Grey’s Anatomy Did Everything Wrong In Ellen Pompeo’s Last Episode

Ellen Pompeo left Grey's Anatomy after playing Meredith Grey for 19 seasons, and the understated underwhelming exit has caused a drop in viewers as the new cast can not compare.

By Jonathan Klotz | Updated

It’s been a few weeks since Ellen Pompeo exited Grey’s Anatomy as a series regular, ending her 18-year stint as Meredith Grey, and in the last few episodes, it’s become clear what a waste her final episode was. The last of the original interns to leave, Meredith’s send-off was missing the usual trappings of a Grey’s Anatomy exit: no flashback montage, very little drama, few tears, and instead of a romantic proclamation, it was the exact opposite; Nick Marsh (Scott Speedman) choose himself over a relationship with her. While the show is going to continue without the central character, though she’s still present in narrations, it will never be the same again, and given the ratings since Pompeo left, it will never be as popular again, either.

Given everything that Meredith has been through over the last 18 years, from a patient with a bomb in his chest to her romantic pursuit of McDreamy (Patrick Dempsey) up to his eventual passing, multiple major accidents that included a plane crash, and her younger half-sister re-entering her life before also passing away, it’s been a wild ride. That’s why the choice to make her exit so understated, low-key, and in the world of Seattle Grace Mercy West/Grey Sloan Memorial, oddly normal, such a disappointment.

Grey’s Anatomy has never done a good job of saying goodbye to characters unless it’s a sudden, traumatic ending, such as when the active shooter was roaming the halls and removing the dead weight following the merger with Mercy West. The original five stars, T.R. Knight, Katherine Heigl, Justin Chambers, Sandra Oh, and Ellen Pompeo, all decided to leave for various reasons, some resulting from character growth and others just because the actor wanted to leave the show and the writers were caught off-guard. Pompeo’s exit was planned and marketed, which is why the door was left open for her inevitable return, which we know will happen for the series finale, but that doesn’t mean it had to be so boring.

The lack of drama and excitement was offset partially by a few emotional moments with the rest of the cast, with sharing keys to her house with the interns a surprisingly emotional moment, but Grey’s Anatomy has now entered a phase where it’s been on the air for so long that the new characters introduced this season, and there’s been five of them so far, are all echos of previous characters. An intern is dealing with a relative with Alzheimer’s, one living in a trailer, and another is prone to jokes.

The new interns of Grey’s Anatomy Season 19

With five new interns, the series has restocked and retooled with the largest influx of new series regulars since Season 1. In Season 19, the show is essentially rebooting itself when it would be better served ending gracefully or launching a new spin-off in a different location (Los Angeles, for example). In the two episodes since Ellen Pompeo left, the new characters played by Alexis Floyd, Harry Shum Jr., Adelaide Kane, Midori Francis, and Niko Terho were given the spotlight and expected to carry the show, which is a lot of pressure to put on a group of young actors, and unfortunately, the audience appears to have left with Meredith.

Following episode seven, “I’ll Follow the Sun,” which had a 3.6 rating, episodes eight (3.08) and nine (3.18) lost over 500,000 viewers (numbers from TV Series Finale). The downward slide has been going on for years, just as every show has seen decreased ratings in the fractured new world of streaming. In five years, Grey’s Anatomy has lost a million viewers a year, on average, and if Shonda Rhime’s original plan were still in effect, the show would have ended with Meredith walking away.

That’s no longer the case, which explains the new cast of young, idealistic interns already starting workplace romances. Ellen Pompeo, and her famous character, deserved to go out wonderfully; catching a plane to a new job with her family in tow was so very normal that it ended up a disappointment. The entire 42 minutes should have been focused on the central character exiting the series instead of sharing time with the newcomers.

Long-running shows should end when the main character leaves, such as NCIS and The Vampire Diaries; at least Castle wrapped up when Stana Katic decided to leave. The Grey’s Anatomy still on the air today is not the one that became a cultural juggernaut and is only a pale imitation of its former self. Ellen Pompeo may no longer be on the screen, but the show she helped build should have ended with her leaving.