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‘Grey’s’ needs to save itself from pap — stat!

It's do or die time for "Grey's Anatomy." The show's down this road a few times during its four seasons, but this time — November sweeps and two-part finale hysterics aside — it's for real.

What remains to be seen when the two-part conclusion airs Thursday is not whether Bailey saves the Nazi guy's life, if the doctors can somehow fix up Seth Green and his exploded carotid artery, if Meredith and the chief can save a dying paramedic, or if McDreamy is going to go out with Rose, the suddenly visible nurse.

What really hangs in the balance is whether the show can survive dishing up another batch of overly sentimental, melodramatic, maudlin pap and work its way out of it with an exhilarating conclusion.

Even a frustrated fan can admit that it'll likely work out again. That's what "Grey's" does. It evokes thoughts of rage, rebellion and hyperbolic cries that we'll watch nevermore. But viewers keep coming back. So even as fans moan and groan over, the show has gained more than 1 million viewers over its average from last season, according to Nielsen Media Research.

No free passLong-time fans have seen the show work its way out of ridiculous first-parters before. The infamous bomb-in-the-belly episode in the second season, which saw the quickly beloved Kyle Chandler explode into pink mist all over Meredith, was one that was quickly derided yet is now remembered as one of the better moments in show history.

And Meredith's death sequence, which was dragged out over three episodes last season after she fell into the freezing waters off the Seattle waterfront, came through in the end with the ghosts of Seattle Grace's past talking Meredith into fighting for her life. It was a touching ending, despite having all the look and feel of absurdity.

But the fact that the show has bailed itself out before doesn't give it a free pass. Things are markedly different now: The whole "Gizzie" debacle not only lingers, but has reached a new level of discomfort as George and Izzie, who are really more like brother and sister, try to sort out why they're having really bad sex. And the writers' strike rages on, making Thursday's episode potentially the last new one fans will see for an unknown length of time. Will they care enough to come back after what could be a lengthy hiatus?

One more thing that's different this time: The first part was terrible.

Bad reflectionThere were some redeeming moments, however. The writers should get kudos for not putting one of the doctors' lives — notably Meredith's — in peril for this special episode. And one fun bit was Green's guest appearance as a down-on-his-luck type of guy whose carotid artery was in danger of exploding — and did.

But everything else about the episode was a reflection of all that's gone wrong with this season.

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The writing was lazy, the twists were predictable, the big-picture stories went nowhere and the overemotional death scene, while sad and moving in its own way, involved characters whom viewers didn't know or care about.

Right from the start, as Cristina tried to dance her sorrows and cares away — reminiscent of the carefree spirit that made the show so much fun the first season — Meredith refused to participate because she was so, so sad that Derek is dating someone else. She failed to recognize that he's given her multiple chances to have him all to herself and that she's always refused him.

Then, as if Meredith’s constant whining weren't enough, Izzie looked at Meredith — who was now convinced and dancing with Cristina — and went off to complain to George about their unhappy coupling. In a span of about a dozen episodes, Izzie and George went from being two of the most beloved characters to becoming two of the most often-cited reasons for wanting to turn off the TV.

Flash over to Bailey's house for a moment — yes, Bailey's house, where viewers have never been — to peek in on her frustrated husband saying she doesn't spend enough time at home and reluctantly agreeing to meet her at the hospital for lunch. Think that lunch ever happened?

Then the big ambulance crash outside the emergency room set in motion all sorts of ridiculousness, including two paramedics left with their lives hanging in the balance, upside down. After much worry, anxiety and singing of "I Can See Clearly Now," one guy died after his wife ran to his side. And Meredith, ever the "others first" thinker, immediately contemplated how that poor woman would remember Meredith in the story of her husband's death. Seriously.

But the lesson in the first part of the episode came when Bailey had to treat one of the paramedics who was a raging racist. He had a big swastika tattooed on his stomach and he didn't want Bailey to see it or treat him. She decided to "rise above," as she subtly put it about 25 times.

In the end, she took her scalpel and slowly sliced straight through the middle of the hateful emblem (that's symbolism — get it?) and said, "No one better ever call me Nazi again." Was she not aware of actual Nazis when her nickname was coined? Were the writers?

That's not to say the issue isn't worth exploring. These kinds of internal and moral struggles are what great dramas are made of. But "Grey's Anatomy" has a certain way of taking a worthwhile story or idea and flogging its audience's collective cranium with it beyond recognition, then striking a few more blows.

In the past, the doctors of Seattle Grace Hospital have managed to repair the proverbial wounds. Can they do it again? History is on their side, and come Thursday night, you'll likely find viewers reaching for tissues and declaring "Grey's" pure brilliance. Again.

Victor Balta is a writer in Philadelphia.

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