Grey's Anatomy may have ended with a cliffhanger last May, but the show has mostly given up on suspense, writes MSNBC's Linda Holmes. By and large, we know what's going down Thursday in the two-part Season Six premiere, "Good Mourning" and "Goodbye."
Even the titles give away the opening of the season.
Some lack of suspense is inevitable. It's tougher to hide whether actors are still under contract for a new season than a particular plot point. By early summer, it was well known that Katherine Heigl would be returning, and that T.R. Knight would not.
Possible twists aside, fans understand the casting news to mean that Izzie would live and George would die. The fact that George was badly injured to the point of being unrecognizable made it unlikely that he'd stage a miraculous recovery.
Even if he were to live, he doesn't seem likely to be in any condition to go anywhere right away. Either way, with Knight gone, the fallout from the resolution of George's crisis is very likely to dominate the first handful of episodes in Season 6.
While the show tried hard to ignore him last year, George O'Malley had close relationships with Izzie, Meredith, Callie, Bailey, Alex, Lexie, the Chief, and even fairly new doctor Owen, who encouraged and inspired him to join the military, where he formerly served.
The season opener underscores that his absence affects everyone.
Other stories await resolution, too. Meredith and Derek got married, albeit unofficially. Remember the Post-It wedding? Sure you do. It came after Alex and Izzie took Meredith and Derek's legal wedding and made it their own in the show's 100th episode.
Meanwhile, Owen and Cristina finally found their way through various hang-ups and problems, and seemed to be on the road to a functional romance. Not so fortunate was Dr. Bailey, who finally left her husband after he threw one too many ultimatums.
So where does the show go from here?Logistically speaking, they've got a major chunk of maternity leave to deal with this season, as Ellen Pompeo takes some time off. They're also giving Heigl some midseason leave while she shoots a movie, not to mention the fact that she just adopted a baby.
Clearly, centering the season around the love lives of Meredith and Izzie - not an unrealistic direction, based on where we left off - would be hard to manage.
The good news is that, for a lot of people, those are already some of the most patience-testing stories on the show. After all, less Meredith-McDreamy drama and less Izzie/Alex cancer sadness should open the door for characters who are nderutilized.
The season opener sets up a major professional crisis for the Chief. The same goes for Callie, for whom Grey's Anatomy has notoriously struggled to write for.
More than anything, though, the gap opens a space to deal more fully with the life of Miranda Bailey, who began as an intimidating, somewhat frightening presence and has matured into probably the most interesting person on the entire show.
In addition to the opportunities for existing characters, three new doctors - played by Nora Zehetner, Robert Baker, and Jesse Williams - will be added to the roster.
Attempts at freshening a sixth-season show are inevitable, but it has to be done delicately. With any luck, the writers will be smart enough to write for the strong characters they already have and incorporate new doctors into those stories.
Whatever viewers' levels of satisfaction with the specific resolutions of George and Izzie's flatline emergencies, there are going to be some major holes this season.
With Knight, Heigl and Pompeo gone, at least for certain periods of time, it will take a combination of new blood and a deepening of old friends to keep it interesting.