Just as we might do for a family member who has end-stage cancer, we have to take some time to prepare for Cristina Yang’s departure from Grey’s Anatomy. I, for one, am not sure I can continue to watch it after she leaves. I believe she might be one of the greatest female characters ever written for TV.
When I tell friends and family that she is my favorite Grey Girl, they tell me she is the meanest character on the show and I should never aspire to be her. I don’t think she’s mean at all. I think she’s misunderstood. I think her drive — her vision through her personal windshield, her single-minded determination to be the best surgeon of her generation — is a goal that should be treated with awe and respect instead of disdain. It’s a goal we should honor just as we would honor her if she wanted to have ten children. Her mentor in Minnesota understood her worth, and his words rang in her ears as she walked away from Minnesota after his death during one of their groundbreaking operations together.
“Breathe Dr. Yang. Don’t be crass. You’re skulking. Women of your generation are graceless. It’s an affront to nature. Mediocre surgeons will see you and feel themselves wilting in your shadow. Do not shrink to console them. Do not look for friends here. You won’t find them. None of these people have the capacity to understand you. They never will. If you are lucky, one day when you are old and shriveled like me you’ll find a young doctor with little regard for anything but their craft and you’ll train them like I trained you. Until then, read a good book. You have greatness in you Yang. Don’t disappoint.”
— Dr. Thomas to Cristina Yang
Grey’s Anatomy, Season 9, Episode 5
Right from the pilot I knew I loved her. She was brilliant and unbending (in a good way). She was forgiving (she forgave Meredith’s broken promise to her), and her announcement of her forgiveness also announced her boundaries about girlfriends and hugging.
And, when it comes to the men in her life, she is the only female character to approach men in a way that seemed … well, not degrading. Lizzy betrays her future for love, in a way that also sacrifices her integrity. Then there is Meredith who begs McDreamy to “pick me, choose me, love me” in that pathetic Girls way that makes us all cringe, having been there ourselves.
Cristina is strong, but not without feelings. She was the one who got everyone through the plane crash, and then crashed herself once it was all over. She took an action — a bold one — leaving the team to go to Minnesota to see if the past could be left behind. But she didn’t back off from her mistake when it was time to come home and ask to be taken back. And she operated on Derek with a gun to her head and a madman telling her that if she continued he was going to kill her. It also took her longer than anyone else to move beyond it. And it was all believable because of her strong personality.
So why do women think she’s the mean girl without connection? Because she says harsh things? She is honest and clear, but never shies away from the hard conversations. She knows when to compromise, and I love the way she does it.
Cristina: “I was right. I swear I really believe what I did was right. I don’t want you to forgive me. Frankly, I’d find it patronizing if you did. Because … while I know I was right, you think I’m wrong. Which doesn’t matter … because … I’m in this. I’m in this for the long haul. And I’m in this to finish the race. So if that means I don’t win this one, then fine. I don’t win. You win. I’m talking. See? I’m talking first. You win.”
Preston: “Marry me.”
I wish I’d had the courage to approach some of the crossroads in my life with that kind of clarity.
And, for God’s sake, please stop saying she is hard and cold.
She knows how to be a friend. Just watch her handle her BFF Meredith.
Cristina: “There’s a club. The Dead Dad’s Club. And you can’t be in it until you’re in it. You can try to understand; you can sympathize. But until you feel that loss … My dad died when I was nine. George, I’m really sorry you had to join the club.”
George: “I … I don’t know how to exist in a world where my dad doesn’t.”
Cristina: “Yeah, that never really changes.”
She just knows when to use what. She knows when to be kind and gentle, and she knows when to tell someone to wear their big boy pants. I want to know that. I want to know when each face is appropriate, instead of worrying all the time about how whatever I say will be received. Make sense?
Oh, and one other thing. Do not say she’s not funny. Watch this and tell me she’s not funny. Remember when her mother-in-law-to-be shaved her eyebrows? Just the look she gives Meredith is filled with the kind of humor and depth that I think is worth so much more than the one-liner from Saturday morning cartoon land. Cristina is funny. Smart funny.
So I am getting ready to take all that Cristina has brought to my table over the last ten years and really focus on the attributes of hers that make me want to look in her mirror and call it my own. And then we will be forced to say good-bye to one of the greatest female characters in television history. We had to say good-bye to CJ Craig from The West Wing and I still feel the void. So who is left for us to emulate, you ask? Hannah from Girls? Hardly. That will never do. Who?
Well done Cristina. Well done. Thank you.