Isaiah Washington Grey's Anatomy

Isaiah Washington has spent the past seven years moving on from the incident that got him ousted from his role as Preston Burke on the hit medical series Grey’s Anatomy. But as the woman he acted opposite says goodbye to the show, Washington is making an unexpected return to the epicenter of the controversy that sent his career spinning in a different direction.

The Hollywood Reporter announced March 6 that Washington was set to make an appearance in a May episode of the show to commemorate the end of Sandra Oh’s ten-season run as Dr. Cristina Yang.

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On Grey’s Anatomy, Washington played a surgeon who became involved with Oh’s character, and later left her at the altar at the end of Season Three. But the reason he actually disappeared was because the producers elected not to renew his contract after using a homophobic slur to describe his then-closeted co-star on the show, T.R. Knight. Despite the actor’s best efforts to apologize and recant his remarks, he soon left the show, a decision that was difficult for the producers as well as Washington.

According to an interview in October 2013, showrunner Shonda Rhimes struggled to work on the next two seasons because of the fallout from the incident. “It was hard for me to write the show,” she told THR. “Seasons four and five were difficult because I was in a dark place after the press frenzy that descended on us.”

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But in a statement made concurrent with the announcement of Washington’s return, Rhimes stressed the importance of his appearance on the show to the completion of Cristina Yang’s story. “It’s important to me that Cristina’s journey unfolds exactly as it should,” she said. “Burke is vital to that journey — he gives her story that full-circle moment we need to properly say goodbye to our beloved Cristina Yang.”

That said, Burke literally stood up Yang at the altar in his final episode, which should make for potent drama as the two of them attempt to resolve unfinished business in their relationship. In which case, it’s hard to know what will be more difficult for fans of the show to forgive – Washington’s treatment of his co-star, or Burke’s treatment of his fiancée.

But regardless of Washington’s reception on the show, the actor has participated in a number of acclaimed and unique projects recently, including last year’s Blue Caprice, and the upcoming drama Blackbird. With a considerable body of work to draw upon prior to his time on Grey’s, including roles in Out of Sight, Bulworth and Clockers, as well as philanthropic work in Africa, the appearance suggests that Washington is coming full circle. both with his life and his career.

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