Thursday, April 1, 2021

Grey’s Anatomy 17x09 Recap: “In My Life” (Confronting the Past) [Contributor: Julia Siegel]

“In My Life”
Original Airdate: March 25, 2021

If you are someone who really enjoys character development, then the latest episode of Grey’s Anatomy is for you! It’s time to take a deep dive into the mind of Teddy Altman and see once and for all what makes her tick. This kind of storytelling typically happens over the course of a whole season or multiple seasons, which is how Teddy’s story has played out thus far. Even though the memories and thoughts Teddy has in this episode are not new, it is the first time she is actively confronting them. I know this trippy, confusing episode will rub some people the wrong way but stick with it because it is extremely important to showcase Teddy’s damaged psyche. Props to the brilliant directing of Kevin McKidd, who also stars heavily in the episode as Owen, and Tameson Duffy, who managed to show the very core of a character in a single episode through her clever script.


The episode is designed to be confusing and disorienting that way the audience can simultaneously experience what Teddy is feeling. The scenes constantly shift back and forth between what’s real and what’s not, so it’s easier to simplify things and break this recap into two sections: Teddy’s trip down memory lane and what’s happening in reality. Interestingly, this isn’t your typical bottle episode; it’s more of a strange play that puts everything on the table for Owen and Teddy. 

The show opens with Teddy lying motionless and practically comatose in her bed. We go into Teddy’s head and see that she is sifting through her memories in an attempt to find the biggest mistakes she has made in her life and correct them. What follows is enough to do a real number on Teddy. It’s also important to note that Teddy’s breakdown did not come out of nowhere; she has been struggling to keep it together since last season outwardly and half of her life inwardly. Teddy drops out of her memories and into what I will refer to as her self-created mind prison, which appears as an eerie version of the hospital. She walks down the dark, empty halls until she finds Meredith in her hospital room awake and talking like nothing is wrong. 

Out of nowhere, DeLuca comes by pushing a gurney with a body bag on it. Teddy looks back at Mer, who now appears as her current real-world state on a vent. The body in the body bag starts thrashing, and Teddy opens the bag only to find herself inside. DeLuca holds up a scalpel and asks Teddy if she is ready to cut, as they magically go from being in the hallway to the OR. They are about to operate on Mer with the rest of the main cast watching from the gallery, but Teddy doesn’t know what to do. To add to her confusion, the nearest monitor starts showing footage of the Twin Towers and the destruction from the 9/11 attacks. All of the sudden, Teddy’s deceased lover, Allison, is standing in the scrub room and catches Teddy’s attention before walking out the door. Hopefully you are following all this because it only gets weirder from here.

Teddy runs out of the OR and searches the halls for Allison, only to see her walk out the doors of the hospital. Naturally, Teddy follows and finds a car waiting for her. Mer joins Teddy in the parking lot and explains that this is supposed to be Teddy’s wedding night. The car is Tom Koracick’s, which is made apparent by a voiceover from that night of Tom telling Teddy that he will be waiting to run away with her. Teddy decides to try and change her fate by getting in the car. The car speeds away, and it is quickly revealed that both Tom and DeLuca are inside with Teddy. It’s quite sad how Teddy is holding herself responsible for DeLuca’s death and is feeling so much guilt that she is including him in all her major life moments throughout this episode. Tom talks as if Teddy has just left Owen high and dry with DeLuca interjecting here and there. They convince Teddy that it would be a good decision to call Owen and let him know that the wedding is off, but when Teddy opens her purse to find her cellphone, she is surprised to see a grenade instead.

The scene quickly cuts to the next morning, where Tom and Teddy have spent the night together at a hotel. Tom gives a sappy speech about choosing Teddy before he randomly disappears. Teddy’s brain takes over to show what their life would amount to in a matter of seconds: she has a baby in her arms and is pregnant with Tom’s child. Tom reappears and tells her that Owen has left town without a trace and took the kids with him. Teddy freaks out and tries to call Owen, unsuccessfully. She realizes that she has ruined her life and loves Owen and their kids, not Tom. She doesn’t want a life with Tom or for him to love her. So Teddy does the only reasonable thing left to do: she opens her purse, grabs the grenade, puts the grenade in Tom’s hands, pulls the pin, and blows him up.

The cloud of smoke dissolves, and DeLuca is now standing in Tom’s place. He cheekily tells Teddy to skip the theatrics and the grenade next time. Teddy starts thinking about her past relationships and the ups and downs, which we do see via flashback clips, until she settles on the moment when she threw Owen out of her apartment in Germany a few seasons ago. DeLuca is still with her, and he serves as a tour guide through her memories throughout the episode. Teddy apologizes for killing him and decides that if she never meets DeLuca she can never harm him. And thus begins a feeble attempt at rewriting the past that we all know can’t work. 

