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On Grey's Anatomy, Maggie Fights For Her Mother's Life, But Cancer Fights Right Back

Maggie runs an emotional gamut as her mother faces her last battle with cancer.

When Maggie's mother Diane first appeared with a diagnosis of inflammatory breast cancer, I had pretty much predicted she would die soon. This is how Grey's rolls.

I have to admit, though, that even for a TV-watching cynic like me, this episode does a stellar job of taking Maggie, and us, through the emotional wringer of watching a parent battle a serious and, in this case, fatal disease. Even better, in a nice nod to synergy, the episode is directed by Ellen Pompeo and starts with an absolutely fitting voice-over by Meredith reflecting over her own mother's death.

This is a very Maggie-centric episode, focusing on her state of mind as she has to confront her parent's death. Like the seven stages of grief, Maggie moves through a series of emotional stages that gives the episode all of its poignant heft.

Let's rank them in order of intensity.

  1. Determination
    Maggie is determined that Diane beat this thing. She researches. She pep talks. She is involved in every aspect of her mom's care -- so much so that she is really interfering in it. They say doctors make the worst patients; they also must make the worst family members of patients if Maggie's behavior is anything to go by.

    When the cancer spreads to Diane's stomach, Maggie wants another surgery immediately. The problem is, the previous surgery was too recent. Meredith refuses to do it, but Maggie steamrolls over Meredith, and Maggie's conviction is enough to get her mother to agree.

    Let’s back the truck up for a minute. Where is the oncologist in all of this? Look, I know that Meredith, Jackson, and Webber are the doctors we know and love, but Grey's could have splurged for a guest actor to come in as an oncologist capable of giving Maggie the real come-to-Jesus talk she needs to hear, because obviously her family and friends are incapable of really shutting her down.

    I guess we have to see this almost desperate need of Maggie's to fix it in order for the rest of the emotional stuff to pay off. And it is almost painful watching this phase. Maggie is rather manic in her determination, but you can tell she knows is isn’t enough.

  2. Denial
    Part of what makes the determination so strong is that Maggie is in deep denial. She finds a clinical trial, which has had some positive outcomes, and for which Diane is a good candidate. But the trial is brutal on the body and, again, the doctors feel that it would be a cruelty, not a kindness, for Diane to go through it.

    The montage scenes of the actual toll the trial takes on Diane are both well done and terrible. At one point, Meredith says, "The treatment is killing her faster than the cancer." Maggie is by her mother's side 24/7: she can see that too, but she has blinders on, and refuses even to consider that this may not be the best course of action.

  3. Guilt
    Diane is not in denial at all. She knows that she is going to die. She even teaches Maggie how to make her special lasagna where even the pasta is from scratch. The motive, of course, is to hand something down to Maggie before she goes. It leads to a nice, light moment as they invite the doctors over for dinner. Diane is in good spirits and even gets in a good laugh as Richard and Meredith sheepishly recount how they disposed of Ellis's ashes.

    Still, Diane accedes to many of Maggie's wishes regarding the course of her care, even as Maggie's advice runs contrary to the other doctors'. At first I truly believed she was doing it all just to appease Maggie. And on some level she is.

    But when Richard bypasses Maggie and tries to explain to Diane directly that she doesn't have to go through any of this just because it's what Maggie wants, Diane tells him she wants to live. But she is also staying in the trial out of guilt -- that she didn't tell Maggie sooner, and that if she doesn't fight, she'll somehow break something in her bright, strong, optimistic daughter. Richard gently points out that because Maggie is so bright and strong, she can handle the truth.

  4. Anger
    I would have expected Maggie's anger to be more visible because I think this is the most accessible emotion people project when they feel helpless. But Maggie doesn't really unleash it until she comes from her fog of denial.

    Predictably, she lashes out at those closest to her. In her one true angry moment, she snidely tells Meredith that she cares enough about her own mother not to drop her ashes down a sink -- a rather low blow. Meredith leaves because she knows she will not get through to Maggie while she's like this.

  5. Despair
    Maggie finally gives in to the inevitable truth, and it is sad. At one point, she simply goes to stand in a corner and does that silent cry-but-not-crying thing. I have to give Kelly McCreary props here because she absolutely sells how hard she is trying to keep it together while at the same time giving in to the need to just let out all that emotion she has been damming up.

    Richard comes to try to give her comfort, but she can't accept it from him, sobbing, "I wish my dad were here." Oooh. Ouch. Yikes. I feel bad for Richard in that moment because...well, he is her dad, sort of. But we all know he isn’t the man who raised her. And the moment is so raw that I can't get too mad at Maggie for it.

    But Richard Webber is a fantastic person, and a father who gives his daughter what she wants: he sends a chopper to bring Maggie's dad to her.

    Oh, hi Richard Lawson! Maggie's dad is played by Richard Lawson: Tina Knowles's husband. Beyoncé's stepfather. Father to Kendra the Vampire Slayer/real-life vampire Bianca Lawson. (Seriously, Bianca Lawson is pushing forty and she still looks sixteen!)

  6. Acceptance
    In what is probably the best scene of the episode, once Maggie and Diane have both accepted that this is it, they sit in Diane's hospice room talking, Maggie painting her mom's nails. Meredith had advised Maggie to simply allow her mother to talk, listen to what she says, and even record it if she needs to.

    Diane is pure delight in this scene. She gives Maggie all sorts of great advice:

    "An orgasm is not a gift, it is a right."

    "Find a decent man who loves you just a little bit more than you love him."

    "Try wearing a little lipstick"

    And my personal favorite:

    "Never make yourself small for anyone."

    She dies quietly as Maggie opens a window to let in some sunshine. A little heavy-handed? Maybe. But so very affecting.

  7. The Ugly Cry

    It's rough.

    ABC

    Poor Maggie.

  8. Hope?
    Bailey and Richard make tentative steps toward mending their own fences as he confesses that Ellis never forgave him before she died. Bailey hands him a packet of tissues.

    Maggie, Meredith, and Amelia silently share the last of the lasagna in a nicely shot overhead scene that shows the simple comfort of family and food.

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