June 22, 2021

ER 8.20, The Letter: Filling the Void

Posted in TV tagged , , , , at 4:53 pm by Jenn

Yep, there it is

Summary: Susan is back from her trek to New York, and she offers up a brief recap of what happened on Third Watch: Chloe took off with Susie after Susan and the cops found her, and she’s now hanging out in a hotel upstate. Susan’s worried about Chloe’s sobriety and ability to care for Susie, who should be in school. Carter notes that she could get Chloe declared an unfit mother, which means Joe would get custody of Susie, if he wants it. They should have just had Susan take Susie back. Also, where was Susie during the last episode? Eh, who cares?

An angry patient named Toby comes looking for his prosthetic leg, which he accuses Susan of stealing. Susan’s like, “Why would I want your leg? I don’t need three legs.” Apparently this happens to Toby a lot. Carter tries to check some test results on the computer, but the server’s down because they’re loading new software. Frank tells him to check the fax machine instead. Pratt is waiting for his match letter, which will tell him which hospital he’ll be working in for his residency. He forgot to pick his up from the dean’s office (how do you forget something so important??), so he asked to have it sent there.

Carter notices that there’s a letter from Mark on the fax machine. He’s written to the “ER gang.” Carter reads it to the staff members at the admit desk. It’s about Rachel and Ella playing together on the beach, and how relaxing it is for Mark to just hang out in the sand without having to work. More staff members gather, half-listening to the letter while they do their jobs.

Mark says (via Carter’s reading) that he sometimes wished he’d chosen a different career, but being gone has made him realize that working at County was the best choice he ever made. He knows that his co-workers are fantastic doctors and nurses, and their skills will make up for his absence. Haleh doubts that.

Mark says he had to leave the way he did, without saying goodbye to anyone, but he wants them to know how much he values his co-workers and their time together. He wanted to say more personal things to some of them (hint: Susan), but he thinks they know how he felt about them. The letter ends with a note that Rachel and Ella are happy because they finally found the perfect seashell. The staff thinks there was more to the letter but the fax machine jammed.

Carter turns the page and his face falls. Susan notices and urges him to continue. Carter says that the next page is from Elizabeth. She reports that Mark died at sunrise that morning, his favorite time of day. Elizabeth sent his letter so the staff would know that he was thinking of them. He liked knowing they would have good memories of him. Fighting back tears, Carter tells Frank to post the letter on a bulletin board so everyone can read it. Then everyone goes back to work.

Al is back, and Pratt has learned his lesson about paying attention to his blood sugar. Al wants Mark, and since Mark isn’t there, he says he’ll come back tomorrow. Carter keeps treating him anyway. He notices that Weaver has arrived at work and is reading Mark and Elizabeth’s letter, since she wasn’t at the admit desk earlier. Pratt wants to bet Carter $20 that Al’s glucose is over 400. Shut up, Pratt.

Abby also notices Weaver reading the letter and tries to gently interrupt her. Weaver’s annoyed that the letter was posted on the bulletin board, but Abby notes that it was for the whole staff. Yeah, but it would have been nice to tell everyone first, instead of letting them learn the news about the death of a colleague from a letter. Anyway, they have work to do.

Paramedics bring in a girl named Melissa who was injured in a car accident with her father, Dan. Melissa’s calm until the door between her and Dan’s trauma rooms opens and she sees her father being treated. Carter and Abby work on Dan together, struggling to get him a clear airway. Romano joins them and tries to take over, since Carter isn’t moving fast enough with his scope. Romano gets scalpel-happy and cuts an airway for Dan. It’s not pretty, but it’s successful. Romano tells Carter to move faster next time.

Chloe calls looking for Susan, so we get some more closure on that storyline. She and Joe split up, but he’s taking her back. That means he’ll be looking after Susie while Chloe goes to rehab. Right now, Susan has another kid to worry about – Melissa has a mass in her lung. The poor girl came in after a car accident and now has to be told that she has cancer.

