There are 16 seasons of Grey’s Anatomy, so there are easily a bunch of episodes I could cover. There’s a reason the hospital drama has lasted for as long as it has. Its cast of characters are frustratingly relatable. The stories it manages to produce continue to draw viewers in for being interesting, and when they want to be…utterly destroying.
The Season 6 finale, which involved the hospital shooting, remains near the top of my list of best season finales ever written (the only one that’s better is The West Wing’s “Two Cathedrals”). But, today I’m here for “Song Beneath the Song”, the musical episode that was pivotal to Callie Torres (Sara Ramirez) and Arizona Robbins (Jessica Capshaw), Grey’s Anatomy’s reigning LGBT love story.
The show’s creator, Shonda Rhimes, wanted to do a musical episode for some time, but the timing just never worked out. Before she became Callie Torres, Sara Ramirez was best known to Broadway audiences as The Lady of the Lake in Spamalot. When you have a Broadway superstaras a regular you eventually find the time to bring in their vocal ability.
The episode opens with the aftermath of the previous one. While on the way to a romantic weekend, Arizona pops the question to a very pregnant Callie. The mood is quickly killed, though, as their car slams into a truck. Arizona has a few bumps and cuts, but Callie has been sent through the window and is just hanging on to consciousness. Usually at this point Meredith Grey, the show’s star, comes in with a voice over thesis of the episode.
Not this time! On special occasions Meredith gets to take a back seat. It’s a breath of fresh air because Meredith can sometimes be very whiny. I’ve always enjoyed the episodes of Grey’s that were narrated by the other characters because that meant the focus of the story line was going to be on them. It also meant that those characters were going to have development. For “Song Beneath the Song” it meant that this song and operation hour would belong to Callie.
“The brain is the human body’s most mysterious organ…and when it’s hurt? When the human brain is traumatized? That’s when it gets more mysterious,” Callie’s voice says, as what appears to be her “spirit”, examines her bloody body on the car hood.
For Callie, this trauma of the brain is both physical and emotional. With the major car accident, she potentially has bleeding in her brain. We find out later that’s exactly what she has, and is the reason for her coma state throughout the episode. She also has the shock of having just been asked to be married by a woman who basically left her once already. There’s a lot to contemplate when it comes to allowing yourself to be intimate with someone you’ve given your all to once, and they let you down.
For the musical portions of the episode, the songs were picked from songs featured throughout the series. As Callie lays on the hood her “spirit” begins to sing a few lines of Psapp’s “Cosy In the Rocket”.
“Nobody knows where we might end up.”
Given Callie’s current state, that is true. Also, given Shonda’s record for writing off characters by using a body bag? That is very true. Long time fans have a deeper appreciation for the use of this song because it was actually the opening theme for the show before it was dropped and replaced with a title card.
Callie and Arizona are rushed to Seattle Grace where the rest of the cast await them. News had gotten around to everyone, including to Mark Sloan (Eric Dane).
The history between Mark and Callie is a roller coaster in itself. Callie is one of very few bisexual characters on network television, and representation matters. Her discovery of her sexuality wasn’t over night.
When Arizona came into Callie’s life, she was still processing the feelings she had for Erica Hahn. Before Erica, Callie had only been in relationships with men. Her introduction onto the show was to be the romantic interest for George O’Malley (T.R. Night), over whom she also had her heart broken when he cheated.
Mark had become a friend with benefits, which ended once Arizona came into the picture and he decided he wanted to get more serious with Lexie Grey (Chyler Leigh). But, when Arizona had decided to leave Callie for Africa it was Mark that she turned to for comfort. One night that comfort got out of hand, and high emotions mixed with heavy drinking lead to Callie becoming pregnant.
Going back to how the brain processes information under stress, we arrive at the first full song of the episode.
Snow Patrol’s “Chasing Cars” has been a Grey’s Anatomy staple. If you mention the series then mentioning this song is usually not that far behind. It has been used in pivotal moments such as Derek Shepard’s (Patrick Dempsey) death later in season 11.
As Callie and her unborn child arrive, her “spirit” begins, “We’ll do it all/ Everything/ On our own” She’s wheeled off into the hospital. Mark asks Arizona what happen and she explains as Callie’s “spirit” continues, “We don’t need anything, or anyone.”
