REM broke up this weekend after 30 years. They are the definition of fading away rather than burning out (Cobain would be disappointed is what I mean). I liked their music. “Shiny Happy People” will always hold a place in my suburban definition.
Oddly enough though, the lasting impact of REM on my life belonged in the song titles that were reused as episode titles by USC alum Shonda Rhimes, writer & creator of Grey’s Anatomy. I rewatched “Losing My Religion”, the second season finale of Grey’s, last night at 3 in the morning with two of my best friends after watching a bad sitcom, going to a toga party at a Jewish Frat and having a long heart-to-heart about our dark and twisty life stories (like Meredith Grey would when the show was good).
I remember watching the episode live. It was a two-night, three-hour finale. Sunday at 10/9c, “17 Seconds”, set up an intense cliffhanger for the conclusion on Monday at 9/8c, “Deterioration of the Fight or Flight Response/Losing My Religion”. It is easily one of my top 5 TV episodes of All-Time. Up there with Dexter’s Season 4 Finale and The West Wing’s Season 4 Penultimate and other super brilliant episodes.
SPOILER ALERT: This is the episode in which Denny Duquette (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), the perfect man if there ever was one, proposes to Izzie (Katherine Heigl, who is a very good actress despite her recent choice of roles), then dies, heartbreakingly, as Izzie gets in the elevator to see him in her beautiful dress.
Shonda herself said it best, said it for all of us:
So Denny Duquette died at 7:42 Monday evening.
Actually, he died once on the East coast and once again on the West coast and I’m pretty sure he’s going to die many more times on many more continents pretty damned soon.
I cried. When Denny died, I cried. I cried when I wrote the script page where Denny dies. I cried when we had the read through and the cast found out that Denny dies. I cried when Mark Tinker filmed Denny dying. I cried when Ed Ornelas edited Denny’s death. I cried watching them mix the song playing during Denny’s death. I’m a freaking crybaby when it comes to Denny.
I choose to blame editor Ed Ornelas for Denny’s death. Like I had nothing to do with it. Like I was an innocent bystander in the whole thing. Like it wasn’t me wrote it. I’d sit behind him in the editing room and sob into a tissue while saying kindly, supportive things to the back of Ed’s head. Things like “Denny Murderer! Dog Killer!!! DENNY-MURDERING-DOG-KILLER!!!”
I didn’t kill Denny. Ed did.
Look, I honestly have nothing to say for myself. No words in my own defense. Except I told you guys that the characters have to do what the characters have to do. I mean, I love Denny. Really love him. He was my “you jump, I jump” guy. He was my imaginary future husband. He was the guy I was dating in my head. HE WAS ALL I HAD. And now he’s dead. God, I feel so Izzie in this moment.
But the point is, Denny was always going to die. His character was created to die. I knew it. Jeffrey Dean Morgan knew it. And as much as I wanted Denny NOT to die when the time came, as much Jeffrey Dean Morgan wanted to NOT die when the time came, as much as Channing Dungey (our super cool studio executive ) begged me to not to hurt her Denny…
…it was his time. He had a stroke. He died. I had nothing to do with it. It was his time.
People die. Suddenly. Without warning. When you least expect it. People die. And it’s horrible and painful and utterly shocking but…it happens. And I wanted to present that on the show.
The good thing is – and you’re all yelling “GOOD THING? GOOD THING?!!!” – but, yes, there is a good thing in all of this. And that good thing is what Camille says to Richard. “I’ve been loved. I’ve been loved. That’s something everyone should feel once in their life.” Denny has been loved. And he dies knowing he was loved. And knowing that he loved back.
I named this episode “Losing My Religion” because, to me, that is what happens to each intern in this episode. Each intern lets go of the things they’ve held onto all season. George lets go of loving Meredith. Cristina lets go of her well-checked emotions. Izzie is forced to let go of her idealism. And that leads to her letting go of medicine. Alex lets go of his rage against Izzie. And Meredith…well, Meredith just lets go.
And everyone remembers the song at the end of the episode, when Meredith has to choose between Finn, who is fantastic and has plans, and Derek, who has a wife, but is also fantastic. But that’s the odd thing. That wasn’t the climax of the season. It was really the setup for season 3; the cliffhanger was laid out when Denny died and Meredith had sex with Derek. It wasn’t the best moment in the episode. The best moment is when Izzie gets in the elevator with a smile on her face, unknowing of the tragic fate that awaits her just two floors away.
The song that played there is my favorite in the episode. It’s the climax of the season, but it’s no symphonic bravado. It’s understated indie subtlety. Like the show at its finest, in its early years.
When we watched the show again last night at 3 in the morning, we all agreed.
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