ER: Season 14 - 300 Patients (300th episode reviewed)
Review by Jack Foley
INDIELONDON singles out notable episodes from our favourite television series for stand-alone reviews. On this occasion we take a look at the season 14 episode of ER entitled 300 Patients (which also marked the 300th episode of this long-running series).
What’s the story? As Luka (Goran Visnjic) and Abby (Maura Tierney) prepare to travel to Croatia after Luka’s father passes away, he is forced to confront Abby about the estrangement between them, and she eventually reaches out and asks for his help. A man, Pierce Tanner (Peter Fonda), rushes to the ER when his wife is seriously injured in a car accident, and finds someone very unexpected there with her. Julia (Reiko Aylesworth) holds a service to bless the ER and remember the patients that have been lost through the years. Meanwhile, Dr Morris (Scott Grimes) bets that the ER will have treated 300 patients by the end of the shift…
Why so good? If there was still any doubt surrounding why ER has managed to survive for so long then 300 Patients emphatically lays them to rest. This 300th episode was funny as hell in places, and heartbreakingly poignant in others. It boasted several strong storylines involving a number of richly drawn characters and kept you gripped from beginning to end. What’s more, it didn’t even come to the inevitable schmaltz that bedevils so many Christmas episodes of American TV series.
Digging a little deeper: From the beginning you knew this had to be special and writers Joe Sachs and David Zabel did not disappoint.
300 Patients was an emotional rollercoaster that stood up to comparison with the very best moments in the show’s illustrious past.
At its emotional centre was the continuing plight of Abby Lockhart (once again played with aching sincerity by Maura Tierney). Her ongoing battle with the demon booze leading to two distinct confrontations: one with best friend Dr Neela (Parminder Nagra), who had the misfortune to catch her drinking in the act, the other with husband Luka (Visnjic).
The first found Abby at her most vitriolic and responding to Neela’s probing questions with a vicious outburst at the expense of Neela’s past relationships that quite literally took the breath away – it had me wanting to shout “how dare you” at the screen.
The second, a heartbreaking meltdown during which Abby finally reached out for help. The interplay between the two of them was mesmerising and I found myself holding my breath as Abby admitted returning to the drink, only to find Luka similarly distraught at his failings as a husband. When she asked him to take their child to Croatia while she went and sought help, I was battling back the tears.
Likewise, with the main “patient of the week” storyline involving a husband (played exquisitely by Peter Fonda) who had rushed to the hospital to be with his wife following a car crash, only to find the son that he never knew he had in waiting.
Just to ensure that the episode pulled at the heartstrings, the wife had previously agreed to a “do not resuscitate” order, while the son had Down’s Syndrome.
Fonda conveyed the emotional turmoil of the situation with supreme dignity: quietly coming to terms with the impending loss of his wife with the newfound responsibility of fatherhood. When finally introduced to his son, the tears were once again forming in my eye ducts.
And yet what sounds like a depressing episode also had me laughing too. An opening sequence involving a camel succeeded in raising some chuckles, while Morris’ gamble that the ER would treat 300 patients come the shift’s end included two delicious moments: one involving a coach-load of food poisoning victims, the other the hand of the ER’s moody desk clerk Frank (Troy Evans). As Morris, Grimes has long had the ability to inject some much needed humour int the series and handled the responsibility with considerable aplomb.
It’s worth noting two other moments that made this milestone episode such an outstanding experience – and one that I didn’t want to end.
Firstly, a street rescue involving Linda Cardellini’s nurse Sam Taggart that proved the show still has the ability to shock and a memorial service overseen by show newcomer Reiko Aylesworth that offered viewers and cast members alike the chance to reflect on some of ER‘s past glories.
In the case of the ceremony, it provided some brief flashbacks to the patients that had influenced the assembled characters the most and included nods to appearances by Forest Whitaker, Ray Liotta and James Woods (a clever reminder of the show’s sustained ability to attract the very best talent).
At 300 episodes young, ER remains at the top of its game. So, while the end may be in sight (reportedly at the close of its 15th season, next year), I would urge you to tune in and savour the remaining chapters of this outstanding series while you still can…
What did you think?