Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a very real disorder, and many war veterans have to live with it for the rest of their lives when they return home from war – no longer the same people that their families first sent off overseas. And I really admire Grey’s Anatomy for not just touching upon this topic then dropping it – especially since it’s not the usual storyline that we find in this show. For the first time that I can recall, this show is being recognized for portraying a story that holds social relevance. I applaud them for that. As we fans know, Grey’s Anatomy has a reputation for being a primetime soap opera.
Now, being in the field of psychology that I am, I get real sensitive when people talk about mental disorders. So, when I read comments on other blogs or columns about how they find this whole storyline boring or make comments about how “Teddy and Owen should be PTSD together,” I see red. So, I’m calling these people out. I don’t care if you don’t like Owen’s character or the Cristina and Owen relationship, but to treat this topic matter with anything less than respect is disgusting. Yes, Owen is a fictional character, but he’s representing a very real situation that exists for many people. Are we so far removed or desensitized that we can’t recognize this? I certainly hope not.
This episode was far from boring. Boring is listening to a professor drone on and on about how a desk is somehow related to cultural anthropology in monotonous, heavily accented English that you can’t understand for two hours, three times a week. (Can you tell I sat through that?) No, this episode was powerful and moving – and if you didn’t feel even the tiniest of twinges, I think it’s time to go to the Wizard, Tin Man.
Unlike my usual reviews, I’m not going to follow the chronological order of scenes in this episode because of all the flashbacks. It’d get just too confusing. So, I’m going to ramble and hope that you guys will be able to follow my (questionable) logic. Here we go…
The purpose of Owen’s flashbacks was twofold: 1) to juxtapose the person he was back then with the person he is now, and 2) to show the origin of his traumatic stress. As the writers, Tony Phelan and Joan Rater, mention in the podcast, the reason behind the soccer scene was to show how carefree Owen was. And also, it was a way to show the type of relationship Owen and Teddy had: they were close, they were affectionate, and they were a team. There’s no mention about their romantic feelings. It seems the writers, or at least Tony and Joan, are no longer trying to push the idea onto the fans any longer, which I know is a relief to a lot of Cristina and Owen fans. And though some would like to forget that these two ever had any kind of relationship, it existed. In my opinion, it was important for us to see it because it’s this relationship that Owen and Teddy are referring when they spoke about “unring[ing] the bell.”
At the time, I thought that Teddy’s comment in “Valentine’s Day Massacre” was about the fact that she had professed her love for Owen and wreaked all this havoc in his and Cristina’s life. That’s still true. But given this new information, it is clear that it is this bond between Owen and Teddy – not the romantic feelings per se, but the camaraderie – that Owen knows they can never go back to. Why? Because he is no longer that person anymore. He said it once to Cristina in “Before and After” how that man is gone. And until Cristina, he felt like a “ghost” where everyone else was just looking through him. She is the reason he has any semblance to the carefree, mostly unscarred man we saw in the flashback. And while the writers talk about how there are some things only Teddy could understand about Owen, the other side is just as true: there are some things only Cristina can understand about Owen. And we saw that in this episode. In addition, their remark may have also been in reference to the fact that [Spoiler Alert!] in the next episode, there is incoming trauma that supposedly shocks the other doctors because they aren’t used to this type of trauma as Teddy and Owen are, having been in a warzone (paraphrased from Kevin McKidd’s radio interview).
Throughout the flashbacks, we see that Owen cares about Teddy. He offers to ride in the helicopter since he knows she’s afraid of them and gently asks if she’s sure she wants to do so. I’m fine with that. In fact, I’m glad for it because it shows the type of person Owen is. He’s always been the advocate of respecting patients and being considerate to others, not one to get caught up in the rush of competition (unless pushed by a certain girlfriend) or lose sight of his priorities as a surgeon (which is saving lives). That’s who Owen was and is. I admire that.
