[Warning: This post contains spoilers from Grey's Anatomy's Season 14 premiere. Read at your own risk.]
Krista Vernoff served as head writer and executive producer for the first seven seasons of Grey's Anatomy and after seven years away — she's been busy writing and executive producing Showtime's Shameless — the prolific writer and producer is bringing her light-hearted sensibilities back to the Shondaland drama as a co-showrunner.
The special two-hour premiere, which she wrote, saw plenty of drama like Jackson (Jesse Williams) and Amelia (Caterina Scorsone) butting heads over an operation and Owen (Kevin McKidd) nearly losing it over his sister Megan's (Abigail Spencer) risky surgery. However, the episode also had its fair share of lighter moments with Jo (Camilla Luddington) and Alex (Justin Chambers) reconciling, Dr. Teddy Altman (Kim Raver) making her long-awaited return and Andrew DeLuca (Giacomo Gianniotti) discovering his sister Carina (Stefania Spampinato) is in town by way of walking in on her hooking up with his boss.
We caught up with Vernoff to break down the Season 14 premiere including the shift in tone, what's in store for Meredith (Ellen Pompeo) and her thoughts on what's happening between Jackson and Maggie (Kelly McCreary).
This season has been teased as being much lighter. What made you want to go in that direction?
Krista Vernoff: What I said to Shonda [Rhimes] when she sat me down and said, "I want you to do this" is...I watched some of the show and I said if this is the show you want it to continue to be, I'm not the right person for the job. I have been writing Shameless for the last five years. My comic teeth are sharpened and my sensibilities have always lived in a lighter, funnier place. And Shonda said, "That's what I want. I want you to come do you." So it wasn't so much like I think this show needs to shift as me saying I don't know how to write this show you're currently producing. But also, I understood why the show had gotten darker. Because when you have the death of McDreamy, there's no way for the show to stay honest and stay light and funny. And so I understood where the show had shifted. But it felt really organic for me to come back at this time. We've had a couple years of grieving and for me to bring my energy back and shift the show back into joy and humor and light felt organic to both me and Shonda.
Let's talk about Meredith, Nathan and Megan. Meredith has decided to step aside and let Nathan and Megan rekindle things but Megan believes he's still in love with Meredith. What's going on with them and is there hope for a happy ending for any of them?
Vernoff: It's definitely complicated. What I love about it is that the complexity is rooted in these women's mutual respect for each other and Nathan's genuine love for both of them. And absolutely, there's hope for some kind of a happy ending but it's gonna be complicated to get there.
Meredith says I had one great love in my life and he died. Is there a chance for her to have a second?
Vernoff: What I love about Meredith is that is her saying to Megan, I can take care of you. I can be your doctor because I had my one great love and Nathan isn't him. It's a way of answering really honestly without talking about what feelings she or Nathan may or may not have had for each other. It's respectful of her truth and of Megan's question. Is there hope for someone who's loved and lost? Who'd had their great love and that person died? Of course, there's hope for another love.
Megan has a son in Iraq who is a Syrian refugee. That's a relevant story given what's happening in politics right now. Was that an intentional reference?
Vernoff: It was intentional. I feel like as storytellers, we have opportunities to illuminate and educate, and I feel that illumination and education is best served with a spoonful of sugar, which is romance and comedy.
Owen has been through a lot so far with Megan returning and his strained relationship with Amelia. What's going on with Owen and is he going to have some sort of happiness this season
Vernoff: I think that Owen has been tortured by this strange and difficult marriage and now he has an answer for why it's that way but of course he doesn't get that answer until after things have already gotten more complicated for him emotionally. And the short answer is yes. One of the things I really wanted to do in bringing Megan back and not having her be so horrifically tortured as he had worried that she might be, was to relieve Owen of some of his pain and angst and guilt. And to get to see a lighter side of him, which his sister brings out in him.
In this episode, we also meet Deluca's sister, Carina. What does their relationship look like over the course of the season?
