I think that it’s safe to say that this season was a bit of a disappointment for most Cristina and Owen fans. Season five left us with high hopes as our couple started on their path in the right direction – only to be jerked off-track with the merger and the introduction of Teddy. I hear it being called “Season Sucks” – a far cry from its original nickname of “Season Sex” (though, you have to admit, we certainly did get quite a bit of that).
I’m not going to lie; I was frustrated right alongside all of you. (Thus, the missing gap of episodes 19 to 22 from the episode reviews that I may attempt to go back and write. But for now, I’ll do an overview.) But having experienced the whole season and having been able to step back and process it for a month after the very explosive season finale, I have begun to see the reasons – albeit unpopular and unnecessary at times – for the choices the writers made in regards to Cristina and Owen’s journey in the most recent season.
Let’s be clear – Cristina and Owen are essentially at the same place in their lives as they were at the end of season five. Yes, they’re stronger as a couple. But in the grand scheme of things, they have mostly remained stagnant. Instead of a major step forward, the season finale featured the two of the ultimately reaffirming their love for one another – a demonstration of the unnecessary aspect I mentioned earlier. And this was done by putting them through the wringer that was the triangle – the unpopular aspect.
Season six started off with a bang. Morale was high, and we were still very optimistic about the season and where our couple was headed. We had our wishlist for season six out, and we eagerly awaited to check them off one by one. Here’s the thing – most of them did get checked off. At least mine did. However, they were bogged down under the heavy blanket of angst that spanned over most of the season.
After the season premiere, I was excited. Owen and Cristina were off to a great start, especially after having gone to therapy together and becoming a “real” couple. Don’t get me wrong; I loved the courtship that occurred in season five. Wholeheartedly. I’m a sucker for period romances – and that’s putting it mildly. Jane Eyre, Persuasion, North and South? Totally eat that type of romance up. And Cristina and Owen had something similar going on in season five: the longing glances, the slight touches, and the loaded exchanges. A frustration of a different kind. (Nineteen episodes. That’s got to be a record.) But I was thrilled in the beginning of the season to see progress beyond courtship and into official couple status. I wanted the small touches, the domestic interactions, and the intimacy that comes with being together and becoming a true pair. I wanted the line between their professional and personal lives blur a little so that we could see them be a little more affectionate in public – no longer hiding away in their little corner of the world.
And that’s what we got – every now and then. But we did get them. They were just a little harder to spot because we were bombarded with some major distractions.
You’re probably wondering, How is she going to rationalize the overall story arc of season six and make it so that it wasn’t a letdown? I can’t. At least, not to anyone’s satisfaction. Instead, I want to point out the good we got in season six because of these frustrating storylines, which can be categorized under two major headings: the merger and Teddy.
Let’s begin with the easier one – the merger.
The merger had a higher purpose than to create a situation where Owen remained mostly oblivious and clueless to the depth of Cristina’s pain and frustration over her career situation. Throughout season five, he did not see her as a surgeon first – he saw her as a woman first. Cristina was too wrapped up in her friends and Owen to feel the same degree of aimlessness she did in season four (and six) sans cardio mentor – or at least, one that was willing to teach her. So, it’s no wonder that he didn’t understand why the merger was causing her such anxiety. That competitive and career-driven aspect of Cristina’s character was mostly hidden from him in season five. And as Shonda mentioned in the beginning of season six, it was time for Owen to meet that side of Cristina and see how he would respond to it. What would he do upon seeing the “dark” side of Cristina? He remained faithful and was not scared off by Cristina’s intensity. (I mean, if a man can still find you attractive whilst you’re wearing an adult diaper – with the full intention to use it – it’s a sure sign of love.) Of course, he didn’t agree with her most of the time (i.e. “Invest in Love”), but it didn’t make him love her any less. And not once did he tell her to change.
The disconnect that was created by the merger showed Owen that he still had much to learn about Cristina. And he saw just how much of Cristina’s identity is wrapped up in being a surgeon. It’s a huge contrast from Owen, who sees surgery as a means to save lives. He excels because he wants to save as many people as he can. Cristina wants to save lives, too, but she wants to be the best. She collects renowned cardio surgeons – she puts a lot of stock in names. Owen doesn’t. Cristina and Owen are very different, but that’s okay. And that’s what the merger showed us. They don’t have to be similar to be a strong couple. In fact, it’s because they’re so different in so many ways that they are as strong a couple as they are. It gives the opportunity for them to effect change in each other – and with each other. Yin and yang.
