After many months of uncertainty, Grey’s Anatomy fans can rejoice in the fact that the long-running medical drama will have its season 18. The show, in the midst of a seventeenth season tackling the real-world difficulties surrounding the coronavirus pandemic, has spent recent episodes following Meredith Grey as she coped with her own bout with the life-threatening disease. With the show’s title character in a coma for numerous episodes, many wondered if the season – and series – would end in her death.
Predictions for a tragic end to Grey’s Anatomy were brought to a fever pitch in the wake of interviews given by the show’s cast and creators. In an interview with THR mere weeks ago, showrunner Krista Vernoff noted that season 17 could potentially serve as both a season and series finale. “I’ve got plans for both contingencies,” explained Vernoff. “Either there will be closure or I will build something in that allows me to have a bit of a cliffhanger and a thread for next season.” Ellen Pompeo, who has brought Meredith to life for nearly two decades, has voiced her uncertainty over both the show’s future and the ultimate fate of its main character on numerous occasions, so the series coming to a close after the 17th season wouldn’t have been a surprise.
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However, after Meredith spent weeks on a ventilator as her consciousness flitted to a mysterious tropical limbo inhabited by her departed loved ones (including the long-dead Derek Shepherd), the series’ protagonist finally woke up. The tear-jerking scene reignited fans’ hopes that there are still more stories to tell about Meredith and her found family. Sure enough, it seems as though the doors of Grey-Sloan Memorial will remain open – at least for the time being.
Grey’s Anatomy Season 18 Has Been Renewed
Ultimately, Vernoff’s contingency plan for a quick series wrap-up was to be tabled; Grey’s Anatomy season 17 will not end in a series finale. Renewed for an eighteenth season, the show will see the return of many familiar faces. Most notably, Pompeo renewed her contract, which expired at the end of the current season, which comes to a close on June 3. Co-stars Chandra Wilson and James Pickens Jr., who have also been consistent presences throughout the show’s many cast rotations, also have fresh new contracts for season 18.
However, it has been reported that these contracts only cover one additional season, giving credence to the idea that a definitive conclusion could be the cards in the very near future. The hit program has certainly collected a vibrant cast of characters over its long run. Yet, it is undeniable that the show simply wouldn’t be the same without at least some of the actors from Grey’s Anatomy‘s season 1 premiere. Specifically, one wonders if the show could function at all without Ellen Pompeo (now the best-paid actress on network television) to ground its already sprawling narrative.
How Well Does Grey’s Anatomy Perform Now?
While Grey’s Anatomy‘s viewership is not as hearty as it was in its glory days, the medical drama remains popular. In fact, for ABC, Grey’s Anatomy is ranked #1 in terms of viewership (Station 19, which shares the same television universe and frequently crosses over with the show, is ranked #2). Further, in 2020, Grey’s Anatomy was the second most-watched show to stream on Netflix (in terms of number of hours), according to NY Times. Clearly, the show still remains watchable and – perhaps thanks to the uptick in pandemic-era streaming – highly bingeable.
Is There More To Tell In Grey’s Anatomy’s Story?
At first glance, it is possible to see some of Grey’s Anatomy‘s more recent storylines functioning as something of an off-ramp, effectively readying its beloved characters for the show’s eventual endgame. Meredith’s sisters Maggie and Amelia have established their own lives, both finding romantic partners, inevitably decentralizing Meredith from their lives as they begin new chapters. In conjunction with an announcement that Jesse William would hang up his white coat at the end of season 17, Jackson was re-coupled with his ex-wife April Kepner, making for a neat wrap-up to his decade-spanning run. Richard has reconciled with Catherine. Teddy and Owen seem to have buried the hatchet, as well. Jo Wilson is pursuing a career change.
However, Grey’s Anatomy has always been about Meredith Grey’s evolution and it is still hard to see where she, in particular, will end up. Ever since Shonda Rhimes’ groundbreaking pilot, the show has always found new ways to challenge its protagonist (albeit some ways more successful than others). Choosing the right story will be crucial for a successful ending, one that pays homage to the show’s history and does justice to its longtime characters. In truth, the show’s final act was likely upset by the real-world pandemic and how it translated to the storytelling of season 17. It is certainly an interesting thought experiment to consider what could have been under different circumstances.
Why Grey’s Anatomy Should Continue
With its handling of its pandemic-centric storyline, Grey’s Anatomy makes a case for its continued relevance to ABC’s television slate and pop culture at large. The show has recently delved into the crisis in a way that feels both horrifically grounded and strangely illuminating, taking time to grapple with the challenges faced by medical staff while simultaneously shining a light on the shortcomings of our medical and healthcare system. Grey’s Anatomy has also used season 17 as a means to highlight the country’s many racial inequities, as witnessed both inside and outside the hospital. Above all, many of the series’ characters (mainstays like Meredith, Miranda Bailey, and Richard Webber at the very top of the list) remain compelling and continue to evolve in real and interesting ways.
Perhaps the answer to whether or not Grey’s Anatomy should continue beyond season 18 will depend on how the coming episodes are executed. Concluding any long-running television is always a tall order, but Grey’s history of rolling with the punches may prove of benefit. Over the years, Shonda Rhimes’ hit drama has seen many pieces replaced, a hefty crew turnover, and several new pilots taking a turn at the controls. The best that diehard Grey’s Anatomy fans can hope for is a runway long enough to ensure a smooth and satisfying landing. This show has already seen enough plane crashes to last a lifetime.
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