by Hannah Valencia (’22) | March 29, 2021
As news of the Coronavirus outbreak surged, so too did my TV consumption. In fact, a coveted list rests in the Notes app on my phone, housing the titles of the 45 shows I’ve finished whilst in quarantine. I pride myself in the list’s variety; shows range from the comedy New Girl, to the dramatic series This is Us, to the reality show Love Island. However, the most notable quest I’ve conquered is finishing 17 seasons of Grey’s Anatomy in under two months, a feat I share with both self-admiration and a tinge of guilt.
Grey’s Anatomy started as a show that followed a group of doctors in their internship years, but as they grew, fought, and found love, the show transcended this initial storyline. Showrunner Shonda Rhimes has proven herself a true innovator in the medium of TV, crafting character arcs and exits that leave mouths agape and eyes red. In this regard, the Grey’s Anatomy fan base has become quite accustomed to tear-jerking deaths. Most recently, Andrew DeLuca earned his place among other deceased Grey’s Anatomy characters, his heartbreaking exit rivaling that of the beloved George O’Malley, Lexi Grey, Mark Sloan, and Derek Shepherd.
The emotion each storyline elicits is unparalleled, but I believe that Grey’s Anatomy earned its esteemed reputation because of Rhimes’s willingness to address social justice issues. Several episodes focus on racial profiling, the stigmas around the LGBTQ+ community, the aftermath of the COVID pandemic, and so on. A particular storyline in seasons 16 and 17 shed light on human trafficking, an issue rarely seen onscreen. In a season 16 episode, DeLuca tends to Sydney, a current patient, whom he believes is a victim of human trafficking. The details he notices, including a reluctance to speak for herself, actually pertain to real-life signs of human trafficking victims, demonstrating Rhimes’ mastery in balancing the dramatization of television with the seriousness of a genuine issue. However, DeLuca’s discovery is dismissed by his peers as a manifestation of his bipolar disorder. Finally, in a Station 19 and Grey’s Anatomy crossover episode, DeLuca pursues the human trafficker, sacrificing his own life in doing so.
As a self-proclaimed Grey’s Anatomy expert, I have high expectations for character arcs and deaths. How does DeLuca’s overall storyline compare to that of other beloved characters? There were no warning signs that may have indicated DeLuca’s death and actor Giacomo Gianniotti’s departure from the show. Moreover, the writers executed “a Mark Sloan,” a term I personally coined, in which the character wakes from surgery alive and happy then dies moments later. Thus, DeLuca’s death was unexpected and feelings of shock and sadness commingled within me. However, my emotional attachment to his character was not as strong as my feelings for Lexi Grey, and Derek Shepherd. As with any show, viewers often cling to characters introduced in earlier seasons (Andrew DeLuca first appeared in season 11). Despite this, I have a different, perhaps more important, emotion associated with DeLuca: respect. He died a hero and Gianniotti exited Grey’s Anatomy as a voice for victims of a typically hidden crime.
It was by no means a perfect episode. Personally, I find the crossover episodes to be a deceptive attempt at increasing the viewership of Station 19, a comparatively ordinary show. However, the episode’s beautiful acting, powerful writing, and focus on social justice outweigh any shortcomings.