There's one problem with "Grey's Anatomy" centering an episode on the generational conflict between Avery and his overbearing, famous-surgeon grandfather. And that problem is that there are viewers still asking, "Which one is Avery again?"
Since the merger with Mercy West last fall, "Grey's" has struggled to integrate the new blood. Avery, at the center of tonight's episode, has been primarily defined by his good looks and intoxicating smile (Dr. McBeamy?), but he hasn't really formed relationships with anyone. At one point, he kissed Cristina, in this episode, he's talking to Meredith — but nobody really seems to know him.
The other Mercy Westers are in even worse shape, of course: Percy showed up briefly in this episode but has been largely AWOL; Reed flirted with Alex long ago in a story that seems to have been dropped in favor of his entanglement with Lexie; Kepner got fired for killing a patient and was later recycled as Derek's administrative assistant; and Ben the Cute Anesthesiologist, who's halfway dating Bailey, was absent this week, too. It's like all the Mercy Westers are on bathroom-cleaning duty while Seattle Grace handles the action.
And that affects the show's ability to do personal story lines. Parental conflicts have worked here when they involved Meredith (and her mother), George (and his father), Izzie (and her mother), Callie (and her father) and so forth because those characters were people we knew.
When we receive a lengthy, up-close profile of Avery's grandfather, though, it isn't even like we're meeting a friend's parents. It's more like we're having dinner with the parents of our brand new college roommate when we haven't even unpacked yet. And just like that, it's kind of awkward.
The story of Grandpa Avery turned out to be a mishmash of elements taken from the show's long history with haughty, bossy doctors who make bad patients, overbearing relatives and overbearing relatives who are also haughty, bossy doctors.
Despite suggestions early in the season that "Grey's" would try to mix up the new doctors and the old, that hasn't really happened. The momentum has all shifted back to the original Seattle Grace doctors and their idling stories. The most active romantic plotline is the Mark and Lexie disaster, which was briefly quite charming before they both started having casual sex to spite each other.
The other characters remain in holding patterns. And while we're at it, if the show intends to ever pull the trigger on Owen and Cristina's relationship being affected by Teddy, it's time to get on with it, because right now, his constant ambivalent mooning followed by reaffirmations of his feelings for Cristina just makes Owen look indecisive and creepy.
Interestingly, Teddy is easily the new person — not from the Mercy West merger, granted, but new anyway — that the show has done the best job of adding to the mix. At least she has a personality, and her chemistry with Cristina is good enough that shows like tonight's, where they manage to pull out an improbable feat of saving a life together (this time through an experimental surgical procedure), usually works well. The stuff with Owen is getting stale, but at least Teddy has a medical identity that's let her stake out some territory.
There are potentially interesting characters who came from the merger who are sitting on the bench waiting to sub in, but so far, "Grey's" hasn't given them much playing time. So far, transferring from Mercy West has apparently meant spending a lot of time in the invisible cafeteria.
Linda Holmes is a writer in Washington, D.C.