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SEASON REVIEW: Grey’s Anatomy, Season 7

Promotional photo of the cast (l-r): Sarah Drew (April Kepner), Eric Dane (Mark Sloane), Sara Ramirez (Callie Torres), Justin Chambers (Alex Karev), Jessica Capshaw (Arizona Robbins), Chyler Leigh (Lexie Grey), Patrick Dempsey (Derek Shepherd), Meredith Grey (Ellen Pompeo), James Pickens, Jr. ( Richard Webber), Sandra Oh (Cristina Yang), Kevin McKidd (Owen Hunt), Chandra Wilson (Miranda Bailey), Jesse Williams (Jackson Avery) and Kim Raver (Teddy Altman)

A review of the love-and-surgery drama’s seventh season after the jump…

Season seven was a step down from the improvements the show saw in seasons five and six, but it was still an enjoyable set of episodes with plenty of good in them. It rarely hit any sort of heights, but there were some very good episodes and character arcs, and its still a pleasure to spend time with this talented cast. Despite this, the show is beginning to feel a bit tired.

There have been, as there is every year, a handful of memorable episodes that stand out in their consistency and their strength. This year, there weren’t really any knockout episodes, but there were a couple that I remember stand out out a little. Those were:

“These Arms of Mine” (7.06)
The first really memorable episode of the season, as a documentary crew come to Seattle Grace to chart its recovery after the shootings. It really felt like an outside documentary. One of the pillars of this story is Alex (Justin Chambers), whose character has been playing the same tightrope between moody asshole and excellent doctor for seven years now, and yet it never gets old. Here, he fights for a patient to save her life, and gets one of those victories that make him one of the est characters to root for. One thing about Alex stories, unlike plenty of the rest of the cast, is that his are often medical stories: despite having his on-again-off-again romance with Izzie, the real story for him has always been his growth as a surgeon, and a particularly good one in peds and OB. That has meant his stories, instead of being romantic, have often been cases that offer him a chance of failure or redemption, and since Izzie’s exit last year that element is even more prominent. “These Arms of Mine” is just one story for Alex this year that doesn’t focus on romance. The narrative tricks were also pretty fun.

“Golden Hour” (7.15)
I always enjoy the ‘odd format’ episodes, so spending an hour with Meredith as she heads up the E.R. was a pretty fun trick. The stories didn’t do anything special – Meredith working on a patient who was rushing to get to an event with his son, a guy with a knife in his head that turns out to be completely fine, Cristina stressing about being godmother to the Mark/Callie/Arizona baby – but the format gave it a different texture. Smaller moments got showcased, with different doctors trying to get away for the night, and Bailey and her nurse beau considering in-hospital sex.

Largely, though, this hasn’t been a season of great episodes, or even particularly good ones. A lot of plots centred around arcs swimming in place, featuring patients the doctors overempathise with, romantic pairings with little chemistry (for example, Lexie and Avery), and standard episodic plots. The show has too many castmembers, so a lot of them get regularly shortchanged, while others get a bit more to do than is necessary.

But there have been moments, or specific plot strands that have worked pretty well. Alex wasn’t terribly interesting to watch in the aftermath of the shootings, but his character kicked into gear nicely when the race for Chief Resident started. “These Arms of Mine” showed off why he deserved it, just as “I Will Survive” (6.21) showed why it wouldn’t work: he’s a great surgeon, creative and resourceful in finding a way for his patients to live, but he’s so raw and damaged emotionally that he’s prone to making huge mistakes interpersonally. He was practically the main character in the Chief Resident race storyline, and his plot hit some interesting notes: almost destroying his finances with the African children gambit, having his job in Africa stolen by his soon-to-be-ex-girlfriend, and destroying his own chance at Chief Resident by betraying his best friend.

The Mark/Callie/Arizona story was also enjoyable, though it felt like it dragged on and on through the later half of the season. These three (four including Lexie) felt like they ate up half the show’s runtime, and even more for the horribly self-indulgent “Song Beneath the Song” (7.18), which managed to both rip off a Scrubs episode and do it badly. But even though the plot received more attention than it ever deserved, the chemistry between Arizona (Jessica Capshaw) and Callie (Sara Ramirez), and between Callie and Mark (Eric Dane), was still enjoyable enough that the filler was an enjoyable waste of screentime, as opposed to old missteps like the Izzie/George affair in season three.

