Sorry, But Derek Isn’t as Dreamy as We Remember in ‘Grey’s Anatomy’

The Big Picture

  • Derek Shepherd is one of the most popular characters in Grey’s Anatomy but he isn’t as dreamy as he was made out to be.
  • His treatment of his lovers, including Meredith, was often cruel and disrespectful.
  • Derek’s charm wore off early on, as his perpetual grumpiness and arrogance overshadowed his initial appeal as McDreamy.

Whether you’ve watched Grey’s Anatomy or not, you’ve likely heard of “McDreamy” or perhaps the famous debate of “McDreamy” VS “McSteamy.” The nickname for Derek Shepherd (Patrick Dempsey) has become synonymous with both the character and the series as a whole. Scoring the nickname early on in the series for his charm and devastatingly good looks, audiences were utterly entranced by Dr. McDreamy, as was Meredith Grey (Ellen Pompeo) — an intern to his attending status. Their relationship was controversial at the hospital, as relations between an attending and an intern is widely frowned upon, but fans ate up every moment between them. Despite some major ups and downs throughout Derek’s 11 Season run, Meredith and Derek — or “MerDer” as they’ve been affectionately dubbed by fans — persevered and came out on top of it all. Grey’s Anatomy hasn’t exactly been the same since Derek’s untimely and tragic death, and he is sorely missed. But with every rewatch I have a constant nagging thought: Is it possible that McDreamy isn’t as dreamy as we thought?

Greys Anatomy TV Show Poster

Grey’s Anatomy

A drama centered on the personal and professional lives of five surgical interns and their supervisors.

Release Date
March 27, 2005

Ellen Pompeo, James Pickens Jr., Chandra Wilson, Justin Chambers, Kevin McKidd, Jesse Williams, Patrick Dempsey

Main Genre


Derek Shepherd Was Not a Good Partner

Ellen Pompeo, Patrick Dempsey and Kate Walsh in Grey’s Anatomy Season 2

I know what you’re thinking, and I can hear the cries now, but let’s put the pitchforks down for a second. Derek is without a doubt one of the most pivotal parts of Grey’s Anatomy’s success — due in part to Patrick Dempsey’s charm as an actor. He’s not a bad character, but he’s often put on a pedestal that doesn’t always sit well. Multiple reasons lend to the perfect facade of Derek fading a bit on rewatches, and the biggest of them all is his treatment of his lovers. All of them, not just Meredith. For someone who is portrayed as this almighty dreamboat, he was a pretty crappy boyfriend and husband at times.

In Season 1, Derek is pretty much in the clear up until the finale. Most of the season is he and Meredith trying to hide their affection for one another, failing, and ultimately embracing their relationship despite what others may think. Their fairytale romance comes crashing down in the Season 1 finale when Addison Montgomery (Kate Walsh) comes to Seattle and drops a major bomb on Meredith (and viewers). She’s Derek’s wife, and she knows that Meredith has been “screwing her husband.” It was a total knife to the gut, but with Shonda Rhimes in the driver’s seat no one gets off scot-free. Season 2 wasted no time diving into the drama by having Addison take a position at Seattle Grace Hospital, keeping her around for an unknown period of time and thus becoming a thorn in MerDer’s side. Who would’ve guessed that she would be the one we were all rooting for by season’s end? I suppose Derek can get a little bit of a pass in the whole Addison situation since it was messy even before she found out about him and Meredith. But what he doesn’t get a pass for is his treatment of Meredith during this time — and honestly, he was pretty cruel to Addison as well.

After Derek and Addison decide to work on their marriage, Meredith attempts to move on with Finn (Chris O’Donnell) — or “McVet” as he’s often referred to. When Derek finds out Meredith slept with both George (T.R. Knight) and Finn, he furiously calls her out for doing so, going so far as to suggest she sleep with Alex (Justin Chambers) next, since he too likes to sleep around. Mind you, he and Meredith are over at this point, and he chose Addison. She throws this in his face with her iconic “you don’t get to call me a whore” speech, digging her heels in with the seething line “I make no apologies for how I chose to repair what you broke.” It’s a powerful moment, and it allows Meredith to take back the piece of her he still held onto. But even after her entire speech, he makes no move to apologize. He simply tells her that they’re over and walks off.

As if crudely criticizing her choices wasn’t enough, there’s one moment that was the breaking point for me, the moment that truly shattered the glass ceiling that is Derek Shepherd. After losing a patient, Derek begins to spiral, refusing to operate even when Chief Weber (James Pickens Jr.) asks. The Chief eventually comes to Meredith for help, hoping she can get through to him, but she says he just wants to be left alone, leading Weber to spoil the big surprise that Derek is planning to propose. And so, Meredith sets out to talk to Derek, who is drunk and angry. He tells her he’s not hiding, he’s quitting, and that she should know what that’s like because she wrote the book on quitting. She then tells him she knows there’s a ring, and his response is to take the ring out of his pocket, show it to her, and then promptly hit it with a baseball bat — sending it off into the woods never to be seen again. Yes, he was in a bad place mentally at the time, but it was such an unnecessarily cruel moment to add in, and it’s baffling that they ever managed to make their relationship work. It was so unhealthy at times, and often by McDreamy’s own hand.

Derek’s Charm Wore Off Early On

Image via ABC 

Listen, there are a lot of romance tropes out there, and among some of the most popular is the “grumpy x sunshine” trope, in which one half of a couple is a ball of joy and the other is far more broodish. But while Meredith Grey has never exactly been a ball of joy, Derek was certainly grumpy, perpetually so to the point that it just became annoying. The man was never happy, there was always something that angered him or set him off, and it slowly brought his dream-factor down every time. His moodiness was never endearing or really even explainable, he was just sort of angry a lot of the time. Especially in later seasons. That’s not to say he doesn’t have his good moments, because he certainly does, but once the awe of that first watch has faded, it’s hard not to notice all the times Derek is anything but McDreamy.

One of Derek’s most grating qualities was his ego. There’s no question Derek is a phenomenal surgeon — he wouldn’t be the head of neurosurgery if he wasn’t. He’s performed miracles on Grey’s Anatomy, and he’s earned every bit of praise he’s received as a doctor, but the problem is, he knows that he’s good, and he lets it get to his head. Derek is often arrogant, which perhaps is the kind of doctor you want on your case, someone who is confident in his skills and has a set plan, but as a friend, lover, or colleague he’s at the bottom of the list. Derek Shepherd will always be our McDreamy, and he’ll always be a beloved part of Grey’s Anatomy even if he’s not on the show anymore, but it’s time to admit that he isn’t as dreamy as we remember him to be. Grey’s Anatomy does get a slight pass given it premiered back in 2005 and times have most definitely changed since then, but it’s not devoid of criticism. We still love Derek for helping make the show what it is, and there’s always going to be a part of us that ships MerDer, but Cristina Yang (Sandra Oh) said it best: He is not the sun.

Grey’s Anatomy is available to stream on Netflix in the U.S.


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