It’s Big Solo Surgery Week on Grey’s Anatomy, and as usual our merry band of residents are all angling to fly solo for the first time. But even though Cristina was unanimously chosen by the attendings, last week’s inanely stupid debacle with the self-operating/mutilating interns has disqualified her from the running. So the Chief, eager to Teach A Lesson, makes Cristina choose the winner from among her peers. And because said interns are also banned from the OR, the winner will pick a fellow resident to scrub in as well.

Agonizing kiss-up spoilers ahead…

Separately, Cristina gets another assignment. Doctor Dixon (Mary McDonnell) is back, and the chief wants Cristina to spend the day with her as part of the ongoing effort to woo the brilliant cardiac surgeon with Asperger Syndrome to Seattle Grace.

Trying to rise above her ostracized-intern status, Lexie goes to Mark Sloan to get him to teach her something, which this week involves an operation he’s doing to rebuild a woman’s larynx and restore her ability to speak. Bailey, trying to get the feeling again for surgery and the excitement of practicing medicine (we learn, by the way, that she won the first solo surgery during her year), has read up on the procedure and volunteers to work with Sloan. The woman in question, Mrs. Patterson, is practically glued to her laptop and communicates with her husband via a series of Post-It notes. And the poor guy’s losing patience with it.

Two sisters, ages 15 and 16, end up in the ER because the 16-year-old was driving and texting and crashed her father’s car. Emma, the younger sister, has a broken leg, but the real problem — in between them screaming at each other at a shrill decibel achievable only by teenage girls — is that Holly, the older sister, ends up with a skull fracture. And just as Karev is rushing her off to CT to assess the damage, Emma yells "I hope you die!" Never a good omen. Which is borne out when the girl crashes on the CT table and starts leaking gray matter and blood from her nose and ears.

Cristina finds Dr. Dixon looking at the blank space on the surgery board — she wants to do a surgery, but Cristina finds it tough — or maybe too tiring — to try to explain the solo surgery contest. Dixon, however, catches on and notes Cristina’s abject misery over the situation, and tries to counsel her to just keep the decision factual and conforming to a series of criteria. Dixon and Cristina scrub in on Holly’s surgery, which goes south when she suffers a carotid dissection and comes out of surgery brain dead. It’s a heartbreaking situation that clearly affects everyone. Derek later laments to Meredith that the thing they never tell you when you become a doctor is that you’ll lose more patients than you can save. The death is wearing on him.

Dixon’s reaction is particularly fascinating. Asperger’s is a form of autism, which is on a spectrum itself, and I commend both the writers and Mary McDonnell for constructing a character that’s far more complex than other portrayals of autism we’ve seen. They could have really oversimplified it and gone "Rain Man," but they don’t. And while those nuances exist, the fact remains that Dixon’s relationship to the world and people in it is complicated and jarring. She tells a grieving Emma and their parents (quite rightly, but jarringly) that Holly’s gone and not coming back, and her organs could save other people’s lives. It’s clear that she’s responding to the situation in the regimented way that her mind processes facts, and she repeatedly states her case, but in a way that really upsets the grief-stricken family. She’s self-aware enough to realize that her manner has offended the family, and apologizes, and it’s an interesting moment when Meredith gently asks her to leave the room.

That’s the thing about this episode. Despite the fact that each resident, in his or her own annoying way (I’ll get to Izzie in a minute), goes to lobby Cristina for the solo surgery and it seems genuinely high school, it looks as though they’re beginning to grow up. They’re learning more and more that they know what they’re doing. Alex caught the skull fracture. Meredith works compassionately on Holly and Emma’s case, and helps Emma make peace with what she said and that the sisters love each other. George steps up and deals with the clinic when Izzie disappears, and finds a way to be concerned for her that’s quiet and mature rather than pestering and overwrought. Given how many mistakes we’ve seen them make, and how incompetent some of this season’s episodes have made them look, it’s nice to have a notion that these are talented young doctors who are learning and growing.