The song works as a way of examining Callie’s character, but also by playing into the usual narrative of the show. We are introduced to a Callie that doesn’t want for people to know that she needs help even with a baby on the way. She doesn’t often let people in and instead tries to take care of everything herself. She was even prepared to have the baby and raise it alone.
Where we usually have the attendee on duty trying to get the patient’s attention to assist the situation, here is Doctor Owen Hunt (Kevin McKidd) singing “I don’t quite know/ How to say/ How I feel.” Callie is completely mortified. Is it because of the pain, or is it because what should be “You’re going to be OK” is coming out in verse with a tone that sounds more like “I’m not gonna sugar coat it, you might die.”
As she focuses on his voice everyone else is calling for the items they need to make her comfortable, which is how every other operating scene in the series plays out. You know when Callie’s focus changes because that is when another person begins to sing. The entire song becomes a dialog for the ones who love Callie to gather their own shock as to what has happened. “I need your grace/ To remind me/ To find my own” Bailey (Chandra Wilson) sings as she pauses to gather herself, get what is needed and jumps right back in to helping. Her moment is a prayer for her friend and for the unborn child.
During her first surgery of the episode, it’s discovered that Callie’s anesthesia is low and she is somewhat awake and coherent during her operation. With everyone around her still in a panic, because this is Callie Torres, it’s Lexie’s calming words of “Just breathe. Callie, relax. We got this.” that send us into our second song.
The transitions are on the cheesy side, but seeing that Rhimes isn’t used to writing a musical I’m willing to allow some forgiveness. Everything we are given within those moments are amazing enough and remind me why I stood with Grey’s for as long as I have.
Lexie is probably one of the more grounded characters on the show. She is usually comforting those around her, and holding her own emotions in check in order to do so (or at least taking it out on a bag of Reese’s). It’s very fitting for her to be singing Anna Nalick’s “Breathe”, a song about taking control.
As she sings, “2 AM and she calls me ’cause I’m still awake/ can you help me unravel my latest mistake/ I don’t love him, winter just wasn’t my season” to Callie, one is reminded that Lexie’s story has been entangled with Mark and Callie’s for some time.
She had been been in a major relationship with Mark when his estranged teen daughter suddenly turned up asking for help with her pregnancy. At the time, Lexie wasn’t ready to be a mother and didn’t want the responsibility of having to be one towards his child. So she ended the relationship. It’s while Mark is trying to get over her and Callie is trying to get over Arizona leaving that they sleep together and Callie becomes pregnant. Shortly after is when Mark rekindles the relationship but doesn’t tell Lexie right away about Callie’s baby. When he finally does, Lexie can’t believe she’s been put into this situation with Mark again and ends it…again.
Lexie is sent out of the operating room to look for Sloan. As she continues to sing through the hospital hallways the song has turned from comforting Callie to controlling her own emotions. “Breathe, just breathe.” She finds Mark hiding in a staircase. “You don’t have to do this, I know you hate me.” he tells her. Lexie doesn’t though, it’s actually the opposite. She is just as confused with her emotions with Mark as we discover Callie is with Arizona.
Back in the operating room, Callie’s surgery is all over the place, and everyone is emotional. Being that emotional in a surgery can cause mistakes and those mistakes can’t happen when you are trying to save a life. There’s too many things to be fixed and too many people attempting to do it all at once.
Dr. Webber (James Pickens Jr.) orders for those not needed to leave. This allows Alex Karev (Justin Chambers) to go comfort Arizona up in the observation room. Everything has caught up with her and she allows herself to break down.
Webber tries to get Dr. Lucy Fields (Rachael Taylor), the neonatal surgeon, to think of a plan for Callie’s unborn baby but when she’s flustered he decides to bring in someone who can get the job done… Kate Walsh’s Addison Montgomery.
Callie is kept unconscious in order for her brain to heal. It also helps to de-stress the body, so they have a better chance at being able to surgically go back in.
The doctors gather to talk about potential ways of saving both Callie and the baby. Their anger and frustration builds and builds until Owen interjects with Gomez’s “How We Operate”. “Calm down/ And get straight/ It’s not our eyes/ It’s how we operate”. He knows that if they don’t work together then they could lose Callie, “I’d apologize but it won’t go very far”.
With Callie unconscious and the doctors arguing what to do next, there really isn’t anything anyone can do but play the waiting game. In that time anxiety can grow and when that happens things can be said or done that are regretted later.
