When it comes to cast departures from Grey's Anatomy, if there's a grand design involved, that's when you know the actors have done nothing wrong. So, for Sarah Drew and Jessica Capshaw to each earn a send-off that doesn't involve, say, being rolled over and rendered unrecognizable by a bus (hi, 007!) or being that d-bag who ditches out on his wedding, it's at least a little bit of a win for each ... a little bit.
Though the past few weeks have been hinting about how they might say goodbye to Grey-Sloan Memorial Hospital, tonight things become clearer than ever as the doctors desperately rally to save April Kepner from a hypothermic state of freeze and Arizona gets a key visit from an old mentor-slash-friendish.
The shift starts out pretty mildly, with April sending out her fancy invitations to Jo (Camilla Luddington) and Alex (Justin Chambers)'s wedding ceremony and everyone oohing and ahhing over them in kind. Meanwhile, Arizona turns in her notice to Miranda Bailey (Chandra Wilson), and although the chief is disappointed, she's quick with the wise and kind words and gives her a pretty gutting little goodbye speech like so:
"I thought you were a pixie stick ... I thought you were an empty vessel, full of sugar who skated in a hospital. I didn't know then what would it would be one of the great privileges of my life to know you and to work with you."
Ow, my heart.
There's not much time for sappy business right now, though, because Arizona's got a very special consult to attend to today alongside Amelia (Catarina Scorsone) — who's bringing the now-returned Betty (Peyton Kennedy) along to keep tabs on the supposedly-sober teen throughout the day, workplace protocol be darned. Why, it's none other than Dr. Herman (Geena Davis), whose increasing frequency of headaches has everyone convinced her tumor has returned.
This gives Amelia something of an existential crisis; she already blames her failed (but possibly recovering?) marriage to Owen (Kevin McKidd) on the giant melon-sized tumor she had, so was that ailment to blame for Herman's post-surgical blindness as well? Even when the scans don't seem to show a recurrence of the mass, Shepherd's still convinced it's her fault the foremost fetal surgeon in the world is out of commission.
Once Herman's spinal fluid indicates that the source of Herman's symptoms is something else, yielding a much less terrible prognosis and treatment plan for her, Herman lets Amelia know, with all the requisite sass and bite that makes her her, that (1) she knows about Amelia's tumor, (2) she learned about if from Tom "Loose Lips" Koracick, and (3) she thinks it's what saved her life by making Amelia crazy enough to perform the operation in the first place.
Amidst all this, Arizona comes to find out that even though she hasn't heard anything from Herman in years, her old mentor credits her with keeping her alive. Hearing about all her progress gives Herman the hope that her teaching days aren't over. And since she doesn't want Arizona to quit the intra-uterine operation business either, she pitches they go in on a teaching clinic together to share their mastery of the subject with other budding baby surgeons — and yes, they can do this in New York so that Sofia can be near Callie again. It's bittersweet, but, hey, getting the Cristina Yang treatment here is about as nice as these things get.
All this pseudo-happy business happens while April's in a terrible way, however.
After Matthew Taylor — y'know, the guy Kepner almost married before flitting off to be with Jackson, the guy who just had his wife die after giving birth to their baby? — shows up badly injured from a car accident, he asks about April's condition, and none of Matt's EMT friends have a clue. They didn't see her on the scene, but Owen has a sneaking suspicion they might've overlooked something, since she called it in and all, and gets them to transport him to the site of the accident.
He finds her at the bottom of a nearby hill, frozen by water and showing no vital signs of life. Upon returning to the hospital, Meredith (Ellen Pompeo) gets to work and keeps everyone motivated by reminding them that she herself once survived something very similar to this — those freaking ferries, man — and that's when Maggie (Kelly McCreary) takes over with the fire of a woman who knows that if April dies, Jackson Avery (Jesse Williams) will simply never recover.
The docs trade off doing compressions for one, two, three hours before April's body is warm enough to begin bypass. The situation seems dire, and when Jackson finally emerges from a burn victim surgery to find out what's happened to April, he's hours behind everyone and feels angry and hopeless and all the things. After beginning to shock her heart, though, Maggie believes she sees some signs of heart activity and charges it up to who-knows-how-much again and again until she finally gets a pulse going.
It's a miracle! But it's still not enough... not until those brain waves start to become regular. Even Meredith knows a body with no cranial activity is worthless. Speaking of Mer, she has an important aside wherein she realizes that she wasn't robbed by Derek's death; by being reminded of her own near-death experience (well, one of them), she realizes that everything that came after — her marriage, her kids, her massive acclaim — it's all part of a life she almost didn't have. It's the most subtle bit of closure, but it's important all the same.
Similarly, Jackson decides to throw it up to the man (or woman) upstairs while at April's bedside. He promises to do whatever God wants him to do if only the mother of his child could please come back to them. He doesn't seem to care that she's fallen in love with Matthew because this isn't about any kind of "Japril" resurrection feeling. This is a familial love that he cannot live without right now, and when she does indeed come back into her body — PHEW — he makes good on that promise and takes little Harriett to the hospital chapel.
April's not gone yet. But that shot of her and Matthew, each battered beyond belief and still so happy to be in each other's arms, gives us a hint that she might come out of this thing ready to walk away from the trauma unit. We'll see.
With one more episode left to go, with Jo and Alex finally making it official, things are definitely winding down on what has been an eventful season indeed.
Grey's Anatomy airs Thursday nights at 8/7c on ABC. The season finale airs May 17.