Nobody tugs on our heartstrings like Shonda Rhimes. Nobody.
As Grey's Anatomy broke form tonight, never leaving the O.R. as Meredith (Ellen Pompeo), Richard (James Pickens Jr.), Owen (Kevin McKidd), and Stephanie (Jerrika Hinton) fought the good, but particularly arduous fight to save a John Doe's life, each doctor ascribed a personality of their creation to the man so they weren't just working like mechanics on a car. Rather, as Richard argued, the fight for this man's life would be real, palpable even, if he had a story attached to him.
Naturally, no one created a character to save, instead retreating to a painful memory of someone in their past. And everyone's was heartbreaking in their own right, no one could top Meredith. Because Meredith's involved—you guessed it—Derek.
After learning that Richard's person was his mother, a musician who fell ill to pancreatic cancer and never played again, Stephanie's was her younger self, confined to her bed with a debilitating illness, and Owen's was his oft-discussed sister (played by the delightful Bridget Regan), we got to Meredith's memories. And because Shonda loves to play on our emotions, we witnessed an abstract version of when Mer had to tell Zola and Bailey that their dad died. And if you've ever doubted whether Ellen Pompeo is perfect in this role, you need look no further than that scene because she acted it out of the park.
The tears weren't over, though. We were due for one last gut punch as Meredith was left alone in the O.R. and her narration kicked in.
"We've all hit that point of exhaustion. The point where nothing makes sense anymore. Your body hurts, your brain becomes foggy, and you feel like you're trapped in a tunnel, when all you want is your bed. So, how do you keep going? How do you not just sit down and give up? Sometimes, it's easy. Sometimes you play games in your head. You make up someone," she said.
That someone? Why, Derek Shephard, of course. Cue McDreamy himself, Patrick Dempsey, flashing his season one grin and saying "Hi." (And cue our uncontrollable sobs!)
"Someone good," the narration continued. "Whatever you need to keep you going."
What did you think about the trip down memory lane and the episode's unique format? Let us know in the comments below.
Grey's Anatomy airs Thursdays at 8 p.m. on ABC.