TV Recaps

‘Grey’s Anatomy’ Recap: ‘The Distance’

They don’t fly around cities regulating crime. They don’t wear fancy capes or costumes. They don’t have any mysterious alter egos.

But they’re still superheroes.

More importantly, they’re surgeons.

They defeat villains like cancer. They were scrub caps and surgical masks. They like being addressed as ‘doctor’ and have a healthy habit of saving lives on a daily basis.

Amelia Shepherd is a superhero.

Why? Because she spent over 17 hours in surgery telling a tumor to go screw itself and then made it her bitch. But before all of that, she took a few seconds to puff out her chest, profoundly perch her hands on her hips and pose like a triumphant superhero. When you’re staring down death for someone else, confidence is everything. It’s the only thing.

The end of last week’s heart-pounding episode of Grey’s Anatomy left us with Dr. Herman being wheeled into the OR for surgery to remove the growing tumor in her brain. Simultaneously, one of Herman’s patients, Glenda Castillo, is in need of immediate surgery, and with Herman being incapacitated, Arizona has no choice but to fly solo.

We begin with Amelia, who is trying her best to put on the bravest of brave faces, but even she needs a moment to collect herself and issue probably the most important pep talk she’ll ever utter in her entire career. She seems confident, but much like Amelia, herself, viewers are left with a smidgen of doubt as to whether or not she’ll crack under the pressure of it all.

Like I said last week, I want Amelia to succeed. She needs to succeed in order to move forward in, not only her career, but also, her life. Self-doubt has eaten away at her for years and there is no switch to flip to shut it off in an instant. It’s a process. A process that begins with conquering something when everyone else is certain you will fail. That’s a lot of emotional baggage to brush aside, but she does what she has to do.

Everyone and their brother is vying for a seat in the gallery above Amelia’s OR. April and Jackson even show up to follow the surgery amid dealing with their own grief and loss.

After sailing through the first five hours of surgery, Amelia comes to an impasse. Not sure which direction to take next to continue her resection of the tumor, her confidence plummets and she stands in the OR staring at Herman’s exposed brain. Edwards, who is assisting, tries to intervene, but to no avail. Up in the gallery, Richard takes notice of Amelia’s demeanor and immediately heads down to the OR to help.

We flip over to Arizona’s surgery, where Bailey is assisting. And when I say assisting, what I mean is, arguing with everything Arizona is doing left, right and center. It’s hard to fault Bailey for her concern and passion for the patient, Glenda. Glenda is a patient Bailey brought to Dr. Herman in hopes Herman would be able to get the Glenda to full-term labor. Glenda’s baby, however, has a tumor that needs to be removed as soon as possible.

Arizona is adamant that the best route for the mom and baby is to try to resect the tumor while the baby is still in-utero. Bailey says it’s too risky, and they need to deliver the baby now, then remove the tumor. One problem. The baby is not far enough along and its chances of survival are slim. Bailey keeps needling Arizona, saying that she is making the wrong choice and she is just trying to prove that she’s as good as Herman. Arizona finally snaps back at Bailey, going all kickass speech mode, instructing that she is the fetal surgeon here and this is her course of action. She is in the middle of a woman’s uterus and any major deviation from her plan could result in catastrophic blood loss, so she can either get on board or get out of the OR. Arizona is in control.

Once inside Amelia’s OR, Richard does his best to encourage Amelia to finish what she’s started because, simply put, no one else can. Not even Derek. Despite his efforts, Amelia pleads with Richard to call Derek to get him on a plane back to Seattle to help. Richard says that won’t do any good. He tells Amelia, if Derek were to take over, he’d kill Herman. He tells her she is the only one who knows the process she’s mapped out. No one else could do it the same way. No one knows where she’s going next or what she’s already done. He tells her she is on her own. No one is there to help her and, more importantly, she doesn’t need anyone to. This is her surgery. She is in control.

Back to Arizona and Bailey. Arizona seems to have nearly finished removing the baby’s tumor when the baby goes into distress and they lose its heartbeat. You can see ‘I told you so’ flash through Bailey’s eyes like a neon sign on the Vegas strip, but she keeps her mouth shut and follows Arizona’s instructions to bring the baby’s heartbeat back. After several agonizing seconds, the baby’s heartbeat registers on the monitor again and everyone in the OR (and viewers at home) breathe a collective sigh of relief.

Did anyone doubt Arizona could do that surgery? Herman’s knowledge is pumping through that woman’s brain like an adrenaline rush. Arizona deserves superhero status as well. She already saves babies. Now she saves them before they’re even born. Let’s all pose together, shall we?

