Spoiler alert! Do not proceed if you have not watched Thursday's two-hour crossover event for Station 19 and Grey's Anatomy.
Not all heroes get a happy ending. After a three-month hiatus, Station 19and Grey's Anatomypicked up right where the action left off -- and unfortunately, it meant a devastating fate for one of Grey Sloan Memorial Hospital's beloved doctors.
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Ellen Pompeo on 'Grey's Anatomy' Season 17 Premiere Shocker
The two-hour midseason crossover premiere event Thursday kicked off with Andrew DeLuca (Giacomo Gianniotti) and his sister, Carina DeLuca (Stefania Spampinato), impulsively tailing Erin Banks, the sex trafficker who ruined lives last season and resurfaced when several young girls were abducted on Station 19. After going on a wild goose chase -- against the advisement from their friends at Firehouse 19 -- throughout Seattle that landed them at the train station, DeLuca was feet away from leading the culprit straight to the cops when a faceless man stabbed him in the chest, fatally wounding him.
But for a while, it didn't appear as if DeLuca would die or even see lasting effects from his injuries. In classic Grey's fashion, Owen Hunt (Kevin McKidd) set aside personal issues with Teddy Altman (Kim Raver) to save DeLuca in emergency surgery, and all seemed well as they successfully stitched him back up. But, unforeseen complications arose in recovery, and DeLuca was rushed back into the OR after something went terribly wrong. Not even a skilled surgeon like Teddy could save him a second time from bleeding out.
Right from the start, there were signs that DeLuca's time may be running out. On Station 19, there was clarity and closure between DeLuca and his sister about his bipolar disorder, which his father also has; the truth behind why they were split up as kids (him going to America with their mother, Carina staying in Italy with their father); and his desperate need to rescue and save people. On Grey's, DeLuca was transported to Meredith's "happy place," the near-perfect beach sanctuary she's been in since being diagnosed with COVID-19 (and currently on a ventilator), where they had several prescient conversations about life, death, being happy and letting go.
"I'll miss you. If I go back and you don't, I'll miss you," Meredith (Ellen Pompeo) told DeLuca as they sat on the dock in what would be their final conversation. He assured her with a smile that she'd be fine, that she'd recover -- after all, she is Meredith Grey. And before they could continue their conversation, he spotted someone in the distance. His late mom, whose sudden death in Italy left a traumatizing scar on his life. She was DeLuca's "happy place," and mother and son were reunited once and for all.
"I'm more than satisfied," Gianniotti tells ET in an exclusive interview of DeLuca's heartbreaking death. "I really don't see how they could have done more for DeLuca or explained more with DeLuca... He's always been plagued, if you will, about doing the right thing at all costs. Unfortunately it cost him his life, but looking back, he doesn't regret it." The 31-year-old actor opens up about when he found out about DeLuca's demise, his initial feelings about leaving the show, returning to make his TV directorial debut and filming those emotional beach scenes with Pompeo.
ET: When did you find out that DeLuca would not survive past this episode?
Giacomo Gianniotti: Krista Vernoff, our showrunner, and Debbie Allen, our executive producer, called me into their office and said that they wanted to talk to me about this storyline and they said they did it a thousand different ways -- and they kept coming to the same conclusion that they'd want me to tell a story, which unfortunately ended in DeLuca's demise. But, that it was a really beautiful story and an opportunity to highlight a huge issue of human trafficking and its horrible, horrible impact on the world and the U.S., and there was an opportunity to have DeLuca die a hero and to have justice brought to these perpetrators and horrible people who had been hurting these young girls. I've been on the show for a long time -- seven seasons -- and I think this is a good time to exit and have a fresh start. I was very in love with the story and the time it took to tell it properly. It's been a really, really amazing and satisfying experience for the past month and a half shooting this episode and going through the process of making it.
Whenever you get that call, there's nerves involved I'd imagine. What were your initial feelings and emotions when it became clear there was an end point for you and for your character?
I think Krista and Debbie were more emotional than I was, because I think for me it was more shock. I just felt a little taken aback, but they had always just been... They had probably spent more time with this idea and with this news, so they were already beyond the shock and more into the mourning of a great friend having to leave the show, you know? But it was beautiful and we had a great conversation and we reminisced about all these years working together, how beautiful it's been and how we get to give DeLuca a send-off that is worthy of his character and all that he's given to the show, so I feel very happy about the experience.
Did you feel like this was a natural final chapter for DeLuca and on a personal level, for you? Did it make sense, in hindsight, that this was the end?
Like any character on any show, none of those people had to die. But if you're the storyteller, which Krista is, you, ideally, are always trying to be objective, trying to remove your emotions and trying to tell the best story and letting that be what leads your compass as a writer and a storyteller. And not about, "Oh, I love Giacomo, so I want him to stick around. I'll never write him off." That would be a huge disservice to her and the show as a storyteller. So, I think when she came up with this idea, she knew that even though it would mean having to say goodbye to Giacomo, this was ultimately going to be an incredible moment in the show's history and an opportunity to have a really amazing episode of television. And why not now?
Like you mentioned earlier, DeLuca receives a hero's send-off, having a hand in catching the sex trafficker from last season. And there was also closure and clarity on the complicated family dynamics with him, Carina and their parents. Are you satisfied?
Yeah. I mean, I'm more than satisfied. I really don't see how they could have done more for DeLuca or explained more with DeLuca, you know what I mean? With the Station 19 episode, we get to dive into a very thrilling episode that feels kind of like an action movie. He's chasing this criminal through the station and hopping on trains. Very exciting and thrilling. With the opposite side of that, which is there's some really amazing moments with his sister where they talk about their family and their childhood and their past, so there's a lot of story and character development there. And then on Grey's Anatomy, we get the drama of our doctors trying to save his life and DeLuca having closure and Meredith's dream and having to be able to address a lot of things and talk to her about how he feels about his life and how he didn't have any regrets and how, even though it cost him his life, he doesn't regret trying to stop that woman. He's always been plagued, if you will, about doing the right thing at all costs. Unfortunately it cost him his life, but looking back, he doesn't regret it.
