Somewhere in the middle of…I think Season Eight? I quit watching Grey’s Anatomy. It wasn’t any kind of “I hate this show!” rage quit, it was just that I got a little behind. And then I got a whole season behind. And it just snowballed from there. The last episode I remember watching was the alternate reality episode where Meredith was engaged to Alex.
I tried to do a big rewatch and catch-up last summer in time for the start of the new season, but life got in the way and I quit right after George died (but before the funeral). This year I’m trying again. I’m pretty positive I won’t actually be done in time for the season premiere, but I’m hoping to be all caught up by the end of October. I’m mid Season Four right now, so we’ll see.
Seasons Three and Four are tough for me to get through sometimes because of just how strongly I dislike Izzie Stevens. The way she treats George and Callie (especially Callie) is abominable. And how George can watch her treat Callie the way she does and then somehow fall in love with her boggles my mind. She’s cruel. From the minute Callie is introduced to her, Izzie is nothing but cruel. Needlessly, unfeelingly, callously cruel. And the cruelty bleeds into the way she treats George, like he’s her toy that got taken away. Her entire relationship with Callie from their meeting in Season Two through her affair with Callie’s husband in Season Four can be summed up as one long temper tantrum because she sees someone else playing with her toy. Which makes it hard for me to watch these seasons.
As I sit here watching Izzie reveal just how selfish and unfeeling a person she is, raging at the hurt she and George are putting Callie through, I can’t help but compare it to the original Grey’s Anatomy love triangle.
When people discuss Grey’s Anatomy, we talk a lot about the great female relationships on the show, but we usually mean Meredith and Cristina. Which is an incredibly intricate and beautiful friendship, no doubt about it. But for me, I think it’s important to recognize just how progressive and rich and complex and most of all respectful was the relationship between Meredith and Addison.
When Addison was first introduced in the last few seconds of the first season finale, my reaction was immediate dislike. From her looks, from her clothes, from Derek’s reaction to her arrival, she seemed all set up to be hated. Derek’s awful wife: someone cruel and spiteful, someone too rich and too entitled, and someone we would be okay with Derek cheating on with Meredith. Someone who deserved it and who Meredith would rescue him from. Someone who would fight with Meredith, not because she actually loved Derek, but because it was fun to be wicked. That’s what I expected anyway.
But then Grey’s Anatomy went and did the unexpected. In just one small scene at the end of the Season Two premiere, Addison Montgomery proved to be so much more than my expectations. She was a real person. She was a person with strengths and flaws, with dreams and aspirations, with doubts and insecurities. She was someone who had made a mistake and was trying to rectify that mistake. And more than that, she was someone with a viable and believable claim to a relationship with Derek. They had history. They had chemistry. You could see, as the season went on, exactly how they might have been friends and lovers and companions. There was a real, rounded relationship there. And Derek choosing to stay with Addison or leave her for Meredith was a real choice. And all that was revealed in just one moment.
Addison’s bold, matter-of-fact admission that not only was it she who had done the cheating, not Derek, but that Meredith was the wronged woman in the scenario was the starting point to an incredibly fascinating look at female support, respect, admiration, and yes, even rivalry – all wrapped up into one relationship.
Their situation, the dreaded love triangle, was far from ideal, but they never blamed each other. It wasn’t Addison’s fault that she had met and married Derek long before Meredith ever knew them. And it wasn’t Meredith’s fault that Derek didn’t tell her about his past in New York. Neither of them were at fault for the predicament they found themselves in, and both women were very aware of that fact and always, always remembered it. In her first full episode, when a patient mistook Meredith’s role in the dissolution of Addison and Derek’s relationship and was rude to her, Addison not only stood up for Meredith, but demanded an apology for her as well. Before Derek decided to try and work on his marriage to Addison, when Meredith was trying to convince him to pick her (choose her, love her), she never once had a bad thing to say about Addison, instead describing her as a great person, someone “annoyingly kind and painfully smart.” Their personal rivalries were always kept out of their professional lives, both women able to work side by side with Addison as Meredith’s teacher during cases like the quints from Season Two and Meredith’s pregnant half-sister Molly from Season Three. And when Meredith almost drowned, it didn’t matter that she was still hurting from the divorce, it didn’t matter that Derek had chosen Meredith. That was true concern on Addison’s face as she stepped into the room to help and true compassion for the anguish Derek was in at the idea of losing Meredith for good.
Meredith and Addison cared for one another. They liked one another. They could even be almost affectionate at times. Awkwardly affectionate for sure, but it was still there. Now, let’s be quite clear. I don’t think we could ever actually call Meredith and Addison friends. No. They were not friends. They weren’t friends, but they were far, far from enemies. Instead, they were caring and compassionate and kind to one another throughout both Addison and Derek trying to make a go of it as well as Derek eventually choosing to leave Addison for Meredith. It wasn’t always easy for them, but they did it.
