Here's Your Reminder That Grey's Anatomy's Alex Is A Bad Character
'But he's so mean and handsome!' Mmhmm.
We haven't had much chance to talk about it in the first two episodes of the season, since the character in question has been sidelined to the point of obsolescence, but "I Choose You" puts it front and center: the Alex problem. Okay, my Alex Karev problem, if you want to be that way, but it shouldn't be just mine. I shouldn't have to fight this one uphill, and I shouldn't have to do it alone, but if I have to be the one to say it then fine: Alex Karev is a bad TV character.
For a show that often does such a good job placing its female characters front and center in professional storylines that respect the modernity of personal and professional lives, Grey's Anatomy has always been frustratingly regressive when it comes to Alex. For twelve (!) seasons now, Alex has been the jerk with a heart of gold, with very little deviation from that. He was a jerk with a heart of gold when he was bullying George. He was a jerk with a heart of gold when he was in a relationship with Izzie. He was a jerk with a heart of gold when his dad resurfaced, not to mention whenever his wayward siblings wander across Seattle. He's been a jerk with a heart of gold throughout his tenure as pediatric surgeon. And he's certainly been a jerk with a heart of gold throughout his relationship with Jo Wilson.
Through it all, the audience hasn't simply been asked to sympathize with Alex through all his jerky, gold-hearted storylines; sympathy has been demanded of us. For as much as a show like Grey's ultimately tends to side with all its main characters, I've always felt like the show has given the audience room to be frustrated with or exhausted by or simply to disagree with its characters. From Meredith and Derek through Cristina and Callie and Webber and Avery and even Bailey -- these are our persons, but we've always been welcomed to find them wanting at times. Look no further than Bailey's story last week. The same has never once applied to Alex. Alex gets to be a massive asshole time and again, but the show never lets us forget that it's for good reasons. His damaged childhood; his self-loathing and self-doubt; the fact that he's doing it all for the good of premature babies. As a character, Alex is exhausting; as a narrative device, he's suffocating.
All of which is to say that this week's Alex Karev hagiography -- wherein characters basically just line up to tell him what a great guy he is as he works the case of newborn, jaundiced twins, both of whom will die without a transplanted liver, of which there is only one, so basically Alex has to pick which twin lives and which dies -- was already not my favorite episode, and that was before I realize how badly the show had bungled its misdirection with regard to whether Wilson was pregnant or not.
Which: time to sidebar, because I know this was a point of confusion for a lot of people. Wilson isn't pregnant. She never was. And because the show did a pretty poor job with its misdirection arc, I don't know if everyone knows that. That scene at the beginning in the ladies' room, which was clearly designed to fool us, wasn't Wilson freaking out to Edwards about a double-striped pee test. It was Wilson freaking out about the document she later shows Alex, which says that he had donated sperm to fertilize the frozen eggs of an offscreen Izzie. But because of the way this show rolls, and the way Jo's been written in particular, it still seemed logical that Jo was freaking out about Izzie's embryos AND was also pregnant AND wasn't telling Alex because she was testing him as to whether he really wanted to be a dad. And then it all ends up being a moot point in the end because Jo doesn't want to have kids at this point in her career anyway and WHAT WAS ALL THIS EVEN ABOUT? If Jo's not pregnant (she's not) and doesn't want to get pregnant (she says she doesn't), then this whole episode's purpose appears to be an object lesson that Alex Karev would be a great dad (you can tell by how he constantly lets mounting pressure at work give him an excuse to snap at Jo), whether or not his flighty-ass girlfriend is about to make him one or not.
The Jo pregnancy fakeout isn't the only storyline through which we are asked to place a halo atop Alex's head, of course. There's also Arizona -- herself a skilled and superior pediatric surgeon -- who spends the whole episode doing what she always does in these storylines: reminding Alex that he's a great surgeon and an even greater man. Honest to God, Arizona does this at least twice a season -- just stops entire scenes in order to remind Alex that he's the best. And then he kind of half-smiles and looks at the floor because OH MY GOD WE GET IT, HIS SHITTY FAMILY LIFE MEANS HE DOESN'T THINK HE DESERVES NICE THINGS LIKE PRAISE.
How many people have to die (one newborn, in this case), how many characters have to be made annoying past the point of redemption (Wilson), how many characters have to abdicate their own hard-won power (Arizona) in order to make one man crack a goddamned smile one time? These are the questions Grey's Anatomy asks with every Alex-focused episode.
Wake me next week, ideally in time for Dr. De Luca waking up in Maggie's bed without any clothes on.