Whether it be a romance for the ages, a tragic goodbye, or just an M. Night Shyamalan-esque twist, Shonda Rhimes is undoubtedly the queen of the screen in this golden age of television. With a bountiful crop of medical, murder, and legal dramas under her belt, is there any stopping that Shondaland roller coaster?
Launching with the first season of Grey’s Anatomy back in 2005, Shondaland has become one of the best production houses out there. With other shows like Private Practice, How to Get Away With Murder, and Scandal, audiences can always count on Shonda to give some great water cooler talk for the next day.
While Rhimes may be ending her 15-year deal with ABC, the future is even brighter thanks to a lucrative contract with streaming giant Netflix. Add this to Grey’s Anatomy still going strong in season 14 with an upcoming fire station spin-off, and things couldn’t be better for Shondaland.
However, are things always rosy in paradise? Even someone like Rhimes can drop the ball with a dodgy plot, push the envelope too far with shocking violence, or even have us screaming “how could you?” at the screen when our favorite character is sent to an early grave.
With that in mind, here are 16 Times Shondaland Shows Went Too Far.
16 Derek's Death - Grey's Anatomy
Every show has its Prince Charming, and for the halls of the Grey Sloan Memorial Hospital, that was Patrick Dempsey's Derek “McDreamy” Shepherd. Sadly, it was more of a McNightmare than a McDream when Dempsey bowed out of Grey’s Anatomy in a season 11 shocker. After surviving gunshots and plane crashes, Derek finally met his maker during the aftermath of a deadly car accident when saving others - how noble of him.
Rhimes says she had decided it was going to go one of two ways - Derek leaves Meredith or Derek passes away. Defending that she couldn’t have us invest 11 years into this relationship to just throw the love away, Rhimes opted for that tired and tested Grey’s formula of death comes to doctors.
However, with the show plodding along and seeming to run out of tragedies for Meredith to face, did Derek’s death really have the impact it could’ve earlier in the show? As another drawn-out death for a fan-favorite, it all felt a bit like we’d been here before. Some still argue that Derek’s death was the definitive moment that Grey’s jumped the shark.
15 Olivia Kills Andrew - Scandal
Living in the shadow of President Grant is never easy for anyone, but the position of Vice President isn't a particularly pleasant one on Scandal. While Sally Langstrom has had a rough ride, it is nothing compared to Andrew Nichols. After his kidnapping of Olivia in season 4, the former VP returned for one last stand in season 5.
Using that classic Scandal guise of blackmail, even Andrew’s ex-lover Mellie couldn’t calm him down - nor could another botched attempt on his life by Huck - so it was up to Olivia to take matters into her own hands.
After his tormenting her over the kidnap, something snapped inside Olivia, and it is safe to say that Ms. Pope went a bit off the rails. Olivia proceeded to smash Andrew's head in with a metal chair.
It was all a bit confusing, and the events leading up to it didn’t seem to fit with the "white knight" Olivia that fans love. However, while battling her demons and some serious PTSD, Olivia was the perfect candidate to enact Andrew's brutal bashing.
14 Addison Goes To Sam - Private Practice
Addison Montgomery - ex-wife of McDreamy - spun off from Grey's Anatomy into her own series, Private Practice. The show’s later years saw Ad battling with the two men in her life as well as longing for a child.
Arriving in the season 4 finale, Benjamin Bratt’s Jake Reilly posed an interesting new arc for Private Practice. Originally introduced as some mysterious stranger in a supermarket, Jake quickly swept Addison off her feet and invited her on a long date to Fiji. However, Fiji wasn't meant to be, and with the airport gate in her sights, Addison did a last-minute U-turn. Running back to former flame/fling, she hopped into bed with Taye Diggs’ Sam just in time for the credits to roll.
It turned out that Jake had some pretty handy skills as an IVF doctor - how convenient - but fans would have to wait until season 5 to find that out. Marrying your med school friend and neighbor is a little too easy for Shondaland, and pretty much anyone could tell you that Addison would end up with the suave Jake rather than safe old Sam.
