Friday, February 20, 2009

ER, "The Beginning of the End": Welcome back, Carter

Spoilers for last night's "ER" coming up just as soon as I drink some mushrooms...
"It's like Bizarro ER." -Carter
No, John, it's exactly like "ER," in that they had to go and give you a serious illness (requiring dialysis) so you can continue your transformation into the new Mark Greene, sufferer of a thousand tragedies. Sigh...

I was actually rather enjoying Noah Wyle's return until then. His last few years on the show came during the period when I had kicked the "ER" habit (I had to go to Wikipedia to figure out that Joshua Carter was his and Kem's stillborn son), and unlike some of the other returnees in this victory lap season, Carter was around long enough to have relationships with several of the main characters and not just the nurses or Jerry and Frank. The scene where he and Sam briefly commiserated about Luka and Abby finding happiness without them was very nicely-done, I thought. But if they just brought him back so we could watch him die slowly, well... that's the sort of thing that drove me from the show back in the later Carter years.

The rest of the episode was fine, in that almost shockingly understated style "ER" has adopted over the last few seasons. (Kind of hard to believe we used to call this show the medical equivalent of an action movie, isn't it?) I'm always glad to hear my old high school classmate Pete Yorn's music in a mainstream show (his "Crystal Village" was the song on the CD Ray burned for Neela), and both Brenner and Banfield are both much more appealing after the inevitable softening of their characters. If the show was going to be around longer than this year, it might give me hope that the producers would finally figure out that it's not optimal to introduce a new character as a complete jerk and hope the audience grows to like them later.

Of course, after that final scene, it looks like you can't teach an old "ER" new tricks.

What did everybody else think?

35 comments:

Anonymous said...

I think that Carter's kidney problems are somewhat appropriate, considering the attack nine years ago (to the day - Valentine's Day in the "ER" then and now) and that he has been working in Africa where is not in the best of conditions. I hope the story turns out positively though.
I also liked the references to Mark (by Banfield to Carter), Doug and Carol (by Gates to Carter), and Luka and Abby (by Carter to Sam).

Dan Coyle said...

Also bad about those years: Thandie Newton's ATROCIOUS acting.

Anonymous said...

I think Carter's return was nicely handle but I'm not too sure about the whole kidney thing. For one thing, it's a treatable condition and it can be fix with a transplant. Two, it's not what ER needs right now, seven episodes from the end. The whole Mark Greene's painful and slow death has already been done.

On other hand, I'm still waiting for an eppie packed with action: it seems that, along the years, we've been given less and less of that (remember Exodus ?)

Anonymous said...

I think Carter is there for a transplant.

Lizbeth said...

ER was one of my favorite shows for so long. But after the soap opera drama of Sam and her abusive husband I stopped watching (I still can't stand the kid who plays her son).

But I came back this year because I'm such a sucker for the old-timers and want to see how they work in their returns.

Like you Alan, I was annoyed by the ending. Why must poor Dr. Carter come home to suffer??

Those doctors in that ER are cursed I tell you. They're sicker than the general public, or they suffer horrible tragedies (losing limbs, being blown up, stabbed) or their spouses and offspring die tragically. Clearly, that hospital has some bad energy.

Too bad Sam's kid miraculously survived his trauma. LOL.

Lizbeth said...

Also, Alan, I too had to run to Wikipedia to fill in the gaps for the last couple of seasons. I wasn't even sure Carter ever married Kem (I thought she had died).

Tara said...

I enjoyed Carter and Sam's little discussion about Abby and Luka as well - made me happy to see those two take a moment to reflect on the fact that they're both miserable and alone, while Abby and Luka are happy together in Boston just as God - or rather Zabel - planned it.

amysusanne said...

Like someone commented above, I think (or at the very least, am hoping) that Carter is there for treatment/transplant and not so that we can all end the series by watching him die. I was initially worried that all the old timers were going to be returning to put him in a coffin, but when they commented on the Carter Center last night it occurred to me that maybe they can get them back to see Carter and/or deal with Carter's illness without him actually kicking the bucket.

