Grey’s Anatomy: How Amelia’s Disastrous Family Dinner Changed Her For the Better
Family reunions are rarely good news on Grey’s Anatomy.
After all, much of the show’s premise is that these doctors have found new families among the other doctors in the hospital, either because they didn’t have actual families or because their actual families are less than ideal. Amelia Shepherd (Caterina Scorsone) falls into that second category, as the youngest daughter in a large family full of doctors, all still recovering from the trauma of losing their dad as children, and driven even further apart by the death of their brother. Amelia hasn’t lived the easiest life, and she’s been through a hell of a lot, mostly without the help and support of her three sisters or her mother, and only sometimes with the support of her late brother Derek.
Now, she’s doing well, moving on from Owen (Kevin McKidd) while at the top of her career, but none of her family knows that. They just see her as Baby Amy, the troublemaker, which is who her sisters Nancy and Kathleen saw when they met up with her for dinner for the first time in many years in tonight’s episode, while Link (Chris Carmack) and Amelia were in New York to help out a patient with a severe spinal deformity.
The whole thing turned into a bit of a comedy routine when Nancy (Embeth Davidtz) assumed that Link was Owen, because she had no idea Amelia had gotten divorced, and so Link tried his best to play the part of the grizzled vet. That worked only until Amelia’s mother showed up unannounced and knew that Link was not actually Owen, and then everything fell apart, even as Link did his best to defend Amelia against her sisters’ wild assumptions about her. They didn’t know that she had a brain tumor, or that she and Owen adopted a baby, or that she took in the teen drug addict mother of that baby, and learning all that info certainly didn’t help.
While her sisters are still her sisters, Amelia did get a chance to sit down with her mom at the end of the episode and get some backstory that for the past 10 years of playing this character, Caterina Scorsone had only been guessing at. Basically, Amelia’s mother pulled back and was never the mother she should have been after losing her husband, and so Amelia grew up with only Derek really looking after her. E! News chatted with the star over the phone and found out exactly how life-changing this family reunion was for Amelia.
E! News: What was it like for you to take on your own entire episode for the first time?
Scorsone: It was really fun to do. I think a huge highlight for me, I mean a huge highlight of my entire creative life was working with Tyne Daly, who is just a huge talent and kind of a pillar of our industry. She’s such an incredible actress both on stage and on camera, and I’m getting to work with her. It was a huge honor and so instructive and I learned so much. That was awesome. It was great. And then working with Amy Acker and Embeth Davidtz and getting to spend time with Chris Carmack, who’s so funny and talented…it was really a wonderful time. It was long hours. It made me remember how lucky we are to be on such a huge ensemble where everybody kind of shoulders part of the load, but it was really fun.
The episode took place almost entirely in New York on new sets, so Amelia was totally out of her element. Was that strange to not only have your own episode, but to have it take place somewhere totally different?
I mean, it was nice to have a change of scenery. It felt like we were doing a little movie, and because we were shooting this simultaneously with shooting another episode, we had like a second crew, and so we were working with another DP and Bill D’Elia was working with us, and we had a whole different AD team, and so it really did feel like we were, during hiatus, shooting a movie, and it happened to be about Amelia Shepherd’s backstory.
We’ve known a lot about Amelia’s backstory and heard bits and pieces about her childhood and her relationship with her family, but we’ve never actually seen it. Were you picturing Amelia’s relationship with her family a certain way before this? What was it like to actually act it out?
I loved her relationship with her mom. I think that that scene that happened on the park bench was really in keeping with what I understood about Amelia’s backstory. That must have just been some kind of magical synchronicity between my secret Amelia inner life and what the writers were imagining, because the backstory she told me on that park bench in terms of what our relationship was after the trauma of Amelia seeing her father killed, it was actually what I’ve always believed to be the case, ’cause I kind of worked backwards. Like, OK, so Amelia’s been through all of this addiction, what must have been her relationship with her mother and where was some of her kind of early attachment damaged?