Back in December, one of the executive producers hinted that the beach motif would be used in a different way than we've seen so far. They were likely referring to DeLuca appearing on the beach with Meredith. That must have felt special to be part of a small group of characters that film there because of what it represents. How did that feel for you to be able to do that with Ellen and have that closure there?
Ellen's been my point of contact and a real good friend over the years, and certainly when the writers decided to spark a romance between us, we got even closer because we were spending so much more time together. And so, that friendship and that bond got even closer. In this episode, to spend all this time together on the beach was really fun and satisfying, and we got to speak about all the times and all the memories over the years. It was healing and nice and, in a strange way, kind of full circle coming back to it just being her and I. I think there were a lot of parallels between DeLuca saying goodbye to Meredith, but also Giacomo saying goodbye to Ellen. Not that I'm going anywhere. Just because the show is over, obviously we're going to keep being friends and stay in touch, but in a way it was like, "I'm not going to be sharing the screen with you anymore. I'm not going to be walking in the early A.M. with a coffee in my hand and rehearsing scenes with you." All those things will be gone, so there was a mourning of DeLuca and there was a mourning of Giacomo as well.
One of the scenes that struck a chord with me was when DeLuca tells Meredith, "I had more to do. I had plans." Especially at this current time, it feels particularly real and humanizing. If DeLuca had survived the stabbing, what do you think he would have done differently? Would he have had a different outlook?
I've definitely thought about that. The beginning of the season, we saw DeLuca in his blue scrubs as an attending. He's medicated. He's doing therapy. He's exercising, dieting, resting, doing all these things that his psychiatrist and everyone in his life has recommended for him and he's gotten a real new lease on life. He's really got his act together, even though he's still suffering from a mental illness. He still has bad days, like everybody else. He's still on the path to a much more stable and balanced lifestyle. And so, for me, over the years, you saw what DeLuca accomplished suffering alone in silence. It's hard to imagine what he could have accomplished now that he's actually got all of that, in a way, under control. It's almost like, "What couldn't he have accomplished?" It's sort of sad to see that we'll never get to see all that DeLuca could have accomplished without all these demons tormenting him all the time.
DeLuca's goodbye speech to Meredith, essentially thanking her for changing his life and understanding why she's been at the beach, was also a highlight and a personal favorite of mine. What was your favorite scene to film or the most emotional to get through?
Just getting to sit on the dock with Ellen at the very end was really nice. There was something so relaxing and meditative and real about just sitting there with her. And, again, there were a lot of parallels between DeLuca and Giacomo, which I felt was through the whole episode. DeLuca's essentially saying goodbye and leaving all these people, then I'm also saying goodbye and leaving all these people, so I felt very connected to DeLuca's plight and I felt very connected to the storyline. It was easy to be emotional when I needed to be. And it was all bittersweet. The ending, for DeLuca, isn't sad. He's going to meet his mom in the afterlife, who he loves dearly, and was so traumatized his whole life by her loss. So he's very happy. I think for Ellen and Meredith's character, there's nothing happier than to see the people that you love be happy and be free. As much as it's sad -- and she says "I'll miss you if you don't come back" -- ultimately she sees the person that she loves be as happy as he could possibly be, and that's an amazing thing.
Your time with the Grey's family isn't over yet. You recently finished directing an upcoming episode, which will be the 11th of the season. How did it feel switching gears and stepping behind the camera after your time in front of it ended?
It's been something that I've wanted and pursued for a very long time. But being offered this position this year has been one of the greatest highs of my career thus far. Finally being able to step into that arena and prove myself as a director and be given an opportunity to do that was so satisfying. There's all kinds of different scenarios where my first episode of primetime could have been on some other show with strangers, with people I didn't know, and I just feel like I've been given the greatest gift in the world to have my first hour of primetime that I directed be with all of these people that I love so dearly and who love me back and who made this whole experience so joyful and beautiful. And in a way, it was a nice way to say goodbye over a period of time and not have to rush, because when we were doing my last episode and [DeLuca] was dying, it were very fast-paced and I didn't get to go see or work with everybody. When I came back and there wasn't all the pressure of that episode being shot and all that came with it, as a director, I got to work with everybody, and it was a nice way to see everybody individually, spend time with them and catch up and then say goodbye in that way as well. It was a nice gift.
How do you think the loss of DeLuca will affect Carina and the rest of the hospital? We saw a glimpse of the devastation on their faces when it dawned on them that they had lost one of their own.
Yeah, and in the surgery, there's Bokhee [An]. There's Linda [Klein], the other nurse. There are all the anesthesiologists in the room. Everybody feels the loss. Everybody has worked with DeLuca. That's not just a loss for the doctors, it's a loss for the whole hospital that will echo and ripple through the entire hospital for the entire season, and then whatever seasons are to come. And if you're a Grey's Anatomy fan, you know that we've lost so many people over the years, but no one ever truly dies, whether it's a dream or a flashback or a memory or a text message, we continue to keep all those characters we've lost alive in some way. So it's not the last we'll hear of DeLuca. People are always kept alive in the hallways at Grey Sloan and they're talked about. But yeah, this is going to have a huge, huge impact on Grey Sloan and all the doctors. Most of all, I think, for Meredith when she wakes up and finds out.
Grey's Anatomyairs Thursdays at 9 p.m. ET/PT on ABC. For more on season 17, watch below.