Vernoff: He loves his sister and his sister makes him crazy and sleeps with his boss and has women masturbating in MRIs of a hospital and for Andrew Deluca, it just shakes him up and it lets me show other sides of him. I had lunch with [Giacomo Gianniotti] and was delighted to discover that he was an Italian native speaker and I thought that's so sexy, I have to find a way to use that on the show and that's where Carina Deluca was born.
Let's talk about Carina's study requiring women to masturbate while an MRI machine scans their brain. Will there be complications?
Vernoff: It's actually a real study that's happening right now. We've seen those brain scans in the writer's room at Grey's Anatomy. They are developing female Viagras and it has been a long time coming that somebody studies the female body the way the male body has been studied. And so, I don't find it controversial at all. I find it badass and feminist and appropriate and exciting. It's a story I was delighted to tell and no, it won't go badly for the hospital at all. As a matter of fact, it diagnosed a brain tumor.
There's a movement in Hollywood right now to bring more women and diverse stories to the forefront. Was that in your mind while writing this storyline?
Vernoff: I am female and by the very nature of being female, women are at the center of my storytelling, instincts and sensibilities and always have been. So no, I didn't have any kind of political agenda but when you empower women to tell stories, women naturally tell their own stories. And when you let women tell their own stories, audiences naturally resonate with them. And I think that is one of the reasons that Grey's Anatomy is one of the biggest shows in the world. Because from the beginning, it was Shonda [Rhimes] and it was Betsy [Beers] and it was me and it was Suzanne Patmore Gibbs and it was Channing Dungey. There were women behind the camera and when you put women behind the camera and behind the computer screen, you galvanize a female audience because of the stories that naturally come out.
Alex finally told Jo about tracking down her abusive ex and she's not too angry. What's next for them?
Vernoff: Well, what I loved about that is that in a way, I had a great jumping board which is that the show had become so dark and so conflict-riddled that everybody was expecting a huge fight. And for me, I thought...I would reward the honesty [and] the bravery to tell me that truth. And I would also be so relieved if I had been frightened by someone's impulse towards violence, so relieved to know that he had done this stupid thing, gone and looked him up but not killed him. Not beat him up. Not landed in jail. I think that that was the thing keeping Jo away from Alex and that the relief and the joy of "Okay, this thing that Alex did was a one-time thing and he was trying to defend me, and he's not gonna kill himself to defend me further and he's not gonna attack me and I can be with this man I love," felt really true and right to me. And I think it was only surprising to fans because they'd been watching so many people fight for so many years on this show.
Grey's Anatomy fans are very passionate and opinionated about Jaggie. Are you aware of this ship?
Vernoff: This is what makes me laugh, and Jesse tweeted me this the other day. They're passionate and opinionated about a thing they've never seen any portion of. And I believe that that falls under the category of contempt prior to investigation. I hope that they will keep an open mind. I know that Maggie and Jackson's parents are married to each other. I am playing that for all the humor that it suggests. And I think that there is fun to be had with this cat that April inadvertently lets out of the box that neither Maggie nor Jackson knew existed.
What can you say about Amelia's tumor?
Vernoff: Anytime you're living with an undiagnosed malady that is suddenly diagnosed, there is fear in the diagnosis but also relief because you've been feeling symptoms. There's some relief in knowing what's causing them. When there is a tumor sitting on the frontal lobe of your brain, it causes behavioral abnormalities and Amelia has made some messes in her life and I think there is both fear in the diagnosis of a brain tumor and relief for her.
What can you tell us about the rest of the season? Will more doctors be leaving Grey Sloan?
Vernoff: We know that Jason George has a particular journey this year which keeps him in Shondaland but that potentially transitions him out of Grey Sloan and that is gonna be a rich and dramatic storyline for our fans to enjoy...Watching how that character goes off to that other show.
Grey's Anatomy airs Thursdays at 8/7c on ABC.