Gray’s Anatomy’s Kelly McCreary discusses Meredith’s destiny and this breakthrough with Amelia

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[Warning: The following contains spoilers from Thursday’s winter finale of Grey’s Anatomy. Read at your own risk!]

Grey’s Anatomy may almost have broken Maggie Pearce (Kelly McCreary). The global fight against COVID-19 rages on. The virus will continue to star in the series’ seventeenth season, pressuring all of the doctors at Gray Sloan Memorial Hospital, with Maggie apparently on the brink of a collapse in the show’s winter finale.

The episode began with Meredith (Ellen Pompeo) – Maggie’s sister – waking up after weeks of unconsciousness, only to succumb to her symptoms again at the end of the episode. Mer’s seemingly miraculous recovery seemed to improve Maggie’s mood, but the finale ended with Meredith being put on a ventilator and the doctors torn up as to whether that was a necessary step to save her life or a sign that it was soon it might be time to say goodbye to Meredith Gray.

If that wasn’t strained enough, the Ward 19 abduction story was also carried over into the episode, with the teenage girls and their suspected kidnapper receiving their aftercare at the Gray Sloan Memorial. The case may have the biggest ramifications for DeLuca (Giacomo Gianniotti), who is most likely to discover the connection between the kidnapper and the sex dealer he faced before his breakdown in season 16, but the tragedy over what happened to the girls and what could have happened if the firefighters at Ward 19 hadn’t intervened, which had a profound effect on several doctors in the hospital.

Maggie was such a doctor, as the case brought to the surface that black women and girls in the country are far less protected from horrific systems like sex trafficking and kidnapping than other people. Maggie’s frustration at the injustice, combined with the staggering number of black and brown people she saw die from COVID-19 despite Seattle’s only eight percent black population, resulted in a breakthrough between Maggie and her “sister” Amelia (Caterina Scorsone). TV Guide spoke to McCreary about the finale, her episode-defining speech, and how Grey’s Anatomy is continuing its best season yet while tackling the toughest subject.

Kelly McCreary, Grey’s Anatomy

Let’s start with the end of the episode. Meredith is passed out again and is on a ventilator. How will that affect Maggie when the show returns?
Kelly McCreary:
By the end of the episode, Maggie had left the hospital – after a tough day, after a really tough day, by the way – and it is a blow to find that after hoping Meredith made some improvements, she returned again in the opposite direction, and what I find so scary, but also profound about this moment, is that it feels so symbolic. Not only do many patients have experience with COVID, right? We know this thing goes up and down and in that way is unpredictable and scary. But it also really feels like a metaphor for the state of the world we are in right now. Things seem to be on the right track and then there is an uptick. Every time things seem like an evening out there is disruption and chaos and I feel like so many people are enjoying this so much right now. Maggie is no different. We are all just trying to find our stand at this point and yet things seem so unstable. That’s exactly what happened.

What is it like to tell this story while the world is still in the middle of the pandemic?
McCreary:
This season is dedicated to the frontline staff and it’s a hospital show. We play doctors, so it just follows that our POV follows our doctors. The reality is that our doctors are very, very deep in this country, more than they used to be. It’s funny because part of the experience of actually playing the scene as an actor is not knowing what’s going to happen. You cannot play the end of the scene. You need to stay in every moment and treat everything that happens like new, even if it is your fifteenth attitude. That’s because that’s how life is. You don’t know how things are going to play out. We cannot predict which direction things will go. That kind of act takes place in real life … we don’t know which direction to go, any more than we as a country know how long we’ll be on this thing. It just feels like an exercise in staying in the present moment.

They have an incredibly powerful monologue that Maggie Amelia delivers on how differently the pandemic and the kidnapping of these young girls affects her. What was it like filming that?
McCreary:
That was really amazing [scene]. Felicia Pride wrote this monologue. It’s the peak, the weight of so much. Each of the doctors on our show is carrying something heavy. It’s very specific to their identity and their own past trauma. This speech is one such opening in Maggie’s experience with COVID and all and all of the upheaval in the world right now – this is the lens through which she sees it. As a black woman, she can’t help but see the impact on people who look like her and have an experience similar to her own. I am so grateful [to Felicia] for writing this speech and creating this opening in Maggie’s psyche that I can relate to personally and that I know many people have the same concerns. How and why [have Black women] Become invisible and at the same time, for example, are raised and celebrated to save democracy. At the same time, we are so outside the scope of so much.

I was nervous. I just wanted to live up to that justice. There are so many ways in which you can try to bond with your sister and have effective communication with Amelia right now, and yet you have to get back to work. It’s just a moment in your day. Our director Pete Chatmon, who happens to be my husband, took care of him like that. He understood that this was a speech that took time and space to figure out and land on so we could get all of these moments right. I was really grateful to have him on top of this scene.

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Is this speech shifting Maggie and Amelia’s relationship in any way, as Maggie indicates that they don’t experience the world the same way even if they are sisters?
McCreary:
What I really love is that it’s not the first time they’ve had such communication that sets Amelia’s world experience apart from Maggie’s. Another time I think it was in season 12. I won’t remember, but it was at the end of an episode when Maggie kind of [called] Amelia talked about the concept of unconscious or implicit bias and opened her eyes to that reality. What I love is that it’s a constant conversation between Maggie and Amelia because if it’s not your experience you won’t always get it the first time. If you haven’t studied it further, you won’t get it. You need to keep dealing with these questions. Why do different people experience the world in different ways? [ways]? I love our show [tackles this] in every single episode. This conversation between Maggie and Amelia only makes it clearer.

What do you hope people will pick up on this episode after watching it?
McCreary:
I hope people can sit back, and if they didn’t already know, I hope they can say, “Okay. Wow, I really understand why the experiences of black women and girls in this country are different. And me want to know why this is so, and how we can make it possible to create circumstances and environments in which black women and girls thrive as everyone else in this country does – that they experience joy, opportunity and fun I hope that people will be able to deal with the reality of this difference and know that we actually have the power to change it.

What are you most excited about when Grey’s Anatomy returns in 2021?
McCreary:
I’ve said this a couple of times, but I think this is my favorite season of the show. I think the wealth with which we explore each and every character on the series is so much fun to watch. This goes on and it keeps moving incredibly.

Grey’s Anatomy is back on ABC next year.

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