One of the reasons I admire Grey's Anatomy is that it takes risks. Sure, it's a primetime, soapy medical drama, but every so often it'll try something different.
This doesn't always work - the musical episode split opinion, but in my view it was a bit of a wasted opportunity. The Callie-baby drama was enough, without having people bursting into renditions of 'Chasing Cars' all over the place (not to mention the weird sex montage). Even then, though, I admired the intention.
'If/Then' is another example of Grey's taking risks. Parallel universes are more sci-fi than medical drama, and in this world of serialised shows, taking a break for an instalment which moves the plot forward in absolutely no way is a gamble. Plus, of course, Grey's fans are notoriously involved in the characters' relationships - how would they feel to see their favourite couples split up for an hour?
Of course, they needn't have worried - the instalment's message, if there was one, was that fate exists. Sure, things might have been different throughout the instalment, but by the end of the episode, everyone was taking their first steps to getting where they are in the real world.
In fact, the instalment seemed much more successful than the musical - it was simpler but entertaining. And it was a huge treat for loyal fans of the show, who could enjoy the references and allusions.
It didn't explain everything, either - the episode relied on you being a fan of the show and figuring things out yourself (say, that April and Meredith had such a close relationship because April had never had a crush on Meredith's husband, because Meredith wasn't married.) That made it much more satisfying - and intelligent, too. You can imagine the writers sitting around with huge charts, figuring out how things would have changed if Ellis Grey had never been sick.
One thing that surprised me - in a good way - was just how unlikeable Meredith was. Having had an easier upbringing, with Webber as her father, may not be the panacea real-world Meredith believes. She's turned into a preppy pain, who shuns Cristina for her affair with Burke, acts like a bully ("Don't feed the animals"? Really, Meredith?), uses her mother to get surgeries, and gets people fired.
But the Meredith we know and love is under there somewhere. After discovering that her fiancé Alex is sleeping with her best friend April, and after standing up to her overpowering, controlling mother, Meredith begins to collaborate with Cristina and soon they're in the bar (where, by the way, she happens to start drinking with Derek.) It seems that the adversity Meredith may regret in the real world is actually the making of her.
Speaking of Derek, he's trapped in an unhappy marriage with a pregnant Addison... until he discovers that she's sleeping with Mark. McDreamy becomes McDreary - a cute touch. I also enjoyed the introduction of Mark, who arrives with a post-overdose Lexie in his arms (and then squabbles with Jackson over who should treat her, in a neat parallel.)
Owen's married to Callie, and they have three kids, but the cracks are showing there, too. Owen's still suffering from PTSD, but Cristina's covering for him. Meanwhile, after successfully treating a patient together, Callie and Arizona are sharing longing looks in the halls.
Perhaps the most interesting change, though, was in Bailey - she's shy and retiring, too scared even to tell Ellis Grey that she's about to make a mistake with a patient. The making of her is when she's fired, finally transforming her into the strong woman we know she is in a touching elevator scene with Alex.
Another thing I enjoyed about the episode was seeing stars like Kate Burton and Kate Walsh return for the episode. Katherine Heigl's been saying recently that she'd like to come back - this week's instalment would have been a prime opportunity, but to be honest, it was kind of fun to hear the doctors all dismiss Izzie (if their chat about her is any indication of Heigl's chances of returning, she should probably start looking for a new movie to star in.)
But, as I said, there was no real, lasting difference by the end of the episode. Cristina and Meredith were friends; Meredith and Derek were flirting; Bailey had her confidence, and so on. So was there a point to exploring this parallel universe? Perhaps not, but it was fun, and fans will have picked it to pieces (in a good way).
This was a risk that, largely, paid off. Was it perfect? No. But when you know your characters well enough to play around with them like that - and still keep their essence, still keep them recognisable - then you know you're running your show well. Normal service will be resumed shortly, but maybe next time we'll feel like we have an even better idea of those characters. If more shows took gambles like Grey's, primetime would be a much more interesting place.
- What was your favourite physical transformation in the episode? I was quite taken with Meredith's pink... everything, Alex's horrendous glasses and Bailey's braids. But Lexie with dreadlocks, tattoos and piercings was insanely hot, even if she'd just had an overdose.
- Callie thinking Teddy was a man was fun. Sure, I'm easily pleased.
- Alex being optimistic and preppy was horrendous. I'm so glad he's an idiot in regular Grey's.
- Also: Meredith and Alex's kiss? WRONG.
- Webber and Meredith were so cute together - especially when she leaned on his shoulder.
- "It was so scary he actually had to leave the state."
- Did anyone else want to punch Meredith when Alex revealed that she got Izzie fired, April gushed that she is "so brave", and she smiled smugly? I love real-world Meredith, but alt-Meredith is a nightmare.
- Cristina's smile when she walked in on Alex and April was wickedly good.
- "We don't have to do that thing where I say something, you say something, someone cries and we have a moment or whatever?" "Oh, yuck."