It was nice to see both Carter and Wyle back, but I'm never not suspicious of the writers and their love of the pointless melodrama.

Andrew said...

Admit it, Alan. Considering that the majority of TV shows seem obsessed with giving their characters happy endings with neat bows around them, isn't there a part of you that's glad that there's at least one high profile, mainstream show out there that gives downbeat endings to pretty much every character? As long as the mechanism for these downbeat endings is plausible (i.e. no killer helicopters), I really don't have any problem with them.

Alan Sepinwall said...

Considering that the majority of TV shows seem obsessed with giving their characters happy endings with neat bows around them, isn't there a part of you that's glad that there's at least one high profile, mainstream show out there that gives downbeat endings to pretty much every character?

I'm not sure I agree with your premise about the majority of TV shows -- dramas, at least. The longer a drama is on, and the longer particular characters are on it, the more awful things are done to them. See all the dead loved ones that Andy Sipowicz racked up on "NYPD Blue," or that Tommy Gavin has on "Rescue Me."

I'm not opposed to a show where bad things happen to the characters. "The Wire," my pick for best drama ever, pretty consistently gave each character the worst possible ending. My issue is when a show like "ER" -- starting around the time Julianna Margulies left, and continuing up until a couple of years ago when Sam killed her husband and Neela and Abby remembered how to smile -- mistakes "depressing" for "interesting." There's rarely anything that's dramatically elegant about the bad things that happen to the docs at County General, nothing that speaks to who they are or what the show is about; they're just bad. And when certain characters -- notably Mark, Carter and Abby -- have one horrific thing after another happen to them, it becomes almost comic. I actually snickered when I saw Carter getting dialysis, and that shouldn't be the reaction that scene evoked, not when Noah Wyle was doing such a good job of showing so much emotion in a relatively blank stare.

Adam said...

I watched it as well -- okay, I watched the Carter parts and FF'd the rest, since I stopped watching the after the chopper came for Romano again -- and I'm left with the same feeling as Andrew. I am glad that ER has remained so downbeat about so many characters for so long -- Mark Greene had no miracles, Doug Ross got beaten by the system ... though Peter Benton was saved by the love of a robot named Cleo.

And I, too, had to wiki Joshua Carter. Just tell me what happened to Chase, that lovable gork.

bettyd said...

I've watched this show since way back at the beginning. But, I also hung for ALL of Roseanne too :)

I think Carter will have a happy ending - transplant. Dontcha think the heart lady (type 0) will be the donor? I'm sure they mentioned Carter's blood type back in the epi where he was stapped - and had kidney damage from it.

I think the worst epi was when Sam killed her husband and all the Armand Ansanti episodes. That could have been something good, but they didn't know what to do with it.

Maybe the opening of the Carter Center will be the reason for the old timers to get together, and not Carter's funeral (like Marks).

BTW - I thought Mark's death epi was really well done, but I think I must be in the minority.

Alan Sepinwall said...

BTW - I thought Mark's death epi was really well done, but I think I must be in the minority.

As I've said many times, here and elsewhere, I loved "Orion in the Sky," the last episode with Mark working in the ER, and I most liked "The Letter," the episode where the ER finds out about his death. (That one gets demerits for laying on the Carter=New Mark thing way too thick.) But the actual episode where he dies? Where he spends most of it surfing in Hawaii and trying to get through to his bratty daughter? Bleh.

Had they deleted that episode and had the death be entirely off-camera, I would look much more fondly on that arc. It still dragged on way too long, but the final episode was just overkill.

Anonymous said...

I agree with the posters who don't want Carter to die, but the way the storyline fits into Season 15 isn't as strongly and sharply as it would have last year when Pratt and especially Abby and Luka were still around. They'll try to evoke the same echoes from Morris, Neela, and Sam as he balances working at County with treating his illness, and it'll work because of Noah Wyle's history on the show and abilities as an actor. And I don't mind a sad story for Carter because sadness has defined his character throughout his regular run here.

Lizbeth said...

The funny thing is that Nurse Carole Hathaway had the happiest ending of all (she got George Clooney!!) and yet her story began with the most depressing (she tried to off herself).

