The Grey’s Anatomy season 10 finale expectedly revolved around the departure of star Sandra Oh from the series. Dr. Cristina Yang left Grey Sloan Memorial Hospital to take over for her ex-fiancé, Dr. Preston Burke, as the Director of a very fancy heart-focused hospital in Zurich. If that sounds somewhat implausible, that’s because it is. The exit, however, still managed to feel very real—perhaps the defining quality of her character. In the midst of all the unlikely disasters the Grey’s Anatomy doctors have faced—from an active shooter to a massive ferry crash to last night’s pipeline explosion at a busy shopping mall—Cristina Yang always felt authentic, which is a testament as much to Sandra Oh’s acting ability as it is to Shonda Rhimes and the show’s writers.
Cristina Yang may very well be the strongest female character we’ve ever seen on television and is certainly one of the most important. Yes, I do still watch Grey’s Anatomy and so do 10 million other people. Grey’s Anatomy is the highest rated broadcast drama among the coveted 18-49 demographic and has been since season 8. So whether or not you’ve been watching, it has remained a major part of the pop culture landscape and Cristina has often been the center.
The most remarkable thing about Cristina Yang was her unwavering dedication to her life’s passion. Her relationships and decisions were all shaped around, and in relation to, being the best cardiothoracic surgeon she could possibly be. When Cristina underwent an abortion in Season 8, the decision, while difficult, was the only decision. She wanted to be a surgeon more than she wanted to be a mother. Period. A last minute change of heart would have been unbelievable and as Shonda Rhimes said, painful to watch.
Cristina Yang redefined what it meant to “have it all.” The entire hackneyed notion of “having it all” is based on what patriarchy believes women should want—marriage, a family and a fulfilling career (at least for a period of time). One can imagine Cristina being told, as I’m sure many career-focused women have been, that she just needed to find the right man to settle down with and her life would fall into play as it should. But Cristina seemed to have found the “right” man, possibly more than once, and that still wasn’t enough. Surgery is what made her tick and brought her happiness. Her work was what made her feel whole. And what was particularly badass, was to see her chase after a type of fulfillment that she alone could control.
Her passion for her work was bolstered by her talent. From the first episode, you knew that she was exceptional. All the other characters knew it, and most significantly, she knew it. Cristina was completely unapologetic for her genius as she damn well should be. Last night she told another doctor: “You’ll never be as good as me, but you’re very, very good,” and that somehow felt like a genuine compliment.
It was fitting that her final goodbye brought together one of the great loves her of life and her steadfast insistence on greatness for herself and others.
The truest love story of Grey’s Anatomy has always been that of Meredith and Cristina. I would argue that their relationship is the most complex and affectionate depiction of female friendship on television. Because I’m convinced that Shonda Rhimes has direct access to my tear ducts, I’m only slightly ashamed to admit that she got me good with Meredith and Cristina’s goodbye. After they danced it out, Cristina’s last words to Meredith encouraged her to stand up to her husband Derek and fight for her career: “He’s very dreamy, but he’s not the sun—you are,” she said.
Maybe it’s all the residual feelings from last night, but as much as I can be inspired by a person who doesn’t exist, Cristina Yang inspired me. It was validating to see a woman who was unashamed, sometimes rude and usually right. Sandra Oh gave us the complete picture of Cristina as a professional, as a friend and a woman. This has always been and will remain a major part of the legacy of Grey’s Anatomy—that it gave a platform to the depiction of a full spectrum of womanhood, a platform that allowed so many women, including this one, to see themselves in Cristina Yang.