Grey's Anatomy pulled off a truly jaw-dropping surprise in the Season 17 premiere, which ended with Meredith (Ellen Pompeo) collapsing after a long shift in the COVID-19 ward at the hospital and escaping to a dream beach scene where her dead husband, Derek Shepherd (Patrick Dempsey), was waiting for her. Fans saw the former couple exchange "I miss you"s to each other from across the beach, but the nature of their reunion and what it means for Meredith's condition back in the land of the conscious remains to be seen.
TV Guide spoke with Kevin McKidd, who directed this Thursday's episode, about what to expect from this shocking reunion and what it was like to get to film Derek and Meredith back together again.
"it is a great episode. Meg Marinis wrote it, and I love working on Meg's scripts. She's such a great writer," McKidd said. "It's a great follow-up to where we left off in the season premiere. It's just a really cool payoff to where we left that brilliant premiere episode, directed by Debbie [Allen]."
Grey's showrunner Krista Vernoff has promised that Derek will appear three times in the early part of the season, and while McKidd couldn't confirm exactly when those times will be, he did say that the couple will definitely be interacting more going forward.
"The scenes [between Meredith and Derek] are really fun. It feels very nostalgic, shooting them. It feels like yesterday. It feels like a familiar, very familiar thing, and it was beautiful to be there and shoot those scenes on the beach," he said. "That great chemistry between Meredith and Derek is, as you can see, very much alive."
"COVID has made everybody really zoom out on their lives and really take a look at where they are, and what's important," McKidd continued. "And I think that tone is what the Meredith and Derek scenes are about — that kind of reassessment and a letting go, and a closure, you know, and a celebration all at the same time."
While the beach dream with Derek may be an escape, especially for longtime Grey's fans, it will not be as relaxing for everyone in the hospital, where Meredith is fighting for her life.
"It really affects everybody emotionally," McKidd said of Meredith's condition. "She's the backbone, and the foundation, the emotional center and the spiritual center of the hospital. So, when that goes away, it's very disconcerting for people. Everybody's energy is about getting her well again. But it's exciting too, in the sense that we get to tell different stories, and we get to feel that jeopardy."
"COVID doesn't have favorites," said McKidd. "We all love Meredith Grey, and the fans love Meredith Grey. COVID doesn't have that same sensibility. It's gonna take anyone down that's affected by it. I can't really say much more than that, but it's definitely going to be a shocking and very exciting, scary ride."
Grey's Anatomy airs Thursdays at 9/8c on ABC.