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ER: Season 13 - Murmurs of the Heart (Review)

Goran Visnjic in Murmurs of the Heart

Review by Jack Foley

IndieLondon Rating: 4 out of 5

INDIELONDON singles out notable episodes from our favourite television series for stand-alone reviews. On this occasion we take a look at the season 13 episode of ER entitled Murmurs of the Heart.

What’s the story? Luka (Goran Visnjic) is forced to confront a vengeful Ames (Forest Whitaker), resulting in a tense confrontation between the two desperate men. Abby (Maura Tierney) acts to protect her family. Neela (Parminder Nagra and Gates (John Stamos) rush to get Meg (Paula Malcomson) to the hospital after her overdose. And Sam’s (Linda Cardellini) new home is soon under threat a fire caused by her son.

Why the review? Having entered the series in compelling fashion, Oscar winner Forest Whitaker bowed out in similar style, bringing the Ames-Kovac story to a gripping (pardon the pun) conclusion. But Murmurs Of The Heart also had plenty more drama for viewers to sink their teeth into – including a fire at Sam’s apartment and a resolution (of sorts) to the love triangle between Gates, Neela and Sam.

It was an episode that provided proof of how ER has consistently managed to juggle hard-hitting storylines in intelligent and compelling fashion, involving characters that are genuinely worth caring for.

Digging a little deeper: Three major stories would be a difficult thing to juggle for most television shows – and even ER struggled on occasion with Murmurs of the Heart – but for the majority of its 50 minutes, the episode was another example of why this long-running series continues to be one of the most acclaimed on TV.

The best storyline was reserved for the resolution of the Ames-Kovac dispute, culminating in Ames decision to take Luka “hostage”. Both Goran Visnjic and Forest Whitaker excelled as men driven to desperate lengths to get what they want.

Luka’s initial decision to go with Ames was further evidence of a man who was willing to go to desperate lengths in order to protect his family. Still haunted by the slaughter of his family in Croatia, Luka has long-since vowed to prevent any harm befalling his American family and selflessly took Ames away from Abby and their child as a first priority.

But once at the mercy of his captor, Luka’s vulnerability was painfully exposed by his gun-wielding former patient, especially when Ames asked the doctor to put his hand into a vice and tighten it. The ensuing moments were extremely powerful as Ames turned the screw and threatened Luka’s medical career by depriving him of the use of his hand.

His intention? To enable Luka to experience the torment he was going through as the result of his own hospital experience at the hands of the ER staff. Thanks to Whitaker’s skill as an actor, however, Ames emerged as far more than a loathsome, one-dimensional villain of the piece. Rather, he illicited a certain amount of audience sympathy, balancing anger and despair with considerable expertise.

Come the resolution of the episode, when Ames turned his gun on himself (or did he?) Whitaker had done enough to ensure that his death had an element of poignancy about it – and not just relief. Let down by the healthcare system, Ames was as much a victim as Luka and death seemed like the only option available to him.

Luka, meanwhile, was reunited with Abby, whose feelings for the Croatian were really put into focus by the trauma. The two characters may have spent the past couple of episodes bickering, but there was a genuine sense of relief in their final embrace that could yet yield a happy ending for them.

Elsewhere, John Stamos continued to impress as Gates, especially during the emotional scenes with his “surrogate” daughter in the wake of Meg’s suicide. His attempts to save Meg, though desperate and doomed to fail, were a tour-de-force of mixed emotions (self-guilt, paternal concern and medical bravura) that really made viewers care about the outcome and subsequent fallout.

Stamos’s introduction to this 13 series has been one of its biggest successes and it will be interesting to see how he adapts to becoming a full-time father figure in the wake of Meg’s death. And, in turn, how Neela will deal with the situation.

The weakest of the three main storylines was the one involving the fire at Sam’s apartment – although one suspects this is an issue that will continue for some episodes yet. The fire itself was put out relatively quickly and resulted in an horrific injury to an elderly neighbour. But Sam’s own escape was clumsily handled, especially when she appeared trapped in the blaze one minute, only to safely be seen walking into hospital the next.

Had the producers not been trying to cram so much in, we may have been afforded more time in the blaze itself. Instead, a potentially massive sequence felt rushed and lacked the spark we’d been promised by the previous episode’s cliffhanger. It also threatened to distract viewers from spending more time in the company of Ames and Kovac, which could have made a great episode even better.

What do you think?