'Grey's Anatomy' Season 13, Episode 20 Recap: Brain bleeds and bathroom sex on a plane

Ellen Pompeo in 'Grey's Anatomy' season 13, episode 20

[Editor's note: This recap contains spoilers from season 13, episode 20 of Grey's Anatomy, "In the Air Tonight."]

The last time an episode of Grey's Anatomy took place on an airplane, it was the infamous crash of season eight that shockingly took the lives of Lexie Grey and Mark Sloan — along with Arizona's leg, which eventually led to the dissolution of her relationship with Callie. In other words, the accident had long-lasting repercussions for the flagship Shondaland show, so when fans saw the trailer for "In the Air Tonight," many took to Twitter to convey their concerns over the possibility of a repeat tragedy. 

Since I didn't share the same anxiety — there's no way Grey's will kill Meredith, especially in a non-finale episode — I actually looked forward to seeing Mer be forced to confront her feelings for Riggs in a confined space. The in-flight emergency was just window dressing to up the stakes.

Like many MerDer fans, it took me awhile to accept the fact that Meredith would eventually move on after Derek's death in season 11. It's not that I wanted her to swear off relationships altogether, but given their legendary love story and Derek's luscious hair, I wouldn't have been surprised had Grey's shut the door on future romantic happiness for its titular leading lady. I'm glad they didn't, and I'm especially happy that Mer's first shot at something real isn't with Alex — at least not yet.

Given Meredith and Riggs' season-long slow burn, I definitely had high hopes "In the Air Tonight" would go beyond baby steps to show some real development on that front. Luckily, the Chandra Wilson-helmed hour didn't disappoint. 

Unknowingly flying to the same medical conference, Mer and Riggs end up sitting in the same aisle. To Mer's hilarious eye-rolling, Nathan charmingly flirts with her and insinuates she changed her seat on purpose. When she heads to the bathroom, he follows her inside for a little "mile high" action — and Mer, naturally, protests a little too much before she finally gives in to their attraction, on the condition Riggs never mentions the encounter again. 

In typical Shondaland fashion, it doesn't take long for episode 20 to take a dangerous turn. Thanks to two powerful storms, extreme turbulence causes everyone aboard to panic. Oxygen masks drop, a man is propelled into the ceiling and a flight attendant suffers a broken wrist. Being the fearless — or perhaps reckless — surgeons they are, Mer and Riggs jump into action to treat the injured. The trauma appears minimal at first, but the situation worsens and Mer is forced to use makeshift surgical instruments to save a passenger with a life-threatening brain bleed. Riggs, meanwhile, refuses to stop chest compressions on a man who's already been down for six minutes.

Amid these emergency procedures and Mer's continued insistence that the pilot initiate an emergency landing, we see several flashbacks of not only Mer's first plane crash but of all the harrowing events that have plagued the halls of Grey Sloan Memorial Hospital over 13 seasons. Derek is the star of this tear-inducing montage as Meredith relives the crash, the shooting and, of course, his untimely demise. It's enough to give any die-hard Grey's fan all the feels.

The perilous circumstances eventually subside and the aircraft lands somewhere in Iowa with all passengers alive. Safely on the tarmac, Riggs finally calls out Mer on the bullshit excuses she's been making not to be with him. It's not about Maggie or her kids, he says. It's about him:

You're so fearless about so many things, how the hell are you still scared? ... Please, don't pretend this is still about Pierce. It's not. You're scared. Of him. Of letting him go. At some point, you gotta let go.

It's obvious Mer doesn't want to subject Riggs to her "dark and twisty" side or put his life in danger, considering how often the people around her are visited by the Grim Reaper. But in the end, her heart wins out over logic when she agrees to spend the night with him. In true Mer fashion, she has one more condition: "It better be a nice hotel."

Grey's Anatomy airs on ABC at 8 p.m. Eastern on Thursdays.

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