CN: Abuse, Trauma, Assault, Suicide Attempt, PTSD, Depression
I’ve been re-watching Grey’s Anatomy as my background show. I got pulled back into it after re-watching the episode where Dr. Bailey has to treat a Nazi. There were enough things going on in the episode that I just recognized based on watching the show a long time ago, and there are times when I can’t help it. Not remembering things, especially stories, irritates me and I feel the need to refresh my memory.
The following rant will contain spoilers for the first three maybe parts of 4 seasons.
One thing that struck me quite a bit on this go round, is how the nice men, the “Honourable men”, the so called good guys of Seattle Grace Hospital, are all abusive assholes.
Let’s start with Derek Shepherd aka McDreamy.
He meets a girl in a bar and sleeps with her. There is something to be said about consent and alcohol and the prevalence of this kind of assault, however, let’s ignore that for now. He sleeps with her and the next morning finds out that he is her boss. More than that he is her boss’s boss and she is an intern.
He pressures her into the relationship, despite her misgivings and concerns about what it will do for her reputation and career. He pressures her into a relationship despite the fact that it is a massive conflict of interest. Despite the power differential – and I suspect that actually it is because of the power differential.
He never tells Meredith that he is married. True, he left his wife. True, he is upset about the fact that she cheated on him, but he doesn’t even tell Meredith that. He keeps from her his personal history from before he came to Seattle.
As a result, Meredith has to face being surprised by the arrival of his wife, whom he hasn’t divorced. She gets to be surprised and to feel like a homewrecker. She feels ashamed and upset, and struggles to deal with all this. She wants nothing more to do with him, but he convinces her it is over. He tells her that he wants to be with her. And then just when he convinces her to give him a chance, he changes his mind and goes back to his wife leaving Meredith heartbroken again in a short span of time.
When she starts dating, he gets angry at her and tries to slut shame her. He finally cheats on his wife with her after yelling at her as though it is her fault that he fell in love with her while still married and then chose to go back to his wife. After chasing her and trying to convince her to start a relationship with him, he dumps her “for her own good” just as she’s made the decision to be with him.
Throughout all of this, Meredith is dealing with a lot of related issues. Her father left her when she was 5, her mother was distant and likely emotionally abusive. She has intimacy issues, and clearly has abandonment issues and trust issues, all of which are triggered by their relationship. In addition to all that, she faces death after having her hand stuck inside a patient, holding what basically amounts to a bomb. While she survives, she witnesses the bomb tech exploding and dying in front of her. She has sex that is basically her being raped, with George, which turns into him being angry with her and all of her friends blaming her for it.
She starts displaying all the symptoms of depression and PTSD, even showing signs that she may be suicidal. Then she faces death again, this time in the middle of a massive trauma where a patient knocks her into freezing cold water. Although she didn’t jump in, and although she fights to stay afloat for some time, her suicidal impulses kick in and she stops swimming for just a moment. Long enough for the cold and the water to essentially drown her. She almost dies, and McDreamy faces the fact that it might have been a suicide attempt. He blames her for almost dying, and while there is a part where she admits that she gave up for just a moment, it is worth noting that the water was cold enough to give her hypothermia in a matter of minutes. It is not unusual for people to freeze up in response cold water. It is not unusual for people to start drowning when they are thrown unexpectedly into water even when they are good swimmers. Despite all this, he immediately assumes the worst.
The fact that he does, shows that he recognized her depression. He is a doctor, a surgeon who is not unused to dealing with post-operative depression. Moreover, as a neurologist he should be even more aware of what is ultimately a neurological condition. He knows better than most that the brain is not easy nor are these issues a matter of choice.
So what does he do? Does he get her help? Does he convince her to talk to a psychiatrist and to start anti-depressants? Nope. Instead he uses it to punish her. For something that isn’t at all her fault, he acts like depression is a choice, as though her having emotional trauma resulting from a series of bad occurrences is an act of selfishness.
He does this as a way of punishing Meredith for the fact that the Chief decided to deny Derek the chance to be chief because of his relationship with Meredith. Because the Chief thinks that the way to protect his ex-lover’s child is to make sure her boyfriend isn’t so busy that he neglects her, never stopping to consider that in doing so he makes her boyfriend resent her.
He makes her feel guilty for having a hard time, he makes it feel as though her depression, her trauma, some of which he was the direct cause of, is a burden on him. He makes her feel as though she risks losing him if she ever “fails” in front of him again.
