Warning: Major Grey’s Anatomy spoilers ahead.
Whoa. In case you didn’t know, last night (March 5) Grey’s Anatomy bid an awkward farewell to Dr. Alex Karev (Justin Chambers), a character who’s been with the show for about 16 years. This was never going to be a smooth exit. Back in January, Chambers announced his leave and, to the shock of fans, that his last episode had already aired. Yeah, that was not going to work for the folks who had been watching him since the very beginning.
Ultimately, he lent his voice for last night’s episode, a true goodbye that featured cathartic flashbacks and some sort of explanation for the doctor formerly known as Evil Spawn’s departure. We learned Alex’s fate via a series of letters he wrote to Meredith (Ellen Pompeo), his wife Jo (Camilla Luddington), and Bailey (Chandra Wilson) after reuniting with…Izzie (Katherine Heigl)…and their kids.
Here’s what he wrote to his new wife, Jo: “You’re more than a letter. This right here, this cowardice, this letter, it’s officially the worst thing I’ve ever done,” he wrote. “I can’t lie to you and pretend the truth isn’t the truth. That I love you, and I love Izzie. But if it was just me missing her or nostalgia or whatever, I would have been able to walk away and come back to you. But Izzie had my kids, and I know you get what that really means.”
You know who didn’t “get” what that really means? The fans. Dear reader, I am not exaggerating when I say that a lot of them wish the Grey’s Anatomy writers had just killed Alex off instead. “When you pray they won’t kill off Alex Karev and they don’t but the way they do write him off makes you wish they had just killed him,” one fan tweeted. This was not an isolated feeling:
Okay, so some people didn’t go that far. Most unhappy fans just seemed upset that his “cowardice” went against 16 seasons of character development. “This is worse than Derek Shepherd being killed off,” another user tweeted. “This is abandonment of a character that has been through hell and back and who GREW from it. A character that is now inflicting intentional pain on his fragile wife. Alex Karev would NEVER have done this. Never.”
That last tweet got 10K likes. Frankly, it’s not easy to find a positive reaction to Karev’s final episode. The closest I could find are denials that it even happened:
One thing I’ll leave you with, Grey’s Anatomy fans, is that there was no right way for this to go down. If what Chambers told Deadline is true, this was the actor’s choice. “There’s no good time to say goodbye to a show and character that’s defined so much of my life for the past 15 years,” Chambers said. “For some time now, however, I have hoped to diversify my acting roles and career choices. And, as I turn 50 and am blessed with my remarkable, supportive wife and five wonderful children, now is that time.”
So, without the ability to have Chambers return, what were the writers to do? Killing off another major figure in Meredith’s life would be cruel, and yet any other option seems out of character or unfulfilling. One option could have been to send Jo away with her husband—her recent traumas are as good a reason as any for them to take a break from Grey Sloan Memorial Hospital—but would that have been fair to Camilla Luddington, the real-life actor who plays her? All we can do at this point is create our own Archive of Our Own accounts and write some fan-fic. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got some writing to do…
Emily Tannenbaum is a writer based in New York City.