Spoilers ahead from Grey's Anatomy Season 16, Episode 13, which aired Thursday, February 13, 2020 on ABC.
So far, Grey's Anatomy fans are NOT happy with how the show is handling Alex Karev's absence -- and showrunner Krista Vernoff just said it'll be a while before fans get clarity.
Grey's Anatomy original cast member Justin Chambers abruptly quit the show last month, and it turns out his final episode as Dr. Alex Karev aired back in November 2019 -- with no warning that that would be his last episode. Apparently there's a lot going on behind-the-scenes, but what's on screen to explain Alex's absence is frustrating fans of both Alex and his "Jolex" relationship with wife Jo.
In late January 2020, we heard that Alex was in Iowa visiting his mother, Helen. In February 13's "Save the Last Dance for Me," Jo basically revealed that Alex was ghosting her while he went through something. He wasn't returning her calls, and she even wondered if he was paying her back for pulling away last year during her mental health crises after meeting her birth mother. Jo quickly said she knew Alex wouldn't do that, but it was a sad note to add to their story all the same. At the end of the episode, Jo returned to their apartment and Alex was not there.
Grey's Anatomy fans were frustrated at the show suggesting Alex would ghost Jo -- and Meredith, and everyone at Pac-North, which just got bought out by Catherine? It doesn't fit with the Alex of Season 16. The Alex of Season 1? Sure. But he had so much character development since then. Besides, it would be close to how Izzie left him when Katherine Heigl left the show.
Actor Justin Chambers put Grey's Anatomy in a tough position to explain why Alex suddenly disappeared. Showrunner Krista Vernoff explained to Variety that it's going to take some time to let the story play out:
It was a very careful threading of a needle, where we are giving a little bit of information and pain to Jo. We’re, episode by episode, illuminating the story of where Alex is. And it takes us quite a few more episodes to get there and to give the audience clarity.
It sounds like Jo's storyline is informing this decision, because they don't want to put her through more grief -- and hopefully they don't want to write Camilla Luddington's character out just because Alex is gone.
Jo went through so much pain and so much grief just last season that I wanted to be careful. And so it’s a bit of a mystery [what’s going on with Alex], so that we don’t watch Jo in the same place that we watched her in last season. We did it as carefully as we could. But it takes a while to get there.
I'm glad they care about leaving Jo in the right place, but what about Alex? Whatever is happening with Justin Chambers, the character of Alex Karev has been a fan favorite for 16 seasons. They don't seem to be handling Alex's absence with a lot of respect for the character.
This whole situation has been strange. I sympathize with the Grey's Anatomy writers, because I get the feeling they had very little warning about this exit too. Now they have to write out Alex while also continuing Jo's storyline, and altering plans for Pac-North. Alex was tied to so much because he's, well, Alex.
But the strangeness has continued off-screen with near radio silence on Justin Chambers' exit. Usually when a cast member leaves, we know about it in advance, or we hear right away "That was Such and Such's Final Episode." The cast and producers usually say nice things about the departing star, but not this time. There has been very little on that front.
There might be some resentment behind-the-scenes for where he put the show, but I don't know. Grey's Anatomy does have a long history of that kind of thing, though, and there was a "toxic" environment in the early years, per Meredith Grey star Ellen Pompeo.
What do you think? Can this Alex exit storyline be salvaged? Grey's Anatomy Season 16 continues Thursdays at 9 p.m. on ABC.