Fans of Grey’s Anatomy‘s grand Meredith-Derek romance need to know — in the wake of the unsettling events of Thursday night’s season finale — that series creator Shonda Rhimes aims to have the end justify the means, as the ABC drama enters what may be the final season for Ellen Pompeo and Patrick Dempsey, whose deals expire in a year.
TVLine spoke with Rhimes the morning after the assorted emotional bombshells were dropped, solidly rattling Meredith’s newly official marriage, Cristina’s future with Owen, and Alex’s latest (and failed) bid to move past Izzy.
TVLINE | Do you think you steeled yourself enough for the blowback from Meredith/Derek fans? Or did you feel you had some “capital” to spend, having just given them a wedding?
I don’t know if I steeled myself for the blowback. I’m sure there’s going to be some, but I’m not even sure I thought about it. I was busy thinking about setting us up for next season, which might be the final season for the [original cast members]. I wanted to spend next season doing nothing but telling stories about the originals, and I felt like in order to do that, we wanted to put everybody in a place where the focus was squarely on Meredith and Derek, Cristina, Alex….
TVLINE | Do you appreciate that the ABC promo department at least gave people a heads up of what was to come?
I’m at a place with promos where I sort of say, “Do what you guys do best.” I remember feeling very panicked about the way they were going to promote last season’s finale and they did an amazing job, so finally I decided that I can’t keep spoilers from getting out. Do it how you want to do it.
TVLINE | Tell us about the discussion about whether Meredith would actually do what she did, tampering with Derek’s Alzheimer’s drug trial.
Here’s what I think is interesting about that, because I’ve heard a number of people say, “I don’t think Meredith would do that.” Meredith is the girl who put her hand on a bomb in a body cavity. Meredith is the girl who tried to help a serial killer kill himself, so that he could donate his organs. Meredith — and this is obvious – has a compass that has always led her to shades of grey. She does not believe in black-and-white, she does not believe in good or bad, she does what she thinks is right. It’s funny, when we first pitched this storyline to Ellen, the first thing she said before we got to the end was, “But I give Adele the drug, right? I definitely give Adele the drug [versus the placebo].” We said yeah, because that’s who Meredith is. And Derek has always been a person who believes in right or wrong, and that has been the fundamental argument of their relationship. I also feel like it’s important to say that Meredith and Derek aren’t getting a divorce; their marriage is in trouble.
TVLINE | But for TVLine’s season finale scorecard, do we count this as a “Break-Up”?
TVLINE | As we left Meredith in her house with little Zola, what percentage of her is feeling undeservedly deserted, and what percent accepts some responsibility for pushing Derek away?
I don’t know. Maybe 50-50? She made a choice but she knew she made a choice. It wasn’t a simple choice to make, but it was the only choice for her to make. As a woman who would tell a gunman to shoot her [n the Season 6 finale], that’s who she is. She deals with consequences later. I know that she feels justified, but I also think she knows she made her own bed.
TVLINE | And what is going on in Derek’s mind as he camps out there in the frame of the unfinished dream house?
He just needed his space. The work of his life, which was him basically trying to cure the disease that Meredith eventually will likely suffer from, has been ruined. If he knew about the baby [Zola], things might be different, but he doesn’t. Right now he’s just angry and he needs a chance to get over it.
TVLINE | You’ve previously told us that Meredith and Derek are destined to be “together forever.” Do you feel that undercuts the drama when you do a finale like this? Or does it in fact amp things up, leaving us to wonder how on Earth they come back from such a deficit?
I feel like Meredith and Derek are meant to be together forever, and we’re going to make sure that in the end they end up together, one would hope – unless one of them dies or something. So, no, I don’t think it undercuts the drama. I think how we get there is the journey.
TVLINE | I was going to bring up Ellen’s quote from a year ago, where she said she would “probably not” renew her contract after Season 8. But it sounds like you’re preparing for next season to be her and Patrick’s “last hurrah.”
It might be the last hurrah for a lot of them; you never know. I really don’t know and I don’t presume to know. Everybody [including Chandra Wilson, Justin Chambers and James T. Pickens] has an individual choice to make and I get that. It’s been seven really amazing years. Everyone has a choice to make. All the originals are in play.
TVLINE | You’ve done an excellent job of having Cristina stick to her guns on the baby issue – do you think you can hold your ground and in fact have a lead character on a Big 4 network’s pride-and-joy terminate her pregnancy? Or realistically are there other factors in play?
No one’s ever told me I couldn’t, so it never occurred to me I couldn’t. It is a polarizing issue, and we deal with a lot of polarizing issues. Addison performs abortions on Private Practice all the time, and she’s had one herself; Violet has had two herself. I don’t feel like that’s the point. Every woman has her legal, God-given right to choose.
TVLINE | Are we counting Cristina and Owen as a “Break-Up”?
[Thinks for a moment] I don’t know. That one, I don’t know. I’m still debating what’s going to happen with Cristina and Owen, in my own head. Every day I change my mind about what’s going to happen with them.
TVLINE | Turning to Alex: Does it pain you to put the boy through such romantic travails each season?
I want him to be happy so badly! I really do. It’s so difficult because he’s such the kicked dog a lot of the time, and his character is so tough about it. But you really feel sorry for him. I feel like he hasn’t had any happiness since Izzy.
TVLINE | In a world where Rachael Taylor doesn’t have a Charlie’s Angels reboot to run off to, do Alex and Lucy end this season going strong?
I love Lucy and I thought Rachael was great; she has such a sparkle to her. If that pilot hadn’t happened, things would be entirely different.
TVLINE | Speaking of guest cast with pilots in play: Did you have psychic intel that Scott Foley’s CBS show wouldn’t get picked up??
No, and let me tell you, we were holding our breath. I wish all the best for Scott, but we were holding our breath. We fully planned to go forward with [the Teddy/Henry] story in a slightly different way if he had gotten another television show, but we knew we were ending it this way no matter what.
TVLINE | So Foley will definitely be back next season?
I am very hopeful that we will see him again.
TVLINE | I felt last night like the character of Mark was speaking for you, saying that it’s time to pull back on the Mark-Lexie teases.
I really like Mark and Lexie together, and I re-edited that scene like 50,000 times. I took it out, I put it back in…. The writers and I argued about it for days and days, and it felt like we needed to give Mark some place to go. He’s been in baby land this whole season and he needs to step out of Callie and Arizona’s relationship and stand on his own. That’s what we’re trying to do.
TVLINE | Before we go, I was wondering: As a Lost fan, do you have mixed feelings about Grey’s going up against Michael Emerson’s new CBS show in the fall?
No, no, I don’t. I have Henry Ian Cusick on [the new midseason series] Scandal, so I have my own Lost piece — and I feel good about that.
TVLINE | And as a Buffy enthusiast, can we count on your DVR being set to catch Sarah Michelle Gellar’s now show, Ringer?
You know, I literally have been working so hard, I did not know that she had a show that got picked up. But I am sure I will check it out!