And the obvious reason behind the merger was for the situation to become so desperate for Cristina that Owen felt the need to call on an old army buddy, who happened to be a cardio surgeon. Unfortunately, the story doesn’t end at that because it’s Grey’s Anatomy, and nothing is ever that simple.
The introduction of Teddy Altman had a multitude of purposes: it provided a comparable mentor for Cristina, a glimpse into Owen’s past, and a way to stir up trouble for Cristina and Owen. Once again, let’s start off with the easier stuff.
The only reason Owen called up Teddy was because of Cristina. And that’s important to keep in mind, especially after the events that followed because of this decision. Owen did it with the best of intentions. But as Kevin McKidd has said, it wasn’t the smartest move to bring in someone with whom there was past romantic baggage. However, Teddy turned out to be exactly the type of mentor Cristina needed. I don’t think we’ve ever seen Cristina so enamored with a cardio mentor (excepting Burke, but that was more for him rather than his teachings). Unfortunately, this little gift from Owen came with some major strings attached.
Because Teddy shared a history with Owen, we were able to get more backstory on who Owen was before he first set foot in Seattle Grace. Though, I have to say, that Teddy didn’t offer much that we didn’t already know or hadn’t already guessed. Owen was a standup guy, who brought in a snow machine during Christmas to cheer up his platoon. And most importantly, we got an Owen-centric episode because of Teddy inadvertently triggering him.
Finally, we get to the heart of the matter – the triangle. This plot device has been quite polarizing – and the primary cause for Cristina and Owen fans losing faith. The triangle had two major phases, shifting from Cristina to Owen: first, Cristina had to choose between Teddy and Owen (career versus love); then, Owen had to choose between Teddy and Cristina (past versus present/future). I’ve oversimplified the parallels, but you get the basic picture.
The first manifestation of the triangle was more easily tolerated than the second. When the deciding power rested in Cristina, it truly was not your “typical triangle.” It was less about romance and more about one of the biggest dilemmas Cristina has always faced. With Burke and Marlow, she was able to sidestep this quandary because they represented both worlds. Being with these men furthered both her personal and her professional life, so there was not much of a conflict. Picking career was essentially the same as picking love. However, in the situation with Teddy and Owen, she was forced to choose one over the other. And at first, Cristina instinctively went with what she always did – career first. (Though, I must point out that Jackson had it right in that she should be able to have both.) “Then take him,” she says to Teddy when the latter confesses she wants Owen in exchange for remaining and teaching Cristina. She uttered it without thinking first and later struggled with having said it.
It’s unfortunate that women are looked down upon a bit when they opt to further their career over starting a family, but we still live in a rather biased and sexist society – less so than before, but the gender-specific roles have been ingrained into our brains. So, when Cristina runs to tell Teddy that she picks her, it makes Cristina come off as a bit cold. And she’s not a cold person, regardless of the “robot” cracks that are made about her. How could she so easily just toss Owen aside? Well, because I don’t think Cristina’s fully thought it out at that point. Like I said, this was the first time where career and love were so distinctly separate. She’d only processed her decision to the point where it meant she could use her gift and become a great surgeon. The second half of the equation – the part that meant that she’d have to give up Owen as her partner – hadn’t set in yet.
Only when Owen confronted her, telling her that people matter – that they matter, did Cristina begin to process what losing Owen truly meant. Owen, who loved her so much that he refused to be tossed aside so easily. Who beat the Grey’s Anatomy curse of lashing out or running away when one’s ego is hurt. Owen put aside the hurt for the sake of their relationship. That’s such a rare show of maturity in this show.
Wasn’t that a powerful and emotional scene? It certainly was. But it wouldn’t have come into fruition had Teddy not been in the picture to create that dilemma for Cristina. And neither would the events of “State of Love and Trust” – an episode that none of us are going to be forgetting any time soon. Not only were there copious amounts of hot, hot sex, but we finally got the Burke talk – and this little treasure: “I love you more than I loved Burke.” Wow. My jaw dropped. Never in a million years did I think the writers would put that on the table. But they did.
By making Teddy the “common enemy,” the triangle allowed for Cristina and Owen to become more of a team. They clung tighter to each other – and because of that, we got some great scenes of them being a couple. Like in “Valentine’s Day Massacre” when Cristina and Owen were heading home together at the end. They faced Teddy as a united front – with Owen refusing to let Cristina leave when she offered – in a stance that proclaimed loud and clear that they were a couple. How great was that?
