Yes, Grey’s Anatomy is still on, and yes, I still watch it. From hearing Rilo Kiley’s “Portions For Foxes” play as the very first interns stood, bewildered, in their very first operating room to watching Meredith finally win her Harper Avery, Grey’s Anatomy has been an integral part of the television landscape for so many fans. There are always high points and low seasons to any long-lasting program, but Grey’s Anatomy is back on its game, and the reason is because Derek Shepherd is no longer a part of it. Meredith Grey is better off without Derek on Grey’s Anatomy — and so is the show.
A lot of this has to do with Meredith’s character evolution over the past 14 seasons. She started Grey’s as a green intern with parental angst and no real direction in what she wanted to do. She wanted to be a surgeon, of course, like her mother, but was that because it’s something she wanted, or because her mother wanted her to do it? And then Meredith met Derek, a man who was not only her boss — he was her boss’ boss — and their will-they-or-won’t-they fueled the drama of the series for seasons and seasons until Meredith and Derek finally decided to get together. Meredith and Derek were meant to be, their love lasting through three children, a shooting, a plane crash, a messed-up clinical trial, and more, all until he was killed off at the end of Season 11.
Meredith and Derek were OTP. That’s fine. They loved each other. That’s fine, too. But Meredith didn’t really reach her apex in her emotions and in her career until Derek was killed off. Meredith could have never been where she was today if Derek were still alive, working for the President of the United States or whatever else Shonda Rhimes would have dreamed up for him, because Derek always, whether he meant to or not, sought to control Meredith. When Cristina left at the end of Season 10, she had to remind Meredith that Meredith, not Derek, was the sun — that’s because Derek tried to eclipse everything else in their relationship.
Meredith was the one who came up with the idea for the Shepherd Method, the tumor-blasting procedure Mer and Der perfected in Seasons 4 and 5, but whose name is on it? Derek’s! Because, as he said, he was the driving force behind it. He got a procedure named after him, one that will live in the history books, and she got a kidney in a jar. Big freakin’ deal.
Later, in Season 11, Derek said that he’d take a step back from his job and focus on more of the childcare duties so that Meredith could crush it at work. But, then he went and got a job from the President. What was Meredith supposed to do? Not watch her children if their father is gone? Derek loved big, romantic gestures, but when it came down to it, he chose his passion and expected that Meredith would lean away from hers. Their relationship was never fair.
When Derek died in a car crash, Meredith was devastated (obviously). She disappeared for a whole year and came back with another baby! But in the three seasons since Derek’s passing, viewers have seen Meredith grow both in leaps and bounds. She’s confident in her family now, living with her half-sister, Maggie, and sister-in-law, Amelia (and sometimes Alex Karev). For a woman that preferred being a loner, she has quite the community around her now, and she embraces it! She’s on the top of her game at work, since, you know, she won a Harper Avery and is working on new things now with growing literal livers. Meredith was the sun all along, and Derek was a cloud. And while it's good for Meredith, Derek's absence is good for the show, too — her character arc is so much more compelling now that she's not some lovesick character always forced to let her husband shine before her.
Interestingly enough, Ellen Pompeo’s evolution into power player happened alongside Meredith’s. She is now the highest-paid woman in a television drama, raking in, thanks to acting and producing, $20 million a year. And she negotiated it all herself. As Pompeo explained in The Hollywood Reporter, she was only able to negotiate that high a salary after Patrick Dempsey left. She said:
“For me, Patrick [Dempsey] leaving the show [in 2015] was a defining moment, deal-wise. [The network] could always use him as leverage against me — ‘We don't need you; we have Patrick’ — which they did for years ... At one point, I asked for $5,000 more than him just on principle, because the show is Grey's Anatomy and I'm Meredith Grey. They wouldn't give it to me. And I could have walked away, so why didn't I? It's my show; I'm the number one. I'm sure I felt what a lot of these other actresses feel: Why should I walk away from a great part because of a guy? You feel conflicted but then you figure, ‘I'm not going to let a guy drive me out of my own house.’”
Meredith (and Pompeo) started the show tied to Derek, with Derek (and Dempsey) favored over her, and now, 14 seasons later, she finally stands alone. Derek may have been a wonderful starting point and a catalyst for Meredith’s evolution on Grey’s Anatomy, but Meredith never really needed Derek. And she’s better off without him now.