Teddy opens the door and asks Owen to come back. The scene changes to show us what life would have been like if Owen stayed in Germany and lived and worked there with Teddy. Their current life isn’t enough for Owen, who wants to get married right away. Before accepting, Teddy rights a previous wrong by telling Owen she doesn’t want any secrets between them and tells him the truth about Allison. Owen reacts much differently this time around and is completely accepting of the fact that Allison was the love of Teddy’s life. He feels bad that she has been living with that grief for so long and wants to ease her pain one day at a time. 

Things start to go back downhill quickly though, as Teddy and Owen stage a wedding in their living room with DeLuca officiating within a few minutes of their conversation. As DeLuca tries to marry them, Owen’s phone keeps going off with texts from his previous fiancées, wives, and lovers, including Cristina and Amelia. Teddy gets very jealous quickly, so she changes the scene to a bit further into their marriage. Owen is on the phone with Amelia when Teddy gets home, presumably after work. Teddy isn’t pleased to hear that Amelia is bringing Leo to them for the holidays and that Owen talks to her every day and loves her. Things start to get weird as Owen describes the order of importance of the women in his life and eventually lands on Cristina coming first. Teddy exasperatedly exclaims that he chose and married her and needs to act like it. Owen blurts out that Teddy doesn’t know how to love and that the only reason he came to Germany is Amelia, so Teddy should thank her. Teddy’s self-sabotage concludes with Owen thinking that she is Amelia and the epiphany that she will never be enough for Owen.

Of course, these are just instances of Teddy spiraling and thinking about the worst case scenarios. The scene shifts back to the creepy OR and Allison’s face pops up on the monitor this time. Teddy and DeLuca are alone in the room, so he asks her if it was love at first sight with Allison. She doesn’t really know the answer to the question, but Teddy does admit that she was always drawn to Allison. We are then plunged into a memory of Teddy and Allison in a park, where Allison finds an injured bird and asks her friend to help save it. They are then transported to the friends hanging out in Teddy’s room, and we learn that Allison helped Teddy deal with the loss of both her parents in the same year. Teddy is nearly as shut down as she currently is after the death of her mom, and Allison is having a difficult time convincing her to pack up her mom’s belongings before the landlord clears everything out.

Teddy recalls playing Scrabble with her mom every weekend for about a year when her dad was ill before he died at age 58. She admits that cleaning out her mom’s belongings will force her to accept that her mom also died and died young. Allison decides to do her friend a favor by volunteering to pack stuff up herself and thinks Teddy is in shock. Teddy somehow thinks that is a good moment to try and kiss Allison for the first time, but Allison pulls away. Teddy says she isn’t sorry, and Allison kisses Teddy. The memory ends and Teddy tells DeLuca that she never meant to hurt anyone by falling in love with Allison. She goes down another rabbit hole by saying that she feels responsible for Allison’s death because she left for work that morning instead of staying home for breakfast. Teddy starts to think that if she had had breakfast with Allison on the morning of 9/11, Allison would still be alive and maybe even DeLuca would be too. DeLuca forgives Teddy for not saving him, but that’s not enough for her. Teddy is convinced that it’s not too late to save him. 

Teddy plunges into the memory of lying in bed with Allison on the morning of September 11, 2001 and accepts the offer of a pancake breakfast this time. They then head out to a park, where Allison feels it’s time to tell their friend Claire about their relationship. Teddy isn’t sure that’s the best idea because she doesn’t want to hurt Claire. She doesn’t want any pain this time around and acknowledges the fact that she knows what she is seeing is not real. Teddy tells Allison that she doesn’t want this moment to end before they are interrupted by people running around frantically as the towers are attacked. Allison smells smoke and wants to go help, so Teddy distracts her by agreeing to tell Claire the truth. Out of nowhere, Allison starts choking from smoke inhalation, which is a morbid replaying of her death. Teddy tries to save Allison and begs her not to leave her. Allison dies despite Teddy’s best efforts, and it is revealed that her time of death has been popping up on every clock and watch in Teddy’s mind since the beginning of the episode. She is clearly haunted by that time, which is terribly sad.

We get a quick glimpse of reality, where Teddy hasn’t moved from her bed all day and is whispering that it’s all her fault. This is the first time she has spoken, so maybe there is some hope for her after all. Back in her mind, Teddy is back at the hospital walking around the halls with Mer. It’s worth noting that it is also oddly snowing inside the building. They pass tons of gurneys with white sheets on top of them. Each one represents a person whose death Teddy feels responsible for. Mer tells Teddy that she is wrong and that she had no control over any of it. 

