Richard Webber is Grey’s Anatomy’s longest-running boss. He was the Chief Of Surgery when the show started in 2005, and even though he doesn’t hold that title now in Season 15, Richard Webber is, and ever shall be, the “Chief.” He’s always been calm in a crisis. He knows how to give a great pep talk, and despite his faults, he is a steadfast character in the sweeping waves of what Cristina Yang once referred to as “Seattle Grace Mercy Death.” Richard has loved and lost, but he’s always been there for everyone else. Perhaps that’s why Richard Webber’s breakdown on Grey’s Anatomy last week is so troubling for fans like this writer (and millions at home).
In the pilot, Richard’s calm, cool voice is among the first viewers hear. He is leading the charge of the new interns, interns who now are dead or disappeared or at the top of their game. Now in Season 15, Karev is the new acting Chief Of Surgery, Meredith has won a Harper Avery, and Miranda Bailey, another one of Richard’s disciples, is basically the only person who knows how to run things smoothly at the hospital.
Webber is and always has been the hand on the shoulder of all of the talented doctors and nurses that walk through the hospital. Of course, while he was serving as mentor and teacher, he had a lot of problems at home. Richard’s been battling alcoholism for years and almost lost his job because of it. He and Ellis Grey had a very long affair that culminated in a baby he never knew he had (at least until she, Maggie, showed up at the hospital). He had an optical tumor. His wife, Adele, had Alzheimer’s and then died. He was electrocuted and left for dead in the basement for like, hours. And he’s still standing.
That’s why it’s so scary to see Richard where he is now. In Season 15, Richard is still recovering from losing Ollie, his beloved sponsor. She saw him through all of the above and more, kept him from drinking, and forgave and helped him when he relapsed. Without Ollie, Richard is unmoored, so much so that he is nearly back on the bottle. When he found out about a bar that gives out shots in return for sobriety chips, Richard headed over, but not to drink — to smash the bar to bits and to give the bartender a piece of his mind about tempting vulnerable people with the one thing that could destroy them.
He screams and cries and carries on, letting his frustration out on all of those bottles of booze. Understandably, Richard gets arrested and calls Meredith for a bail out, telling her not to tell Catherine Avery, his wife. Oh, boy. The last time viewers saw Richard act so petulant and feel so broken was back after his accident, when he refused to be fed with a tube, despite his life depending on it. Meredith brought him back from that, too.
Things are about to get worse for Richard, as Catherine has a dangerous cancer and his stepson, Jackson, is having a crisis of faith. There’s no one to hold Richard up right now, and he can’t do the same for the others. Who will be that crutch? It’s hard to say, because even Meredith seems a little over it, but then again, she is one of the most loyal human beings ever.
Clearly, Richard has been holding in these emotions for a long time, and they’ve all come out, for better or for worse. According to Entertainment Weekly, James Pickens, Jr., who plays Richard, is contracted to appear on Grey’s Anatomy only through the end of the current season — anything else hasn’t quite been announced. Does this breakdown mean the end of Chief Webber? Let’s hope this teacher and mentor is able to find himself again before it’s too late.