The clock continues ticking during Amelia’s surgery as we hit hour 14. Amelia believes she’s cleared the optic nerve, which was the peak point (and the hardest part) of the surgery. Richard jokes that it wasn’t that hard. Everyone relaxes slightly, realizing that the most difficult part is over. All non-essential hospital personnel clear out of the room so Amelia can being a round of radiation and insert seeds to prevent the tumor from growing back. But, just as Amelia is about to switch to safer gear, Edwards collapses from exhaustion.

Enter, Meredith.

Before she heads into the OR, Richard tells Meredith that Amelia needs someone she can trust and someone who will have her back. He says that not so long ago she was extremely close to specializing in neurology. Nice shoutout to Mer’s former almost specialty. Thanks for squashing that, too, Derek.

Meredith and Amelia scenes are some of my favorites. Just throwing that out into the interwebs.

Amelia’s mapped-out plan of where she was going to put the seeds has basically been shot to hell. Meredith mentions that resecting the tumor completely changes the layout of the brain and can shift the canvass much like an earthquake or mudslide. So, they have to eyeball it and hope for the best.

Because of the radiation, Amelia has about 20 minutes to plant the seeds where she needs to before the exposure begins to pose adverse effects. The heavy gloves she’s wearing make it nearly impossible to position the seeds and feel what she’s doing in a timely manner. Knowing this, she goes rogue and rips off one of the gloves, exposing herself to direct radiation, in order to place the seeds quicker.

Everyone in the gallery can’t believe it and Owen heads straight for the OR intercom, firmly instructing Amelia to put the glove back on. She ignores him and continues.

After successfully completing her surgery, Arizona goes back to Herman’s makeshift hospital apartment and waits. She flashes back to a time when Herman praised her and told her she picked the right horse, in Arizona, for the fetal fellowship. She’s brought back from her memory by Callie knocking on the door.

This scene between Callie and Arizona was wonderfully beautiful for a lot of reasons, but most of all, it was great because there were no expectations. Callie was open, Arizona was receptive and vice versa. She sat with Arizona, held her hand and was just there for her. These two need very little dialogue to drive an emotional moment. They have had so little interaction over the past four, five episodes and that fact just adds to how much substance this scene had.

Owen is still yelling for Amelia to put the glove back on because if she doesn’t, she’s going to make herself sick. Amelia won’t do it. She won’t stop until all of the seeds are planted. She won’t be the reason the tumor comes back. She finishes with fervor. It’s finally time to close. Amelia looks over at Meredith and says that what she did was kind of dumb. Meredith (and everyone else) disagrees saying it was badass.

Edwards wakes up from her exhaustion nap just in time to rush back to the OR to close. She and Amelia were on this journey together from the beginning, so it was nice to see that Amelia acknowledged that.

Now, to the most important news of the entire episode. Herman made it through the surgery and is alive. Everyone breathe. But…she doesn’t wake up right away. It takes several days.

In true Herman form, when she does wake up, with Arizona and Amelia anxiously waiting by her bedside, she cries out, “Mommy, is that you?” The look on both Arizona and Amelia’s faces is one of a mixture of perplextion and horror. It doesn’t last long when they hear Herman start to chuckle. “God. I’m fine. I’m fine,” she says.

Amelia goes through a run-down of things to check on Herman, including asking her to follow a pen light. Richard and Owen walk in just after to check on things and welcome Herman back. Herman then asks for a few moments alone with Arizona to discuss their patients.

Arizona fills in Herman on how Glenda Castillo’s surgery and post-op care went. She then chokes back tears and asks if Herman can see anything. Anything at all. “No. Nothing. Completely blind.”

Now, I don’t know about you, but my heart sunk about a foot in my chest after that. Yes, I knew there was another shoe. There’s always another shoe. And the alternative is much worse, but still the news hits you like a ton of bricks. It’s sad and happy, all dark and twisted together at once. It makes for great TV, but damn is it hard to watch.

Herman is just happy to be alive. She acknowledges she wouldn’t be if Arizona hadn’t been such a pain in her ass. This relationship, you guys, it is gold. The respect, admiration and care between these two is amazing to watch. I’m going to need Geena Davis to be a series regular next year. I just…I need it.

Amelia walks into the X-ray room to find Edwards crying. Edwards says they were so close. Amelia corrects her and says they were more than close. Herman lost her sight to her tumor, but she survived. She is alive. They defeated death. They told death to screw itself. Mortals can’t do that, but surgeons can.

Superheroes indeed.

The acting and writing in this episode was phenomenal. Hands down the best episode of the season. If you haven’t watched yet, what are you waiting for?

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go practice my superhero pose.