Meredith Grey officially has coronavirus. Patrick Dempsey confirmed speculation that Ellen Pompeo’s Grey’s Anatomy character is battling COVID-19 after he made an unexpected return to the series in a dream sequence during the season 17 premiere.
“I was like, what a great opportunity for people and how great it would be for the fans, really, to see everybody reunited in this sort of bizarre way,” the 54-year-old actor said on the Ellen DeGeneres Show on Wednesday, November 18. “And [showrunner Krista Vernoff] came up with this concept where I would come and visit [Meredith] in her COVID dream.”
Fans were surprised when Dempsey, who played Dr. Derek Shepherd for 11 seasons until his 2015 exit, showed up at the end of the November 12 premiere. During the episode, Meredith passed out in the parking lot of the hospital after working nonstop amid the COVID-19 crisis and reunited with her late husband on the beach.
“There have been studies about how intense our dream life has been. In the pandemic, people are having really intense dreams because of the lockdown,” Vernoff told Deadline earlier this month. “We’re not getting enough stimulation, and so, it’s happening in our dreams. So, it started as that. It started as, how do we give people some escape. I had this imagining of a beach motif throughout the season, and I called Ellen, and I said, what if we bring back, I don’t know, some dead character that you could dream of on the beach, that would be so fun for the fans. And she said, ‘Let’s get Patrick.’ Even in my most excitable dream life, that thought hadn’t occurred to me as an option, and there it was.”
After Pompeo called Dempsey to catch up, the actress pitched her former costar the idea and he was in.
“There are so many souls that we have lost right now so the idea of having angels around us is very comforting, at least to me,” he told Ellen DeGeneres on Wednesday, noting that “no one” besides Vernoff and Pompeo knew about his return until he showed up to set. “And then we were really concerned that someone would take a picture and it would get out somehow. But we managed to keep it a secret, which was pretty phenomenal. And the impact, the response, has been incredibly overwhelming and very moving.”
While Vernoff previously confirmed that Derek will appear in three more scenes during the season, Dempsey wasn’t sure about the episode count.
“That’s a good question. I’m not sure how many [episodes]. I know I’m throughout the season. He comes back to visit,” the actor said.
Grey’s Anatomy airs on ABC Thursdays at 9 p.m. ET.