So maybe there are happy endings in ER...unless Dr. Ross shows up to say he dumped Carole (or his family died tragically at the hands of a drunk driver).

Adam said...

Did we even know that Mark was from Hawaii until that last episode, i.e. The One Where Goose Says "Shit" On Television? (Also responsible, in part, for the ubiquity of the ukulele "Somewhere Over The Rainbow".)

The whole arc just never seemed to end. I had believed previously that Jimmy Smits took forever to die on NYPD Blue, but this raised that to a whole new level.

Also, I had no idea what happened to Sam in the past five years until I just wiki'd. OMG. Thank goodness I bailed.

dylanfan said...

Off and on fan of this show, and usually off and on during the episode -- I recognized David Eigenberg (Steve Brady from Sex and the City) right off, and far be it from me to say but ... I don't remember him having quite the tummy. It drove me crazy the whole time trying to remember where I had seen Archie's girlfriend; finally found it today -- she's Vanessa Diaz, the funeral director's wife on 6FU.

amysusanne said...

And speaking of Eigenberg...I think he's great on SATC. He can be the schlubby nice guy or the sweet snarky guy or even the douchey guy. He's played tragic guys pretty well. I just don't buy him as a guy that I or tough chick detective should be afraid of. I know we are supposed to be, but I just thought he was doing a bad Pesci impression the entire time. Which sort of sucks since I really like him and (until they wrecked him in the movie) he was the one person on SATC that I consistently enjoyed.

And on the subject of death and the various bad shit that the show has forced on us: I enjoyed the Mark death arc in retrospect (though it was tedious at the time) and thought it was handled well. And I'm a big fan of the Lucy/Carter tragedy, partly because I thought it was very well done and partly because Kellie Martin owned her scenes in her final ep. I never liked Lucy and always thought the acting was weak, but she brought it at the end and I was really sad to see her go. I figure if you can make me sad that a character I dislike dies then you're doing an awesome job.

It's really pathetic on my part that I didn't even consider the Valentine's Day significance. Every single time Carter returns to the ER, I think of Lucy. And she was especially on my mind last night since the kid's name is Lucy. But the V-day anniversary just flew right over my head. I think the above poster who suggested that Carter might get Hedy Burress's kidney might be right. This show loves syruppy, sappy crap like that.

Fred App said...

Gotta agree with Adam on the Mark Greene arc. It's not so much that he died, but that the whole thing was dragged out, with abvious bathos and button-pushing. First he gets brain cancer, and then he gets an experimental surgery, and then the cancer seems to be cured, and then it comes back, and then he dies over a really looooong period of time. Or so it seems.

Honestly, there was no real interesting character development or dramatic narrative to Mark's death. It just seemed like a prolonged way to make people feel really really sad. So by the end, it just felt trite.

Adam said...

Fred, on top of it is the non-stop suffering that Mark's existence even prior to getting sick: his marriage falls apart, his bosses (Weaver/Romano) are impossible, he gets the shit kicked out of him by by an unknown assailant, Lucy Knight is stabbed to death while Carter barely survives, his father takes forever to die, his older daughter is a thankless b**** who gives his infant daughter ecstasy, he has a weird fling with psycho Mariska Hargitay, his love for Susan Lewis is unrequited (and she leaves) while his marriage to Corday is a bit cold, Doug Ross leaves, the Love's Labor's Lost episode ... what else?

Pamela Jaye said...

I'm an idiot - I thought it was chemo (too much Grey's I'm sure)

I almost caught the commiseration, but while I was trying to remember if (one of them) had also been with (either Abby or Luka) the next scene came along and distracted me.

I forgot it use to be an action show. Maybe that's why it's nit so hard to watch without the captions anymore.

I still don't like Austalian guy though. (and Carter didn't mention Pratt? maybe it was Luka who sent Pratt to Africa?)

Alan Sepinwall said...

Carter worked with Pratt. (Pratt pre-dated both Neela and Morris, not to mention Sam.) In fact, he spent a lot of time trying to straighten out Pratt, just as Greg did the same with Archie.

Anonymous said...

