“After 10 seasons playing the intensely competitive intern/resident/cardiothoracic surgeon fellow Cristina Yang, Sandra Oh’s final episode of Grey’s Anatomy airs this Thursday. Oh’s departure has been mourned elsewhere, but the real loss is not simply the disappearance of Cristina, but the dissolution of the bond between Cristina and the show’s lead character, Meredith Grey (Ellen Pompeo). With those two characters, showrunner Shonda Rhimes and her team of writers created one of the most nuanced and realistic portrayals of female friendship on television.
I recently revisited the pilot, “A Hard Day’s Night,” and it reminded me that the show’s striking exploration of race and gender was there from the beginning. On their first day as surgical interns, Meredith points out to Cristina that there are only six women out of the 20 interns. “Yeah, and I hear one of them’s a model,” Cristina replies. “Seriously, like that’s going to help with the respect thing?” Later they poke fun of the “talent” of Meredith’s seizure patient, a pageant girl who does rhythmic gymnastics, a style of dance that typically includes some sort of prop (a ribbon, ball, or hoop, for instance).
But their dismissive jokes—which make sense coming from characters proud to succeed in a male-dominated field—soon lead the two to realize that an incident during the patient’s rhythmic gymnastics may explain her seizures. When Meredith scrubs in to assist with the surgery, she has an epiphany that signals her ability to see her patient as more than just a beauty queen: “There are livesin our hands,” she says via her signature voice over.
As long-time Grey’s viewers know, this was just the beginning of a beautiful, multi-layered relationship.”