The 'ER' Finale: ... And The Last Shall Be First

by Joshua Alston

Everyone has their pop culture blind spots, and "ER" has always been one of mine. Prior to the two-hour finale, I'd never seen a single episode of NBCs epochal medical drama. The reason for that is simple: I just don't care for medical shows. I've never been into "Grey's Anatomy," for example, or even "House," despite my love of misanthropes both real and fictional.

It could be argued that my complete ignorance of "ER" makes me unqualified to write about the series finale. But let's face it, a lot of people just tune into series finales. A series starts, you mean to make time for it, you don't. You look up and it's in its fourth season. You could try to get into it at that point, but it feels so incredibly daunting you never get around to it. The finale comes around, and even though you're late to the party, by watching it, you get to pay your respects to something you didn't appreciate while it was still around. Though its unfair, people tend to judge shows--dramas in particular--by their final episodes, so I'm pretty much just in time.

The reason it was so cool for me to watch the last episode as my first episode is the same reason "ER" has enjoyed such longevity. It's a stubbornly episodic show. I'm sure they had longer arcs than the finale would suggest, but I'm assuming the writers chose to wrap them up before the finale. It was a wise choice. A show like "ER" relies on a very precise formula, and there was no better way to honor the show than to revert to that formula in the finale. The doctors in Chicago's County General Hospital come and go, but what remains is the fine-tuned frenzy, the incessant jargon, the exotic maladies, the shocking fragility of the human body. Those are the important characters, and the one that need no introduction.

The episode primarily focused on a typical, expect-the-unexpected 24 hours in the ER. I was impressed by the way the show flits from one micro-crisis to the next without letting any patient's story feel rushed or unresolved. I did want to spend more time with some characters, like the AIDS patient who learns he also has cancer, or the senior accepting the loss of his dying wife. In that way, I felt what the characters feel. After they put out one fire, they cant take time to linger on the glowing embers, they have to just move to the next one. The secondary plot focused on the dedication of The Carter Center, a clinic for the underprivileged started by John Carter (Noah Wyle.) It was mostly an opportunity to bring older characters back to flick at old story line or two. Those scenes obviously did the least for me.

But there was a nod at the past that I found particularly deft. Rachel Greene (Hallee Hirsh), daughter of beloved character Mark Greene (Anthony Edwards), returned to County General as a college senior looking to follow in the footsteps of her father, who died of cancer in season 8. It was a tribute to a character adored by loyal viewers that wasn't off-putting or confusing to dilettantes. Allowing us to see the ER the way Rachel sees it, as a fun, frantic, fascinating place where broken people go to get fixed, was a perfect way to end the series.

The medical gore was a little much for me at times (I can stand to go a while without hearing the phrase "inverted uterus" again), but even though I came in on the tail end, I get what the fuss was about. Every ten minutes or so NBC flashed a graphic letting the audience know that every season of "ER" can be purchased on iTunes. I'm getting a pretty nice tax refund. Why not?