Grey’s Anatomy‘s 9th season so far has been, um, let’s go with evocative. Like earlier seasons, the 9th has struggled with some melodrama, quite a few jokes that didn’t land, and a general lack of subtlety (this isn’t Parenthood, people, I don’t know what else you were expecting). But damn if there aren’t two things the folks down at Seattle Grace Mercy West do better than almost anyone: sex and sadness. Now, some of the principal trouble with season 9 has been when the show’s tried to combine those two strengths, create a little comedy-drama blend, something to alleviate the excruciating pain of the sad parts and give the fun, sexy parts a little more depth. It takes serious nuance to be able to master that blend. As previously stated, nuance/subtlety/deftness these things are not things that exist in Shondaland. But, frankly, who cares? Because I’ve laughed (a little), I’ve cried (a lot) and anyone tuning in for the 9th season of Grey’s Anatomy loves the show flaws-and-all for what it makes them feel; meaning- a whole lot.

Last season left us with a doozy of an over-dramatic cliffhanger- 6 beloved characters boarded a plane and this is Grey’s Anatomy so obviously that plane crashed and trauma ensued. The first two episodes of season 9 deal with the aftermath of the crash. Trauma Toll: Lexie- dead in the season finale; Meredith- fine but now afraid of flying; Cristina- traumatized in her usual over-the-top way, also afraid of flying but somehow now living in Minnesota and working at the Mayo Clinic; Derek: mentally the only person who’s generally pretty okay, but he hurt his hand in a Callie-will-try-to-fix-it-but-it-likely-has-ended-his-surgical-career way, just like Burke in season 3; Arizona- amputated leg, bitter and angry about it. Where we are now, 4 episodes in, is that the group have rejected a settlement offer from the airline and are heading to court (eventually). Arizona is busy blaming and hating on Callie, who made the call that she should lose the leg. Karev (who was supposed to be on the plane in Arizona’s place) is trying to hold the peds department together without her, and also shagging all the new interns, including two My TV favourites who are being grossly underwritten so far- Tina Majorino (Veronica Mars) and Gaius Charles (Friday Night Lights). Gaius’ character is not shagging Karev, but he was my favourite FNL actor so I’m just psyched he’s here. Webber is still hooking up with Avery’s mom (the ever-annoying Debbie Allen). Owen is being all tortured and Owen-y (mostly about Cristina being in Minnesota, though there can’t be a single fan left Not rooting for an official divorce on that front). Bailey’s unrealistic boyfriend is going away to med school, everyone else (except Cristina) who planned on going away did not go away nor will they ever go away.

Then there’s Mark, the last person on the plane who, at the end of last season, was bleeding internally after having to say goodbye to the person whom the last few seasons have been trying to convince us is his soulmate even though nobody cares at all about Lexie considering how complex and fascinating his relationship is with Callie (just saying, Grey’s is usually Really good at relationships and Mark-Lexie just never worked). We were left with a bunch of small cliffhangers (Will Derek’s hand be permanently hurt? Answer: yes.  Will Arizona get out from under the plane in tact? Answer: sort of. Will the doctors ever be rescued from their crazy Lost-like isolated crash location?  Answer: obviously) and one major one: Will Mark Sloan make it home alive? Now, for anyone with internet access, trade magazines or know-it-all couch potato friends, this cliffhanger was ruined just as the departures of Burke, George and Izzie were (Teddy’s was kept surprisingly secret until Owen fired her in the finale *take a moment to mourn*). Most people knew that Eric Dane wanted out of his contract so the issue quickly became How we were going to say goodbye to Mark, not If. The How played out in the season premiere, despite chronologically taking place after the action of the second episode. There is no storytelling reason for this reversal beyond “Going Going Gone” being a far superior episode to “Remember the Time” and thus deserving the more prominent spot on the schedule.

