat of the narrative, as it were.

Derek and Hunt look over his caseload, since one of his inoperable cases is flying in from Kansas. At long last he’s adjusted his “I’ve been blacklisted” mantra and understands it as a kind of freedom. He gets to work on whatever cases he wants, without worrying about his reputation. I don’t understand. If his reputation is crap, why would a line of people keep coming to him? Anyway, it’s the happiest we’ve seen Derek in a while. He is a tumor junkie after all, as Meredith puts it.

Alex overhears the amazing resident from Utah telling a friend on her phone that Robbins isn’t going to select her for the fellowship because some other guy is much more appealing with his African kids program. I knew the African kids would come through for Karev! Alex for once, is sitting in a bar and doesn’t blurt anything out.

Teddy is going to continue the fight with Henry about him going to medical school in a half-assed way when Henry starts bleeding out. And I presume this is where we’ll pick up next week.

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