Izzie and Denny preparing pre-ghost sex

These 10 ‘Grey’s Anatomy’ Episodes Were Totally Dead on Arrival

With twenty seasons spanning almost two decades, it makes sense that not every episode of the long-running medical drama Grey’s Anatomy can be a winner.

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Grey’s Anatomy premiered on March 27, 2005. It follows the lives of the surgical interns, residents, and attending physicians at a fictional Seattle hospital, with particular focus on leading lady Meredith Grey (Ellen Pompeo). Fans often discuss our favorite moments from the series, but we don’t always address the duds … until now. Here are the ten worst episodes from a truly great show.

10. Season 16, episode 16: “Leave a Light On”

Izzy and Alex in Grey's Anatomy

Air date: March 5, 2020

Fans were initially divided over this episode, which sees the departure of Dr. Alex Karev (Justin Chambers) after 16 seasons. Chambers left the show abruptly mid-season, forcing the writers to come up with a plausible reason for his disappearance. As a result, the last time we physically see Alex on screen is in the season’s eighth episode, “My Shot,” which aired on November 14, 2019. He remains “missing” for seven long episodes before this one, when we finally learn where Alex went.

It turns out, Alex goes to Kansas to reunite with his ex, Izzie Stevens (Katherine Heigl). Since Heigl left the show in 2010, showrunners used archive footage and stand-in actresses in her place. In “Leave a Light On,” we learn that Izzie ended up using her frozen embryos to have children, and Alex decides to join her in Kansas to raise them together. All in all, it was an overly-tidy solution to a messy casting issue, but fans weren’t especially sad to see Alex go.

9. Season 13, episode 8: “The Room Where It Happens”

Meredith hugs two children while surgeons operate on a patient in the background

Air date: November 10, 2016

This might be the most boring Grey’s Anatomy episode ever written. Even great acting couldn’t save it from making the bottom-of-the-barrel list!

The episode revolves around a single surgery on a John Doe patient with a severe liver laceration. Meredith, Owen (Kevin McKidd), and Stephanie (Jerrika Hinton) are operating when Richard (James Pickens, Jr.) comes in. The three residents are exhausted after being awake and working for 48 hours, but Richard is fresh as a daisy after taking the afternoon off that day. They begin to work, and Richard comes up with the bright idea to “name” the patient so that it’s more than “just a sack of organs.” Doing so dredges up painful memories for all of the surgeons, leading to pointless flashbacks and bizarre hallucination scenes.

Honestly, they could have just skipped this whole episode without effecting any of the overarching story, which is exactly what most viewers do when re-watching the series.

8. Season 8, episode 13: “If/Then”

Dr. McSteamy carries Lexi in If/Then

Air date: February 2, 2012

This is what’s known as a “filler” episode, and as such there’s no actual character development or forward momentum for the plot. The premise is that Meredith is feeling grateful and happy that she and Derek (Patrick Dempsey) adopted baby Zola, and as she puts the child to bed her mind wanders to what could have been if everything was different.

Meredith daydreams that her mother Ellis (Kate Burton) never got Alzheimer’s and married Richard. Meredith herself is much less dour and cheerless since she’s engaged not to McDreamy, but to Alex. Instead of being besties with Cristina (Sandra Oh), she’s friends with April (Sarah Drew). As we see how different everyone’s lives would be, we realize they’re no happier in this alternate dimension than they are normally. So … what was the point, exactly?

7. Season 10, episode 8: “Two Against One”

Meredith and Stephanie examine a computer screen

Air date: November 7, 2013

It’s never easy to watch two of our favorite characters fight, especially since they’ve been each other’s “person” since episode one. That’s exactly what we have on our hands in this episode: Meredith and Cristina are fighting the entire time, with both acting selfish and immature at every turn.

Much of this season focuses on this push-pull relationship, preparing viewers for Oh’s departure in the season finale, “Fear (Of The Unknown). on May 15, 2014. In “Two Against One,” Meredith refuses to let Cristina borrow her new toy, a 3D printer, to save a baby’s life. Nice, huh? We can’t really blame Cristina for going behind her frenemy’s back to use it anyway.