“Going Going Gone”, aka the Season 9 premiere, was basically the coda to Mark Sloan’s show-defining run at Seattle Grace. It played out as a ticking time bomb as the doctors counted down a long day towards 5pm when comatose Mark was to be taken off life support. We flashed back to important scenes from his life (some that were show clips, some that were filmed specially for the episode like a scene from Derek’s wedding to Addison), specifically the scenes that most beautifully spoke to him as a character and his relationship with whomever it was saying goodbye at that particular point in the episode. Grey’s is a show that’s always been uniquely good at manipulating the heartstrings of its audience. Whether it was Denny’s death or Cristina’s failed wedding, Izzie’s cancer or Kyle Chandler and that damn bodybomb, it’s a wallop-punching show.Let’s take an example, shall we? Remember Henry from last season? Please believe me when I say that I really did love Henry. First of all, he was written to love, all Jim Harper-style questionable perfection, but I didn’t question it because I didn’t want to. Second of all, he fell in love with and married (not necessarily in that order) my favourite female character on the show (do I ever miss Teddy) and men always get extra credit in my books for having great taste in women. Most of all, he was played by Scott Foley, one of my favourite TV actors ever and, specifically, someone who always plays really nice, notably smart, clean-cut guys right out of the box labeled “Kelly’s Type”. Anyway, so my brother’s perfect girlfriend came in when I was watching the winter finale last year, about 2 minutes before the end. When she saw what I was watching she shut my brother up and sat quietly, intently, until the show was done and she could go “right?! Wasn’t it so depressing? Didn’t you cry?” but the answer was that, no, I didn’t cry. I cry during a lot of TV shows but I find that if I can see it coming (Henry was clearly a character Designed to die) it just doesn’t get to me the same way. Cut to me starring at my computer, head in hands, completely torn apart and streamed with tears over the slow and painful episode-long death of Mark Sloan (slow and painful for the viewers and the other characters, it was actually not all that bad on Mark, on the grandscale of deaths. I mean, he could have gotten shot in the season 6 finale, but he didn’t). I bawled my eyes out for Mark, partly because the episode was well-executed, a lot because I’ll miss him as a character, and mostly for the effect it will have and has already had on the other characters (particularly those I care about a lot, like Callie and Jackson).

In this photo Mark is giving Jackson some money before he gets on the bus to take his boards. This moment captures exactly who they were as a team. Perfect.

The episode was punctured by some stupid Bailey-having-sex-in-the-oncall-room crap that I think was meant to lighten the mood but was mostly just a nuisance. Beyond that, though, “Going Going Gone” was one of Grey’s best ever and, at least for me, its most emotional. I love Mark Sloan. Or, I guess, I loveD Mark Sloan (Ouch). I think the only character type that Shonda Rhimes and Co. write better than anyone else is the golden hearted guy with the rough edges. Alex Karev is likely their masterpiece on that front, and Jackson Avery- though his edges aren’t exactly rough- is certainly enjoying the fruits of that talent right now, but Mark Sloan was the golden-hearted-rough-edged character whose golden heart was perhaps the biggest and most important to the society of Seattle Grace (his death even reverberated in the spinoff world of Private Practice where his former lover Addison mourned). After Lexie’s death, Mark had 3 remaining major arenas of influence- his childhood friendship with Derek, his close relationship with Callie as best friend and father of her and Arizona’s child, and his role as mentor to Jackson- and it was when those characters said their goodbyes that made for the hardest moments of the episode. Derek and Callie sort of became one and the same as they said goodbye to their best friend, and the story of their letting him go would have been plenty to make this episode affecting. But, for me, it was Jackson that really stung. The relationships developed between students and teachers on Grey’s is one of the show’s best qualities (see also Teddy-Cristina, Arizona-Karev) but the Avery-Sloan dynamic was my favourite. For one thing, it was the funniest, because Mark was the show’s funniest character, and when tragedy strikes the comedy that’s when I really start to cry. Jackson’s been my favourite character on the show for a few years now (and Jesse Williams is particularly wonderful in the role) and a lot of that had to do with the oddly defiant friendship he and Mark forged through being the plastics posse (among other things). So it, predictably, Killed Me when Jackson played his final scenes opposite Mark, specifically because they weren’t big tearful goodbyes or even sad bedside memorials, they were understated scenes, almost funny. Their ending basically boiled down to Jackson updating Mark on their cases, reporting for duty as it were, and reassuring him, finally, that “I’ve got it from here”. Cue Heartbreak. Jackson has got it from here. He’s got it as the unlikely moral centre and occasional comic relief and easy-on-the-eyes doctor who can grow skin and fix a destroyed face and pick up the more dramatic characters when they need it. It was as if he was giving Mark permission to be done his time at Seattle Grace, leaving behind a few broken hearts, a young baby who still has 2 loving parents, and a prodigee more than ready to carry on his legacy in all the best ways.