13 Mama Pope Is A Terrorist - Scandal
After stealing secrets from the CIA and faking her own terrorist plot aboard a plane, Maya Lewis was left to rot in prison for her crimes.
It turned out that Fitz had been ordered to shoot down the plane amidst Maya’s claims it had a bomb on board - it cost 329 people their lives and Maya her freedom. She was imprisoned for the next 22 years, as everyone agreed that it was much easier to tell the world that Maya the terrorist had gone down with the flight. However, as the mother of Olivia Pope, Maya was always going to be determined. The fiery femme fatale would stop at nothing - including having a wrist sandwich for lunch - to see her daughter again.
No one in Shondaland has a particularly “normal” relationship with their parents, but few are as unhinged as Maya. Olivia may be in a less than healthy relationship with her mother, but just wait until you meet Mr. Pope.
12 Bonnie Kills Rebecca - How to Get Away With Murder
Season 1of How to Get Away With Murder led to pretty much everyone killing or framing someone, and it is a wonder anyone was left alive heading into season 2. While two of the three big murders had been solved by the first series finale, who killed Rebecca Sutter was one that would continue to haunt the show’s fans. Short answer, it was Bonnie.
With the list of suspects being the entire cast, it eventually came out that Annalise's faithful gopher had done the deed in Annaliese’s cellar. Sure, Wes’ girlfriend/neighbor may have been a shady character, but no one deserves a bag over their head and bowing out to Bonnie’s calm mutterings of “You have to go.”
There was the possible motive that Bonnie was besotted with Sam Keating and offed Rebecca, believing that she killed Lila Stangard - it was actually Sam/Frank - while others have come to accept that Bonnie got rid of Rebecca as a twisted way to win back Annaliese’s approval. To this day, people are still more than a little confused by Bonnie’s true intentions, and we may never really get to the bottom of it.
11 George Is John Doe - Grey's Anatomy
No one could ever forget the heart-wrenching moment that a generic John Doe scrawled “007” on Meredith’s hand. Well, if none of the cast believed the mystery patient was actually T.R. Knight’s fan-favorite George O’Malley, why would we?
It transpired that the John Doe was actually O’Malley after he saved a woman from in front of a moving bus. Unrecognizable to even his own colleagues, the Season 5 finale ended with the tragic revelation that the doctors were failing to save one of their own before their eyes. Thankfully, dying with as much compassion as he had lived, George’s final act of kindness was the ability to donate his organs.
Rhimes was a master of the sleight of hand, luring audiences into the false sense of security that George was heading off to his new life as a trauma surgeon in the army. Given his last day off to spend with his family, George walked out the doors of the hospital to escape whatever horrors were presumably coming to that episode of the medical drama. If only it had stayed that way!
10 Papa Pope Is The Mystery Man - Scandal
Scandal viewers' jaws were on the floor at the reveal that the CIA’s clandestine B613 was actually headed up by Olivia’s father. As Olivia was pulled into a blacked-out limo in the Season 2 finale, the shocked utterance of “Dad,” was pure Shondaland magic that crossed the line into lunacy that worked.
Since his introduction, Rowan/Eli/Command has become one of the most interesting characters to grace Scandal, and even better, no one saw it coming. With his hatred for Fitz and those epic Shakespearean monologues, actor Joe Morton definitely deserves the Emmy he won for the part.
One of the best father-daughter relationships on TV, Olivia and Eli have battled for power as she tries to take down B613 and he tries to keep pulling the strings behind the scenes. Apart from making a mean Sunday roast and killing kids with meningitis, let’s take a moment to appreciate just how much work Eli puts into running his own shady spy ring.
9 Wes Shoots Annalise - How To Get Away With Murder
In a rare case of Annalise Keating being the victim rather than the perpetrator, her shooting was a major mystery in the show's second season.
