Tuesday, March 10, 2020

Grey’s Anatomy 16x16 Recap: “Leave a Light On” (The Perfect Life) [Contributor: Julia Siegel]

“Leave a Light On”
Original Airdate: March 5, 2020

For seven episodes, the entire Grey’s Anatomy fan base has been waiting to find out the fate of Alex Karev. We last saw Alex in the November 14, 2019 episode when he showed up at Meredith’s medical board review with a massive group of her past patients and a stack of letters from the show’s past characters to tell the board why Mer should get to keep her license. After his heroics, Jo revealed in the November 21 midseason finale that Alex was visiting his mother in Iowa.

However, in the last episode, Jo called her mother-in-law and found out that Alex had never been there, leading Jo thinking that her husband abandoned her. Where has Alex been and how will his story wrap up? Those questions get answered very quickly in, my opinion, the most beautiful write-off in Grey’s Anatomy history: Alex is living in Kansas with Izzie and their two children.


Alex’s farewell episode is broken up into five distinct sections: three letters read in full by Alex, one letter reaction, and a final tie-it-all-up ending. While the decision to have Alex go back to Izzie may be controversial, this is indeed the best case scenario for me. This is a much better ending to Alex’s story than killing him off or having him run away because he didn’t want to be with Jo anymore. Instead, the producers and writers took the time to craft this truly touching and emotional story. The thoughtfulness of each letter and Alex’s reasons for leaving shows that the producers and writers have a huge amount of respect for the character who arguably had the largest series arc.

Most of the episode is a clip show with scenes from the pilot through the current season interspersed with each character’s reaction to Alex’s words. The flashbacks coincide with what Alex has written as well. The episode opens with the scenes from the pilot as set up. We then see Richard at an A.A. meeting crumpling up a piece of paper and throwing it in the trash. The scene cuts to Grey Sloan Memorial, where Jo is sitting in one of the lounges. Link walks in and gives her a stack of mail and a bag of clothes, implying that she has been living at the hospital for the past few days. The top envelope’s return address reveals that Alex has sent her a letter from Baldwin City, Kansas. Scenes of Bailey and Meredith receiving handwritten letters from Alex quickly flash by with Meredith’s letter not having a return address and only saying it’s from Evil Spawn. Back at the hospital, Link offers to stay and read the letter with Jo, but she wants to read it alone.

As each woman opens and begins to read her letter, Alex’s voice reads each of them. While there is no new footage of Alex, it is a really nice touch to have Justin Chambers “appear” one last time. The reading of Meredith’s letter comes first. I’m sure some people won’t be happy with the decision to have Meredith’s letter read before Jo’s, but we can’t forget that Mer is the titular/central character of the show and her profound connection with Alex. The letter begins by Alex saying that he is not returning. He doesn’t want to hurt Jo, but he has already left and won’t be coming back. He tells Mer that a letter isn’t the way he wanted to say goodbye, but he ultimately decided to take the easy way out. As Alex speaks, the scene from the pilot where Meredith and Alex are introduced plays.

Then, just about every scene of Mer helping Alex appears in compilation form as Alex’s letter states that he owes Mer the truth. He explains that he knew he couldn’t tell her in person because she would set him straight and wouldn’t let him leave. I particularly enjoyed the scene of Alex acting like a frat boy to Mer in the locker room after the heart in the elevator surgery to make the point of Mer setting Alex straight stronger. Alex continues his letter by saying he deserves the guilt he feels for not coming back and facing her, but he doesn’t want to be set straight or hear the right thing this time. He feels that the right thing is no longer in Seattle and swears that him leaving is not about work, Mer, or Jo. It is then that he reveals that he left for himself and went back to Izzie in what was a massive shocker going right into a commercial break, leaving the live audience several minutes to pick our jaws off the floor.

The letter continues with Alex explaining that he can’t call Mer back or lie or promise to come home because Seattle is no longer his home. The words are accompanied by some great past Alex and Izzie moments/clips. Alex explains that when he called people on Mer’s behalf to help save her medical license, it was a good excuse to call Izzie because he genuinely wanted to know how she was doing. We then get another clip package of Izzie and Alex’s wedding along with their best moments. Alex explains that he wanted to hear Izzie’s voice again and when she picked up the phone, he heard little voices in the background. Izzie told him that she has twins, a boy and a girl, and that they are Alex’s. We do get to see some footage of the twins sprinkled throughout the rest of the episode, but Alex and Izzie do not have new footage. Alex reveals that he was shocked to find out that Izzie had had their kids, which is everything he always wanted.