Arizona is doing some soul searching. She feels as though she’s been Callie’s wife for some time, and is sure that she wants a family. When she came back from Africa she knew that she would have to rebuild Callie’s trust. “I’m a runner.” Yet, when Callie told her that she was pregnant with Mark’s child Arizona doesn’t run. Instead she stays, processes her feelings, and attempts to deal with the concept of Mark continuing to be in their lives. He serves as a constant reminder of the mistake she had made by leaving in the first place. He also never allows her to forget it.
When they must decide how to approach the next surgery both have conflicting thoughts about whether they should save the baby and potentially lose Callie, or save Callie and potentially lose the baby.
Arizona believes that Callie would want to keep her baby safe by any means necessary, even if that means risking her own life. A big reason Callie and Arizona took the break, which sent Arizona off to Africa, was because Callie wanted to have children. Arizona didn’t. As a pediatric surgeon she’s seen what can happen to children, and more importantly, to their families. Yet she is willing to put her feelings aside because her love for Callie is stronger.
Mark believes that Callie would want to live. That she would get over the loss of her child and that he could easily provide her with another. He doesn’t understand that there is already a bond made between the two and that you never get over losing a child. It changes the woman forever.
In the midst of this, Bailey (Chandra WiIson) begins to sing Get Set Go’s “Wait”. She sings “Wait, wait for the dawn my dear/ Wait till the sun gets here” towards Callie as if she’s telling her that she shouldn’t have to hear this. She goes into the room and closes the door with Mark and Arizona still on the outside arguing. It’s her way of shielding Callie from the two people she loves most. Bailey is a protector through and through.
Lexie and Jackson (Jesse Williams) are trying to see where they stand. Their relationship is still new and Jackson knows all to well the bond between Lexie and Mark. It was Mark who had pushed Jackson towards her, when he asked him to befriend Lexie in order to get updates.
Meredith and Derek (Patrick Dempsey) are left wondering if Callie could even make a recovery from the bleeding that had occurred in her brain. If she does there’s a chance that it might not be Callie. Derek struggles with potentially having to deliver this news to Mark.
Arizona continues her conversation with Mark that keeps escalating more and more into a heated argument. Even though Arizona doesn’t have any blood ties to the child, is it her’s? Does she have a say as to what happens with this child, and does Mark have a say?
“You’re basically a sperm donor.” She tells him and it’s true. Mark continuously tries to insert himself into Callie and Arizona’s relationship. He wants to make decisions about this unborn child but in doing so he’s trying to place himself on equal standing with Arizona. The thing is, he’s not the one in the relationship. Arizona is. Callie and Mark were platonic and made a mistake one night, but they were never going to be together. They both love other people, but Mark believes that he has a duty to perform.
The only other time I’ve seen this discussion was in the film The Kids are Alright, which was released the year before. In it, the children of a lesbian couple seek out the man who was their sperm donor unbeknownst to their mothers. When he enters into their lives he begins to co-parent and wiggle his way into the family (which is what Mark is doing). It gets to the point where he has an affair with one of the women and instantly thinks that they should run off together (with the children). That’s not what she wanted from the affair though. She wanted someone who cared, and he just so happened was able to provide this. She was still very much in love with her wife. Sound familiar?
“You don’t get a say,” Mark retorts back, “This is my family. I’m the father. You’re not anything.” No Mark. Arizona may not have any blood relations when it comes to that baby but she made a choice. When Arizona came back from Africa she and Callie had a discussion about the pregnancy. Callie laid down all the facts. She acknowledged that she cheated with Mark. The baby that she had inside of her was his. But, the future she saw herself making was with Arizona because Arizona was the one she was in love with.
Arizona has mentioned that she is a runner when things get tough, but she looked Callie in the eye when given the option to run and told her that she was going to stay. She made a decision, and in doing so allowed her to have as much right to defend what Callie might want as Mark.
“Universe & U”
Deep in Callie’s mind she is contemplating Arizona’s big ask, even though she has taken her back and they appear to be happy. Too much has happened between them for her to simply say yes. “You’re going to ask me to marry you.” Callie says as she relives (in her head) the moments right before the crash. “I didn’t answer you because I don’t know.”
Is what she feels for Arizona love? “Other people can do it. Meredith and Derek. Christina and Owen…” Is her relationship with Arizona like the others? She knows what she feels for Arizona is strong and admits that it’s love. “Girl, you got me trippin’ on sunshine/ God knows you just made my day.” she gleefully sings as she breaks into Jesus Jackson’s “Running on Sunshine” while playfully flirting with Arizona in the car.