The mansion mystery was solved under the reveal that Alfred Enoch’s puppy-eyed Wes was the one who pulled the trigger and left flashforward Annalise bleeding out for the first half of the season.
Annalise's complicated plan needed one of the Keating Five to shoot their mentor in the leg to implicate Catherine Hapstall in the murder of Emily Sinclair. After her Oscar-worthy 911 call that Catherine had shot her, Wes stepped up to the plate to do the deed, but only after Annalise revealed the truth about Rebecca's fate. An enraged Wes aimed a little higher and went straight for the gut.
There also came the double reveal of “Christophe” thanks to Annalise’s whispered words and Wes’ backstory. There are many people out there who might want to shoot Annalise, but driving Wes to do such an act was relatively unthinkable. As the credits rolled, there was no denying that the midseason finale hadn’t lived up to its title of "What Did We Do?"
8 Meredith's Other Sister - Grey's Anatomy
After so many years, we get that it may be hard to think of new storyline, but seriously, how many of Meredith Grey siblings are knocking around out there? Just as one member of the family is sent packing, another mysterious relative comes walking down that hospital corridor and usually with a medical degree.
We briefly focused on Molly, followed by those brilliant Lexie years, and then finally came then Maggie bombshell. As the biological daughter of Richard Webber and Ellis Grey, Maggie’s arrival was one of the soapiest subplots to ever hit the show. Thankfully, from a bitter start of sibling rivalry, at least the girls seem to be getting on these days.
With Ellis giving Maggie up way back in 1983 and her spending her adult years searching for her real parents, it was just as tragic as you would expect Grey’s to be. However, as a brand new main character who had come specifically to Grey Sloan, it didn’t take Derek Shepherd neurosurgery skills to work this one out. The family tree seems full for now, but never say never on Grey’s. Who’s next: Mad Old Uncle Billy who was lost at war?
7 Sally kills her husband - Scandal
Scandal threw a curveball when VP Sally Langston went from being a holier-than-thou Christian to killing her cheating husband in season 3.
Just like Fitz, Daniel Douglas Langston was known for his wandering eye. With Sally revealing this to the President when his name was dragged through the mud over Olivia, we should’ve been able to spot the signs that Sally was harboring a grudge toward Dan. However, things really came to a head when Cyrus planned to force Sally to abandon her presidential campaign. Ironically, Daniel Douglas was caught sleeping with Jake, Cyrus attempted to blackmail Sally, and everyone’s schemes fall apart.
At first calmly confronting her husband, Sally murdered him when he told her it was over. Saying she had committed a “sin,” Sally called Cyrus to implicate everyone in what just went down. Rhimes decided to let the devil get the better of Sally, and she has never been the same since. It was a bold move, but it worked in the show's favor as Sally literally stabbed her husband in the back.
6 Wes Is The Victim Of The Fire- How To Get Away With Murder
Some shows may save their biggest shocks for the finale, but HTGAWM likes to pack a punch in the middle of its run. The first half of season 3 dealt with uncovering the identity of the charred corpse under the sheet, but Wes Gibbons was possibly the least likely candidate.
The episode "Who's Dead?" used some nifty timeline manipulation to lure fans into the assumption that the Keating Five would live to fight another day, but Wes was destined for an unplanned BBQ at Annalise’s house. While we all mourned Nate Lahey, Wes’ life had come to a particularly grisly end.
Giving easily the best twist in the show’s shocking run, Wes under the sheet goes down in the history of dramatic cast departures. To kill off such a good-hearted character who had already suffered so much in his life and was finally reaching a shot at happiness seemed exceptionally cruel.
5 Addison Gets Her Baby - Private Practice
After years of trying to for her own little red-head, why did Shondaland give Addison Montgomery the baby she always longed for?
There was something strong - but at the same time emotionally vulnerable - about Dr. Montgomery’s inability to have children and going it alone. After her failed marriage to Derek Shepherd, Addison’s fling with Mark Sloan led to her not only falling pregnant, but having an abortion, and ultimately losing her chance of having a child. As we moved over to Private Practice, the whole Addison and kids thing became the crux of the show.
