ABC's Grey’s Anatomy has been throwing twists and turns at fans for nearly two decades, and this season is certainly no different, as it landed a doozy with a long time favorite character coming back from the dead, sort of. In the Season 17 premiere, Patrick Dempsey returned to his fan-favorite role as Derek "McDreamy" Shepherd, the dearly departed husband of Ellen Pompeo’s Meredith, who has spent the season suffering from COVID and drifting in and out of consciousness. Following his final-for-real appearance in the emotional installment "Good As Hell," Dempsey has addressed his character’s “beautiful” second exit from the long running show.
Patrick Dempsey understandably believes that his second exit from Grey's Anatomy is so beautiful because of how much fans have adored both his character Derek and the show’s central relationship between him and Meredith from the very beginning. In an interview with Variety, the actor talked about how his recurring return was a way to show viewers that those we love never truly leave us, in a year already so full of loss for people everywhere. Here it is in Dempsey's own words:
I thought it was a beautiful way to close it. The intention was to really give people some hope because they are such an iconic couple. We’ve lost so many people this year, the thought that we’d have angels hovering around us taking care of us is a good message to send out in such a bleak world that we’re living in. So for all of us, it was a beautiful ending to this story. I’m so grateful that I did it and happy that the fans really loved it.
McDreamy’s multiple returns in Season 17 were, of course, quite well received by fans, but so was his exit. Grey's Anatomy's audience has always loved how emotional the show can get, especially when it's character-based, and that episode didn't hold back. That said, it sounds like fans weren’t the only ones moved by Derek's most recent farewell, though. In the same interview, Patrick Dempsey says that everyone on the set was brought to tears when filming for his final ep wrapped.
Patrick Dempsey shared that the whole idea behind him coming back to Grey's was to deliver some good vibes in a dark time, and also to help people understand just how serious out pandemic is, which is already a touchy and heart-wrenching subject already. And to their point, it's hard to think of a more direct way to do this than by having him return as Meredith’s COVID-induced hallucination, they do just that. In his words:
We all cried at the beginning and we hugged each other. It was really for us to get the message out there to wear a mask, take care of yourself. Ellen and I were like, ‘What can we do together to make some impact here?’ That was in the spring around this time last year. It just was a positive action that reverberates into more positive action.
What Patrick Dempsey is describing is an experience that a lot of people are familiar with during this time. Families have been affected in major ways by the pandemic, with safety precautions constantly changing everyday lives. It's been a hard time for everyone, so if nothing else, Grey's Anatomy sending Dempsey’s McDreamy out for his second exit is just another reminder to hug your loved ones a little tighter when you can, with the idea that even though we may be separated from those we love, they're only as far away as a memory.
Grey's Anatomy airs Thursday nights on ABC at 9:00 p.m. ET.