Shonda Rhimes is many things: Founder of the Shondaland entertainment empire, advocate for female empowerment, and most of all, orchestrator of mass heartbreak. As we head into the mid-season premieres of Shondaland’s powerhouse TGIT lineup — Grey’s Anatomy, Scandal, and How to Get Away With Murder — here are some of the best* moments so far, one recent and one throwback, because Shonda’s manipulation of our emotions is timeless. (*Note the term “best” is used loosely, unless ugly crying is your thing.)
Warning: Spoilers and tears ahead.
Drama with a Side of Dinner
Season 12, “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner”
Meredith and Amelia host what is arguably the world’s worst dinner party — April has to cook, Jo is on garbage duty, Arizona gets drunk, Stephanie is mad at Jo, April and Jackson are uncomfortable being in the same room, and Maggie has a UTI. Callie brings her new girlfriend Penny, who just so happens to be the very doctor whose inexperience and error ended up costing Derek his life. Yikes. Meredith and Penny recognize each other immediately at the door but Meredith chooses to keep her mouth shut until they all sit down to dinner and everyone finds out Penny is a new resident transfer at Grey Sloan Memorial (aka the hospital where everyone in the room works). What an unhappy coincidence! Meredith, who is unfortunately sitting right next to Penny, finally snaps and announces “Perfect Penny killed my husband.” Awkward silence ensues.
Derek’s (*sobs*) Death (*sobs*)
Season 11, “How To Save a Life”
Over the years, we saw Meredith and Derek get together, break up, get back together, build a dream house, write their vows on a post-it note, get married, adopt/have children, and survive multiple near-death experiences ranging from a hospital shooting to a plane crash. Was it too much to ask for them to have a happily ever after? The answer is yes, because Shonda doesn’t care about your silly hopes or feelings. In Season 11, Derek comes across a car accident and after heroically helping some of the victims, gets back into his car only to get t-boned by a semi-truck. He is raced to a hospital that is not Grey Sloan Memorial, where due to a doctor’s error (ugh, see Penny, above), he does not get a vital head CT, ends up brain dead, and dies. As in gone, forever. Meredith’s final words to Derek as he is taken off life support are, “It’s okay. You go. We’ll be fine.” But we’re not; we’ll never be fine with losing McDreamy. Why, Shonda, why?!
Season 5, “Baby, It’s Cold Outside”
Sometimes Shondaland takes a break from punching us in the gut and gives us something wonderfully clever and comedic. Outraged that Planned Parenthood falls on the government’s discretionary budget list and is at risk for de-funding, Mellie starts filibustering. As Senators groan, Mellie makes her point by listing federal projects that are not discretionary, such as the $5 million worth of Senate hair care services, a travel stipend for the Alabama Watermelon Queen, and talking urinal cakes in Michigan. Hours pass, and she kicks off her shoes, steals another Senator’s granola bar for energy, and keeps pushing on. Just when her bladder is about to give up on her, none other than chipper Vice President Susan Ross (sent via Olivia Pope) comes in to relieve her with a bathroom break by asking a long-winded question that starts with the topic of gonorrhea. How early is too early to start planning a Grant (Mellie)-Ross Presidential ticket?
Tom and Jerry, but Tragic
Season 3, “The Price of Free and Fair Election”
Time to break out the tissues again. In the Season 3 finale, Fitz is about to give his final speech as President on election day when his son Jerry collapses on stage, is rushed to the hospital, and then — in typical Shondaland fashion — dies a tragic death. The cause of death is bacterial meningitis, injected into Jerry by Secret Service agent/henchman Tom on orders from Papa Pope, hellbent on some kind of deranged revenge on Fitz. The tragedy gathers enough public sympathy to allow Fitz to win another term in the White House, but their son’s death breaks both Fitz and Mellie. Fitz turns to alcohol, and Mellie turns to fried chicken and giving zero effs. Trading her polished First Lady outfits for bathrobes and Ugg boots, Smelly Mellie became our new favorite version of Mellie: a slightly unhinged, grieving mother who was equally heartbreaking and funny.
How to Get Away With Murder
Annalise Takes One for the Team
Season 12, “What Did We Do?”
After Asher runs over Sinclair with his car, Annalise convinces the entire gang to go along with an elaborate cover-up because a) hey, let’s just make everyone an accessory and b) this is no one’s first time at the murder rodeo anyway. The plan: Push Sinclair’s body over the balcony, frame former client Catherine, and SHOOT ANNALISE to wrap it all up in an ironclad alibi. It’s desperate and batsh*t crazy, but somehow Annalise still sells it because you know, Viola Davis. One by one, Annalise tries to convince Connor, Michaela, Laurel, and Wes to pull the trigger by masterfully exploiting their weaknesses until she finally strikes Wes’ achilles heel — dead Rebecca. Wes grabs the gun and instead of shooting her in the leg, as instructed, he aims at the much deadlier stomach area. When he raises the gun again for the kill shot, Annalise pulls out her last trump card and calls him “Christophe.”
The Sext Heard Around the World
Season 1, “Let’s Get to Scooping”
HTGAWM is full of twisty plots, backstabbing, and immoral manipulation, and all of that was upstaged by nine little words and a quiet, rare moment of vulnerability for Annalise. After Rebecca‘s coerced confession of murdering Lila is thrown out of court, she goes home to find Wes waiting with Lila’s locked phone. He asks her what’s on the phone and later hands it over to Annalise to use as evidence. At the end of the episode, an exhausted Annalise sits in front of her mirror and begins to peel away layers, literally and figuratively. She removes her jewelry, wig, eyelashes, and make-up and sits there completely raw, real, and exposed (hello, Emmy voters). When Sam comes in to ask about Rebecca’s case, Annalise shows him the phone and calmly asks the question that no one would have predicted — and no one other than Davis could pull off so solemnly: “Why is your penis on a dead girl’s phone?”
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