Getting back to high school for a minute, Callie’s exchanging flirtatious glances with Sadie and breathlessly talking to Sloan about it. Sloan, trying to do the stand-up thing and stay away from Lexie, starts snapping at her as a way to put a little distance between them. Then Sadie tips Lexie off to the painfully obvious: Sloan’s hot for her. Which is a thought that seems to greatly cheer Little Grey.

Izzie ups the high school quotient considerably when she goes to Cristina and instead of lobbying for the solo surgery, starts bragging about the amazing sex she’s having. Oh brother. Seriously — who cares? As she goes on and on about it to a bored Cristina, I’m overwhelmed with the urge to punch her in the face — which is a feeling I really haven’t had this season. Katherine Heigl not only has had better material to work with this season, but she’s also underplayed a little bit, which has made all the difference. Luckily, it’s really the only horrendous moment for Izzie during this episode — aside from the fact that George and others are noticing that she’s talking to herself (well, really talking to Denny). And it worries them.

Now, Denny: I like the fact that he’s basically attached to Izzie at the hip. Jeffrey Dean Morgan’s a charming actor, they have good chemistry and it’s like she has her own personal Topper following her around. But I’m really hoping that this plotline gets wrapped up soon. For the record, Truly, Madly, Deeply is one of my favorite movies. But even while she loves having the love of her life back, Nina eventually realizes that she has to move on. Sooner or later, this conceit has to end, because it only has so long a shelf life. And This one’s dangerously close to the sell-by date. Uncle already.

Ultimately, Cristina chooses Alex for the solo surgery. He made the best case — he talked through the necessary procedures (the surgery is a below-the-knee leg amputation for a patient with bone cancer), and he’s performed it on a cadaver and the surgery mannequin. Alex runs to tell Izzie, who’s holed up in the on-call room with Denny, asks her to scrub in with him, and tells her he loves her. Has Alex ever had so many lines all at once? The 180 he’s done recently seems a little too easy, but I’ll give it the benefit of the doubt. Alex panics at the last minute and pages Meredith to scrub in because he knows Izzie will flake on him, particularly now that he’s made himself vulnerable and freaked himself out even more. Meredith tells him to suck it up (in a very encouraging way), and Izzie shows up.

Meredith assumes she’s been overlooked because she and Cristina are fighting, and Cristina has to set her straight and note that unlike Meredith she has the ability to separate her personal and professional lives. A furious Cristina confronts her fellow residents in the gallery, saying that everyone was responsible for the intern madness, and she deserves the surgery. She barely keeps it together until she gets into the hallway when a sympathetic Hunt makes sure no one sees her cry. He takes her to the boiler room and they stand on some grate where the gust from the vent distracts her from everything else that’s going on. It’s a sympathetic, generous gesture from Hunt — and of course it gives them a dark room where they can kiss. Let me just reiterate my love for Hunt.

But things seem to be looking up. Running into Dr. Dixon, the Chief hopefully asks her whether or not she thinks she’s found a home at Seattle Grace. She turns on him. Dr. Yang, she says — you tortured her today, making her choose among her peers, some kind of emotional torture. Was that your intention? Yes, the Chief replies. She half smiles and asks whether the board can make her a better offer.

There’s another happy ending. After sending Mrs. Patterson’s distraught husband out for a walk or a drive after he nearly dissolves in frustration over his wife’s refusal to try out her new voice. Lexie goes in to see her, just one-on-one, and the woman ends up croaking out a miraculous "hi" — much to her astonishment and her husband’s joy.

And in the end, we get an "ew" moment too. Lexie turns up at Sloan’s apartment. He’s desperately trying to do the right thing and stay away from her, but ultimately he yields to her repeating "Teach me" as she removes articles of clothing, and they end up spending the night together. So much for promises about Little Grey.

What did you think? Did Cristina make the right call in picking Alex? Have you had just about enough of the Izzie/Denny storyline, even though you love getting to see Jeffrey Dean Morgan every week? Do you look forward to seeing more of Dr. Dixon?

Posted by:Lisa Todorovich