Then, things shifted, and it became more like your typical romantic triangle. However, I feel like it was beyond the simple scenario where a man is torn between two women he loves. Because Owen’s made it obvious time and again that he is in love with Cristina. And there’s a huge difference between loving someone and being in love with them. Never once did Owen say that he loved Teddy – present or past. He had feelings, he was confused – but he never mentioned love. Other people did: Teddy, Meredith, Cristina – they talked about Owen loving Teddy, but Owen himself never did.
I still remain firm on the idea that Owen’s confusion in regards to his feelings for Teddy stem from his PTSD and still being unable to come to terms with his past. He said as much in “Shiny Happy People” during the scene in the stairwell: Teddy brings up memories of mutilated bodies, Beth – his past before and during the war. It’s a mixture of the time during his trauma and before he was “damaged” by the war – a mixture of both good and bad. Owen didn’t always have this burden weighing heavily on him, and I think he misses those times. I think he misses the man he was before he began developing PTSD, before he could be set off with something as innocuous as a ceiling fan. He feels so much guilt when it comes to Cristina – for being a burden to her, for having caused her pain. No wonder he doesn’t always know what he’s feeling. But through it all, he’s always been clear that he was in love with Cristina.
So, in “Hook, Line and Sinner” during the elevator scene with Teddy and Owen, the intention was to hint at this confusion of feelings (in addition to pissing off Cristina and Owen fans and putting in something reactive for sweeps season – the counterpart to the Jackson and Cristina kiss for November sweeps). Honestly, things would be easier for Owen if he were with Teddy. They both come from a military background, they’ve got similar characteristics and beliefs, and they served in Iraq together. More importantly, there is no sense of guilt or feeling that he’s not deserving of her love. I think that Owen still finds it hard to grasp that Cristina could love him even after he’d nearly choked her to death and put her through that hell. And he loves her so much. The last thing he wants to do is hurt her, but he did. See? The easier choice would be Teddy. And I believe it’s this temptation to take the easier route that beckons to him in the elevator and causes him to have these “feelings” for Teddy. And it’s the sense of guilt and unworthiness – and his always wanting what’s best for Cristina – that keeps him from answering Cristina’s simple question: “Do you love her or do you love me?”
But then, he’s snapped back to reality in the season finale, and he can no longer afford to be indecisive. And in that moment, all his emotional baggage is irrelevant. All that stuff can be worked out with time. He can learn to forgive himself as Cristina has already done – and accept it. The most important thing is that he loves Cristina – and only Cristina. Because none of that matters if Cristina is dead. Shonda was right about one thing: by having this life and death situation, it allowed for the angst to go away – and put things into perspective.
So for Owen, that was Teddy’s role in the latter part of the triangle’s progression, being a culmination of the remaining obstacles in his PTSD treatment so that he could let them go in one fell swoop by choosing Cristina. I’m not saying that he’s PTSD free now, but I think that he’s pushed past this “PTSD wall.”
Teddy helped Cristina and Owen overcome a lot of internal and emotional hurdles within themselves and within their relationship. And unfortunately, the writers felt that the only way for that to be accomplished was by having these frustrating storylines. Though, I don’t see how it could’ve been done without Cristina and Owen facing some sort of adversity. And since it’s Grey’s Anatomy, we’re always going to be taken down the most difficult path because of the soap opera nature of the show. We just have to prepare for the hard knocks. Though hopefully, season seven won’t be as brutal. In fact, let’s end this season six wrap-up with something hopeful.
Here are the things I hope to see for Owen and Cristina in season seven (in no particular order with little expectation of most of these occurring):
1. Moving into their own place together.
2. Having a serious, uninterrupted discussion as to what their future together looks like (e.g. marriage, kids).
3. Getting the chance to see more domestic moments between Owen and Cristina (e.g. lying in bed together, coming into work, having a meal together).
4. An actual date.
5. Some grand, romantic gesture.
6. Spending time with Owen’s mother.
7. Dancing it out.
8. Being silly or lighthearted.
9. Owen meeting Cristina’s mother.
10. More of them working together.
11. Some major step forward in their relationship that goes beyond simply moving into their own place together.
12. Less angst, more happiness.
13. A hug of joy rather than sadness or comfort.
14. Hanging out with Derek and Meredith.
Here’s hoping for a happier season seven! Only 14 weeks away…