There are a few ways to look at the jam-packed two-hour season finale of "Grey's Anatomy." It was a cleaning-out of a couple of characters that were going nowhere; it was a whirlwind tour through a bunch of long and drawn-out romantic story lines; and it gave several actors massive, Emmy-baiting showcases.
But mostly, it was an absorbing and suspenseful story that went just a little off the rails from the sheer amount of business heaped upon it.
It began with Gary Clark, who's been suing the hospital over the death of his wife. He showed up with a gun and almost immediately did away with the little used Dr. Reed Adamson, one of the Mercy West imports, in the supply room.
More significantly, he shot Alex, who dragged himself into an elevator where he waited patiently to be discovered — much like Carter once did in the famous "Carter and Lucy get stabbed" sequence on "ER," in the shadow of which this episode inevitably exists. When Reed's body was discovered, the hospital went into lockdown.
Meanwhile, Lexie and Mark found Alex and dragged him into a conference room, where Mark cut him open and Lexie stuffed balled-up surgical gloves in his mouth to keep him from screaming. (Seriously, pretty intense, this whole thing.) Their battle to save Alex was on.
In the most harrowing story of the episode, Clark came into the room where Bailey was hiding with Percy and a patient named Mary (played by Mandy Moore). Bailey heard Clark ask Percy if he was a surgeon, and when Percy said yes, Clark shot him. So when Clark dragged Bailey out from under the bed (yikes!) and asked her if she was a surgeon, she lied and said she was a nurse. Once Clark left, Bailey's battle to save Percy was on.
Meanwhile, Meredith was elsewhere in the hospital, happily learning that she was pregnant. But before she could tell Derek, Clark found and shot him as a horrified Cristina and Meredith looked on from the opposite walkway. (It must be said: It was a very nicely composed sequence). Meredith and Cristina's battle to save Derek was on.
Down in the OR, Owen and Teddy were mid surgery when the lockdown began. They had to move the patient, making Avery the only one there to receive Meredith and Cristina when they brought Derek in. This left only Cristina to do Derek's surgery.
But when Clark found them (he really got around), he put a gun to Cristina's head and demanded she stop working on Derek. A horrified Meredith and a conveniently arriving Owen looked on as Avery bluffed Clark into thinking Derek was dead long enough for Clark to leave — and then, naturally, they saved Derek's life anyway.
Alex was spared, too. Lexie barely survived an encounter with Clark herself, then announced to the half-conscious Alex that she loved him. This fact was not lost on Mark, who proposed to her last week. Lexie didn't even mind when Alex briefly mistook her for Izzie in a state of delirium, so their relationship seemingly is on track.
Not everybody is so lucky: Owen picked Cristina over Teddy, but Cristina had already dumped him by then, so it's not quite clear whether she intends to take him back.
But you can't win them all. When Bailey heroically dragged Percy through the corridors of the hospital only to find that the elevators were stopped for the lockdown, she realized there was no way to get him to the OR and that he would die. She sat on the floor with him, cradled his head in her lap and stayed with him until he died. So that's two Mercy Westers who didn't find spots in the story and got themselves killed as a result.
Much of the episode worked, until one part that felt like it had been tacked on for no good reason: Meredith miscarried while all the madness in the OR was developing.
There was a lot to like about the episode: Bailey's devastated explosion of temper at the elevators, Cristina's speech to Meredith about how she herself couldn't operate on Derek with Meredith in the room, and the scene in which Webber calmly talked Clark into killing himself to end the standoff.
But the miscarriage felt very much like an add-on, not quite earned. Having a pregnancy announced and lost in the same episode seems manipulative, and not really up to what was going on the rest of the time.
The other unsuccessful segment involved Arizona and Callie, who once again bickered annoyingly during an otherwise tense and serious story. They then got back together once again because they papered over their child issues again, with Arizona apparently agreeing to have kids even though she still doesn't actually seem to want them.
All in all, it was a very well-done finale, but it got away from the writers just a little at the end. With the shooter seemingly everywhere you didn't want him and everyone trapped with precisely the most dramatic person possible, it got a little ridiculous.
But in the end, the acting — including big nights for Chandra Wilson, Sandra Oh and Ellen Pompeo — carried it off.
Linda Holmes is a writer in Washington.