Her mother dies, and then the first maternal figure who ever shows her unconditional affection, who accepts her just as she is, who creates a bridge for her to get to know her estranged father, dies while in her care. Then to make matters even worse, her father blames her for the death, hits her, and un-invites her from the funeral. While she is processing all that, she freezes up during an important test: a move that could be considered professional suicide.
She conceals this fact from Derek, not wanting to burden him with her freak out after his oh so poignant speech about not being able to breathe for her all the time. His response however, is to blame her for her lack of disclosure.
He creates a situation where she can’t win. If she lets him know how much she is struggling, how much all these events are impacting her, if she makes him aware that she is dealing with PTSD and depression, she is a burden. But if she keeps this information from him, then she is keeping secrets and not trusting him.
When later that same night he gets hit on at Burke’s bachelor party, something that must not be completely uncommon given his looks, charm, profession, etc. he uses this fact to punish Meredith for her lack of disclosure. At a moment when she is feeling most vulnerable, when she is dealing with being abandoned by her father for the second time in her life, when she is likely overwhelmed with feelings of anxiety surrounding the permanence of the people she loves – he tells her that another woman flirted with him and he was interested. He makes it clear that his presence in her life is conditional.
Instead of proving stability, instead of supporting her and helping her find her footing while she is battling an angry sea of emotions, he undermines her world even further. Then to add insult to injury, he blames her for it. Tells her it is her fault he is interested in other women because she refuses to trust him. Acts like she is the one pushing him away when he is the one who has been spending time away from her.
A common theme throughout their relationship in all this time is Meredith’s lack of communication. He claims that she is withholding while he shares every part of himself. Meanwhile he is the one who never tells her he’s married, who doesn’t introduce her to his family despite the fact that they are apparently close, who keeps from her what the chief said.
When Meredith undergoes surgery for appendicitis and ends up having a stoned conversation with Addison, Derek’s ex-wife, it says a lot that he instinct is to tell him not to hurt her. For all that everyone else goes on to act as though it is Meredith inflicting emotional damage on him, his ex-wife recognizes the abusive potential within him. In fact, we very much see it during our brief window into their marriage.
Derek punishes her, not for cheating as Addison assumes, but rather for making him lose Meredith when he decided to stay married. While Addison pursued him for some time, when it was clear he wasn’t interested she gave him a choice, to stay with her or go with Meredith. The choice to stay was ultimately his. He made the decision to stay and yet he puts the entire responsibility on Addison.
Every time Addison dares to ask to be treated with a little bit of respect, he brings up her guilt: the affair she had with his best friend. He tells Addison that he is in love with Meredith, information which ultimately serves no purpose except to hurt her.
When she tries to point out that her affair wasn’t just an act of infidelity but a response to unhappiness, he waves off all responsibility.
He humiliates her over and over again, proclaiming all her failings loudly to anyone who will listen. He continues an emotional relationship with Meredith right out in the open, and when Addison tries to make the best of the situation by extending the hand of friendship to the other woman, she is rewarded with mocking and humiliation from Derek over this fact.
When Meredith finally starts a new relationship, he punishes Addison for this fact. He acts cold towards her, angry, loses his temper and insults her. He inflicts emotional suffering on his wife, because the woman he had been carrying on an emotional affair with is attempting to move on with her life.
When we have a brief glance into the moment when Derek discovers her infidelity, we see him handle her roughly and push her outside into the cold rain. He locks her out there, half dressed, crying, banging on the door to let her in – another act of humiliation.
I believe his choice of pursuing someone with whom there is a significant power imbalance is deliberate. After his first victim cheats on him and so wounds his ego, he searches out someone over whom he can exert enough power to keep them from being able to leave.
He is older than Meredith with all the associated power in that statement.
More than that, he is her teacher and her boss, as well as her friends’ teacher and boss. When she displeases him, he can withhold surgeries from her. He can withhold knowledge that she needs to move forward with her career. He has the power to severely impact and even destroy her career. He is an attending. He is a renowned surgeon who is well known in the community. At the start of their relationship, he believes that he will someday be chief, with the power to remove her from the program, hire her, give her references, and more.
Because he is her boss, he can corner her at work, can force his presence on her. He is constantly pressuring her into doing what he wants her to do, never taking her no for an answer.
McDreamy is emotionally abusive and manipulative. He uses his good looks, charm, and medical skill to convince everyone around him that he is a kind, caring, man, all the while he inflicts psychological damage on the women he is with. The proof is written all across Meredith’s psyche and the progressively worse mental health she displays over the course of their relationship.