The flashbacks introduced us to Dan (perfectly played by Richard T. Jones), obviously someone whom Owen also cared about and had a great friendship with. And unfortunately, Owen was put in a situation where he had to partake in assisted suicide, letting him die. No wonder Teddy’s case triggered these haunting memories of the war. No wonder he was so adamant about finding some alternative to Kim’s decision. For him, this wasn’t about Kim, this was about him and Dan.
It is interesting to note that Dan made two separate remarks about something more going on between Owen and Teddy. For me, it was put in there as a way to demonstrate how any romantic relationship between Owen and Teddy is no longer possible. As Dan lies there dying, he urges Owen to propose to Teddy. To which, Owen replies that he is engaged to Beth. Death tends to bring out honesty, and it intrigues me that the writers didn’t choose this moment to have Owen give some sign that he wanted to act on his feelings for Teddy in any manner. I mean, it was said along with Dan’s dying wish – to have his wedding ring returned to Lisa, his wife – and makes it have all the more meaning. Yet, as we know, Owen never sought out Teddy – even after he’d broken up with Beth.
In my opinion, it is this traumatic event that led him to send that two-line email ending their engagement. When fans learned about that, many people called it callous and argued that Owen hadn’t been traumatized by that point so his mental state couldn’t be used as a reason (or excuse). Honestly, I believe war itself can be traumatic enough; but this episode shows that Owen’s PTSD had been festering long before the RPG (rocket propelled grenade) ambush. (This carnage was caused by an IED – improvised explosive device, so it is for certain not the ambush that got Owen honorably discharged. Also, Owen had remarked in season five that his whole platoon had perished; and Teddy is still alive, so once again, the two events are not the same.)
We don’t know exactly why Owen continued to remain faithful to Beth and their engagement even with these feelings for Teddy. I think it stemmed out of loyalty to Beth and not really knowing how “real” his feelings for Teddy were, whether they would continue to exist back in the civilian world. Whatever the reasons, he never acted on it. Which is odd, since we’ve known Owen to be a man of action (and not really a man of words). Just think back to when he and Cristina first met (ah, good memories), he certainly made a move then. Oh boy, what a move. That was certainly the moment that the Coconuts started being born.
But the reason I’m bringing up the fact that Dan told Owen that he should propose to Teddy is because it’s another instance where this message of proposing or marriage is being directed at either Owen and/or Cristina in some way. Granted, he’s telling Owen to propose to Teddy; but Owen isn’t with Teddy now – and he’s not engaged to Beth. Not only that, but Owen did semi-propose (without actually asking the question) back in “An Honest Mistake” when he told Cristina that he wanted to be around in 40 years. Even Kevin McKidd himself has spoke about proposals and this couple, saying he’d certainly like to see how “an army medic” would propose (in his interview clip with People magazine). Am I just being ultra-sensitive and wearing rose-colored glasses? Maybe. But it’s certainly a lovely thought in my mind.
So, Owen is no longer the person he was before that moment. And this has everything to do with the fact that this event marked the beginning of Owen’s traumatic stress. I’m not calling it PTSD yet because I don’t think he met full criteria for it at this stage – that came later, during the RPG ambush. However, I could definitely see Owen starting to withdraw at this point, to sever ties with those close to him. Thus the divide between him and Teddy, where they drifted apart to the point where she had no idea as to what was going on with him when he called to ask her join the Seattle Grace hospital staff. Now, I know that you’re probably thinking: How does this fit in with Owen in the season five premiere? He certainly seemed open to making a connection then. Well, I think we can chalk up this mismatch to the fact that Grey’s Anatomy is notoriously bad at keeping a coherent timeline.
If we base off of Owen’s mental state alone, one could argue that Owen had met Cristina before this stint in Iraq where Dan died, since he was very much carefree and impulsive in that episode. However, we know that it was supposed to be Owen’s latest tour that caused him to be discharged. Now, the IED event and RPG ambush are not in the same time period, so it doesn’t really work if Owen met Cristina prior to the tour we saw in the flashbacks. So, what’s the conclusion? Don’t think too hard about it because it’s only going to give you a headache. Rather, do as Owen once taught Cristina: look at what’s in front of you – the present. And in the present, we see that Cristina and Owen are in love – and that is all that matters.
