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Outtie belly button helps revive Alex on ‘Grey’s’

Everything on "Grey's Anatomy" this week was about parents: good parents, bad parents, the kinds of parents everyone hopes will never have and the kinds of parents everyone hopes they'll be. Callie wants kids, but Arizona doesn't. One patient's husband wanted kids more than she did. Derek wants kids, and Meredith started out unsure that she did. And the best story of the week came from Alex, who w
/ Source: msnbc.com contributor

Everything on "Grey's Anatomy" this week was about parents: good parents, bad parents, the kinds of parents everyone hopes will never have and the kinds of parents everyone hopes they'll be.

Callie wants kids, but Arizona doesn't. One patient's husband wanted kids more than she did. Derek wants kids, and Meredith started out unsure that she did. And the best story of the week came from Alex, who was barely parented at all.

Alex's brother Aaron appeared with an umbilical hernia (think of it as the worst case of "outtie" belly button you've ever seen) and no insurance. Alex got him his surgery, but old tensions flared up. They wound up in a fight, right in the hospital lobby, forcing Bailey to thwack Alex with a file folder until he relented. (Bailey hitting people with file folders, for future reference, is always a good idea.)

Meredith has known Alex for years, but it wasn't until Aaron arrived that she learned the details of the abusive father, drug-addicted mother and, in Alex's case, 17 foster homes in five years.

Aaron complained about how little Alex is around the family, but Alex countered that paying for Mom's medications and sending money home required him to live as he has — as a doctor largely at the mercy of his work.

He seems regretful that he opened up to Izzie, since she bailed on him irrationally for reasons having nothing to do with character and everything to do with contracts. Knowing more of Alex's history — and being reminded that his ability to be a decent person isn't limited to women he's sleeping with — is a welcome expansion of a character who's often been underused and easy to underestimate.

Unfortunately, as obliquely referenced above, Katherine Heigl's offscreen dramas have hamstrung the character of Alex because Alex's fate has been so closely intertwined with Izzie's. This season, while he's had a flirtation with Reed from Mercy West and has been sleeping with Lexie, we learned that he once slept with Callie. (When in doubt, add more broom-closet sex partners!) There's not a lot he can do while he is, in theory, moping around to see if Izzie ever comes home from whatever movie she's shooting.

Given how utterly stalled out Owen and Cristina's story is, how little is going on with Derek and Meredith, that Izzie and George are gone, and that Bailey and the (ex-)chief cannot be expected to carry the entire project, the show needs Alex Karev. He's been around since the beginning. He's a core character, and there's a lot left to explore beyond giving him new people to have sex with. This was a good start.

The rest of the week was typical "Grey's" fare: Callie learned from her patient that she'd better have a baby now in case she has to have an emergency hysterectomy someday. Derek learned from his patient that he'd better have a baby with Meredith now in case he dies unexpectedly. Owen was irrationally angry (again), Cristina was confused about it (again) and he vowed to get help (again). The makeup team again did a bang-up job again, this time on that umbilical hernia. And everyone learned that being a sexy doctor isn't easy. Again.

Linda Holmes is a writer in Washington, D.C.