My reaction to this episode is pretty much the same as everyone else's: They brought Noah Wyle back to recycle Mark's storyline?

But then I realized, I honestly don't care if Carter lives or dies. All the Africa episodes dried out any interest I had in Carter.

At this point, I just want Neela to get together with Ray.

Anonymous said...

One character's happy exit later turned out not so happy when she came back: Jeanie Boulet.

Jeremy said...

Here's what I have to say to this: WTF...ER's still on the air?

Fred App said...

You're right, Adam. Compared to Mark Greene's story arc, the Book of Job is a fairy tale. It's like someone decided that whenever the drama ebbed, it was time to do something terrible to him. After a while, you watch an episode and you think, "Didn't I see this before?" That's why I eventually gave up on ER.

In fairness, I've always thought that the best TV series have a limited run. I'm not sure you can keep things fresh over more than four or five seasons.

Anonymous said...

Did anyone else notice that they made a point of saying that the mom (who needs a heart) has blood type O? Carter's blood type is O negative. Was this foreshadowing? I am terrified that they are going to kill him off and give his heart to the mom!

Anonymous said...

Or kill the mom to give Carter her kidney...

Mike F said...

for me, Carter's and Green's POVs were the heart of the show...I haven't watched an episode in about 3-4 years after watching every episode the entire run before that

I too gradually grew weary of the increasing crazy bad luck of the ER and its doctors. The show has always had a certain core emotional and real-world hospital integrity that a show like Grey's sorely lacks...and it has to go down as one of the all-time great shows for what they did early in the run. But they fell into this habit of pervasive personal tragedy and increasing medical calamity. Granted they've had lots of episodes to fill, but the string of horrors happening to beloved characters on this show was just loony.

I thought it became unbearable to watch the Abby/Luca/Sam horror show for a while there.

I'd really expect nothing less from this show than for Carter to have a temrinal illness. They just can't help themselves.

Anonymous said...

I used to love watching the show. As someone posted before, the story lines have gotten plain outrageous. I gave up on it after Carter left. The main characters they have now are not as likable in my opinion.


When I was watching the episode I didn't catch on to the whole V-day connection. I thought about Lucy Knight when they were talking to the little girl, but I didn't put the two together.

And what's going on with Kem. everytime anyone mentioned her name to Carter he seemed to get uncomfortable (maybe that was just me, but I thought it was strange) I'm curious if we'll find out what's going on with that. And i'll be honest... I hated her and Carter together. Kem's just not a lovable character to me.

I'm anxious to see the next epi. The promo of it upset me. The clip where Carter is in a trauma room and he falls to the floor. :( Why must bad things always happen to John. I guess it's because Wyle does such a great job acting depressed and in pain. The last scene of "the beginning of the end" was so powerful and all he was doing was staring... AMAZING JOB!!

(sorry if my comments aren't very organized. the thoughts just popped into my head and i was afraid i would forget them if i didn't get them down.)

Anonymous said...

I love Carter and Kem! They better end up happy and together.

Newton and Wyle just have AMAZING chemistry.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Alan Sepinwall said...

What's Rule #1 for commenting on this blog? Be nice -- which means when you call another commenter an idiot, your comment will be deleted.

Sadie said...

What I think they lost sight of was the heart of ER, that viewers need SOME likeable characters and were interested in what happens next to them. The past few seasons the characters are cold and/or heartless and who wants to watch a bunch of selfish unlikeable characters?

So back comes Carter, remember how likeable he was as the accident prone student, and how he grew over time into a kind caring Dr, nurtured by other kind caring characters? Hes back, a cardboard cutout of his former self, and its all about the things happening to him, instead of about him.

Anonymous said...

What made me laugh the most in that ep was Carter wandering about on the snowy piers (or whatever they are) - Mark used to do that all the time with his silly little woolly hat on!

How many angry/unlikeable ginga's has ER had? Even Archie was a dick to start with, though he's all right now.

I think I enjoy episodes built around outrageous medical storylines the most, though I had a soft spot for Abby and all her tragedies. Neela's a sweetie too.

A real highlight for me was that second helicopter incident, like it had unfinished business.