For Teddy and Owen, I honestly believe it’s too late. If there ever was a window of opportunity, they’ve missed it. Not only because Owen’s moved on with Cristina but because it was made very clear in this episode that Owen is no longer the person that Teddy fell for in Iraq. He’s got all this baggage now that she is completely oblivious to. Furthermore, Owen’s going to always have all these negative associations with Teddy. If you recall, it was Cristina’s ceiling fan that triggered Owen’s night terror because it reminded him of helicopters. And lo and behold, what is the first thing Owen sees after he’s just let Dan die? Teddy smiling at him from a helicopter. See the connection? As Angela pointed out, you can really argue that Teddy is Owen’s most recent trigger since we’re led to believe that Owen’s been having these sleepless nights lately (knowing just when to slip back into bed so that he can hit the alarm and pretend he just woke up as well) – a sign that something is wrong.
During that scene, the chorus of the background music goes like this: “Abandon ship before it’s too late. Or all this love I’ve got will turn into hate. You’re not so very far away but I feel more distance with each passing day…. I am alone.” Now, I’m not going to label what Owen felt for Teddy “love” because I think it’s debatable, but you see the message. Whatever feelings he had for Teddy, they are no longer there. And though he may not hate her – I don’t think he does – he hasn’t been the happiest with her lately, what with the interference in his relationship with Cristina and the implied havoc she’s been causing on his mental state.
The song plays through the last scene with Cristina and Owen as well. Now, before you get alarmed, I have to point out that they did “abandon ship before [it was] too late” in a manner of speaking. Remember back to “Elevator Love Letter” and how Cristina finally realized her limits and broke things off with Owen. By “abandon[ing] ship,” she saved their relationship. Owen got his act together and went to therapy, working on being the better man for and with Cristina. And it’s because of that the season five ended with Cristina meeting Owen halfway and telling him that she loved him.
I think that Owen’s biggest fear at the time was that Cristina would end up hating him for what he’d done. In his therapy session with Wyatt, he spoke of how she metaphorically jumped in front of his car, and he “wrecked her.” And after that, he withdrew from her, putting up this false and friendly barrier using three-word sentences because he didn’t want to cause any more damage or drag her any further into his hell by saying that he loved her. This song totally mimics what they went through in season five, except they survived due to the fact that Cristina ultimately forced Owen to seek the help he needed before irreparable damage was done.
But I digress. Back to Owen in the war. It is interesting to note how the helicopters represent a bad omen, even prior to the scene where Teddy comes in with the helicopter. It makes them stop playing their game because they know it can only mean one thing: trauma is coming in and death is looming near. Then, with the helicopter coming in just as he’s let go of Dan, the helicopter takes on the meaning of hope – but hope in the sense that Kim spoke of, how it only makes one feel lonely when they’re dying. This is not the uplifting kind, and Owen is far from uplifted. He’s the opposite: he feels guilt. Guilt for not just hanging on just a little longer on the off-chance that he could have saved Dan’s life. It doesn’t matter to him that this was what Dan wanted. It isn’t going to alleviate that guilt Owen’s been carrying with him ever since he let his friend die. Yes, as a man, he understands that Dan was in an immense amount of pain, that there was very little hope for him surviving his injuries, that he was doing the right thing. But as Owen says in his voiceover, as a surgeon, he will always feel like he could’ve done more because surgeons “are arrogant enough to think there’s no one [they] can’t save.”
