On November 12, ABC broadcast the two-hour Season 17 premiere of medical drama Grey’s Anatomy, a crossover with spin-off series Station 19 that ended with a brief surprise appearance from Patrick Dempsey (Enchanted) as the late Dr. Derek Shepherd A.K.A. Doctor McDreamy, TV Line reports. This is Dempsey’s first appearance on the show since the death of his character over half a decade ago.
According to a new Deadline interview with showrunner Krista Vernoff (Shameless), Ellen Pompeo (Private Practice) and Dempsey himself, fans haven’t seen the last of McDreamy this season. “It’s more than the one scene you saw,” Vernoff declared. “He will appear three more times,” she confirmed in an interview with The L.A. Times.
The episode’s director Debbie Allen (Dolly Parton’s Christmas on the Square) hinted at Dempsey’s cameo in the lead-up to the premiere, via statements she made to ABC Audio: “Everybody’s in it… You’re going to see things you don’t think you’re going to see.”
Vernoff told Deadline that it was a secret she had taken great pains to keep: “I didn’t send cuts to the studio and network that included that last scene. I didn’t have writers’ assistants in the writers’ room for the last couple of months. There were writers who didn’t know we were doing this… Most of the actors didn’t know we were doing this.” Furthermore, according to a recent tweet by Vernoff, all parties involved in filming the beachside reunion of Pompeo as Meredith and Dempsey’s McDreamy were not allowed to take on-set photographs, although she took a few herself with her phone camera.
— Krista Vernoff (@KristaVernoff) November 13, 2020
According to Vernoff’s interview with The L.A. Times, the oceanside dream sequence motif was allegedly partially inspired by Pompeo’s own health troubles. “I was walking on the beach trying to think about how we were going to… tackle the pandemic but also have joy and romance and escapism. And Ellen has asthma. So how was I ever going to not have her with a mask on her face?”
Vernoff told The L.A. Times that she reportedly learned from epidemiologists that socially distanced outdoor interactions were relatively safer than an indoor alternative, so she devised scenes that gave Dr. Meredith Grey her own fantasy land by the sea. In her Deadline interview, she even cited some recent scientific findings about how the COVID-19 pandemic affects the act of dreaming: “People are having really intense dreams because of the lockdown. We’re not getting enough stimulation, and so, it’s happening in our dreams.”
The next episode of Grey’s Anatomy Season 17 airs on ABC on Thursday, November 19, at 9 P.M. Eastern, preceded at 8 P.M. by the second episode of the fourth season of Station 19.