6. Season 13, episode 20: “In The Air Tonight”

Meredith gives Riggs the side eye

Air date: April 13, 2017

Season 13 is widely regarded as one of the worst of the entire series. The storylines are lackluster at best, and the couple pairings are downright ludicrous. Fans hate seeing Owen with Amelia Shepherd (Caterina Scorsone) and watching Meredith courted by Nathan Riggs (Martin Henderson) after Derek’s death was unsatisfactory, to say the least. Here we have Meredith and Nathan trapped on an airplane together. First they (inexplicably) join the Mile High Club, then they have to switch into doctor mode when several passengers are badly injured by turbulence. It’s just … boring. And kind of annoying. And it doesn’t go anywhere. Yawn!

5. Season 7, episode 18: “Song Beneath the Song”

Callie holds hands over Arizona's as they watch surgery

Air date: March 31, 2011

Oh boy, here we go! Fans either loved the Grey’s Anatomy: Music Event or hated it, and I think it’s clear which side of that argument I landed on. It’s always a dicey proposition when a drama decides to make a musical episode, and even star Patrick Dempsey jokingly referred to this Shonda Rhimes-penned episode as “Glee M.D.”

If you adore musicals, you might just love “Song Beneath the Song.” But if you’re normal (kidding!), you probably found it to be a tad on the cringe side, although you’ve got to hand it to the cast for trying their best. The action surrounds Callie Torres (Sara Ramirez) as she fights for her life after a horrific car accident with her partner, Arizona Robbins (Jessica Capshaw). Callie hallucinates that she’s standing next to her injured body, and she starts singing. Then other doctors join in, recapping popular songs like The Fray’s “How To Save a Life” and Snow Patrol’s “Chasing Cars.” It’s … a lot.

4. Season 13, episode 11: “Jukebox Hero”

Doctors stand over patient on a gurney

Air date: February 2, 2017

Ah, season 13 … we meet again. Are we sensing a pattern yet?

In this total placeholder of an episode, Meredith spends all her time searching for Alex, who has been asleep in her bed the whole time. The new residency program leader and education consultant, Eliza Minnick (Marika Dominczyk), continues to be a pest who nobody likes. I could go on, but suffice to say that nothing really happens in this episode. Just skip it and use the time to do literally anything else!

3. Season 17, episode 6: “No Time For Despair”

Meredith lying in bed wearing a face mask

Air date: December 17, 2020

This season, Meredith caught COVID-19, proving that we couldn’t even escape hearing about the pandemic while watching TV during our precious downtime. The character spent most of the season fighting for her life while in a dream-like state. Later, critics said what we all thought: we turn to entertainment to escape the horrors of the everyday. During the pandemic, those horrors were so abundant that it was often overwhelming, so watching Meredith struggle week after week was simply a massive bummer.

This episode was the most boring of all the bummers. Not much happened—Meredith was still sick, and none of the other characters did much. Sad and boring? No, thank you.

2. Season 11, episode 21: “How To Save a Life”

Derek peers into a car after an accident

Air date: April 23, 2015

We all know that this show loves to make its viewers cry, but this episode was a new low, even for them. With very little warning, one of our favorite and most long-running characters, Dr. Derek Shepherd, met a sudden and very tragic end while helping victims of a car accident. Shepherd is rushed to a different hospital, where a mistake is made and he is declared brain dead. Meredith is left to pick up the pieces … and so are we.

Quite simply, this could be the best performance of Ellen Pompeo’s career, yet it still ranks up there as one of the worst episodes simply because they killed Derek. Many fans simply could get past the perceived betrayal from showrunners.

1. Season5, episode 9: “In the Midnight Hour”

Izzie and Denny preparing pre-ghost sex

Air date: November 20, 2008

As promised, I saved the worst for last! This is a bit of a throwback since it happened way back in season 5, but who could ever forget the infuriatingly annoying subplot in which Izzie falls in love with terminal patient Denny (Jeffrey Dean Morgan)? As if that wasn’t bad enough, the couple engaged in what can only be referred to as “ghost sex” in this episode, which left fans with a serious case of second-hand embarrassment. Why did they write that scene? Why? We may never know.

All 20 seasons of Grey’s Anatomy are currently streaming on Hulu.

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Beverly Jenkins
Beverly Jenkins (she/her) is a contributing writer for The Mary Sue. She writes about pop culture, entertainment, and web memes, and has published a book or a funny day-to-day desk calendar about web humor every year for a decade. When not writing, she's listening to audiobooks or watching streaming movies under a pile of her very loved (spoiled) pets.