That’s a tough burden to carry. And there is no one to carry it but Owen. It is ultimately Owen’s decision to let go. Dan says, “You got to do it. I can’t make you do it. You got to do it.” And Owen does it, only to find out that help was indeed coming. Yet, you can’t blame him for not hanging on any longer. Dan was pleading with Owen to let go. He repeats how much pain he’s in, and we see that they’ve been stuck there for quite some time. The sun is long gone, it’s freezing, and neither of them knows when or if help is coming. Like Kim, Dan has made his peace – with God, with death, with reality. Owen hasn’t made peace with it entirely yet, as we’ve seen. He’s still struggling with it. And hopefully (the good hope, this time), we’ll see him come to terms with his past trauma…
…with Cristina. In the interview Kevin McKidd gave with Ausiello of Entertainment Weekly, he said, “many people and many wives and loved ones of veterans are dealing with, ‘Where am I in this? I know this person has a problem, but what am I getting out of this? Where is my life now? And even when there is love, when there’s a problem like this, is that enough?’ That’s a really interesting story, and that’s definitely the same for Cristina and Owen.” And I believe this aspect will be explored in the upcoming episodes since in the podcast, Tony and Joan talk about how the issues that were highlighted in this episode – what with Owen not letting Cristina know exactly what’s going on and so on – will be explored further throughout the rest of this season. I believe the purpose of the bookend scenes with Cristina and Owen at home is to provide the foundation and beginning for what is coming up ahead for them as a couple. Instead of dealing with a merger or Teddy, their obstacle will be learning how to build a life together and managing Owen’s PTSD.
On a positive note, Cristina is more in tune with Owen in this episode. And despite various claims of the opposite, this episode proved just why Owen is meant to be with Cristina, not Teddy. Sure, Teddy can understand what a warzone is like because she was there, and thus, she can know that side of Owen. But from the way she acted in this episode, it is clear that she doesn’t understand the post-war Owen. She doesn’t have the same scarring that Owen has, and she’s still very much like the person that was portrayed in the flashbacks during the soccer game. She twirls in the rain, buys cottages next to Bambi – I think it’s safe to say that the war didn’t damage her in the way it did Owen. No, the person we saw being understanding – and far from oblivious, as one journalist claimed – was Cristina. When Owen starts yelling at her about Kim, Cristina doesn’t respond with anger. She instantly clues into the fact that something deeper is going on. Rather than getting defensive, Cristina asks Owen, “What is going on?” and her hand moves to touch his face before he draws back. It’s a bit like the vent scene in “Elevator Love Letter” when Owen made a move to kiss Cristina but she drew back. As she wasn’t ready then, he isn’t ready now. And at the end of the episode, we see that he’s still not ready to talk about it.
Cristina’s reaction is a far cry from Teddy’s. Rather than trying to figure out why Owen is behaving in the manner that he is, Teddy gets angry in return and publicly yells at Owen in the cafeteria. I thought Teddy was supposed to be more understanding since she was in the war. Didn’t see it here. In her defense, I doubt she knew about what had really transpired in the desert between Dan and Owen, but still, this is the person whom the writers claim to know Owen in ways that Cristina does not. However, in this episode, it only proved that Cristina knows Owen in ways that Teddy does not. It is Cristina who is living through a different kind of war with Owen, and it’s one that is unfortunately always going to be there on some level.
If that’s not enough to convince you that there is no chance of Owen making a 180 and suddenly deciding to be with Teddy, think about this. As Owen’s interactions with Cristina in this episode was to show how real life couples do struggle with war vets coming home and having to integrate into civilian life, it makes it all the more reason for Owen to be with the woman who does not have a military background. Sure, people can try to make the argument that Teddy and Owen belong together because they share the experience and can relate (once again, didn’t see it manifest that way at all this episode, and this would have been the best time to show it if it was going to happen since they touched upon their past relationship in the war). But in most real cases, the partners of these military personnel are civilians. And this inability to fully relate in what it is like overseas is grounds for much exploration and very much a part of their lives. These real-life couples deal with it. And if we go by that, I believe that’s what we’ll see: Cristina and Owen bridging that divide with love and effort from both parties. Because quite frankly, it’d be pretty irresponsible to send a message that there is no hope for these couples and war vets who come home.
I love that it’s Cristina who takes the first step in trying to get Owen to talk. It seems that she has been paying attention to Owen’s therapy lessons because she is trying for open communication. However, Owen is not ready to discuss what had happened. And what’s more, he has been trying to keep this from Cristina for what seems like an extended period of time (as implied from the first scene). It’s Owen’s turn to meet Cristina halfway.
