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All The Behind-The-Scenes Details About Derek's Return On 'Grey's Anatomy'

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All The Behind-The-Scenes Details About Derek's Return On 'Grey's Anatomy'

As if it weren't emotionally taxing enough to watch a two-hour season premiere focused almost entirely on COVID, Grey's Anatomy hit us smack dab with an unexpected whopper: the McReturn of McDreamy himself, Derek Shepherd, a.k.a. Patrick Dempsey, a.k.a. the actor we were sure would never return after all of this. As those who watched the Season 17 premiere Thursday know, struggling with the surge of pandemic-related deaths, Meredith Grey collapsed on the beach, leading to a dream sequence featuring her five-years-gone husband. Though the moment certainly seems to be fan bait, there was a lot more that went into the decision to bring back Dempsey. And the behind-the-scenes details about Derek's return are fascinating.

THE IDEA

Initially, Vernoff told The Los Angeles Times, she didn't even want this season of Grey's to focus on the pandemic. On the first day, she said she spoke to the writer's room and said:

“OK, you guys, I’ve been back and forth on this a million times, I think that I’ve landed on, we shouldn’t do the pandemic. I think we shouldn’t do it because everybody needs escape. I only want to watch, like, ‘Schitt’s Creek.’ We have pandemic fatigue, and I think that we don’t want to turn on the TV to see the pandemic. I would like to know who wants to convince me that I’m wrong.” And one by one, they raised their hands, and the most persuasive were the doctors in the room.

Doctors who were on the set to help refine the writer scripts had clearly and "profoundly changed," according to the showrunner. So the choice was clear: the pandemic would indeed be the Season 17's plot.

The final moments of the finale were also inspired by medicine. In an interview with Deadline, showrunner Krista Vernoff and Ellen Pompeo talk about the collaborative story plotting, which was born from a medical fact: Our dreams are making up for the fact that our lives are becoming less stimulating in this pandemic-plagued era. As she told Deadline:

From a writer’s perspective, it happened because it was my job to find a way — once we determined that we were doing the pandemic — to also bring joy, and escape, and fan candy, and all the things that at Grey’s Anatomy we give people. We give them romance, and we give them humor, and we give them joy, and a lot of that is lacking for the medical community in this pandemic. And so, I was walking on the beach one day, and I was like, what if there’s a Meredith dream motif?
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