Stacy McKee on "Elevator Love Letter"...
Original Airdate: 3-26-09
Just so you know, I am a sap when it comes to marriage proposal stories. I love them. I love hearing them, I love telling them… I fully enjoy all the cheesy romantic oooey gooey-ness. I LOVE that Derek proposed! I LOVE that Meredith said yes! I can’t help it. I’m just cheesy that way.
But first things first. Entirely too much happened in this episode. TOO MUCH. Owen went all PTSD and choked Cristina in his sleep then she forgave him and they had ridiculously beautiful sex until she realized she had to dump him after all. Alex snooched (yes, you heard me right. Snooched.) into a cup for Izzie so her eggs could be extracted, fertilized, and frozen before her body gets all sick with radiation and chemo. Derek finally came back from the woods looking all Grisly Adams-ish to operate on Izzie’s brain and – and then… there’s that elevator. Where Derek proposed to Meredith, and she said YES.
Yup. Too much happened in this episode. I’m overwhelmed. I don’t know what to talk about first.
Let’s start with the unpleasant part. Owen. And the choking. This was a tricky one. Let’s be clear. This is not a guy attacking a woman because he’s a guy who attacks women. We did not set out to tell a story about domestic abuse. This is a story about PTSD.
Owen is completely asleep when he attacks Cristina. Asleep, having a nightmare. Remember the story we did earlier this season about the guy with night terrors? Same thing. Did you see how dead Owen’s eyes look? He has no awareness of what’s happening. And the moment he wakes up, when Callie calls his name and he snaps out of the nightmare – Owen is more discombobulated and confused than anyone else. That’s why Cristina’s line is so important, when she asks Meredith if it would be any more appropriate to abandon Owen right now than it would be to abandon someone who had suffered a stroke or a heart attack. Owen is wounded. He does have war wounds. Which, as a doctor, Cristina recognizes. And she’s not going to let that intimidate her. She knows wounds can be healed.
The point isn’t the choking, it’s where Owen goes from here... The story we’ve always wanted to tell is one of healing and awareness and treatment for PTSD. That’s part of what you’ll see Owen struggling with in episodes to come. But before we can get there, before Owen can be truly willing to seek out help – we needed to see him hit rock bottom. We needed him to realize that his symptoms aren’t necessarily within his own control. We needed him to choke Cristina.
And if you felt a little worried when Cristina and Owen started to kiss, if you felt a little twinge of heartbreak for the two of them as they finally, beautifully consummated their relationship… that’s what you were supposed to feel. It’s exactly what we see creeping into Cristina’s face, after the sex, when she can’t fall asleep. She’s having a very quiet, but very real panic attack right there in Owen’s arms. I feel like there’s a part of Owen and Cristina that knew – even as they were finally having sex after all this time – that this was actually a goodbye.
NOW – Alex Karev. Can I just say – the minute I saw the first cut of this episode, I ran into Shonda’s office and declared that Alex should ALWAYS do the voice over because it is just so fantastic! Right from the start, the second you hear Alex’s voice and see him pacing outside of Izzie’s room… you know this episode is a little bit different. It has a different energy, a different pace. Did you notice all the quiet, haunting moments? Did you notice there wasn’t a single big, scary medical Act Out? This episode is quiet. It’s still. It needs to sit in its quiet moments, not breeze past them.
I adore Alex, always have. And this was the perfect time to have him narrate the show, since he’s just learned that Izzie is dying. When Alex is venting to Meredith in the on-call room-- Oh man. (I’ll just preface this with the fact that – as I mentioned before, I am a bit of a sap and, yes, sometimes I cry easily) but I’m telling you – we ALL teared up on set when we were shooting Justin in that scene. He’s just tremendous. We don’t get to see Alex Karev be vulnerable very often, so when we finally do… It is so worth it. Especially when he says that this wasn’t how he wanted to make a baby with Izzie... Love him. Couldn’t love him more in that moment.
And I’ve saved the best, of course, for last. The Elevator Proposal.
First of all, you should know that there’s a long standing debate in our writers’ room about what does or does not make for a good marriage proposal. Some of us prefer what Shonda calls the Oooey Gooey Disgusting stuff – the more traditional proposals, usually involving grand gestures and flowers and rings and romance. But Shonda’s taste is exactly the opposite of any of that. The minute one of us launches into a romantic recounting of one of our own marriage proposals… Shonda basically covers her ears as though they might bleed. To her, those oooey gooey romance filled proposals are pretty much akin to… well… Hell. Which is why she’s Shonda. She’s a little dark and twisty - in all the best ways. It’s also what makes her a little like Meredith Grey.
So you can imagine just how hard it was to come up with what the perfect marriage proposal might be for Meredith Grey. It couldn’t be oooey and gooey. Couldn’t be a traditional, down on one knee proposal. But it’s also a piece of Grey’s Anatomy history, five seasons in the making. It needed to be true to who Meredith and Derek are together – what their history is, why they love each other, how they understand each other…
And it did have to be romantic. But not predictably romantic. It had to feel magical and fresh and totally, completely perfect for Meredith and Derek.
So what better place than their elevator? And what better way than by revisiting their lives together as doctors? It would be wrong for Derek Shepherd to get down on one knee. Even worse for him to offer up the ring he hit into the woods. Derek needed to give Meredith HER perfect proposal. Which, as it turns out, involved an elevator, light boxes and a lot of brain scans.
I love that Meredith only says yes when the proposal is right. She stays true to herself; she won’t say yes out of pity or because Derek needs an ego boost. She will only – can only – say yes once Izzie is fine. Once Derek is fine. Once the proposal is finally, totally right. And what I love is that what makes the proposal right is that Derek finally gets it. He finally understands and accepts completely who Meredith really is. Sure – she’s got a dark side. She’s seen more trauma in her life than most people. And, amazingly, she’s just about the only person this entire episode NOT suffering from PTSD. As Derek says, she’s seen worse, she’s survived worse, and she knows the people around her will survive it too.
What I love is that Derek finally puts into words the one thing she really needs to hear from him. That Meredith’s dark side is not a flaw, it’s her strength. It’s what makes her who she is. And that’s why he loves her.
See? Not too cheesy. Not too sappy. Magical proposals CAN be achieved, even without rose petals and rings in champagne glasses! Although, it does help when Grisly Adams finally shaves off his beard!
When I was pitching my episode down to Shonda, back when it was just an idea and nothing more, Shonda stopped me mid-pitch to say this: “Stacy. Just so you’re clear, if you pitch me that the last scene of your entire episode is the proposal, I will vomit.”
Which, given the fact that proposals basically make Shonda break out in hives, I should have been prepared for… And though it is entirely possible I maybe might have once upon a time planned on ending the episode with the Elevator Proposal, that is NOT how I pitched it. And that is NOT how I wrote it. Because that would have just been too Oooey and gooey. Too romantic. Too cheesy. Too me. And not enough Meredith Grey.
Plus, I really really hate vomit.
This blog post was originally posted on greyswriters.com and an archive of the posts can now be found at ABC.com.