I get the sense that Owen is trying not to be a burden to Cristina. And this stems from the fact that he loves her. Back in the season six premiere, Owen’s major hesitation stemmed from the fact that by becoming a “real” couple, his problems would become her problems. And as we know, Owen doesn’t want to burden her. Which explains why Owen is slipping back in bed just before the alarm goes off so that Cristina will think nothing is wrong. But once she catches on, we see her being so much more in tune with Owen as she notices that he’s not in bed with her. I think it’s important that we saw both the first and last scene. In the morning scene, Cristina is still not cognizant of the fact that Owen’s having difficulty sleeping again. She’s smiling as she stretches (Kevin is right: Sandra Oh is really good at “I’m just waking up” acting), leans over to give him a kiss (I find it adorable that her eyes seem to remain closed the entire time), then goes off to perform her daily rituals. In the version of the episode with Kevin’s commentary, he points out that the morning scene with Owen and Cristina “illuminates” things about their relationship. Well, we see Owen sneaking back in bed so that he can pretend that he was asleep. He’s trying not to concern her, not wanting to burden her. His face breaks into a smile as she wakes up, and he looks at her with such love and tenderness. So, yes, Owen is keeping things hidden, but these two are very much a couple. For me, this is a sign of them working things out together. And they have some serious stuff that needs to be worked out as Owen is still unable to sleep. Except in the last scene, Cristina realizes that something is wrong, waking up to find Owen is not there, and comes out of the bedroom to see what is going on. Even though Owen tells her that nothing is wrong and Cristina goes back to bed, I don’t think that’s the end of it. I also very much doubt that Cristina bought that everything was fine.
Now, some may have wanted her to push harder for him to talk. But I think she was simply giving him his space, as he once did for her after they’d broken up in season five. I don’t think she just went back to bed and fell asleep. I’m certain she’s still concerned. We know that Cristina is not afraid to push Owen – this is the woman who finally got Owen to go see his mother, but she knows that he’s not ready quite yet. She’s still got Kim’s words on her mind, about how, at times, men may not know what they’re feeling. And I think that could very well be the case here. Back in “No Good at Saying Sorry,” it took Owen a while to realize that the feeling he was carrying around with him was shame. As I said, Owen’s more of a doer. Taking time to analyze himself or talk about his feelings isn’t very high up on his list of things he likes to do. Cristina’s the same way, except she’s trying. Look at her, she’s making progress.
I feel I also must point out that Owen’s not having a “relapse.” He doesn’t have the telltale startle reflex (even when Derek grabs him suddenly has Owen walks past to keep them from killing “him”). Yes, he isn’t sleeping, but he’s not having night terrors. Also, I would think that if Owen had any concerns that he was going to have a night terror again where he could hurt Cristina, there would be no way he would get into the same bed with her in the first place. No, he’d be sleeping in the bathtub. He is also having these flashbacks, but it doesn’t get to the point where he’s having the same kind of “freezing moment” he had when Derek and him met the helicopter. He’s definitely more distracted, and it takes a bit for the others to call back his attention, but he’s not really living them over again – which is a component of classic PTSD flashbacks, except that one time with Derek where he confuses the patient for Dan. However, I think that was more of a Freudian slip than him actually re-experiencing the trauma.
I wouldn’t be surprised if Owen withdrew and created a bit of distance because of this. And that can be a good thing for us Cristina and Owen fans because we get our best moments when these two work at closing that distance. If there has to be drama – and we know there must, because this is a television show, then I’d rather it be of two people fighting to work things out and overcoming obstacles in the process. We’ve already had the outside factors raising issues. I look forward to a more internal one being the cause because I feel it provides room for more progress to be made in respect to the relationship. You know what I mean?
And finally, Kim and Sean. These two actors gave such a powerful performance. From the moment that Kim (Sara Gilbert) made her second request for physician-assisted suicide, I had tears in my eyes. And Derek Cecil portrayed a grieving husband who didn’t quite know how to handle all that was going on around him just perfectly. How hard it must be to be in that position – words cannot even describe what pain and devastation Sean is going through. And Owen has shared similar emotions, which is why I really felt the palpability of that scene between Owen and Sean outside on the bench as Owen tries to comfort Sean in telling him that he is doing the right thing, telling him to focus on that brief moment of relief when you know that your loved one is no longer suffering.