Weaver stitches up a man named George who accidentally cut himself. This has happened before, and last time he promised Weaver he wouldn’t use a knife again, but here we are. (George has Down syndrome, and though he appears to be independent in most ways, he still needs a little looking after.) Weaver sees Romano reading Mark and Elizabeth’s letter, which distracts her from George, who’s picking at his stitches. She snaps at him and complains that he doesn’t listen to her. Luka tells her to take a break. Weaver apologizes to George and goes to an exam room to cry.

Haleh lets Susan know that Romano overrode a canceled surgical consult for Melissa and is inserting a chest tube. While Susan tries to keep Melissa calm, Romano throws his weight around in the ER, earning himself a spot on Haleh’s hate list. Well, let’s be honest – he was probably already on it. Romano unceremoniously tells Melissa that she needs surgery and rushes her to the OR.

Weaver and Sandy were supposed to go on a date (yay!), but Sandy thinks Weaver should hang out with her staff so they can mourn Mark together. Weaver says they’re not her friends, so they’re not about to hang out together after hours. Sandy and her firefighter co-workers stick with each other after they lose someone, and she thinks the ER staff should do the same. Weaver says that she and Mark were always at odds, and she always treated their working relationship like a competition. She knew Mark was going to die, but she never thought she’d feel so sad about it. Maybe they were friends after all.

Pratt tells Carter that after Al was told he needed dialysis, which he really doesn’t want, he passed out. Pratt calls him a MIMP, as in someone who has multiple medical problems. Carter would like Pratt to stop making up acronyms and medical terms. He’s willing to give Al dialysis in the ER, but Pratt thinks they should pass him on to another department and let them figure out what’s wrong with him.

Frank gives Pratt his match letter as Gallant invites Carter to get drinks with him and some other staff members. It’s sad that no one else mentioned that to Carter. Pratt’s annoyed that his match letter has placed him at County, his last choice. I don’t think Carter’s any happier about it. Chen arrives and reads the letter.

Susan and Abby get giant drinks at a place called the Lava Lounge, where Mark once had a birthday party. For the record, Gallant has a Coke instead of alcohol, which I think is adorable. They want to toast Mark, and they choose Susan to do the honors, but she’s not sure what to say. Luka does the toast in Croatian but doesn’t translate for anyone. Weaver arrives with Sandy, and Haleh murmurs, “Looks like we’re going public.” Everyone keeps it professional and friendly, not saying anything about how Weaver is dating a woman.

Romano and Shirley operate on Melissa while discussing Mark’s death. Romano makes a mistake that will extend the surgery through the night. He notes that our bodies are supposed to keep us alive, but they can turn on themselves. No one is safe from injury or illness, even young girls like Melissa, or fathers of young girls, like Mark.

The Lava Lounge bartender is flirting with Susan when Carter shows up. She sends him out back to see Abby, who’s smoking and tipsy. She tries to keep things light, but he’s not amused. Abby asks how many lives Carter thinks Mark saved during his years as a doctor. If he saved one person every shift and worked five shifts a week for ten years, he probably saved thousands of people. Abby thinks Mark was a better superhero than Superman. Carter quips that if he knew Abby went for that kind of guy, he would have shaved his head a long time ago.

Abby notices that Carter’s sadder than expected and asks if he’s okay. They look at each other for a long, long time, as if they’re about to kiss. Carter suggests that they go somewhere else. She thinks he wants to take her to a topless bar or a tattoo parlor, but he wants to go to “Bill’s place” – an AA meeting.

Abby heads back to the bar, refusing to go with Carter, but he keeps stepping into her path. Abby notes that she can’t go to a meeting drunk. Plus, it’s voluntary, so he can’t force her. Carter ignores her, saying she’s going to a meeting no matter what. When she keeps protesting, he picks her up and throws her over his shoulder. She calls out for help, then bites him, which makes him drop her. The bartender checks on them and they tell him everything’s okay. Then they head off to get some food.

