Grey’s Anatomy has said goodbye to Alex Karev, and while we joked about the way his character left, we didn’t think they’d actually do it.
It turns out Alex never went to Iowa to visit his mom, but in fact the whole time he’s been out of the picture since November, he was rekindling things with ex-wife Izzie Stevens (Katherine Heigl). When he called her to help with Meredith’s insurance fraud trial, he learned that Izzie had twins who were born from the embryos she and Alex made back when she had cancer. They’re five years old, named Eli and Alexis, and they already want to call him dad.
This was all revealed through letters Alex had written to Jo (Camilla Luddington), Meredith (Ellen Pompeo), and Bailey (Chandra Wilson) explaining that not only was he leaving, he was already gone, and he couldn’t promise he would ever come back. While he explained that if it was simply a matter of choosing between Izzie and Jo, he would choose Jo, he felt he had to choose Izzie this time because of the kids. He had already signed divorce papers, and gave everything to his wife, including his shares in the hospital.
Needless to say there were some fans who did not find this ending exactly satisfying. Sure, we finally learned what happened to Izzie, and there’s a way you could look at this as the ultimate happy ending for Alex Karev, but there’s also a way you could look at this as the worst, most unfair ending for a character we’ve watched grow and mature for 16 seasons.
Alex has spent a full decade moving on from everything that happened with Izzie, and moving on from the angry bully he was when he met Izzie. After Izzie left him with barely a word and some signed divorce papers, he became an incredible pediatric surgeon and then the chief of his own hospital, and he fell in love and got married again, supporting his wife through some incredibly hard times. She even gave him an out, and he didn’t take it. So to watch him now leave her with a letter and signed divorce papers after weeks of no contact feels beyond cruel, regardless of who or what he’s leaving her for.
We don’t know the circumstances of Chambers’ sudden departure, but whatever they were, they resulted in a situation that was unfair to both the character and to all fans of this show. His final episode aired before anyone knew it was his final episode, and Alex’s whereabouts became a mystery for the show to eventually solve. But the longer Alex was away without explanation, the more it felt like there was no explanation, no solution to the mystery, they could give that wouldn’t feel like we were cheated out of an ending that didn’t destroy Alex’s long-built legacy.
Just like Izzie left him back in season six with no goodbye, he’s now leaving Jo. And sure, he can send all the letters he can write with all the explanations he can think of, but that’s not how an evolved person ends a marriage, without a last look or even a call, and we would have said Alex had evolved a whole lot over the past few years.
This move feels like a trip back in time, to a different era of Grey’s Anatomy and of Alex himself. We often miss that era, but not that Alex, and so it’s hard to love this in the way we might have a long time ago.
But then we also have to wonder if there was any other option here. It certainly feels like there was no way Alex could leave Jo suddenly like that without it being a crappy move, and killing him would have likely reshaped the rest of the season for a good chunk of the main characters. And what else could anyone possibly forgive him for leaving for, besides Izzie Stevens and his own kids?
We’re not sure we can forgive him and we think Jo might never be able to do that, but it’s easier to understand the decision to leave, permanently, for long-time love and two kids than it is for anything else we can come up with.
It also doesn’t feel like the show itself will suffer that much with out Alex Karev. There are plenty of other characters and storylines keeping the show afloat and he had barely been around much lately anyway, but his exit has obviously changed everything for his now ex-wife, Jo.
When we talked to Camilla Luddington a year ago, after we learned about Jo’s true parentage, she was still hoping for Alex and Jo to expand their family before the show eventually, someday, ends.
“No, please God, no!” she said at the thought of Jo and Alex never getting to have kids.
Now we know they’re not going to get to have those kids, and even worse, Alex had those kids with someone else, and chose those kids over Jo just when she seems to be ready for her own family. That sucks, and it’s not like she’s just going to quickly get over it. We’re all going to be reminded of Alex’s choice constantly as Jo finds a way to move forward, and we can’t imagine not continuing to be mad at him.
But then again, wouldn’t we rather watch her deal with this particular decision than with his death? Or with him leaving her for someone who wasn’t Izzie? Or just another job?
There was simply no way, in this particular situation, to send Alex properly off into the sunset. So as cruel as it was and as much as it almost felt like a joke, it might just be possible that this was the best and only way to say goodbye to the man formerly known as Evil Spawn.
Grey’s Anatomy airs Thursdays at 8 p.m. on ABC.