Peripheral vs Central

A few days ago, I saw my very first episode of Grey’s Anatomy, from early in the second season. And I was struck by the difference between how I found Meredith Grey’s story, and the patient of the week’s.

The patient is Bonnie and she’s in a train crash, in which she and another passenger (Tom) have a metal pole rammed through them, so they’re pushed together face to face. The doctors can’t treat either one without sliding one of them off the pole, and whoever it is is essentially a goner. Bonnie’s injuries are worse, and she has little chance of survival regardless – but if they slide her off, Tom has a better one. Tom protests, saying it should be him that’s sacrificed. We never find out if that’s because he’s the man or because he’s older – because *Bonnie* tells him that it wouldn’t be fair either way. She’s clearly afraid, and glad enough that she’ll be anaesthetised and not hurting when it
happens – but she still tries to comfort Tom through his guilt. She is quite the hero through the whole thing. And as a bonus, her S.O. is delayed getting in, so he gets no chance to make it about him.

Meredith by contrast starts the episode drunk (in her defence, she didn’t deliberately start the shift that way; she was called in because of the aforementioned train crash). But she spends most of the episode doing no medicine, wandering around with an IV in her arm, sobering up. And angsting about the ultimatum she’d just given her crush-boy about choosing her or his wife. Which she brings up as they’re prepping for surgery on Bonnie. Once they’ve slid Bonnie off the pole, Meredith gets into a tizzy saying they shouldn’t let her die, they have an obligation. To which I thought, “How about an obligation to respect her choice, and save the person she gave up her life for?” At the end of the episode, the crush-boy has chosen his wife, and she’s wandered off to cry somewhere. He cries too, but it seems to be over Bonnie and Tom.

As you might expect, I preferred Bonnie’s story to Meredith’s. And – finally getting to the point – it made me think of an essay by Ide Cyan on “exceptionalism” (http://blogs.feministsf.net/?p=128; mentioned in one of Revena’s Internet round-ups), and wonder if this is a manifestation of something similar. That one-off female characters get to be braver, stronger, and more heroic than regulars because they’re one-offs – exceptions that can be forgotten about when their episode is done.

But we don’t forget this stuff. We see good characters and remember them, and wonder why they are exceptions. Why all the stories aren’t about good characters. I know I’ll remember Bonnie and Tom long after I’ve forgotten Meredith and crush-boy.

Comments

  1. sbg says

    I know tossing the term Mary Sue around can be problematic, but Meredith Grey is the biggest Mary Sue on television right now, I think. For reals. The handful of episodes I’ve seen have clearly marked her as the least symathetic of the bunch (and that’s sayin’ something), and she’s supposed to be the MOST.

    But that’s another rant. ;)

  2. MaggieCat says

    Actually in the last episode, they managed to make Meredith one of the most sympathetic characters they’ve got. Granted, they did it by running everyone else’s character INTO THE GROUND, but I can officially say I don’t hate Mere anymore. :-) I don’t have any to spare.

    Blind, seething rage for the rest of that catastrophic episode is still in full force though.

    Topic? What’s that? Actually, I loved Bonnie and was so sad to see her death, even though it was pretty unavoidable. She handled it with a lot more grace than I think most people would have even been able to imagine, let alone muster. It would have been nice if Meredith hadn’t managed to shift the focus to herself as Bonnie died, although I understand why the show would think it needed to connect her story to their lead character (as much as I think it was unnecessary).

  3. scarlett says

    I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – it’s beyond my comprehension that the writers of GA can write so many ither great characters and so royally drop the ball with Meredith…

  4. Jennifer Kesler says

    It’s almost like it’s done on purpose, isn’t it? I mean, surely that can’t be. ;) And yet, in tinfoil hat moments, one wonders.

  5. scarlett says

    Well, they did the same thing with every other relationship Syd had on Alias, they screwed up with Vaughn…

  6. baskerville says

    I kept wondering why they couldn’t cut the pole in half!

    I think there wasn’t enough room between them, or something, and moving either one enough to make room would also be damaging enough to be fatal. Though it’s been awhile since I’ve seen the episode, so I’m not sure, but I also seem to remember a short exchange about how the pole could shift during cutting, too, potentially losing them both patients.

  7. MaggieCat says

    At that point the tamponade of the pole was the only thing keeping either of them alive. Shifting anyone around risked the patient bleeding out before they could open them up enough to repair the organs that had been damaged. They couldn’t adequately stabilize to cut the pole with both patients still in place since there wasn’t any room between them.

    They did cut the pole after Bonnie had been moved so that the length was short enough to allow them to lay Tom down for surgery. That way they could open up the cavity and repair the damage as they removed the pole, creating a more controlled bleed.

    Ah, early season 2- before the show managed to both suck and blow.

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