I kind of wove this story for myself, so I’ve actually been playing that story for almost a decade, but then to see it actually embodied and written and lived on screen was unbelievably creatively satisfying but also so healing for Amelia. And Tyne did such a gorgeous job with that. So that really kind of lived inside of me.
I think, probably like the audience, I was a little surprised by how brutal the sisters were. They really didn’t let up, which is absolutely the opposite of the actresses who were playing them. I wish you could see how charming and lovely and delightful Amy Acker and Embeth are. They’re so kind and sweet, and it’s a testament to their acting, because they were so hard on her. But what it did was it clarified for me like, oh yeah, when you’re a young child and the people that surround you are telling you something about who you are, it’s really hard. It’s really challenging to counter that story and to say, OK, that’s the narrative that you have for me, but that’s not the narrative that I have for myself.
And in your psyche it might be convenient for you to cast me as come kind of black sheep, which is what she says they did, but I know that’s not true. But as a child, I think people have a really hard time doing that. And then I also think the sisters were also children when they were coming up with this narrative, and I think they laid down this story for Amelia at such an early age, even for themselves, that it’s really hard for them to let go of it too, and for them to see Amelia with fresh eyes that are in the present instead of just casting her in this role that makes them feel safe because they understand it.
So did this trip achieve anything for Amelia? Did she go back to Seattle with a renewed sense of anything for herself?
I think absolutely. I think the two major things that happened for Amelia during this trip was one, she was kind of able to let go of the need to get approval from her sisters. I think even the fact that she kind of omitted her divorce from Owen and lied about Link being Owen, and I think those were all kind of defensive moves because Amelia, on a very unconscious level, really really really really always wanted her sisters to accept and love her. And I think after that dinner where she got to encounter her childhood dynamic but as an adult who’s been through sobriety and 12 step programs and taken inventory and done a lot of work on herself, she was able to see the unfairness of the narrative that they weaved for her. And she was able to let go of her need to have them accept her, ’cause they weren’t going to do it.
She kind of took back that responsibility and said, you know what, I accept myself and I can love you as my family, but I don’t like being treated this way, and I don’t have to expose myself to that. So she took back her power in a lot of ways, and brought it back to Seattle where she could give it to Meredith and Maggie as they listened. My family of origin judges me and they can’t see who I am, but my family of choice, my chosen family, loves me and is present with me and curious about me, and so I’m gonna give them the relationship that I was kind of holding hostage for this family of origin that didn’t understand me.
So that happened, and then also, I think her mother finally gave her consciousness of this missing piece of the puzzle, that Amelia, because she had been so young when her father was killed in front of her, couldn’t consciously see, which was: When you suffered that huge trauma, as your mother, I was not able to do the job that I needed to do to help heal your psyche. I was so sad because of your dad that I was not present for you. I couldn’t mirror you in a way that would help contain the big feelings and move you through that trauma. So she gave her that missing puzzle piece that showed her why it was so hard for her to have healthy emotional attachment. She gave her back the power of saying, OK, that happened when you were a kid, but it’s not who you are, and I wasn’t able to help you attach at that age, but now you’re older and you’re smart and you’re wise and you’re strong, and now that you have this missing puzzle piece, you can go ahead and do it. And I think both of those things are huge shifts for Amelia, and hopefully she’ll be able to take that baton and move into a new future.
Speaking of new futures, is there one with Link after what he’s witnessed and how they ended things tonight?
We will see. I mean, he definitely got to see a lot of the Shepherd family weirdness. We’ll see what he has to say about things, but I think we found that there’s enough there. He’s funny and he can roll with things, and he was very accepting of Amelia and protective of Amelia in a way that speaks to a solid character. So we’ll see. Who knows? Right now, we’re at the end of the season, they don’t know where it’s gonna go next year. But the writers have kind of said we don’t know, we’ll watch and see what develops. So it could be that there’s more with Link, it could be that somehow things work out with Owen, we don’t know. They haven’t given me the secret information.
Grey’s Anatomy airs Thursdays at 8 p.m. on ABC.