Warning: MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD for the two-part Season 17 premiere of Grey's Anatomy.

Grey's Anatomy is back, and the shocking end of the two-part Season 17 premiere proves that the show didn't lose its flair for the dramatic over the extra-long hiatus. The conclusion revealed that the beach where Meredith had been retreating in her mind wasn't any kind of metaphor, but something is very wrong. That said, the twist is so very right, because it delivered a reveal so wild that it may leave fans afraid that they were (Mc)dreaming! Derek Shepherd returned, played once again by none other than Patrick Dempsey.

Patrick Dempsey's return as Derek might be slightly tainted by the fact that Derek is still very much dead and Meredith seeing him might mean that she's on her way to reunite with him in the great hospital supply closet in the sky. Meredith spent the episode getting more and more run down, both physically and emotionally, by the strain of attempting to treat patients suffering from COVID-19.

Meredith finally agreed to leave and get some rest, and the subsequent shot of her on the beach indicated at first that maybe she was peacefully sleeping and dreaming. But nope! She had passed out in the parking lot outside of Grey Sloan, and she didn't wake up even when Hayes found her.

Forebodingly, the trailer for next week shows Meredith in a hospital gown having an MRI done while her friends look worried, and Bailey is seen comforting Meredith. It also reveals that Patrick Dempsey will be back for at least one more episode, as he channels Han Solo and drops an "I know!" when Meredith yells that she misses him across the beach. This obviously wasn't just a case of Meredith passing out because her blood sugar was low and she had a long day at work. And honestly, I'm pretty excited about what it means for her story in Season 17.

For one thing, Patrick Dempsey's return a solid five years after Derek's death automatically made this a twist for the Grey's Anatomy history book, but it also raises a very real sense of danger for Meredith. As the titular character of the show, Meredith has felt pretty safe from any lasting harm for well over a decade and a half at this point. Of course she wasn't going to die in a bomb or shooting or ferry crash, and of course she wasn't going to lose her medical license. But there is a lot of uncertainty about her fate with this twist, and that's a very good thing for a show that is getting long in the tooth.

Grey's Anatomy found a way to add a real element of danger to a character who usually feels totally safe from death, and this is a twist that presumably won't be resolved as soon as next week. Taking into account that Ellen Pompeo might not stick around Grey's Anatomy forever (and Grey's might not last forever) and that the episode made a point of showing a strong support system between the doctors at Grey Sloan -- including where their children are concerned -- I can genuinely see Grey's playing with killing Meredith off.

Will the show kill her off? Honestly, I don't know at this point, but I'm already enjoying that I don't know. Through most of the two-hour premiere, I was honestly struck with the sense that I'd seen it all before. A supply closet romp? An ill-advised hookup between friends? The unholy saga of Owen/Teddy/Tom continuing? I wasn't hooked into Season 17. The return of Derek and reveal that something is wrong with Meredith has pulled me back in, and that's fantastic.

At the very least, this plot should give Ellen Pompeo some great story to tackle, and I'm looking forward to seeing where Grey's takes it. Also, learning that Amelia and Link decided to honor her brother by giving their newborn "Derek" as a middle name was a genuinely lovely moment not at all overshadowed by Meredith's potential terminal illness. As long as this isn't a repeat of Izzie's brain tumor that resulted in her seeing Jeffrey Dean Morgan's Denny after his death, I'm ready to go along for the ride.

Who needs a love triangle when there's McDreamy, a mystery illness, and an uncertain future? See what happens next with new episodes of Grey's Anatomy on Thursdays at 9 p.m. ET on ABC, following new episodes of Station 19 at 8 p.m. ET. For more viewing options now and in the coming months, check out our 2020 fall TV premiere schedule and our 2021 winter and midseason premiere guide.

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