Teddy uses Mer as a depiction of her moral and logical center, which is great “casting” by her brain. Mer gives one of her famous speeches and bluntly tells Teddy that she runs away from pain. She says that everyone blames themselves and tries to run away because they don’t think they deserve happiness, which is exactly Teddy’s problem. Mer concludes by correctly stating that there is no joy without pain and tells Teddy that they should leave her mind prison. Teddy asks Mer not to die on her too, so Mer says she will do her best before walking away. With that, Teddy snaps out of her mind and sits up in bed.


While Teddy reconciles with her past, present, and future, we do get interjections of what else is going on in her house. There is only one storyline that we get to see in reality, and it is equally important for character development. We first see Owen taking care of baby Allison, who is starting to talk. Owen is also trying to take care of Teddy, but she barely sees or hears him. He tries to get her to eat and gets no response, so he tries to pique her interest by telling her that Mer is in stable condition and might be able to try getting off the ventilator again in a few days. Teddy still doesn’t respond or acknowledge Owen’s presence, so he checks her pupillary reaction to make sure she doesn’t have a brain injury. Owen continues to attempt to elicit a response from his ex-fiancée by talking about the games Leo is inventing with his mom, whom Leo is staying with.

A knock at the front door interrupts the unsuccessful chatting, so Owen leaves to answer the door. Amelia has stopped by to drop off an IV and fluids at Owen’s request, as he is extremely worried about Teddy and isn’t willing to leave her unattended. Owen quickly tries to get rid of Amelia by telling her that he will keep her updated, but Amelia wants to stay and try to help. He begrudgingly lets Amelia in, but she too doesn’t have any luck getting through to Teddy. Owen is worried that he will need to admit Teddy to the hospital soon if she doesn’t snap out of it. He ominously tells Amelia that he has seen the look on Teddy’s face before in soldiers who never fully came back from war. 

The two doctors decide to put Teddy on the IV to keep her hydrated, which Owen is secretly hoping will bring her back to reality. Owen tries to keep himself busy by putting together a new bed for Leo, but Amelia has other plans and wants to get Owen talking about his feelings. She gets Owen to admit that he is sticking around because he wants to make sure Teddy is okay, but she hits a wall by suggesting he talk things out with Teddy. Owen doesn’t want to talk about anything with Teddy because it infuriates him. He goes on a mini rant about how Teddy shouldn’t get to use DeLuca’s death as an excuse to shut down and check out because everyone is feeling awful and still going on with their lives. He feels she is being selfish since the kids need her. Owen pivots to say that he doesn’t need Teddy because all she does is lie and cheat. Before Amelia can try and convince him otherwise, Owen tells her all about Allison and Teddy’s relationship.

Getting all that anger out probably made Owen feel better, but Amelia decides to ruin that catharsis by insisting that Owen needs to forgive Teddy. She doesn’t want him to pretend to forgive her just to get her to wake up; rather, he needs to truly forgive her for his sake. She knows that nothing Teddy did is okay, but he has loved her for decades and is his best friend. Owen doesn’t believe that Teddy deserves his forgiveness after all the lies. Amelia pulls out all the stops by asking him why Teddy can’t be allowed to love more than one person when he did. She feels that Owen should completely understand Teddy’s love and current situations because he has been there himself. She relates Teddy’s current crisis to when Owen choked Cristina. Owen gets very angry and denies that the two are even close to the same thing. Amelia drives her point home by saying that traumatized people lie and when someone is hurt, they tend to hurt other people. She finishes by saying that Teddy needs professional help, and she couldn’t be more correct.

Later on, Amelia thinks baby Allison knows something is off with Teddy and finally gets her to sleep after fussing for a while. Owen has calmed down, so Amelia reminds him that she has spent the day there because she loves him and wants to help. Poor Owen thinks it would have been easier if Teddy did drive off with Tom on their wedding night. He thinks it would be easier to run away because he feels like a heavy blanket of fatigue is on top of him. Amelia gently tells him that he is hurting, so it’s easier to feel numb than the pain. She tries to talk some sense into Owen again by gently saying that he doesn’t have to go back to Teddy, but it is too hard to hate her every day. Owen doesn’t know what to do, so Amelia talks about how they pray for the people they resent in AA. She feels it really does work, as the resentment lifts and forgiveness sets in, allowing for some sort of relationship to be rebuilt. Owen doesn’t think he can do that, but Amelia knows he can because he did it with her. 

That seems to finally get through to Owen, who I think is truly on the verge of turning over a new leaf. Amelia decides it is time for her to leave, so she tells Owen to call her if he needs her. Owen thanks her, which you can clearly see he really means, and Amelia leaves. Baby Allison starts crying again, so he goes to settle her down. Owen is surprised to find that Teddy has beaten him to it and is comforting their baby. What does all this mean for Teddy and Owen? We will find out soon enough whether they can be friends or more again.


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