After months of skirting around Justin Chambers‘ abrupt exit, Grey’s Anatomy will finally answer everyone’s questions about what happened to Alex — and from the 30-second trailer released after Thursday’s blizzard episode, it’s going to be an emotional hour no matter how you slice it. Titled “Leave a Light On,” next week’s episode finds Meredith (Ellen Pompeo) and the other Grey Sloan doctors reflecting on the past, an ominous preview of what’s about to come.
The new trailer opens with an iconic shot from the Grey’s pilot in 2005, when Alex and the other hopeful interns step foot in an operating room at then-named Seattle Grace hospital. A montage of classic scenes from the show’s early seasons with Alex and the other OG Grey’s docs play through, while Meredith — in the middle of a surgery — desperately calls “her person” to persuade him to make his way back home to Seattle.
“There were five of us and now it’s just you and I and I can’t have it just be me,” Meredith tells her friend over the phone, referring to the original five Grey’s interns: Meredith, Alex, Izzie (Katherine Heigl), Cristina (Sandra Oh) and George (T.R. Knight).
In Thursday’s hour, Meredith texted her friend, alluding to the fact that she didn’t believe Alex was actually in Iowa. At the end of the episode, Meredith’s intuition proved right. Jo revealed that her husband had been keeping secrets from her about his true whereabouts — that he hadn’t actually been in Iowa caring for his mom. “He left me. I think he did,” Jo tearfully told Link (Chris Carmack). “I think he woke up one day and felt the need to escape his life and me. I called his mom. He wasn’t there. He had never been there. He left me and I can’t… I can’t breathe.”Showrunner Krista Vernoff addressed the sudden departure of Chambers, who played Alex for more than 15 seasons, for the first time in a February interview, promising fans that there would be “clarity” when it comes to what happened.
“It was a very careful threading of a needle, where we are giving a little bit of information and pain to Jo,” she said. “We’re, episode by episode, illuminating the story of where Alex is. And it takes us quite a few more episodes to get there and to give the audience clarity.”
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 rival Seattle hospital Pacific Northwest General Hospital (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.
His presence continues to be felt through other characters, namely Owen Hunt (Kevin McKidd) and Richard Webber (James Pickens Jr.), both of whom are employed alongside Alex at Pac-North. After Alex successfully recruited free agent Maggie Pierce (Kelly McCreary) to be the head of cardiothoracic surgery, Catherine Fox (Debbie Allen) decided to buy and absorb Pac-North — in effect, neutering their staff.
In a recent episode, Jo (Camilla Luddington) revealed to Amelia (Caterina Scorsone) that Alex — who had told everyone he was away in Iowa tending to his ailing mother — had stopped returning her phone calls and was “going through something” serious, needing time to figure his stuff out.
In a shocking move, Chambers announced in January that he was leaving Grey’s after playing Alex for more than 15 seasons, citing a desire to “diversify [his] acting roles.” The series’ 350th episode, which aired Nov. 14, was Chambers’ last appearance on the show.
“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.
Watch the nostalgia-filled teaser for next week’s farewell to Alex Karev below.