Suicide is “painless” in that one is ending their pain. But it is painful for those who continue living and have to shoulder the death of their loved ones. It continues to affect Owen, even though much time has passed. And unfortunately, the reality is that Kim’s death will affect Sean in a similar manner as well. “Dying isn’t easy,” Owen says in the voiceover. And it’s not. Someone always pays for it emotionally.
Another emotional scene was when Kim was asking Sean to bring her favorite items from the house to make the hospital room homier so that she would be surrounded by things she loved when she passed away. And Cristina witnesses it and exudes an empathy and kindness that many Cristina-haters choose to ignore. Are these the actions of a robot? I think not. Kim tells Cristina that you continue to have the same fights even when you’re dying. It’s as though nothing really changes – though deep down, it does. And it is this talk that prompts Cristina, in my opinion, to ask Owen what he is thinking. And with Sean, Owen doesn’t answer, brushing the question aside with a simple, “Nothing.” But it’s not “nothing,” and I hope that the writers will continue to explore this lack of communication between Cristina and Owen so that he can make more headway in managing his PTSD.
So, that was a rather depressing episode, but I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way. Sometimes, we need to take pause and reflect on life, death, and the past. However, since I’ve always been more on the side of optimism, I shall end with some more uplifting aspects of this episode: shirtless Owen, Owen doing pushups, a sweet morning kiss between Cristina and Owen, and Cristina calling “Owen” to his face multiple times. I don’t know about you, but that checked off a lot of the things that were on my Cristina and Owen wish list. I know the last one in that list may be odd, but I find it adorable when she calls him “Owen.” Because we’re used to her referring to others by their last names, so it adds intimacy when she doesn’t. Remember, she rarely referred to Burke as “Preston,” so to have that difference is pretty interesting.
Side note: For those of you who dislike Teddy, I have a random comment. You can somewhat tell that the writers don’t really know what to do with the character. I think the whole “love triangle” blew up in their face, so they took a step back. Yes, there’s still a “triangle,” but the romantic aspect of it is no longer being pushed on us fans. Then, the writers chose to have Teddy and Mark get together. Now, I’m not a hardcore Mark and Lexie fan, so I don’t mind it. However, it is interesting to note that in making this decision, the writers have moved on from inflaming the Cristina/Owen fan base to the Mark/Lexie fan base. So yeah, not doing the character any favors by inciting more anger from another group of fans. Eek! Things are not looking good for this character, which I find a shame because when Teddy first joined, I was excited about Cristina having a new cardio mentor who actually got her. And had it not been for the romantic baggage, I think more people (i.e. Cristina/Owen fans) would have warmed up to her as well. Anyways, we shall see where things go.
In the CTV promo for the next episode, “Sympathy for the Parents” [Spoiler Alert!], it seems that the doctors of Seattle Grace will be discussing the idea of babies. Now, this is prime opportunity for some discussion about Cristina and Owen’s future, and I hope the writers take advantage of it. In the very least, it seems Owen now knows that Cristina doesn’t want kids. And that could be foundation for more talk of where they are headed as a couple. Also, as indy pointed out, this could also lead to some conversation where Cristina reveals her ectopic pregnancy. I’m doubtful, but hey, it could happen. After all, the Burke talk happened, and I don’t think any of us were expecting that – even though we wanted it. (Granted, it took a long time before it came into fruition.)
So, hang tight, ladies and gentlemen. This is only the beginning of what promises to be an interesting ride. Don’t think that this is over. We’ve got six more episodes in this season, and as we know, a lot of can happen. Just look at season five. The bulk of Cristina and Owen’s progress came in the latter episodes. And as you know, Shonda is promising the season finale to be a “game changer,” and that doesn’t necessarily mean bad things. In fact, I am of the mind that it can mean some great things. (Owen and Cristina have had a rough enough time of it, don’t you think?)