ER 13.2 — “Graduation Day”

Vague-ish Recap:  In an episode that takes place over several months, Abby and Luke struggle to keep faith that their premature baby, Joe, can survive the critical last ten weeks that he couldn’t spend in the womb.  They’re helped by the timely (but initially thought untimely) arrival of Abby’s Type 1 Bipolar mom, Maggie (Sally Field, in great, fussy form) who rallies kinda like their own Dr. Bombay (because Endora was eeevil and none of Samantha’s other relatives were as heartfelt).  Neela starts to drink too much in the wake of Gallant’s death, but Pratt, Ray, and Tony Gates (new regular The Stamos), each help her in their own way.  Weaver falls on her sword for Luka when he’s about to be fired for the Clemente situation from last season happening on his watch and she does it because she takes responsibility for being the one who hired him.  Morris, who’s now bored stiff pushing experimental drug trials and realizing how much he misses the ER, begs practically everybody at the hospital to take him back.  Sam gets help from her connected lawyer friend to quickly deal with the situation in which she, like, shot and killed her ex-husband in what she doesn’t think was (but actually was) self-defense.

Comments:  I repeat:  ER is back.  I mean, I’m still decompressing the newest episode of Gilmore Girls in my head and not even my desire to write a review for Studio 60, my new #2 show, could shake my concentration on Gg.  And then ER went and did just about everything right.  Morris’s subplot in which he begs to get his job back was classic comic relief that worked in merry counterpoint to both Abby & Luka’s struggle to keep what will be their only biological baby alive and to Sam’s internal struggle to find out if she belongs in jail for killing her ex-husband.  Also bringing welcome bounce to the episode was — and I love calling her this — the Great Sally Field.  With her Maggie (Abby’s Bipolar Mom) in a much better place due to her meds working, she proves to be a warm, funny, strong woman who finally gets the chance to return the help she got from Abby that she was never able to give her before.  Plus, in a great psych-out, the show keeps us in the dark about the fate of Joseph for just about the last fifteen minutes, talking ambiguously about Abby and Luke dealing with the situation and needing time to themselves, even panning over an empty crib in a dark room, prepping us to think, “Oh, shit, it’s another Carter and Kem, the show is done, the show can’t bounce back no matter how good The Stamos is,” until they pan up and over to Abby and they still psych us out by her sitting in a chair with her back to the camera and thenthey pan around to show Abby cradling a healthy baby.  And I cheered.  Blatant manipulation like that is fun when you realize that the show-makers were deliberately tweaking you.  This touching final scene, which ends with Maggie saying bye-for-now and Abby standing to rock Joseph to sleep, works metatextually as an apology from the show specifically for the Carter-Kem storyline and more generally for the depressing, turgid nature of the series between the disintegration and death of Dr. Mark Greene and the departure of Carter from full-time status on the show two years ago.  The show’s been back in great form since the beginning of last year (season frickin’ 12), so be sure to tell your friends that if they haven’t seen ER in a while, they haven’t seen ER return to greatness.

One more thing:  I hope that Sally Field gets a Guest Actress nomination for this episode.  I’m so hopeful, in fact, that I feel kinda guilty wishing her new show Brothers and Sisters would fail just so that ER could bring her back more regularly as her now-stable fussbudget character.  On the other hand, the episode did make a great coda for Maggie’s time on the show, making her struggle with Bipolar Type 1 (the mood-swingy type) ultimately one of the few storylines from the show’s Great Depression worthwhile, even before the happy ending.

Episode Grade:  A+

******

Maintenance:  No, I haven’t forgotten to post my full-review of this week’s Gg (and no, the commentary below doesn’t count).  The show almost always takes me longer to process than most other shows.

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