After multiple tries and fails, plus Sam saying he didn’t want more kids, Addison eventually adopted baby Henry. It is up in the air whether a move into motherhood was really what fans wanted for Addison, but it definitely forced her to grow up. However, given that rare Shondaland happy ending, you can’t complain too much.
4 Fitz kills Verna - Scandal
Not every TV granny is all knitting and Betty White. Scandal’s Verna Thornton became a dangerous player in season 2.
While Fitz Grant usually kept his hands out of the muck, the midseason finale went where few shows would. The President killed an old lady with a pillow. And after she helped rig an election in his favor, no less.
The real motive behind smothering an already dying Supreme Court Justice was Fitz learning that Verna who had ordered the assassination on him. Despite throwing Huck under the bus and betraying Olivia to save her own skin, it was Verna who had hired Becky to take out Fitz.
Verna's cancer may have already put her on death's door, but it that rare glimmer of ruthlessness, Fitz decided he wasn’t going to wait for father time to take her away.
3 All Of Off The Map
When Shondaland works, it works, but when it doesn’t, it’s best to give up. Although Rhimes is truly a master of the medical drama, plonking a bunch of doctors in the South American jungle in Off the Map didn’t quite match the sparkling halls of Seattle Grace.
Stick in all the sweaty encounters and dangerous beasts you want, but Shondaland should’ve left leave ABC jungle drama to LOST. Even with an impressive cast of pre-Hannibal Caroline Dhavernas and a pre-Grey’s Martin Henderson, the spiritual journey of what brought the doctors to South America was too out there for most. Even the classic tropes of brooding long-haired doctor seducing the shy new girl didn’t gel here.
Even with signs that the end was near, Shonda and her partners-in-crime still left things on a cliffhanger. Those few who stuck with Off the Map for its thirteen episodes were forever left in the dark.
There is some solace to be taken, though. Off the Map was bulldozed to make way for Scandal - and thank your lucky stars that it was.
2 Mark Sloan's Extended Goodbye - Grey's Anatomy
That whole season 8 plane crash was a huge arc itself. It altered the entire dynamic of Grey's Anatomy forever. With news that Chyler Leigh and Eric Dane were both leaving Shondaland, it was pretty much a given that it would be in a body bag.
After sustaining life-threatening injuries in the crash, Mark was eventually turned off life support after 30 days in accordance with his will. Through various videotapes, Mark’s life was displayed for Shondaland fans to weep all over. Given McSteamy’s mellowing from the arrogant sleaze that we first met, it was amazing to see how far he had come in his time.
Dangling a carrot in front of us, Grey’s even showed Mark's miraculous recovery. Sadly, Sloan revealed that he knew it was just a momentary reprieve before his death. That being said, the rugged lothario did at least manage to pass his wisdom to Jackson with, “When you love someone, tell them" - wise words indeed.
1 Olivia And Fitz's Affair - Scandal
Once thought to be a generic show about a hotshot crisis manager and her team of gladiators, Scandal eventually became one of the craziest shows out there. Like some sort of gritty West Wing, the earliest twist was that Kerry Washington’s Olivia Pope was actually knocking boots with Tony Goldwyn's Fitz Grant. The pilot ended with that “Sweet Baby” reveal before Olivia and Fitz locked lips.
Notably, the show’s sixth episode revealed a convoluted past between Pope and Grant alongside the evolution of their affair. After telling the presidential candidate he needed to appear more in love with his wife, it all made sense that Pope was embroiled in her own scandal with Fitz. It was only the beginning, and with sordid sex tapes and campaign firings, the whole story of Scandal has always focused on the couple.
However, given that the affair twist came so early on, you can’t help but think it may have been better saved for some sort of season finale. All these years later, we're still going through a will-they-won’t-they with Olivia and Fitz. Why fire the big guns so early?
When do you think Shondaland overstepped the mark? Sound off in the comments below
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