Since we’re in Callie’s brain, “Running on Sunshine” works as a way of her expressing just how much in love she is with Arizona, “Since you came around, no/ I just can’t slow down, no”.
It also works as a way of seeing how she emulates the other couples. Bailey is having a fling with a male nurse and has been afraid to let people know because there is an age difference. “People may stop and stare, but I don’t even care/ Just as long as I am with you” he serenades.
Callie’s brain is not afraid to touch on how each relationship she has seen blossoming at Seattle Grace’s is completely different. Some, like Owen and Christina’s, are more physical than anything. Others are in their early stages, like Teddy (Kim Raver) and Henry Burton (Scott Foley).
They had met when Henry had come in with a preexisting condition that was causing him to die slowly. He needed a transplant, but because he didn’t have insurance he couldn’t get one. Teddy proposed that they get married and then he would be placed on her’s. From there the relationship blossomed.
Even Callie knows that Mark and Lexie should be together because in her head, they are. “I must be running on sunshine/ Ain’t no rain getting in my way.” sings Lexie as she strokes Mark’s head who is asleep on her lap.
In the mist of all the romance, Derek enters in by interrupting the musical moment to perform a test to see if Callie is responsive. With lessening the drugs that keep Callie in her sunshine filled happy place, she is thrown right back to being on the hood of the car. Derek attempts to get her to respond to him, but nothing except for her eyes opening happens. This adds to his fears from earlier.
With the reality that Callie could potentially not pull through, Arizona finds herself second guessing everything. “Mark is kind of right. I’m nothing.” It’s a horrible feeling to have especially since she knows that she more than ever loves Callie. “I feel like your wife. I feel like our baby’s mom.” She begins to plead for Callie to live. Live for her.
Even though Callie can’t physically be present she hears Arizona. Her “spirit” reappears and begins singing KT Tunstall’s “Universe & U“, a song about having found the person that makes you better.
The bond between Callie and Arizona is stronger than ever, “I can feel everything you do/ Hear everything you say/ Even when you’re miles away” Callie tries to tell her. Just as if Arizona could hear her, she breaks down at the reassurance. Callie’s message to her doesn’t end there though.
“And when you’re on your own/ I’ll send you a sign”. Her “spirit” manages to take control of her body long enough to move her finger. That little gesture was exactly the thing Derek was hoping to get earlier. It means that Callie is keeping up the fight.
Unfortunately, keeping up that fight means that her body is going to begin to attack back. She needs to be fixed and now because her body is in a full out war with itself. Her lungs are filling up with liquid and she is bleeding out. If they are going to attempt to do any saving, the doctors need to move.
Callie is still trapped in her mind, but she is also having an out of body experience. As she is wheeled off to the O.R. she rests on top of her sleeping self. Mind and body are still not completely back to being one yet, but they are tied together.
She sings Kate Havnevik’s “Grace” in a similar way to how Bailey was using “Wait” earlier, as a prayer. Instead of reassuring someone else that everything will be OK, she is reassuring herself. As she sits on top of her unconscious self she sings, “Don’t know how/ But I’ll get by/ Slowly pull myself together/ I’ll get through this” almost as if she is trying to make herself believe.
As she’s rolled into the room, it’s her “spirit” that appears on the gurney instead of her physical body. “Come what may/ I won’t fade away” she continues as they pick her up. When she is placed on the operating table the bruises and tubes return, she’s transformed back into herself. “I know I might change.”
“Nothing is like it was.” especially with Arizona and Mark who are now gathered in the observation deck as if their argument from earlier hadn’t taken place. They are there for Callie, together.
It doesn’t take long for the operation to start going south. Callie’s brain begins to bleed again and it’s being caused by another drug they are giving her.
Earlier Christina (Sandra Oh) had mentioned a process that might be able to save both Callie and the baby, but Teddy and Owen ruled it out for not being safe. As the clock ticks, Christina offers up the idea again. Teddy continues to be resistant. Part of it is her own pride and another part is her jealousy over Christina’s relationship with Owen.
What has been keeping Teddy from committing to Henry is the fact that she has always had feelings for Owen. They had known one another since their days in the army.
They were best friends but Teddy wanted more. Only she was too afraid to say anything and once she had, Owen was already with Christina. Christina had become a reminder of Teddy’s fear and regret for not saying anything when she had the chance. Just like Mark being around had become a constant reminder to Arizona of her mistake of leaving.
