Warner Bros. // 2001 // 981 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Ben Saylor (Retired) // March 5th, 2008
Dr. Mark Greene: "You set the tone, Carter."
The eighth season of E.R., which is currently the longest running medical drama on television, is a pivotal one in the series' history; it sees the departure of multiple cast members and the arrival of some new ones. It's all handled admirably by the show's writers, directors and actors, making E.R.: The Complete Eighth Season a strong one.
In the emergency room of County General Hospital in Chicago, there's rarely a dull moment for the staff, which faces more than its share of professional and personal dilemmas. In the mix are John Carter (Noah Wyle, The Librarian: Quest for the Spear), recovered from his stabbing and subsequent addiction to painkillers and now struggling with family problems; Peter Benton (Eriq La Salle), Carter's former mentor who becomes involved in a custody fight for his young son Reese (Matthew Watkins); Mark Greene (Anthony Edwards, Zodiac), the calm, experienced doc whose brain tumor returns; Elizabeth Corday (Alex Kingston, Croupier), Greene's wife, who must not only care for daughter Ella but also resolve a rash of patients dying under her care; Kerry Weaver (Laura Innes), the tough, no-nonsense chief of emergency medicine who tries to have a relationship with another woman while remaining in the closet; and Abby Lockhart (Maura Tierney, Insomnia), the chief nurse still sorting out her feelings for Carter and the aloof Dr. Luka Kovac (Goran Visnjic, Elektra).
The episodes on E.R.: The Complete Eighth Season were aired from September 27, 2001 through May 16, 2002, and are as follows ("*" denotes that there are deleted scenes for this episode:
* "Four Corners"*
* "The Longer You Stay"*
* "Blood, Sugar, Sex, Magic"*
* "Never Say Never"
* "Start All Over Again"
* "Supplies and Demands"
* "If I Should Fall From Grace"*
* "Partly Cloudy, Chance of Rain"*
* "Quo Vadis?"*
* "I'll Be Home For Christmas"
* "Beyond Repair"
* "A River in Egypt"*
* "Damage Is Done"*
* "A Simple Twist of Fate"*
* "It's All in Your Head"*
* "Secrets and Lies"
* "Orion in the Sky"*
* "Brothers and Sisters"*
* "The Letter"*
* "On the Beach"*
The eighth season of E.R. opens with "Four Corners," a Rashomon-esque episode that takes turns following Weaver, Benton, Carter, and Greene through the same period of time. Each character is facing difficulties: Weaver worries about whether she has been outed to her colleagues; Benton tries to comfort his grieving sister, Jackie (Khandi Alexander); Carter attends his grandfather's funeral; and Greene treats a woman injured in a talk show melee and also faces an inquiry into the death of a serial killer patient of his. The fast-paced episode is indicative of the ones that follow in the way that it manages to deftly maneuver between the professional and personal strife of the show's characters, and it also gives viewers the kinetic camerawork that is a strong part of what makes E.R. such an intense viewing experience.
One thing that E.R. has always been is busy. Each 43-minute (sans commercials) episode is stuffed with myriad emergency room crises and personal problems for the large cast to sort through. Although sometimes the emergencies are a little over the top for my tastes (the talk show people being one example), it's almost impossible not to get caught up with what's going on. In fact, there's so much happening in these episodes, and it's all so emotionally taxing, that it's hard to watch more than a couple at time, even though they're not that long.
But E.R. could have all the gunshot wounds and stabbing victims it wants and be a crummy show, if that's all there was to it. But the show goes much farther than that because of its extensive work with character, which is in full evidence in season eight. Just about every major character on the show has some meat to their role here. Let's start with Carter. The death of his grandfather at the beginning of the season leads to his becoming more involved with his wealthy and dysfunctional family. Not only is his father (Michael Gross) divorcing his mother (Mary McDonnell, Emmy-nominated for her work this season), but his grandmother (Frances Sternhagen) falls ill. In addition, in "Beyond Repair," Carter encounters Paul Sobriki (David Krumholtz, Numbers), the man who stabbed him back in season six. At first, this episode kind of rubbed me the wrong way; the attempts of the rest of the staff to prevent Carter from seeing Paul almost feel like farce, but when Carter finally comes face to face with Paul, the scenes that follow are terrific. The episode ably shows both sides of the equation, from Abby's anger at Paul being a free man to Paul's wife telling Abby about how her husband has changed.
By the end of this season, Carter is the Chief Resident at County General. He has come full circle, from being the medical student of season one to the veteran physician of season eight. Throughout the season, Wyle gives Carter an air of wisdom and approachability; everyone in the E.R. seems to like and respect him. As Greene tells him in one of the last episodes, "You set the tone," and so he does.