At Doc Magoo’s, Carter tells Abby about a patient who sends Mark a crate of lobsters every Memorial Day as thanks for a procedure. Once the staff ate surf ‘n’ turf on the roof. Abby thinks they should pretend Mark’s still alive so the lobsters keep coming. She tells Carter that she didn’t start drinking after Brian’s attack – she started on her birthday. If she hadn’t been drinking again, she probably wouldn’t have opened the door for Brian. She’s sobered up, so Carter wants to take her to a meeting before she has to work. Abby says no, since she needs to sleep, but if Carter will back off, she’ll go to a meeting later in the day.

Chen finds the two of them and reveals that Carter, who’s been up all night, has a 7 a.m. shift. Al is declining, and Carter isn’t sure what his wishes are, since Mark took care of him most of the time. After they stabilize him, Al says he doesn’t want any more efforts to keep him alive. Susan is also back at County, waiting for news on Melissa. Romano had to work all night, but he successfully removed her tumor. In other good news, Dan is also going to be okay. Romano notes that Melissa’s tumor has a 50% mortality rate, so it was actually good that she was in the accident – otherwise, they wouldn’t have found the tumor.

Chen isn’t sure she and Carter should respect Al’s request, since there’s no note in his chart. Carter thinks Mark expected to be there at the end of Al’s life, so he didn’t think notes were necessary. Chen tells Carter that Al is his patient, so he can have the final call. Meanwhile, someone’s yelling at Pratt in Italian. Carter and Chen do rock paper scissors to decide who will step in to help. Carter loses, so Chen dismisses him with an “arrivederci.”

Pratt asks Carter to make a call and help him get matched at another hospital. He obviously thinks he’s too good to work at County. Carter says they’re there to serve an underserviced community, and Pratt was chosen to help, so he needs to accept it. Carter then finds Susan crying in the lounge, finally expressing her feelings about Mark’s death. She wishes she could just pretend he moved away. She’s reeling over the fact that they caught Melissa’s tumor before she had any symptoms, while Mark’s tumor didn’t get detected until it was too late.

Carter gently says that they only save who they can. Susan wishes life made more sense than that. They both say they miss Mark already. While Susan was away from Chicago, she thought about him sometimes, but she always thought he would be around. Carter says it’s good to miss him, since that keeps him close to them.

Weaver accidentally interrupts as they’re hugging and starts to clear out Mark’s locker. She wants to save Elizabeth the trouble; plus, Pratt needs a locker. She heard about Carter’s power struggle with Romano, but Carter admits that Romano was right – Carter took too long with Dan. Weaver announces that with Mark gone, Carter’s the doctor with the longest tenure at County. People will see him as the person they want to fill Mark’s void. Carter notes that it’s a big void.

Weaver gets overwhelmed looking at Mark’s things and asks Carter to finish clearing out the locker. Carter does, finding Mark’s stethoscope and taking it for himself. Then he waits for an ambulance with Abby, who confirms she went to an AA meeting. He asks if she went for herself or because she told Carter she would. She says she went for him. Great, now he’s going to be smug.

The two take their patient, who was shot in the face, to a trauma room. Gallant struggles to take care of a patient who looks so bad. He barely manages to keep working while Carter still needs his help. Afterward, Carter finds Gallant in the ambulance bay and tells him to take his time recovering. Gallant admits that sometimes he’s not sure he can be an ER doctor.

Echoing a conversation Mark and Carter had in the first episode of the series, Carter tells Gallant there are two kinds of doctors. They either get rid of their feelings or hold on to them. If Gallant holds on to his feelings, he’ll get sick sometimes. People come into County in distress or sick, sometimes dying, and looking for help. Helping them is more important than how the doctors feel. After eight years, Carter still gets sick sometimes. He tells Gallant to take another minute if he needs it.

Carter goes back inside as Susan leaves for the night. She straightens Mark and Elizabeth’s letter and puts extra tacks in the pages to hold them down. Carter checks on Al, who thinks he’s Mark. He’s grateful that Mark always treated him like a human being. Carter sits with him and tries to comfort him about his impending death. Al wishes he’d been a better person and done more with his life. Carter says he did enough. He promises to stay with Al as he dies.