Alex continues to say how he still deeply loves Jo and always will. He admits he would choose Jo if it were just about her or Izzie, but the twins change everything. We then get the recap clips of Izzie saving the frozen embryos when she had cancer and Alex freaking out about it to Mer. Alex had signed legal documents saying Izzie could use the embryos whenever she chose to, and she decided to finally have kids as a single mother. Alex reveals that his five-year-old twins’ names are Eli and Alexis. He knows he should have told Jo or Mer when he found out, but didn’t know what to say. After Mer’s trial, he went to Kansas to meet his children. He tells Mer all about how both kids want to be doctors and that they enjoy baking with Izzie. He can’t believe he is living on a farm in Kansas with his own family. He goes on to say that Izzie is a surgical oncologist and that he is applying to be the head of peds at a nearby hospital.

Alex says he can’t be mad at Izzie for keeping the kids from him. He is happy that they now have the opportunity to have a family, two parents, and for him to be a dad. He says he thinks of Mer when he isn’t sure he can be a parent to remind himself of all that Mer has accomplished. Alex tells her that she has always been her own person and a force of nature and doesn’t need anyone but herself. The letter wraps up by saying that Mer can come to Kansas and convince him to come back to Seattle, but he hopes that she doesn’t. Alex says that Mer is his best friend and that he will miss her, but he knows he is exactly where he should be, which he never had before. He would like Mer to visit his family one day and meet his kids. He asks Mer to not hate him too much until she is ready to do that. Mer is fully crying at this point as she finishes the letter that is simply signed “Alex.”


Oddly, Jo’s letter is not nearly as dense or as long as Mer’s. Jo already looks like she has seen a ghost when she begins to read her letter. Alex begins Jo’s letter by apologizing and saying that she deserves more than a letter; this is accompanied by a clip of the first time they met. Alex admits that he is a coward and that this is by far the worst thing he’s ever done. He wants her to understand it’s about him and not her because him leaving is not what Jo deserves. The tears for the audience start to come during the clip packages of Jo and Alex’s best moments. Alex says that he still loves Jo and lists all the things he loves about her. He especially loved that Jo made him kinder and loved him for who he was. He then drops the bomb that he’s also in love with Izzie, which flashes to a clip of Alex and Jo arguing about their future, the potential of kids, the potential of Izzie having Alex’s kids, and Jo feeling that she is the “let’s get a dog” girl. Alex describes how he imagined a life for Izzie and never thought he would be in that picture.

He describes to Jo that when he reached out to Izzie, it felt like no time had passed, which scared him. He tells her about the farm and that he belongs there. Alex doesn’t want to lie and pretend that the truth isn’t the truth. He reveals he can’t come back to her because of the kids. He feels that Jo will understand why he can’t leave and miss a second of his kids’ lives because both he and Jo had terrible experiences growing up without a real family. Alex hopes that Jo will love him back enough to let him take the chance to give his kids the life that he and Jo never had. He insists that he didn’t know Izzie would have his kids and that he doesn’t know how he could look anyone in the eye if he didn’t stay and try to make it work. He wants Jo to know that she isn’t the “let’s get a dog girl” and that he meant it when he asked her to marry him (cue the Jo and Alex wedding scenes).

He explains that he missed five years of his kids’ lives and that he didn’t exist to them until he walked through their front door. He wishes getting everything he always wanted didn’t have to hurt Jo in the process. Jo’s crying, we’re all crying, and everyone’s a mess. The letter continues to say that Alex can’t lie to Jo and that he can’t come back to Seattle. He can’t face her because he knows he wouldn’t be able to walk away. Alex thanks Jo for making him a better person and taking care of both of them. His final revelation is that he went to a lawyer, signed divorce papers, and left everything to Jo, including his shares in Grey Sloan Memorial. He wants her to know that whatever she chooses to do with the hospital shares will be amazing, just like her. Alex ends the letter by saying that Jo deserves everything good in this life and hopes that she will find someone better than him. He’s so sorry and doesn’t know how to end the letter because he doesn’t want to. Jo’s letter is signed, “Goodbye, Alex.”


Bailey has the third letter, which is even shorter than the first two. Alex starts this letter by saying he guesses Bailey won’t be surprised by or happy about him leaving. He talks about how he earned his Evil Spawn nickname. In a lighter moment, Alex says that Bailey didn’t like him much in the beginning and that he didn’t like her either. Both of these moments are accompanied by “Evil Spawn” clips and the best of Bailey bossing Alex around from the early seasons. Alex says that Bailey was mean and impatient and liked everyone else except for him, even when she pretended otherwise. He says she took one look at him and decided, like most people, that he would never be more than garbage. However, unlike everyone else, Bailey allowed him to grow up.

He goes on to say that she did more than teach him. He admits it would be great if he stayed in Seattle to repay her, but he and Bailey both know that can’t happen. He tells her that she helped him grow up by taking a bullet out of his stomach. The clips of Alex getting shot and Bailey removing the bullet are still haunting ten years later. He appreciates that Bailey protected Jo from herself. He says if he went any further and started listing everything he learned from Bailey that he would never stop writing. Alex then does a little bragging for the first time in a long time by saying that he is a good peds surgeon. He thinks he’s an okay guy, but knows he’s a really good surgeon. He admits he didn’t learn that he was a good surgeon himself; rather, Bailey kicked his butt and expected a lot from him and got him the right teachers. Alex knows who he is and doesn’t need to be the guy with all the awards. He likes being the guy that Bailey trusts and even trusted to run the hospital.

