Ever since Chambers' sudden exit was announced last month (and that his final episode had already aired), the question on everybody's mind has been: Just how will Grey's address the abrupt absence of Alex Karev? While the answer to that question still has not presented itself in a finite way, Thursday's episode dropped a major clue as to how the show may be planning to handle wrapping up Alex's story in the coming weeks.
After flying unexpectedly to Iowa to care for his ailing mother following the series' 350th episode (Chambers' last), Alex has remained away from Seattle, communicating mainly through text and the occasional off-screen phone call with his wife, Jo (Camilla Luddington), and his close circle of friends and colleagues. But the latest hour presented the biggest indicator that something far more serious than we are aware of may be going on with Alex that could serve as the precursor to the character being written off of Grey's.
"Are you going through something?" a concerned Amelia (Caterina Scorsone) asks Jo after the two have a bit of an icy exchange at Grey Sloan. That's when Jo admits she's been dealing with some relationship problems with Alex, which has started to seep into her everyday work life.
"Alex hasn't been returning my calls. He says that he's going through something and he needs time, and if I didn't know better, I would think he was getting revenge for when I needed time. But I know he would never do that, so...," Jo nervously babbles on, unsure of how to proceed with her situation. "I'm sorry. I'm anxious and I..." "...Deflect when I'm anxious," Amelia jumps in, knowing exactly what Jo must be going through inside. "Me too."
This really is the first marker of a bigger conflict for Alex that forces him to remain out of Seattle, though it remains unclear whether it involves his mother's deteriorating health or if it's something else entirely that has amplified whatever internal struggles he's going through. It's no secret that Jo has desires to start a family, especially when she briefly took in an abandoned baby as a Safe Haven volunteer, but that doesn't seem to the root of whatever problem that leads Alex to continue to stay away. So, what could that "something" be?
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EXCLUSIVE: 'Grey's Anatomy' Star Justin Chambers Thinks a Meredith-Alex Romance 'Is Possible!'
On a professional level, Alex's absence continues to be addressed through other characters, namely Owen Hunt (Kevin McKidd) and Richard Webber (James Pickens Jr.), both of whom are employed alongside Alex at rival Seattle hospital, Pacific Northwest General Hospital (Pac-North). After Alex successfully recruited free agent Maggie Pierce (Kelly McCreary) to be the head of cardiothoracic surgery, news that Catherine Fox (Debbie Allen) has decided to buy and absorb Pac-North -- in effect, neutering their staff -- is something that also needs to be tied up.
According to Webber, Alex is "dealing with family issues in Iowa" and when he was informed of Catherine's dramatic plans for Pac-North, "He texted me a laugh until you cry emoji with a party hat on." Very on-brand for Alex Karev. The mystery continues.
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 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.
"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.