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Spoilers ahead for Episode 16 of Grey's Anatomy Season 16, called "Leave a Light On."
Saying goodbye to an original cast member on Grey's Anatomy is never easy, especially now that so few of the originals remain. "Leave a Light On" was the farewell episode for none other than Justin Chambers' Alex Karev. Although Chambers himself only contributed via voiceover, the episode resolved his storyline and made it pretty clear that he's not returning to Seattle any time soon if he can help it. In doing so, did Grey's Anatomy ruin Alex Karev?
Grey's Anatomy gave Alex his own happily-ever-after, but not with his wife or his friends or his job in Seattle. Via letters, he revealed that he had reconnected with ex-wife Izzie Stevens (Katherine Heigl), who had used their embryos from years prior to give birth to twins. Alex is the father to two five-year-olds, and he fell in love with them, their life in Kansas, and Izzie all over again when he visited. He realized he wanted that life with that family, so he left everything behind for a happy ending.
Now, if you're a fan who wanted Alex to be happy at any cost or had even held out hope for Alex/Izzie despite all these years and his second marriage, then Justin Chambers being written out by Alex more or less eloping to Kansas to be with Izzie may have been perfect. If you are more concerned with the people Alex left behind and the man Alex had become over the 16 seasons of Grey's Anatomy so far, however, you may be more inclined to think that Alex was ruined with this ending.
In case it's not obvious by this point, I'm one of the latter group, left with a sour taste due to how Alex was written out. I can acknowledge that Grey's was seemingly painted into a corner with Justin Chambers' abrupt departure, but the show went so far in selling Alex's happy life in Kansas that I was downright offended for the people he left behind, and I didn't recognize his actions as those of the man who spent 16 seasons evolving into somebody bigger, better, and more considerate. The Alex Karev of the first 15.5 seasons of Grey's Anatomy wouldn't have run off like this, for me.
This wasn't Alex just spontaneously deciding to run off and reach out to Izzie in a grand romantic gesture, along the lines of Carol and Doug's ending in ER way back when. Alex had visited Izzie without telling his wife, and then gone back and shared a home and bed with her while Jo had no idea what was going on with him.
He let her believe he was helping his mom in Iowa then didn't answer her calls, leaving her scared and miserable while he bonded with his kids in Kansas. He was already applying for a job in Kansas while Jo was waiting for him to come home!
Alex was basically having an affair, in my book, and Jo didn't deserve that after everything she went through and after they were so solid in the first half of Season 16. At least Alex acknowledged that he was wronging Jo. In his letter, he stated that she deserved more than what he was giving her, admitting that he was being a coward and calling the letter "officially the worst thing I've ever done." No arguments here! He went on:
When I told you I love you, I meant it. But Izzie has our kids, Jo. Our kids. And the way you and I grew up, I came to meet them, to start to know them. I missed five years of their lives, and not because I was a junkie like my dad or off my meds like my mom. I didn’t exist to them until I walked through the front door. And once I did, I had this family I never knew I had on this insane farm…
Wanting to form a relationship with his kids is all well and good. Reconnecting with his greatest love interest of the early years of the series is understandable. Even Richard acknowledged that it's possible to be in love with two women. But telling all of this to Jo via letter? Unforgivable, and not something I would have expected of Season 16 Alex.
He didn't help his case with the rest of his letter:
I wish getting everything I always wanted didn’t have to hurt you in the process. But I can’t lie to you. And I can’t come home. I’m not coming home, Jo. I can’t face you. I can’t look you in the eye because I wouldn’t be able to walk away. Maybe ‘I love you’ is wrong to say, but thank you for making me better and taking care of me when I needed it, for taking care of yourself when you needed it too. I went to a lawyer. I signed divorce papers. I left everything to you. It’s yours. You worked for every cent you ever owned and then some. I also left you my shares in Grey-Sloan. Whatever you choose to do with them, I know it will be amazing. Just like you. You deserve everything good in this life, Jo. I hope you find so much better than me. Thank you. I’m sorry. I don’t know how to end this. I don’t want to. Goodbye.
How magnanimous of you to leave her everything that she earned, Alex! By doing this via letter, Alex denied Jo the ability to react, confront, question, and understand. Instead, he ended their marriage and unilaterally decided what to do without consulting her or even giving her the heads up that something had changed.
I can't emphasize enough that Alex was living with Izzie, sharing a bed and home with her, building a relationship with his secret kids, all while Jo grew more and more concerned that her husband was leaving her back in Seattle.
If Grey's Anatomy wanted me to approve of how Alex was leaving while giving him the ending with Izzie and the kids and Kansas, all it had to do was not stick him in Kansas to live a secret happy life with Izzie while his wife was left back at home, completely in the dark. The Alex who left Seattle at the end of the first half of Season 15 was not the Alex who would have done this.
Honestly, I think I'd be happier if Grey's Anatomy had killed Alex off or at least let Alex and Jo have some conversations off-screen. If Grey's could use a body double and voiceover to sell scenes with Alex and Izzie in this episode, Grey's could have done it for Jo, right? Hopefully Jo will recover from how Alex left her without too much emotional pain.
Be sure to weigh in our poll below about your reaction to Alex's farewell, and find out what happens next with new episodes of Grey's Anatomy on Thursdays at 9 p.m. ET on ABC, following new episodes of spinoff Station 19.