That said, this was the year where the new additions began to feel less, instead of more, part of the cast. In the past, the show managed to integrate most of the current cast into the show almost seamlessly. Addison, Callie, Hahn, Mark, and Lexie have all been integrated nicely into this cast over the years. Meanwhile, at the end of their first year as series regulars, Kim Raver, Sarah Drew and Jesse Williams still don’t quite feel like part of the team. Teddy’s an enjoyable character, but once Cristina was back at the hospital, she spent almost all of her time with Scott Foley as her fake husband. On the same note, it always felt like Kepner spent all of her time with Stark, a guest star, and barely integrated into the cast, even when she’s been part of the group scenes all year. And Avery has spent the bulk of his time in a chemistry-free romance with Lexie, which feels mostly like a way for the writers to let her tread water before they bring her and Mark back together next year. Even Kevin McKidd’s Owen, who was an integral part of making season five strong before its late-season uptick in quality, is floundering in his third year in the cast; originally built to be a great love interest for Cristina, he’s slowly morphed into a Burke redux. The only reason I’m not entirely bored of Owen, who has spent the season completely misreading his wife, is because I’m a big fan of McKidd.

This is even more frustrating because I know these characters could work as part of the cast. The Cristina/Teddy mentorship arc last year was the strongest the character’s ever been, because both characters are in their element when doing surgeon stories, like Alex. The love triangle there was worth it for the moment where Cristina offered up her relationship to Owen in order to gain herself a proper teacher. Here, though I enjoyed Raver and Foley‘s chemistry, her love life felt like a total distraction for the character’s gold: her mentor relationship with Cristina. Watching Teddy deal with these two stories, inversely proportioned from what they should have been and completely cordoned off from one another, was frustrating. Because of the screentime afforded to Teddy’s romance, we got only a few scenes in the back half of the season dealing with her relationship to Christina, especially frustrating considering how hard she fought to reinstate her early in the season.

April and Avery are a year in without many significant interrelationships within the cast. April has her disastrous almost love affair with Alex, and Jackson has his bland relationship with Lexie. That’s pretty much it. They only began to build some steam in the season’s late stages, with Jackson interacting with the Chief and Owen, and April building her almost-friendship with Christina and earning Chief Resident from under everyone’s noses. There’s potential for them to grow within the cast here, which I wouldn’t mind, because both are enjoyable. But considering that as of end of season 7, they’ve been in the show a year and a half, they should be as deeply a part of the show as Arizona. It’s disappointing, really. Even though I like the actors, I’m tempted to see the show drop them and Teddy (Kim Raver), and maybe Owen too, or scale them back to recurring presences. After all, in only a handful of recurring spots, Lucy Fields (Rachael Taylor) felt more like a series regular than any of them. That may have been because she had a romance with Alex intertwined, rather than simultaneously with or instead of, her place in the show’s medical and professional stories.

Addison was a a great member of the regular cast because of a handful of things: she was portraying by a strong actor, and had a great set of character relationships  – to the point where, by the time she exited only two seasons after she debuted, she had a strong relationship with practically everyone in the cast. Not only that, but having her in the core cast allowed the show to tell stories in a different field than the rest: obstetrics. Arizona had a similar trajectory, building both a romantic plotline with Callie and a mentorship arc with Alex, and giving the show a chance to look into Pediatrics. Owen and Teddy feel like natural parts of the cast when we get to see them in their element, like Owen running the trauma drill in “That’s Me Trying” (7.07) or Teddy and Cristina butting heads over a surgery in “I Will Survive” (7.21). But these parts of their characters are always left behind, as we see endless scenes of Owen and Cristina butting heads over their relationship and Teddy failing spectacularly at internet dating. Kevin McKidd and Kim Raver are great actors who don’t, most of the time, perform a key function in the cast, making them feel superfluous.

Of course, there’s little time to serve the entire cast: it has ballooned to 14 castmembers while episodic runtimes have gradually shortened over the years, leaving every character fighting for scraps. While Meredith, Alex and Cristina managed to have full seasonal arcs, Bailey was largely left to a handful of episodes battling fistulas, and having a low key relationship with a nurse. This is a shame because, though the whole cast are enjoyable, the series’ originals hold the most screen presence, and deliver in spades when serviced.

Last year, the show had some really great individual episodes. “I Saw What I Saw” (6.06) had a really interesting structure and gave the entire cast things to do. “Give Peace A Chance” (6.07), “Invest in Love” (6.08), “Suicide is Painless” (6.18) and “Sympathy for the Parents” (6.19) all stood out as great character pieces for Derek, Arizona, Owen and Alex respectively. And ultimately, the season brought everything to a great climax with the hospital shooting.

I hope, in season eight, the writing staff look at where season six went right, so that we don’t end up with another season seven: fun, an enjoyable waste of time on Thursday night, but ultimately forgettable. If rumours about contract negotiations are right, and the show could be losing many of the original castmembers after next year, they’ll have to really step up their game and make it last. Because season seven was okay: it should have been great.

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