I do think it’s important to say that if this was all there was, just blind respect and admiration and compassion for each other, well – I think the relationship wouldn’t have been something I found so progressive and compelling. I think it would have felt false or naive. What elevated it was the awareness of the difficult nature of their relationship – the complexities and the awkwardness. Meredith and Addison were both so very, very conscious of the expectations other people would have of them, the expectations of how they were supposed to view the other and treat the other, and the reality of how the other may actually view them. Still fairly fresh from the earth-shattering news that Derek was married, Meredith yelled at him, describing Addison as his wife who was someone “not easy to hate.” And then a season later – after Derek had actually left Addison for Meredith – while performing surgery on Meredith’s half-sister’s baby during a particularly tense moment, Addison quipped about how scary the surgery is for her, saying “This is Meredith Grey’s neice. If I lost her, people might think I did it on purpose.” They knew they were supposed to be rivals. They knew they were supposed to hate each other and hurt each other. And they even paid lip-service to that behavior, such as Meredith and her friends taking issue with Addison’s salmon colored scrubs or Addison side-eyeing Derek over Meredith’s comparatively young age. But that’s all it was, lip-service. It wasn’t real.
For me, the pinnacle moment in their relationship – the best moment, the most honest and real moment they were able to have with each other, was their conversation before Meredith’s appendectomy (plus, super high Meredith was just funny).
How did you know Derek was the one? I know you hate me and all and you don’t owe me anything…I want him to be the one. But I would know if he was the one. You knew, right?
I didn’t…know. I just…Derek’s the kind of guy…I just knew he wouldn’t hurt me. Not on purpose anyway, not the way I hurt him.
He hurt me. When he chose you.
I should have let him go. I should have stepped aside. Been a better person. Should have…done a lot of things
Me too. A lot of things
I don’t hate you.
And then the moment gets even better when Addison – still hurting from the divorce, still mourning the end of her marriage, still angry with Derek for the way things ended – pulled Derek aside simply to tell him not to hurt her again. Addison was telling the truth when she told Meredith she didn’t hate her. Meredith was a woman who didn’t do anything wrong by falling in love with Derek, but got punished for it anyway. And Addison didn’t think she deserved to go through that hurt again.
Of course, Meredith and Addison do hurt each other. When you’re part of love triangle (at least, when you’re part of one that can’t be solved with a threesome), hurt it inevitable. But the hurt never came deliberately. It was never calculated or intended. Meredith and Addison never hurt each other through their behavior, just their presence and the accidental incidents of their respective relationships with Derek. Addison thought she was talking to the vet, for instance, when she laughingly complained that she and Derek were trying to have sex, when it was actually Meredith on the other line, calling Derek about their dog. Addison began to realize just how deeply in love Derek was with Meredith when she saw Derek basically flip out over her dating Finn (and punch Mark when he saw them simply talking to each other). And on the day her divorce from Derek was finalized, Addison couldn’t seem to get away from Meredith, running into her all over the hospital until she finally, tearfully, asked if she could just pick a floor and stay on it so Addison didn’t have to see her. None of these were instances of planned cruelty or anything like that, and in fact both women tried to make sure they didn’t hurt each other. I just…I love watching the awkward kindness of their relationship. It’s so refreshing.
Which probably makes watching Callie and Izzie and the horror that is their love triangle so much worse. To go from Meredith and Addison who try to always, always be respectful of this other woman who loves the same man they do, to the petty cruelty Izzie and Callie put each other through. Izzie was nasty to Callie from day one. She laughed at her and talked shit about her behind her back (constantly). She badmouthed her to George who was dating her, for no reason other than jealousy. Seriously, she didn’t have real complaints about Callie, just called her a freak and actively campaigned for George to eliminate her from his life, first when they were just dating and then later when they were married. Now, I’m not saying George and Callie’s marriage was a great idea, but that’s between George and Callie. Izzie doesn’t get to decide what George wants. She started to laugh in Callie’s face when she heard her whole name (which, in my opinion, was borderline racist seeing as Callie is a woman of color and her name, especially the middle name which was what Callie was most embarrassed by, is an ethnic name) and smirked to herself when she overheard Callie complaining to Bailey that none of Izzie’s class of residents respect her as Chief Resident. And of course, there’s the whole sleeping with her husband thing.
I willingly admit that Callie, too, could stoop to cruelty when it came to her rivalry with Izzie, but I find her to be…not justified, but understandable. Callie tried in the beginning. She tried befriending Izzie, but Izzie wouldn’t have it. She was there when Denny died, there in Izzie’s house caring for her in her grief. But you can only take someone’s shit for so long, and eventually Callie got over trying to be civil to Izzie. Once she recognized that Izzie’s cruelty came not just from spite, but from jealousy she could fight back by throwing their relationship in her face a bit, like smugly telling Izzie about them trying for a baby. When George told her about the affair, Callie announced it to the hospital in a morning meeting so everyone could judge Izzie. Izzie certainly was the majority of the cruelty, but that didn’t mean Callie was totally above a little pettiness herself. Callie’s just seems more excusable.
I’ve seen the season before, so I know that Izzie and George’s romance won’t last for very much longer. I’m almost at an end of Callie and Izzie fighting over him. But after watching Meredith and Addison, and the very mature and adult and sensitive way they navigated their own love triangle…it just makes Izzie come off that much worse. I miss Addison a lot this season. I may have to finally give Private Practice a try.