Death Comes for McDreamy

McDreamy, before his untimely death (People.com).

McDreamy, before his untimely demise (People.com).

We are all hopeless romantics. In spite of several waves of feminism and endless assurances that American women can live our best lives solo, it seems many of us still want the guy. At least, the millions of women who are Grey’s Anatomy fans still want an ideal catch like Patrick Dempsey’s Dr. Derek Shepherd, known affectionately as “McDreamy.”

So it’s no wonder that fans erupted online after Derek was killed off on Thursday night’s episode. The question is: Does showrunner Shonda Rhimes care that fans are furious?

For a decade, we’ve watched McDreamy work his magic, personally and professionally. He was not only one of the show’s original core characters, but he has also long played the perfect complement to Dr. Meredith Grey, the show’s protagonist. Derek was the talented neurosurgeon with perfect hair and eyes so blue that even from the remove of TV, viewers could imagine gleefully swimming in those inviting pools. Beyond that, Derek was loyal, kind, and emotionally generous to his wife Meredith, a brilliant and equally talented surgeon.

In some ways, Meredith and Derek were like an Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy for the 21st century. She was smart and had an awful mother, and he was wealthy. But more than that, they had incredible chemistry. They were a great love story, a pair of characters in whom viewers grew emotionally invested over 11 seasons, and regardless of how Rhimes, or the actors themselves felt about the pair, over time, Meredith and Derek began to feel like our friends.

When the two doctors met in a bar and had a one-night-stand all those years ago, it was an inauspicious—and unorthodox—beginning to a lasting relationship. Derek was trying to rebuild his life after his wife cheated on him with his best friend, and Meredith was generally known for her “dark and twisty” nature and meaningless flings. Together, they found happiness, and we rooted for them. It’s that sense of connection to the characters that has kept me, and I suspect many other fans, watching for so long.

Our being there with Mer-Der for so long is no small thing. The couple’s lives have been a dramatic roller coaster ride, including Meredith’s nearly drowning and losing her sister in a plane crash, as well as Derek’s nearly losing his ability to operate. Unlike in a traditional rom-com, or a novel like Pride and Prejudice, we didn’t only see the couple get together. We’ve also watched them work for years to stay together, generally doing the work of a happily married couple and learning to compromise for each other. In a TV landscape littered with broken people and half-baked relationships, that’s remarkable and laudable, in and of itself.

It’s a shame that real-life personalities intruded and cut the romance short. We may never know whether it was actor Patrick Dempsey’s interest in pursuing new interests, or Rhimes’ no longer wanting to work with him, but fan-favorite Derek has been killed off too young, as the fictional Darcy never would be.

In retrospect, the death wasn’t a complete surprise. Meredith’s many recent insistence’s that she didn’t need Derek, because she is a great surgeon in her own right and could parent successfully in his absence weren’t just filler; they were foreshadowing. And yet, while we had become accustomed to Meredith and Derek’s bi-coastal marriage, we still weren’t ready for the finality of his death.

Dempsey at least understands the audience’s attachment to his TV marriage. In an article posted the day after McDreamy’s televised demise, Entertainment Weeklyreporter Lynette Rice wrote:

The only time [Dempsey] displays any raw emotion about leaving the show is when he’s asked to describe what made Mer-Der so irresistible. “Beautiful chemistry,” he whispers, his eyes welling with tears. “It’s magic. We’re like a married couple. It’s 10 years, and it was magic from the beginning.”

It’s too bad reality has pricked our TV bubble, because it was magical. It’s not often that anyone creates a couple as beloved as an Austen pair.

This article appeared in Acculturated.

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