SPOILER ALERT: The story includes details about tonight’s Season 17 finale of ABC’s Grey’s Anatomy.
ABC’s Grey’s Anatomy closed out its 17th season Thursday night with a finale that fast-forwarded through eight months of the pandemic, from July 2020 to April 2021, and the major life events for the Grey Sloan Memorial doctors over that period, including two attempts at a Maggie-Winston wedding (one aborted and one successful), two attempts at a Link-Amelia proposal (one aborted and one unsuccessful), one Owen-Teddy proposal (accepted) and a successful adoption for Jo who became Luna’s mom — and, in one of the finale’s biggest twists — possibly Link’s new love interest.
Like many episodes this Covid-themed season, the finale started at the beach, with Meredith, in April 2021, throwing rose petals on the sand and reminiscing about all the times people have asked her what she had learned from surviving Covid. “It taught me that I’m still alive,” Meredith says. And with that, we go back to…
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The highlights of that month include Jo vowing to move out, annoyed over Schmitt and their new roommate Helm’s constant banter on mundane subjects, like fruit, and Meredith returning to the hospital as the new head of the residency program.
Maggie and Winston exchange vows and are about to be pronounced husband and wife at a small backyard ceremony when his mother and her father object, urging them to wait and do a proper wedding “in a church, or at least with more than 10 people.” All agree, and the nuptials are halted (though the champagne and cake don’t go to waste).
Gerlie Bernardo (guest actress Aina Dumlao), a nurse at an assisted living facility, is admitted with Covid symptoms.
Amelia’s depression, which became evident when Link suggested they try for a second child in the last episode, gets deeper. “So much fear,” she tells a Zoom support group, which includes Richard, noting that “my child’s father is not one of us” as she does not share his bright outlook on life, marriage and more kids. “I feel lonely; I wish he got it.”
Jo’s recent sudden closeness with Link took another major step when she asks him to apply to foster Luna after she was rejected over a failed background check and a family had offered to take the baby in. He agrees, and the decision adds to Amelia’s mounting anxiety when he tells her about it.
Meredith is outside when Gerlie is discharged and wheeled out. The two chat about survivors guilt “that doesn’t go away” when Gerlie suddenly collapses.
Gerlie develops complications, and Meredith gets dizzy when she scrubs in to perform a simple procedure on her in her return to the OR.
Link’s foster application is approved, and the house inspection by a social worker is another trigger for Amelia when he tells her that, while the fostering of Luna would be temporary, “we will need (baby-proofing) one day when we have a second child.”
“I don’t want what he wants,” Jo tells her support group, now meeting in person outdoors. “I don’t know if that’s the disease thinking or just me, but marriage and more kids, I don’t want it, and I can’t tell him, and I’m mad, I’m mad at me.”
Teddy has a bout of Covid but has mild symptoms and doesn’t infect anyone, but it gets her even closer with Owen.
Grey’s Anatomy does its Christmas episode this season, condensed into five minutes.
Gerlie is rendered not eligible for a lung transplant.
Link again confides to his new best friend Jo, showing her several engagement rings he had bought for Amelia and asking for advice which one to propose with.
At a Christmas party at their house, Link is seconds away from proposing in front of everybody when it starts snowing in the backyard. It is part of an elaborate proposal Owen had planned for Teddy.
“We have hurt each other but we have forgiven each other,” he says as fake snow is falling. “We don’t make sense to the rest of the world but we make sense to us.” She says yes.
All doctors get their first Covid shot.
Richard tells Amelia that her romantic relationship with Link “doesn’t have to work” and they can just co-parent together.
“You are allowed to want what you want, even if it’s not what he wants,” he says. While Richard notes that he is not telling her to leave Link, he essentially does.
Gerlie gets on a double lung transplant list. “We need to stop thinking of Covid in terms of who survives and who does not,” Meredith says. “There will be millions of people who will be suffering from the after effects of Covid, and we need to advocate for them as hard as we advocate for everybody else.” This is a possible hint at a topic Grey’s may cover next season.
A “shark” lawyer wins Jo custody of Luna. But children are expensive, and to have the means to care for her, Jo has sold her shares in the hospital, which she initially offered to Link. The buyer is non other than Koracick (Greg Germann), who, in a video call, tells an exasperated Bailey that “I want to have a skin in the game” and that he would now be on board meetings and will need to review expense and progress reports. The move explains showrunner Krista Vernoff’s plan to have Germann — who exited as a series regular two episodes ago, when Koracick followed Jackson (Jesse Williams) to work for his foundation in Boston — back as a guest star next season. Williams and German were two of three series regulars to exit the show this season, along with Giacomo Gianniotti.
We are back at the beach with Meredith sprinkling petals, soon joined by one of her daughters. Turns out she is setting the stage for Maggie and Winston’s wedding redo.
The ceremony in front of their families and colleagues goes without a hitch this time but, before the reception, Meredith gets a call that they have donor lungs for Gerlie, and she and Teddy rush to the hospital. The transplant is successful, the wedding reception is joyous, with the two mixed up in an emotional montage.
Link pulls Amelia from the party for a romantic proposal on the beach, with Meredith’s children holding the rings. “I know the last year has been intense, but I do know that, no matter what happens, I want to go through it with you,” he says. “You challenge me, you thrill me, you impress the hell out of me, and there is definitely no one on earth like you so please would you do me the honor of marrying me?” Amelia looks horrified and does not utter a word.
Jo moves into Jackson’s old apartment with Luna and has a brief, sweet video chat with Jackson who wishes her “welcome home.” Before she could send change-of-address notification to her friends, there is a ring on the door and a heartbroken Link walks in, asking her whether he could crash at her place.
In the final montage, the wedding party — in formal attire — all go to the hospital to give Meredith (and Teddy) a clap-out following the transplant surgery. Meredith has not looked this happy in a long time. “I’m still alive,” she says in the voice-over.
“We initially wrote Meredith’s clap-out to be when she was discharged from the hospital, in Episode 1715,” she said. “But we quickly realized that moment seemed like the end of the season, so we came up with the brilliant idea of Meredith escaping her own clap-out, which felt very Meredith Grey to us. So many people had struggled with Covid, and she didn’t want to feel any different than anyone else. So we decided to clap Meredith out of the OR instead, which felt like the ultimate victory to her journey this season. That shot of Meredith, in the OR corridor, surrounded by her people, laughing and smiling in her scrub cap… It gives me all the feels. It gives me hope after such a hard year.”
As the country is slowly emerging from the pandemic, this was a fitting uplifting ending to a season, which tackled the pandemic head-on, depicting its devastating impact on victims’ families and healthcare workers.
The season, which also featured the tragic death of DeLuca (Gianniotti), struck an emotional balance, bringing joy to fans with the surprise returns of Derek (Patrick Dempsey), George (T.R. Knight) as well as Mark and Lexie (Eric Dane, Chyler Leigh) during the dream beach motif while Meredith was a coma, battling Covid.
“There’s lightness and beauty inside the darkness,” Vernoff told Deadline in March.
Season 17 of Grey’s Anatomy was dedicated to the healthcare workers who put their lives on the line to save others during the pandemic. At the end of the finale, the show also acknowledged the show’s Health and Safety Team.