'Grey's Anatomy' Season 16 Episode 16: Farewell, Dr. Karev (RECAP)

Grey's Anatomy, Alex Karev
Spoiler Alert
Kelsey McNeal/ABC

[Warning: The below contains MAJOR spoilers for Season 16, Episode 16 of Grey’s Anatomy, “Leave a Light On.”]

Remember how we all wanted closure for Alex and Izzie’s storyline after they abruptly split 10 seasons ago? Maybe we should have been careful what we wished for. Alex and Izzie’s happy ending came at Jo’s expense in Grey’s Anatomy Season 16, Episode 16—a.k.a. March 5’s “Leave a Light On.”

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As with the best plot twists, Alex's decision feels both surprising and inevitable, and for this fan, the show stuck an impressive landing.

We knew since last week that this would be Alex’s farewell episode, and we knew that we had already seen Justin Chambers’ final appearance on the ABC drama. And sure enough, we never saw Alex on screen this week, save for the episode’s many flashbacks. But Justin Chambers was heard if not seen: The actor narrated nearly the entire episode as Alex bid farewell to his closest friends at Grey Sloan through handwritten letters.

As the episode starts, Jo (Camilla Luddington), Bailey (Chandra Wilson), Meredith (Ellen Pompeo), and Richard (James Pickens Jr.) all get a letter, with Alex telling each one of them that he’s not returning to Grey Sloan.

As Mer reads her note with tears in her eyes, Alex tells her that she was always the one who set him straight, but he doesn’t want to be set straight this time. He’s with Izzie now and he’s staying with her. (Shock #1!)

Turns out, Alex contacted Izzie when he was rounding up letters in Meredith’s defense when Mer was in danger of losing her medical license. He was always curious to know how she was, and Mer’s trial gave him the perfect opportunity to reach out. He was surprised to hear a child’s voice on the other end of the line, though.

And that’s when Izzie told him that she has 5-year-old twins, Alexis and Eli, and they’re his babies. (Shock #2!)

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Dr. Karev is out, and not since Jessica Capshaw and Sarah Drew's Season 14 departures have Grey's Anatomy fans been so upset.

Remember those embryos Izzie froze all those years ago, the ones that Jo learned about in Season 12? Izzie finally used them. And the twins are game-changers for Alex. He went to visit the Izzie and the kids on her farm in Kansas, where she’s working as a surgical oncologist, and he never looked back.

“I love Jo,” he tells Meredith. “Deeply. Still. I think I always will. And if it was just about two women I love, I’d choose my wife. You know I would.”

He also tells Mer not to come to Kansas to try to bring him back to Seattle, saying it’s not his home anymore. But he also says he misses her and hopes she’ll come to visit them all someday.

Next up, we hear Alex’s letter to Jo. He apologizes for not breaking this news in person. “It’s officially the worst thing I’ve ever done,” he says. But he has his reasons. He says he can’t miss another second of his kids’ lives. And he can’t face her or look her in the eyes.

And yes, he’s breaking up with Jo. In fact, he already signed his side of the divorce papers. He left everything to her, including his shares at Grey-Sloan. “I hope you find someone so much better than me,” he tells her. “I don’t know how to end this. I don’t want to. Goodbye.”

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In Alex’s letter to Bailey, he thanks her for teaching him and supporting him all those years and for treating him like family. He says he could never repay her, no matter how long he stayed at the hospital. He praises her having such high standards and for handing him off to other teachers with equally high standards. (Shout out to Arizona!) And he reveals he’s living with Izzie and their two children. (Bailey’s reaction to that part of the letter is priceless.) He concludes the letter by telling her that he loves her.

After 50 or so minutes of watching these characters reading their letters and watching flashbacks from seasons past, we finally get a few new scenes at the end of this week’s episode. Richard talks to his AA group about the news, saying that he wanted to tell Alex that he’s making a mistake. But he understands, especially since he’d give anything to have watched Maggie grow up. Above all, though, he just wanted to say goodbye to his student, his colleague, his friend. And as Richard finishes his monologue at the AA meeting, he grasps his hand to stop it from trembling.

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The abrupt departure of Justin Chambers is just the latest in a long succession of cast member exits from the ABC drama.

Meanwhile, Bailey tells the news to Ben, who spent the night on their sofa after Bailey impulsively brought foster kid Joey home. By way of explanation, Bailey draws parallels between Joey’s story and Alex’s. “[Alex] survived his home, his family, his foster homes, and he became a man, a fine surgeon, and now a father, by luck, by chance,” she tells Ben. “Joey’s future shouldn’t be a matter of chance. A child’s future shouldn’t be a matter of luck.”

Ben, to his credit, is fine with giving Joey a home. He just wanted to be included in the conversation—especially since both he and Bailey have a history of rash decisions. (“You change careers like you change sweaters,” Bailey tells him.)

And back at Grey Sloan, Link (Chris Carmack) hovers as Jo finishes reading her letter from Alex. But she’s not paralyzed by heartbreak. She gets up and starts preparing for her day at the hospital.

“You’re my hero,” Link says.

Jo’s response is succinct: “Mine, too.”

Grey’s Anatomy, Thursdays, 8/7c, ABC