Since then, we’ve had some mediocre-to-good episodes wherein we deal with Cristina being nuts and Arizona being nuts and Meredith, refreshingly, being not really very nuts at all. The show is chugging along in its average way (average for one of its pretty good seasons, not that terrible stuff around seasons 4 & 5) with two specific story arc highlights. The smaller one is, shockingly, Cristina in Minnesota. Even though it feels temporary and even though it kicked off with a lot of  “Cristina processes tragedy terribly” crap that we’ve seen before, I’m kind of loving it. And there’s one reason: Mr. Feeny (aka William Daniels). If my generation had a TV guiding light, a sort of Col. Potter to govern our behaviour and teach us right from wrong, it was without a single doubt, Boy Meets World‘s Mr. Feeny. He taught us everything we needed to know and then graduated us into the real world in that iconic finale with the final words “class dismissed”. And now he’s back and teaching Cristina a thing or two about ego, cardiac surgery, and basic human interaction. Their unlikely friendship is excellent, making Cristina not only compelling for the first time in years but honestly funny too. I’m actually hoping she stays in Minnesota- spinoff please?

The other storyline is a carry-over from last season and actually happening at Seattle Grace, so that makes it more important. And of course it’s Jackson’s storyline because he really is the only one I particularly care about. The development of the Avery-April relationship was excellent. They weren’t big enough players for it to burn out too quickly and now that they’re becoming more central we’re getting to see all the complicated dynamics that were developed through their being the only surviving Mercy West-ers. We’ve already been over the fact that I’m not crazy about the sudden Jesusification of April’s virginity, but I still like the story. And I particularly like what Jackson was given in the most recent episode (when April finally returned to the hospital after Owen re-hiring her) as a response to April’s crazy “re-virginization” and general response to their pre-boards hookup last year. I love how highly Jackson actually regards April, and that’s what I found compelling about how the sex came about last year. He could not have been more respectful, or, actually, let’s leave respect out of this because that should really be a given, he was caring and attentive and just clearly her friend first (also, Jesse Williams- easily one of TV’s best kissers, among other things…), which made her crazy blame game so hurtful (and I said as much). So I’m glad he came back at her this week and refused to a) ignore what happened of b) accept blame like it was “something [he] did to her” instead of “something [they] did together”. I really like them together, and I even think her emotional turmoil is interesting (even if I would have preferred it be non-religious) and, actually, the fact that she’s being crazy gives Jackson more to do and more to struggle with and more to stand up for (standing up for things/himself- something he learned from Sloan *moment of silence*). Sure the producers are still forcing poor better-than-that Jesse Williams into at least one shirtless scene a week, but they’re also giving him the material to show off things he does even better than ab workouts, like honest-to-god drama and easy charm and complicated, undeniable chemistry the likes of which hasn’t been seen on the show in years. Jackson and April show off what Grey’s does second best- stomach-flipping, heart-racing, blush-inducing romance and/or sex (depending on the scene) while Sloan in the season premiere showed off what they do best- stomach-flipping, heart-hurting sadness. Now that Eric Dane’s gone, it’s all on Williams to lead this show with heat and heart.  And so far I can’t find a single reason to bet against him.