Patrick Dempsey returns as Derek in season premiere


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Dr. Derek ‘McDreamy’ Shepherd, who Patrick Dempsey played for more than 10 seasons, is back for at least part of Season 17
of ABC’s ‘Grey’s Anatomy.’

USA TODAY

“Grey’s Anatomy” fans, take a seat. And maybe put on some “Chasing Cars.”

Patrick Dempsey, who played Dr. Derek “McDreamy” Shepherd on ABC’s medical mainstay “Grey’s Anatomy” for more than 10 seasons, appeared at the end of the Season 17 premiere Thursday night. 

Meredith Grey (Ellen Pompeo), his widow, envisioned herself on an empty beach at the top of the two-hour premiere. It seemed like she was daydreaming herself away from the state of Grey-Sloan Memorial. The show’s hospital turned into a COVID center, as the show intends to cover the pandemic throughout the season.

But it was not a daydream after all. At the close of the premiere Meredith collapses in the parking lot. It’s unclear why, exactly, but all signs point to her having COVID-19.

Is Meredith (Ellen Pompeo) dreaming? Or in the afterlife (again)? (Photo: ABC, ABC)

She returns to the beach daydream – which may not be a daydream after all – only to hear Derek calling her name. Then she sees him. 

We thought it might be some kind of found footage situation or a hologram, but no, Dempsey is reprising his role.

Pompeo said in 2018 that she and Dempsey hadn’t spoken since his exit from the show in 2015.

But: “I have no hard feelings toward him. He’s a wonderful actor, and we made the best TV you can make together,” Pompeo said on Red Table Talk in December 2018.

Pompeo has been candid over the years about the toxic culture on set during the early years of the show. “The first 10 years we had serious culture issues, very bad behavior, really toxic work environment,” Pompeo said in June 2019 talking with Taraji P. Henson for Variety’s “Actors on Actors” series.

Pompeo and Dempsey, along with showrunner Krista Vernoff, gave an exclusive interview to Deadline about how the reunion came to be. The former onscreen lovebirds – who apparently began talking again, after Dempsey reached out asking what the pair could do to help frontline responders  – went for a hike in Malibu, California, where they both have homes. “The idea just struck me so I just said to him, would you ever consider coming and being a part of the storytelling this season?” Pompeo told Deadline.

The moment shocked fans, of course, since the character died in Season 11. 

“oh so we’re doing GHOSTS again ?!?!?!” @4evrmalone asked on Twitter. An Instagram post featuring Pompeo and Dempsey is full of love for the reunited pair.

Instagram user @chanelcabak wrote: “BEST ENDING OF AN EPISODE EVER.”

Patrick Dempsey returned to “Grey’s Anatomy” on Thursday night. (Photo: ABC, ABC)

Meredith has survived a plane crash, a bomb going off, drowning, an assault from a patient – the list goes on. If anyone could survive COVID, she could, but the reunion is a nice surprise nonetheless.

Pompeo teased the beginning of the new season during a panel earlier this year with three keywords: “Girl, hold on.” “We are bringing it this season,” she added. “Just hold on, it’s coming.”

She wasn’t kidding.

Otherwise the premiere focused on catching us up on the doctors’ pre-COVID lives in addition to the new world the characters have entered. Reflections of real life included a dwindling supply of PPE for the doctors, and constantly having to inform patients’ loved ones that someone died of COVID.

“We’re not responsible for politicizing COVID,” Pompeo also said during that panel. “That’s not on us.”

Executive producer Krista Vernoff agreed: “I think it’s our job to humanize it,” she said during the panel. “I feel like the politicians have politicized an illness that affects human beings regardless of political affiliation. So our job is to make it human, not political.”

More from that panel: ‘Grey’s Anatomy’ is ‘not responsible for politicizing COVID,’ Ellen Pompeo says of new pandemic season

In case you missed: Ellen Pompeo reveals her ‘new favorite couple’ on Season 17 of ‘Grey’s Anatomy’

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