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Grey's Anatomy ponders different reality in "If/Then"

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Written by : published Saturday 4th February 2012

This week, on ABC's Grey's Anatomy, "If/Then," Meredith (Ellen Pompeo) ponders how her life would be different if her mom, Ellis (Kate Burton), didn't get Alzheimer's, as well as if Richard (James Pickens Jr.) married Ellis and raised Meredith as his daughter. Which means a full hour of trippy, alternate reality, seeing the familiar characters in whole new light. With Ellis serving as Chief of Seattle Grace, Meredith is the daughter of the boss, and leads a sunshiney life, wearing pink, hanging out with April (Sarah Drew), and engaged to Alex (Justin Chambers), who is Chief Resident, and a rising star.

But it's far from an ideal life. Meredith feels suffocated under the high pressure that her mother exerts. And she's not the only one. Alex can't help but stray with April, which crushes Meredith when she finds out. Ellis is not sympathetic. Bailey (Chandra Wilson) is so why that she gets fired for not speaking up at a critical moment. Derek (Patrick Dempsey) is still married to a pregnant Addison (Kate Walsh), but miserable, especially when he learns that the baby isn't his. Callie (Sara Ramirez) is pressured into cardio and marries Owen (Kevin McKidd), with whom she has several children. Meredith doesn't even know her half sister Lexie (Chyler Leigh), who is a coked up criminal. And Cristina (Sandra Oh) is shunned by all after the Burke incident.

"If/Then" is a classic "be careful what you wish for" episode. Meredith thinks that her life would be better with a more nurturing upbringing, but in truth, the obstacles she overcomes shape her into the great woman and surgeon that she is today. Why the others have to be miserable, too...? Well, that is just to make fans glad that everything is the way it is in "reality." Though, to be fair, if Ellis would have become Chief, things would definitely be quite a bit different at Seattle Grace. Just maybe not so different as they are shown in this episode. The message is clear: everyone is better off the way things are.

But are they really? After all, the beloved characters go through a number of dark, drama-filled experiences in the "real" world. Sure, Callie is happier married to Arizona (Jessica Capshaw), and Lexie has a much better existence when not living as a junky, but that doesn't mean that everyone's paths are easy, and that they all get happy endings. Which leads one to think, what if this different world were the series? It can easily be imagined as such, with the characters dealing with separate, but equally engrossing, challenges. Perhaps Ellis may have stifled the cast as the star, but perhaps not. The others would all still get their angsty stories, just in a different way. So really, either world is an acceptable one for Grey's Anatomy to explore.

Which does not mean the universe as it is in "If/Then" should be revisited. Grey's has chosen the series it wants to be, and it's too late to change that now. "If/Then" is just a fun little side trip to show another version of things, if different paths had been taken. In that, it's an amusing, welcome little experiment, but certainly not all that important in the overall arcs of the series.

The ending of "If/Then" seeks to restore balance. Despite everything that happens differently, Meredith eventually stands up to her mother. She also finds friendship in Cristina. Derek wakes up and realizes that he is completely unhappy, and should try to change things. Callie has a sweet moment with Arizona. Mark (Eric Dane) shows up at the hospital carrying Lexie, their lives intertwined. In this, the writers want viewers to believe that these people are destined to be together. It's a naive, and probably unrealistic, view of existence, but for a television series, it's a fitting ending.

Now, anticipation build up to get back to the normal timeline. After all, there is still much drama to work out there. Can Cristina and Owen's marriage be saved? Will Mark ever be back with Lexie? And, as heartless as it sounds, at least the not-so-great character of Charles (Robert Baker) is no longer around.

Grey's Anatomy airs Thursdays at 9 p.m. ET on ABC.

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About the author JeromeWetzelTV


Jerome Wetzel is a huge fan of stories, in both books and television. He writes TV reviews and fiction. He currently posts articles for TheTVKing, Seat42F, and BlogCritics, as well as his own personal blog, as well as writing fiction. His website is www.jeromewetzel.com Follow him on twitter @JeromeWetzelTV

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