There are a lot of interesting things going on with Weaver in season eight. After worrying about being outed, she eventually is by partner Sandy Lopez (Lisa Vidal), a firefighter she begins dating. Lopez, frustrated by Weaver's desire to hide her sexual orientation from her co-workers, gives her an impromptu smooch right in the middle of the E.R. In addition, Weaver covers up her own error when Drs. Chen (Ming-Na) and Malucci (Erik Palladino) kill a patient after unsuccessfully trying to page Weaver for assistance. Weaver conceals the fact that she did not have her pager on her when Chen and Malucci were with the patient, and capriciously fires Malucci over another infraction and allows Chen to be demoted from the position of chief resident. Season eight really shows the complexity of Weaver, who is certainly an antagonistic character with the way she treats most of her co-workers, but is not a bad person per se; instead, she's a complex one. Love her or hate her, she's always interesting to watch, and Innes (who also directed an episode this season) does an admirable job of letting us see the human being behind the tough-as-nails exterior.
Abby also has her hands full this season. Not only is she frustrated by Luka and Carter, but she is placed in an awkward (and dangerous) situation when it turns out that the man living next door to her is abusive toward his wife. Tierney even gets her own episode to shine in "Beyond Repair," which takes place on a largely unhappy birthday for the character. I've always enjoyed Maura Tierney's work, and she's in fine form in season eight.
Season eight also marks the return of Dr. Susan Lewis (Sherry Stringfield, N.Y.P.D. Blue), who left the series in season four. It's great to have her back, even if the showrunners seem to have trouble figuring out where to fit her in; Greene, with whom she had a strong connection when she was on the show previously, is now married. She and Carter have a short-lived romance, but it barely progresses beyond flirtation. Still, Stringfield's Lewis is a compassionate and headstrong addition to the E.R., and it's great to have someone new to butt heads with Weaver.
In addition to Lewis' return, season eight also marks the debuts of Army Reservist Michael Gallant (Sharif Atkins) and intern Gregory Pratt (Mekhi Phifer, Clockers). The show gives the two new additions vastly different personalities; Gallant is a knowledgeable and pleasant, but inexperienced medical student, and Pratt is a brash and arrogant know-it-all. Atkins would remain with the show through the 10th season, although his character died in the 12th season. Pratt is still on the show as an attending physician.
Two major cast members depart the show in season eight. The first to go is Benton, who leaves after winning a custody battle with Peter (Vondie Curtis-Hall, who also directs two episodes of this season), the stepfather of his son Reese. Eriq La Salle was one of the show's original cast members, and his character a forceful presence in the E.R. Benton goes through a lot in this season, and it's nice to see him have a chance for happiness.
The key event of season eight, however, is the return of Greene's brain tumor. When it comes back this time, it's inoperable. Over the course of several episodes, we watch Greene come to terms with what is happening to him. Ultimately, he takes his teenage daughter Rachel (Hallee Hirsh, Happy Endings) to Hawaii with him, where he lived for a few years as a boy. Eventually, Corday and Ella join him, and he lives out his remaining days with his reconciled family. These episodes are very touching and affecting; have a few tissues on you when you're watching them. The writers and directors do an admirable job of keeping things from getting overly sentimental (although the soundtrack is a little much sometimes). Mostly, though, it's Edwards' performance that really makes this story arc as effective as it is. Greene is the quiet center of it all in the E.R. He is truly a caring and compassionate doctor, and it's absolutely heartbreaking to watch his health deteriorate. Edwards gives the role the same authority and genuineness that he imbued his character from Zodiac with; Greene is a guy that you can't help but trust and feel for. One of the best episodes in this set is "Orion in the Sky," when Greene decides to leave the E.R. for good. In the episode, he decides to stop treatment, yells at a drug addict who has just given birth prematurely, and treats his last patient. It's a very effective episode with some strong dialogue for Greene. Another solid episode is "The Letter," when the E.R. receives not only a letter from Greene in which he tells the staff about his time in Hawaii, but also one from Corday informing them that Greene has died. The two-letter device was used to similarly powerful effect in the 1955 film Mister Roberts, and in this episode, we get to see the effect of Greene's death on everyone in the E.R.
I was largely fine with the DVD presentation of E.R.: The Complete Eighth Season. The extras, which include unaired scenes (referred to as "Outpatient Outtakes") for some episodes, as well as a gag reel (referred to as "Cutups"), seem to be par for the course for E.R.. It would be nice to see something more substantive down the road; maybe interviews with the show's medical consultants, or better yet, commentary from them on the procedures performed on the show. The gag reel, however, is located on disc three, not two, and there are no Spanish or French subtitles in this set, despite what the packaging reads.
E.R.: The Complete Eighth Season is a major turning point for the series, one that everyone involved handles with aplomb. For the important developments this season contains, this set is easily recommended for fans of the show.
All right, I'm calling it. Not guilty.
Review content copyright © 2008 Ben Saylor; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (English)
Running Time: 981 Minutes
Release Year: 2001
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Unaired scenes
* Gag reel
* Official Site
* DVD Verdict Review - Season 3
* DVD Verdict Review - Season 5
* DVD Verdict Review - Season 6