Isaiah Washington’s return to ‘Grey’s Anatomy’ sparks intense reaction

Isaiah Washington on "Grey's Anatomy" in the early days. (Ron Tom/ABC)
Isaiah Washington on “Grey’s Anatomy” in the early days. (Ron Tom/ABC)

Rewind to about seven years ago, when “Grey’s Anatomy” stormed into the headlines in a most unfortunate way. Isaiah Washington, who played Dr. Preston Burke on the hit medical drama, “was not asked to return” (read: fired) after using a homophobic slur in reference to co-star T.R. Knight. The first time was once allegedly behind-the-scenes; then he used the word again in front of reporters, backstage at the Golden Globes, while defending himself. It was not good.

The enormous controversy that followed was a public-relations nightmare for ABC, as Washington made it very clear that he was extremely unhappy with the network’s decision to end his contract at the end of the third season. Dr. Burke was written out of the show in the most dramatic way: He left his fiancee, Cristina (Sandra Oh), at the altar. She had a hyperventilating meltdown and had to be physically cut out of her wedding dress. Burke was almost never mentioned on the show again.

But wouldn’t you know? Just as everyone managed to forget that ugly chapter in TV history, Washington was back on “Grey’s Anatomy” on Thursday night– yep, just in time for May “sweeps.”  What a crazy coincidence. Technically, it’s because Oh is leaving the show after this season, and creator Shonda Rhimes has said she wants to give the character a proper goodbye — apparently, that included a devastating reunion with her ex-fiance.

But that hasn’t stopped fans from being extremely divided about the decision, prior to and during Thursday’s episode. Some hate it. Some love it. Others are just upset that Cristina and Burke (their favorite couple!) weren’t going to get back together.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For the record, Rhimes preemptively defended Washington’s character’s return, especially to viewers upset by the decision. First, by jumping to moderate a Twitter war between furious “Grey’s” fans and Washington (who didn’t hold back). Later, in an interview with Entertainment Weekly, Rhimes said everyone on the show loves Washington and that, “My first responsibility is to the story…regardless of whatever outside factors are involved.” Okay, sure. She also added about his previous controversy:

“I feel like there have been a lot of people that have been like, ‘How can you do this?’ And I feel very strongly and fully believe in people’s ability to grow and change and learn from their mistakes and when they know better, to do better. If people don’t think that, over the course of seven years, it’s possible for a human being to change, then there really is no future for the human race at all.”

As for Burke’s re-appearance? It actually plays a pretty key role in the episode: Looks like he’s the reason Cristina/Sandra Oh will be written off the show. Turns out, Burke fled Seattle and now runs a hospital in Switzerland. He offers Cristina a fancy job, luring her with the sexy promise of amazing medical technology and lots of 3D printers. (Don’t worry, he’s not trying to get back together with her — he has a wife and kids now.)

They do bring up the past, as Cristina’s shocked to see him there — she thought she was just going to the Switzerland hospital to give a speech. She wonders why he had one of his staffers invite her. “I didn’t think you’d respond to an invitation from me, given the circumstances of our last interaction,” he says. “Me in a white dress and you fleeing the scene,” Cristina responds flatly. They do have a pretty serious talk about their former relationship. “The way I loved you was consuming,” he tells her in a long monologue as a slow version of “Like a Virgin” plays in the background. (It’s an old “Grey’s Anatomy” joke.)

Anyway, the takeaway from all this? In the TV industry, no one will ever demonstrate behavior terrible enough that they won’t be allowed a second chance — especially if it’s during sweeps. (Paging Charlie Sheen — “Two and a Half Men” could really use a ratings bump.)

 

Emily Yahr is an entertainment reporter and pop culture blogger for the Style section. She joined the Post in May 2008, a week before she graduated from the University of Maryland, and worked on Lisa de Moraes' TV Column and blog.
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