Even on a night when "Grey's Anatomy" put practically its full attention on Dr. Owen Hunt, it demonstrated that it still doesn't know what to do with him.
Since Hunt joined the show in the fall of 2008 — almost two full seasons ago — he's been doing the same routine: suffer over the past, experience guilt, relive trauma, swear to move on. The past might cover his former fiancée, his mother, his ambiguous relationship with Teddy or his war experiences in general, but whatever it is, he will sleep poorly, walk around glowering for no reason, shut out Cristina and then either have an impassioned epiphany or further suppress his feelings.
In Thursday's trip back to the well, Teddy's terminal cancer patient (played by Sara Gilbert) wanted to take advantage of Washington state's assisted suicide law. Teddy needed a second doctor to sign off, so she approached Owen, who flipped out about Teddy "killing" the patient. This signaled to all Owen Hunt experts, of course, that this involved another of his Terrible Terrible Secrets. Teddy went to Mark Sloan, whom she's been dating, for help, but in the meantime, Owen went into another tortured reverie.
In flashbacks, Owen was traveling with his buddy Dan and some other guys when they ran into a roadside bomb. Only Owen and Dan were left alive, and Dan was pinned under the truck and mortally wounded. Owen tried to save him, but ultimately, Dan was dying and in terrible pain, and asked Owen to let him bleed to death from a busted artery. Owen finally relented and Dan died, at which point a miracle helicopter appeared to rescue them. So of course, Owen has always blamed himself for not waiting another 15 seconds.
The story made a certain blunt "Grey's" kind of sense because there's a straight line from "if only I had waited 15 seconds" to "if you remain grimly alive, there might be a cure for cancer." But the story took Owen nowhere different from the places he's been going for two seasons now. Remember, he choked Cristina while she lay in bed, also because of his treacherous past. Guilt, trauma, et cetera.
There's no reason not to get great drama out of Kevin McKidd playing a tortured veteran, but they've now done the same story so many times that it's lost all effectiveness. Owen's anguish goes nowhere; it's momentarily compelling but ultimately static. Gilbert slogged through the terminal-patient part of the story admirably, despite being stuck with all the "dying people are the wisest people" speeches the show constantly stuffs into the mouths of the very sick.
Everything else was skimmed over: Callie wants a baby and Arizona doesn't; Mark and Teddy had sex; and Meredith forgave Derek for barging in on her surgery because he's bored with administrative work. This was meant to be Hunt's show, and as terrific a TV actor as McKidd is, the writers need to figure out a way to stop his spinning wheels, because right now, it's a waste of a very fine actor.
Linda Holmes is a writer in Washington, D.C.