Bailey is shocked to read about Alex and Izzie’s twins and practically rolls her eyes when Alex says that he has a chance at being the chief of peds at local hospital and maybe he shouldn’t put her down as a reference. He ends the letter by saying he is just writing to say goodbye and thank you. He knows it sounds lame and small compared to all she has done for him. The letter ends with, “Goodbye and thanks. I love you, Dr. Bailey. Dr. Alex Karev.” Bailey tears up from that ending, but doesn’t let the tears fall. 


Richard also received a letter from Alex, but instead of hearing what Alex said to Richard, we get to hear Richard’s thoughts on the letter. Richard is at an A.A. meeting and speaking to the group about how much he loved being a surgeon and saving lives. He also loved his students because it gave him the same feeling of saving lives. The clips of Richard teaching add a sweet moment. Richard goes on to tell the group that he woke up this morning to a letter from one of his students, and not the one he would have put money on. Clips of Richard and Alex moments play while Richard explains how Alex did the work, showed up, stepped up, and became an excellent student, a stellar surgeon, and a fine teacher. Richard says that Alex chose to abandon it all for the woman he says he loves and the two children they now have. He wants to look Alex straight in the eye and yell at him for the mistake it feels like he is making.

However, Richard tells the group how he himself has fallen in love with two women at the same time before and knows that you have to go with your gut. He wants to tell Alex to not give his life in Seattle away, but Richard missed his chance to see his own child grow into an adult. He says he would give anything to have had a life with Maggie, so he understands why Alex isn’t coming back. Richard only wishes he had a chance to say goodbye to Alex in person and thank him for helping him be a better doctor and teacher. Richard feels slighted that Alex up and left with only a letter and an apology and didn’t consider that he might want to say goodbye as a teacher, colleague, and friend.

Richard has seen his fair share of people leave and he has left before too; but lately, he feels that all the people he loves are disappearing. He can’t find a way to make it stop, which is sad enough on its own without seeing his hand shaking uncontrollably. I like that we get to see Richard say that the way Alex left isn’t fair because someone had to say it and seeing the real emotions come through makes for a powerful scene.


The episode wraps up quickly by giving short scenes to each woman to show their response to their letters. First, we get a series of flashbacks, starting with the scene from last season where Jo tells Alex that he can call Izzie if he wants to know how she is, which is when Alex describes the fantasy life he made up for Izzie to Jo. The mixer scene from the pilot is up next, as we see Izzie and Alex meet for the first time. Izzie and Alex’s entire story is then shown in clip form, which morphs into flashes of their twins along with previous clips to mirror the moments.

After the heartwarming video package, we see Bailey sitting on her couch, still looking at the letter. Ben walks in and reveals to the audience that he has been sleeping on the couch for the past few days. Remember how Bailey offered foster kid Joey to live with her and her family without discussing it with Ben first? Bailey tells Ben about Alex’s letter and says that if they take her recommendation seriously, Alex will soon be the head of peds at Shawnee Memorial in Kansas. Bailey continues to say that Alex could easily have been lost, but he survived his first family and foster homes. He became a man, father, and surgeon by luck and chance. Bailey doesn’t want Joey’s future to be up to luck and chance, which is a wonderful way to segue Alex’s farewell to the future of the show. Ben agrees to let Joey stay and says that he only wanted to talk about it first. He says they both make big, sweeping decisions without telling each other. Ben’s down for all the change and the easy and hard times. He wants Joey to have a family, but says that that family needs to learn to talk to each other first. Bailey apologizes, and they make up.

Back at Grey Sloan Memorial, Jo is staring off into space in the lounge. Link is hovering in the doorway and comes in when Jo finally acknowledges him. He wants to take her day drinking to take her mind off of things. Jo’s phone buzzes, and Maggie is paging her for help in a surgery. Jo gets up, puts the letter in her bag, and decides to go to work and hang out with Link later that night. Link is impressed with his best friend and tells Jo that she is his hero. Jo leaves by saying that she is her own hero too.

Meredith is sitting on her couch at home, reflecting on Alex’s letter. Zola walks into the room with a science project that Alex had been helping her with. She wants to show Uncle Alex how her innovative dog feeder turned out. Mer tells Zola that she can’t show Alex right now and tells her daughter about Alex’s letter. The screen fades to black with a voiceover of Mer saying: “There’s no good way to say goodbye.” There is no truer statement, but this felt like a pretty close to perfect way to say goodbye to Alex.


Post a Comment