As said before though, in an operation every second counts and Teddy is allowing her emotions to cloud her judgement.
Christina steps in and so begins The Fray’s “How to Save a Life”. Just like “Chasing Cars” this song is another Grey’s Anatomy staple. The show had even created a music video for it.
What would normally be conversations that reflect what the characters have dealt with earlier in the episode are now being told through the lyrics.
Owen opens the conversation with Christina, “Step one, you say we need to talk” Christina has tried repetitively to treat Owen as her boss. When she had asked for his opinion on the surgery suggestion earlier she did it as a resident. Not as his girlfriend. Yet, she is constantly treated as his lover and with that her opinion on certain things gets belittled.
Meredith and Derek work on Callie’s brain, but Derek still blames himself for possibly failing at fixing her in the first place. Meredith understands this, “Between the lines of fear and blame/ You begin to wonder why you came” She’s seen this before and knows all she can do is see him through it.
Teddy realizes that what happened in that operating room was bad, “Where did I go wrong/ I lost a friend somewhere along in the bitterness”. She realizes that her jealousy towards Christina may have just cost her the friendship she treasured even more with Owen.
Mark, “Try to slip past his defense/Without granting innocence” while Arizona retorts, “Lay down a list of what is wrong/ The things you’ve told him all along” as they acknowledge in their own heads that what they said to the other was not what they really meant.
They still don’t say it to the other though.
As they watch Callie continue in a downward spiral on the table, her “spirit” is present to let them know that they need to forgive one another. “He will do one of two things/ He will admit to everything”. It’s a shared look between the two that has Mark rushing off because he realizes that he does know what Callie would want. For the innocent life of her child to have a chance.
The doctors manage to take the infant out of Callie, but are unable to get its heart beating, and Callie’s heart is failing as well. Already like mother and daughter, they are waiting for the other members of their family to catch up with the idea that they need to work out their feelings.
When Arizona and Mark finally are able to meet one another on the same level, both mother and daughter begin to pull through.
After the surgery, Derek finally gets the courage to tell his best friend that Callie might not wake up. That realization allows Mark and Arizona to confront what happened earlier.
“You’re not nothing.” he tells her. Yes Mark, you acknowledge Arizona’s part in all this! “We have a kid together, you’re a mom.”
I suppose Meredith is allowed one scene of importance since it is still her show.
She and Derek have been trying for a long time to have a child, but everything she’s done hasn’t worked. Finally, she admits to Derek her jealousy over Callie, but also asks the question that many of us end up asking when bad things happen to good people.
“Why?” Why is the universe so cruel? Why does it choose to allow beautiful things like motherhood to happen but then puts those same people through hell?
Just like the opening thesis statement, Grey’s Anatomy closes with a closing statement (or in this case, song).
Callie is still unconscious with Arizona by her side, filling her in on her daughter who is “1 pound, 1 ounce of strong”. She knows that what the child needs is her mother, but Arizona also needs Callie.
Brandi Carlile’s “The Story” is used as Callie’s closing statement. It’s a reflection of everything she’s been through in this episode both physically and emotionally.
Her “spirit” begins singing to her body, “All of these lines across my face/ Tell you the story of who I am” It’s reassuring herself that who she was before the accident doesn’t have to be the person she is after it.
“But these stories don’t mean anything/ When you’ve got no one to tell them to” She has Arizona, who is still by her bed, holding her hand.
Callie’s “spirit” visits with her daughter where she knows that bringing that child into the world was the one thing she wanted more than anything. Callie’s trauma allowed her to hide, but it also allowed her to process. “I was made for you” She sings to her.
When she gets back to her room, she is ready to confront what lies ahead. This time she is less gentle when singing “All the lines across my face/ Tell you the story of who I am” That’s because this time she is ready to be whole.
She needs her body to know that it’s time to wake up because “these stories don’t mean anything/ When you’ve got no one to tell them to” and she’s ready to start her story with Arizona and her daughter.
She opens her eyes, and we end with her giving the response that she has been wanting to say and we have been waiting to hear. “Yes. I will marry you.”
Grey’s Anatomy’s “Song Beneath the Song” is a pivotal episode that showcases many of the qualities that makes the show such a success (Strong story telling, and intriguing characters). This episode gives Callie and Arizona a climax to their love story that is emotionally satisfying for them as it is an experience for the viewer at home.