Grey's Anatomy is marching toward a resolution surrounding Alex Karev's absence.
Showrunner Krista Vernoff is addressing the sudden departure of original cast member Justin Chambers, who played Alex for more than 15 seasons, for the first time in a recent interview, promising fans that there will be "clarity" when it comes to answers to what happened.
In the latest episode, Jo (Camilla Luddington) revealed to Amelia (Caterina Scorsone) that Alex -- who was away in Iowa tending to his ailing mother -- had stopped returning her phone calls and was "going through something" serious, needing time to figure his stuff out.
As Vernoff told Variety, crafting a satisfying resolution to Alex's storyline and the timing of it has proven to be a delicate balance.
“It was a very careful threading of a needle, where we are giving a little bit of information and pain to Jo,” she said. “We’re, episode by episode, illuminating the story of where Alex is. And it takes us quite a few more episodes to get there and to give the audience clarity.”
One worry Vernoff had with wrapping up Alex's story was repeating an arc that Jo went through last season.
“Jo went through so much pain and so much grief just last season that I wanted to be careful,” Vernoff said. “And so it’s a bit of a mystery [what’s going on with Alex], so that we don’t watch Jo in the same place that we watched her in last season. We did it as carefully as we could. But it takes a while to get there.”
At the time of Chambers' departure, Alex -- who had been fired from Grey Sloan at the end of season 15 for being complicit in Meredith's insurance fraud -- was serving as chief of surgery at rival Seattle hospital Pacific Northwest General Hospital (Pac-North), alongside ex-Grey Sloan docs Owen and Webber. He had unsuccessfully tried to recruit his wife, Jo, to leave Grey Sloan for Pac-North.
His presence continues to be felt through other characters, namely Owen Hunt (Kevin McKidd) and Richard Webber (James Pickens Jr.), both of whom are employed alongside Alex at Pac-North. After Alex successfully recruited free agent Maggie Pierce (Kelly McCreary) to be the head of cardiothoracic surgery, Catherine Fox (Debbie Allen) decided to buy and absorb Pac-North -- in effect, neutering their staff.
In a shocking move, Chambers announced in January that he was leaving Grey's after playing Alex for more than 15 seasons, citing a desire to "diversify [his] acting roles." The series' 350th episode, which aired Nov. 14, was Chambers' last appearance on the show.
"There's no good time to say goodbye to a show and character that's defined so much of my life for the past 15 years," the actor said in a statement to ET. "For some time now, however, I have hoped to diversify my acting roles and career choices. And, as I turn 50 and am blessed with my remarkable, supportive wife and five wonderful children, now is that time."
"As I move on from Grey’s Anatomy, I want to thank the ABC family, Shonda Rhimes, original cast members Ellen Pompeo, Chandra Wilson and James Pickens [Jr.], and the rest of the amazing cast and crew, both past and present, and, of course, the fans for an extraordinary ride," Chambers added.
Chambers' sudden exit prompted Pompeo to briefly react to the news one day after it broke. Responding to a tweet by Vanity Fair that read, "#GreysAnatomy is about to feel one of its biggest losses yet," the 50-year-old actress and executive producer couldn't help but share her thoughts on the situation.
"Truer words have never been spoken," Pompeo tweeted, alongside a brokenhearted emoji, conveying her emotions over losing one of the Grey's OGs.
Grey's Anatomy airs Thursdays at 9 p.m. ET/PT on ABC.
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