Come back to Grey’s Anatomy, Isaiah Washington. All is forgiven, sort of.
According to The Hollywood Reporter, Isaiah Washington, who created the role of Dr. Preston Burke on the long-running medical drama, will make a surprise return to reprise his character more than seven years after he was fired from the show.
ABC hasn’t announced a specific date for Washington’s return to Grey’s Anatomy but the episode is expected to air during the May sweeps period.
If you’ll recall, Washington was summarily dismissed from Grey’s third season way back in 2007 following on-set clashes and making homophobic slurs against co-star T.R. Knight, who had not yet come out as gay at the time.
The reason behind Washington’s return: Dr. Burke was formerly engaged to the seminal Grey’s character Dr. Cristina Yang, played by Canadian actress Sandra Oh, who is departing the series at the end of its current 10th season. And proper emotional closure between the ex-couple seemed the right thing to do.
“It’s important to me that Cristina’s journey unfolds exactly as it should,” said Grey’s creator and showrunner Shonda Rhimes in a statement. “Burke is vital to that story – he gives her story that full-circle moment we need to properly say goodbye to our beloved Cristina.”
The return of Washington is certainly much quieter than his departure.
Shortly after his homophobic slurs came to light in 2007, the actor was immediately castigated by his fellow cast members. Several LGBT organizations demanded his dismissal and the story raged for days in both tabloid and mainstream media.
Washington immediately apologized, of course, and said his behaviour was “unacceptable in any context.” He also commended Knight for his courage in publicly acknowledging his sexual orientation; not that Knight had much choice in the matter.
By the same token, ABC and Rhimes had little choice but to fire Washington.
Rhimes recalled the dark period following Washington’s dismissal during a recent interview with The Hollywood Reporter in recognition of the show’s 200th episode.
“It was hard for me to write the show,” she said. “Seasons four and five were difficult because I was in a dark place after the press frenzy that descended on us.”
Unavoidably, Washington’s high-profile exit did not endear him to the TV world and his acting career flatlined in the years to follow. Now 50, he was recently cast in The CW sci-fi series The 100.
But like the prodigal son, Washington is being allowed to return to the show that once cast him out for bad behaviour. The tricky part: How will he return to Grey’s?
Viewers last saw Dr. Burke in the third-season finale, or rather didn’t see him, after he stood up Cristina at the altar on their wedding day. When Cristina returned to their home, she realized that Burke simply disappeared without a trace or an explanation.
Once again, Isaiah Washington has some explaining to do.