In her brief “Grey’s Anatomy” appearance, Sarah Paulson plays quite a pivotal character: Dr. Ellis Grey, Meredith Grey’s mother. The “American Horror Story” actress plays a younger version of Ellis during a flashback in the Season 6 episode titled “The Time Warp.”
In the episode, Richard Webber (James Pickens, Jr.) — who once had an affair with Ellis — tells a story set in the early 1980s when he and Ellis were working together to help a patient with AIDS at a time when not much was known about the condition. In the flashback, we see the two of them face pushback from the patient who doesn’t want to admit to being gay, which leads to their superior putting them on probation after the patient threatens to sue for slander. Eventually, the patient admits he is gay and that Richard and Ellis were right about their conclusion that he has AIDS. They successfully perform surgery on the patient, but he ultimately dies eight months later when he comes back to the hospital with pneumonia.
The flashback also sees Ellis and Richard grappling with their affair. Ellis, notably, thinks that they should leave their respective spouses so they can be together, but Richard insists that he won’t be able to leave his wife. As “Grey’s Anatomy” fans likely know, Richard never does leave his wife, despite Ellis leaving her husband for Richard.
Unfortunately for “Grey’s Anatomy” viewers, Paulson appears in just one episode of the medical drama (via IMDb), but she still manages to make quite the impression with her turn as the younger Dr. Ellis Grey.