Time passes. Patients come in, doctors treat them, and Mark and Elizabeth’s letter remains on the bulletin board. A gust from a fan in the doorway makes the first page fly away. No one notices because their jobs – and their lives – go on.

Thoughts: George is played by Chris Burke, the third major cast member from Life Goes On to appear on ER, after Kellie Martin and Chad Lowe.

I wonder why they chose to show everyone’s reactions to Mark’s death before we see his actual death. And then there’s another episode after that, which moves on to completely different stuff. Seems like an odd way to write out your star.

Is Carter’s behavior with Abby supposed to be appealing here? He’s the star of the show now, with Anthony Edwards leaving – are we expected to enjoy watching our new protagonist basically kidnap his love interest to force her to do something she doesn’t want to do? He literally throws her over his shoulder like he’s a caveman. And how are we supposed to feel about Abby, who then willingly goes with Carter, as if she’s forgiving him for his actions?

The Carter/Gallant scene should have meant that Gallant would become the new Carter. I wish that had happened instead of the coming amplification of Pratt.

1 Comment »

  1. Nick Rivers said,

    Ugh the throwaway crossover explanation! Seriously, why didn’t Susan just take Susie and go back to Chicago immediately? Stupid. I don’t want to go watch the episode of Third Watch to find out why that was ruled out as a possibility. I guess Chloe’s call a little later in the episode cleared things up but still, the whole thing was just kind of dumb.

    Ugh again, Mark’s letter is soul-destroying. I’d forgotten how hard it was to hear it. I don’t get why Weaver was so annoyed to learn about Mark’s death from the letter. The rest of them learned about it that way. Carter was right to post it up.

    I recognized George immediately from Life Goes On! That was a good show. I got mad for him when Weaver yelled at him though I understood she was distraught.

    Weaver’s reaction to Mark’s death was really well done. True, they were always at odds, but that was her fault more than anything else due to her rigid management style. She sided with management more than staff, she let Mark dangle his true feelings for Romano as ER chief (or whatever they were going to make him at the time) out in the open while not backing him up which was truly shit-tastic, and unfortunately she had to be the heavy when it came to assessing whether or not Mark was competent to return to medical service. Taking a manager role over a colleague is always difficult and you tend to lose the friendship as a result of the natural power shift, but she sometimes seemed to delight in contradicting him on even the most banal of issues. They respected each other’s medical skills, and she was excellent in caring for Ella during the overdose, but the damage to their relationship had been done by then. I think the turning point was siding with Romano over Mark because that firmly alienated her from everybody. It seems like she finally realized what she had lost in Mark, which was not only a great and talented colleague and an excellent teacher, but someone who probably aligned really closely with her in many other respects and would have been a good friend to her were it not for the competitive aspect she always brought to things.

    It is a little surprising that Susan and none of the nurses mentioned the group drinks outing to Carter (though not surprising Abby didn’t mention it). Haleh, Chuny, Lily, whoever else was there (I can’t remember) — nobody thought to invite the guy who read them all the letter? Huh.

    Carter trying to force Abby to go to a meeting actually pissed me off. Way to treat her like a child. I would think this might be a dealbreaker for Abby, even if it’s borne of concern and from a place of caring. It’s still over the line. He definitely shouldn’t be smug that she went to a meeting for him. That’s not the way someone gets sober, you dumbass!

    Weaver’s moment with Carter in the lounge was nice. I guess part of me expected Carter to have a breakdown at some point since Mark was basically a mentor for him once he left the surgical service, but it doesn’t look like that really happens.

    I like how they ended the episode as life truly does move on even after someone so critical to the workplace dies. It would have been nice to have something more permanent honoring him, though, like the Mark Green ER Wing or something.

    Agreed that the orientation of the episodes was really weird. Why didn’t they do Mark’s death episode first? So strange. And I’m bummed to realize you’re right that Gallant doesn’t become the new Carter after all. Maybe the showrunners didn’t feel he was compelling enough as a character compared to Carter when he was fresh and young himself.


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