'ER' ends: Gracefully, urgently

ER ended as it began, 15 years ago, with a big-scale medical emergency, ambulances roaring up to County General, and doctors rushing out to help bring in the wounded and the dying. The two-hour finale didn’t go in for anything fancy — no dream sequences; no teases for a spin-off — but I liked the fact that the surprises were small but effective.

I’m thinking of the way John Wells, in his final script for ER, worked the daughter of Anthony Edwards’ Dr. Mark Greene back into the episode: Now in her 20s, Rachel (Hallee Hirsh) wants to be a doctor herself, took a tour of the hospital, and ended up going out for drinks and laughs with series stalwarts including John Carter (Noah Wyle), Peter Benton (Eriq La Salle), Kerry Weaver (Laura Innes), Elizabeth Corday (Alex Kingston), and Susan Lewis (Sherry Stringfield).

There were engaging medical cases, chief among them a teenage girl admitted for alcohol poisoning, whose condition rattled John Stamos’ Dr. Gates. This is one of the things ER did very well: for a series that was often more about the doctors than their patients, at its best the show didn’t allow their emotions to overtake any given hour — ER did its best to resist soap-opera histrionics.

ER was always more wobbly whenever it went outside its hospital. I never really thought the story arcs in Africa, starting in the ninth season, were as moving as the smaller-scale ones set in County General. Similarly, on this final night, the scenes involving the opening of The Carter Center, John Carter’s contribution to serving the community, as well-executed as they were, interrupted the urgent flow of the hospital plots.

But that’s a very minor complaint. These farewell two hours did a mostly-excellent job of working in guest stars. It was great to see Alexis Bledel as a new intern. I could have done without the Marilu Henner subplot: all that tedious yelling over a wedding brawl. However, Ernest Borgnine’s fine performance, as a grieving husband to his dying wife, was both moving and a sharp rebuke to a TV industry that doesn’t use great, aging talents like his more frequently.

NBC, I must say, did a disservice to two of its new shows, Southland and Parks and Recreation, by pummelling us with so many repetitive ads, I felt as though I’d seen both shows in their entirety before ER had concluded. But ER itself prevailed. I won’t try to fool you: I haven’t been a regular viewer of the series over the past few seasons. Once I started watching the hour-long retrospective that preceded the final episode, however, I was enthralled by more than nostalgia. I was caught up in the artistry of this show, which managed to combine technical grace (all those swooping, single-camera scenes) with equally graceful characterizations. By the end, I was almost as sorry to see minor characters like grumpy desk clerk Frank (Troy Evans) and nurse Haleh Adams (Yvette Freeman) leave the screen as I was major players like Wyle and Stamos.

That’s one measure of a first-rate series, isn’t it — making you care about everyone in its ensemble?

Did you watch? What did you think of the final episode of ER?


Comments (450 total) Add your comment
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  • Jason

    Just a quick note, Rachel Greene was not played by Yvonne Zima, she was played by Hallee Hirsh.

  • Fatima

    Yep, was going to say the same thing as Jason. It was great to see her back. The spirit of Dr. Greene was over the entire episode.

  • twitter.com/mccaw

    I like how it ended with the entire series being a figment of George W. Bush’s imagination. Very clever!!! ;-) * note: You have to be over 30 and have heard of ‘St. Elsewhere’ to get that joke. But if you do and you’re a Democrat, it’s ohhhh, so good!

  • John in TN

    ER started 15 years ago, the same year I started medical school. My classmates and I went out to a bar that Thursday night to watch the first episode. We played guess the diagnosis every Thursday night for the first few years, and debated the accuracy of the show Friday mornings between classes. I haven’t watched ER regularly for years, but I watched the last episode, and it brought back a lot of memories of school and friends I haven’t seen in over ten years. Seeing Rachel Greene running into the ER after John Carter brought everything to a happy close. Rest in Peace Michael Crichton, and rest in peace ER.

  • Gen

    Yes, Yvonne Zima was the first Rachel, but she was recast in 2001 when they brought in Hallee Hirsh to make her troublemaker Rachel.
    I liked this episode a lot. I haven’t watched this show much in the last 8 years, although I did watch it this season, which was quite good. I’m glad they didn’t make it “a very special episode”; they went back to the basics of the pilot when ER was truly a great show.

  • MKS

    This was the perfect way to end a classic TV show like E.R. I especially loved Rachel Greene’s return and the scenes with the former regulars that contributed to E.R.’s status as a well-loved show in television history.
    P.S. It was Hallee Hirsh who reprised the role of Rachel Greene. FAIL.

  • Carly

    ER started when I was in kindergarden. I started watching it at 9 years old and have been hooked ever since. It is the reason I am TV Writing/Producing Major. When Carter called Rachel “Dr. Greene, the music came on, and they finally showed the entire hospital building for the first and last time, I broke down. I think it will take awhile for it to set in that ER is over.
    My one major complaint is that they showed Maura Tierney in the preview and she wasn’t in the episode. Very misleading (I realize now that they meant she would only be in the retrospective, but still). Also I hate Banfield and I hate that they added a new character in the last season. How dare she question Carter and Susan!

  • kungpao

    MKS – “Fail” – ha!
    I was disapponted with the episode. I expected tears and a lot more old faces. The retrospective made me want to go back and watch a lot of the old episodes. But other than having Rachel Green back, I don’t know.. I expected more.

  • Drew Johnson

    I LOVED the series finale of ER! I loved the retrospective which preceded it! This was truly a wonderful sendoff for a rare and unique television triumph! We will never see a series like this one again! Many will make the comparison between ER and its more contemporary would be facsimile, Grey’s Anatomy. Although I would never go as far as to characterize the newer show as an inherently inferior program as it clearly has a following but it is content to be merely an effective soap opera set in a hospital while ER was great and artful drama which impressively depicted the toll exacted on those dedicated enough to come back for shift after shift to the emergency department of a hospital in the heart of a major city. Bravo, ER! Bravo!

  • Dirk Belligerent

    Was that the first time they showed the whole hospital building EVER at the end? It was such an obvious digital shot of everything above the El tracks, but I think that was the point; the hospital itself takes the last bow.

  • Corey Antwan Banks

    I truly enjoyed the final episode of ER it was great writing, tru I wanted to see more old faces but they did a great job bringing old stars back people you have to understand that if they would have brought alot more old faces in in might not hae been realistic unless they would have all been invited to Carters son building or surprised Carter, I loverd how it opened with the and ended with the old theme song mixign old with new cast and ending showing what it is all about doign what they loved an helping people. I turly believed Michael Chricton (forgive me if I spelled last name wrong) is smiling on his creation through God. ER is the greatest medical drama and most decorated I believe all the stars past, present and one’s liek Rachel Greene were and is smiling and I like when Dr. Carter said Dr. Green you coming you see that is what it is all about passin gthe tourch take a look at Rachel, Bentons son, Sam’s son, Tony’s daughter they are all growing up and Pratts brother as well

  • elvagreen8886

    Ever saw a one sorta like this one on ___ WealthyRomances com ____ It’s where romancing with the rich singles!

  • Corey Antwan Banks

    Great job John Wells, Mr. Spielberg all of ER cast and crew, NBC and now House will be my new current medical Drama but make no mistake about it ER is the greatest and a speacial thank you to Michael Crichton Rest in Peace and God bless you all!

  • JanoG


  • Stephen

    It was a great way for it to end, I thoroughly enjoyed it…

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