I have been through a truly amazing experience in the last 24 hours. It has left me simultaneously energized and overwhelmed by the connections it contains and the possibilities it suggests. Basically, in a single evening we watched the last episode of Season 7, followed by the original ER pilot, followed by what seems like an act of extreme, spontaneous whimsy, namely, the watching—on broadcast television—of the 300th episode of ER.
As you may know, the missus and I are kind of Amish when it comes to television. We only watch DVDs, never “live” TV. I always thought that was because we didn’t have cable and couldn’t get any reception in the basement. Turns out, however, that NBC comes in just fine down there and the real reason we don’t watch commercial TV is because the little lady doesn’t like the commercials.
Now, if this revelation makes me seem a little passive and, I dunno, somewhat outmanned in the realm of TV viewing, I make no apologies. There are, no doubt, other departments in the corporation of this marriage where the tables turn and I appear to have more than my share of authority. You’ll have to take my word on it. I, for one, am happy with the balance we’ve struck.
At any rate, the good news is the TV started working in time for us to watch the 300th episode live, and as luck would have it, we had just finished watching the pilot, which we had arrived at having just worked our way to the end of Season 7. For people like us who are limited to what’s out on DVD, Season 7 represents the outer edge of the knowable universe—at least until Jan. 22 when Season 8 is released. The pilot is, of course, the beginning of time. And the 300th episode, in the heart of Season 14, is like some glimpse at the scrolls of heaven wherein the future is writ.
And the future, at first blush, looks grim.
Who are these people? I see Abby. I see Luka. I see Haleh and Chuni. But these other actors? How am I meant to believe that this meek girl in scrubs can operate? She is no Elizabeth Corday. Where is John Carter? Where is Benton? Where is Weaver? Where, for that matter, is Mallucci? I would settle for some of his insufferable cockiness and convenient knowledge of folk cures; it might be just the thing to give me a toe-hold in this world. Instead I am forced to acknowledge the awful truth: the actor whose pinnacle achievement was playing “Doctor Dave” had better things to do than stand by for Season 14.
It’s likely that, if one arrived at it over time, rather than jumping to it on a whim, the 14th season could feel every bit as organic and inevitable as the 7th does to me now. The problem isn’t so much that I don’t know these new actors. It’s that they don’t know me. I dipped into a future where I don’t yet belong, a future where the things I love and understand no longer have the same meaning. To me, Mark Green is a simple, noble mix of all the things it takes to be a man in this complex, contrary world. To them, he’s that poor bastard who died in Season 8. He is the past and nobody really wants to know about the past.
Because the past repeats itself. And it uses you as the fodder with which to do it.
So, as mentioned previously, my father’s cousin died and when he died there fell upon my father the distinct feeling of being “next,” a feeling that turned out, however coincidentally, to be accurate. And then, when my father died, he naturally left that feeling to me—or at any rate, it seemed that way. It suddenly seemed to me that there were no great barriers between me and the great beyond—a certain amount of open ocean before me, to be sure, but no way of telling if that were merely the horizon out there at the limit of my sight, or the place where the ocean drops away into the end of the world.
Furthermore, having lost my son not so many months before, I felt as though fate had the measure of me. It’s just like in Alistair MacLean’s novel, HMS Ulysses, when the captain turns the Ulysses away from the convoy and into the teeth of the great German battleship. It’s suicide, but he knows that if he can slow that monster down, even for five minutes, the convoy can reach safety. So he rings the engine room and, with the appropriate saltiness, tells the men to pile on steam. The men do, the Ulysses gets a bone in her teeth and rushes down towards the deadly grey hulk. The battleship, slow but mighty, cannot believe the cheek of this attack. It takes aim and, with a crash, the massive deck guns fire—a line of splashes aft show they’ve overshot the Ulysses (the men cheer). Again, the deck guns fire—again, the benign splashes, but short of her bow this time, throwing up a wall of spray that obscures the little cruiser from view. There she comes now, the Ulysses slicing through the mist, charging forward, her guns blazing, while the shells that will lay her low are already in the air.
Man, I loved that book when I was a boy and I dreamed of someday having the chance to show the stuff of which I was made through some similar, hectic rush into terrible odds. But when the challenge came, it can’t be said that I charged into my destiny with the same élan the crew of the Ulysses mustered in charging the German battleship.
Instead, there was a period of a few weeks where my ship was more or less dead in the water. But bit by bit, I’ve put on steam. In the past year, I’ve seen a few shells that seemed to have our name on them fall far from the mark. And now, I’ve begun to answer to the helm and I’ve—well, I’ve over-extended this metaphor, is what I’ve done.
The thing is, if I've slipped my moorings, maybe it's because we’re on the eve of a big day here at the Zeus household. The boys are in bed. My wife is asleep. No ER watching tonight because the TV room doubles as a guest room and I’ve got a good friend staying down there tonight. He’ll see to the boys in the morning, as the missus and I will be up and out before dawn, heading to the hospital for the scheduled induction of our new child into the family ranks.
Funny world, this is, where you can set up a thing like this as if we were going in to meet him at the train. And that’s ok. From what I understand, this mode of arrival may be somewhat more reliable than Amtrak and, anyway, if everyone gets through it safely, you won’t hear me complain.
I did, however, have many things I meant to tell you before we got here—about Ross’s phantom son, the disembodied voice in the first episode, yoga, sleep apnea, follicle-stimulating hormone, the fallibility of doctors, the beauty of simple actions repeated with compassion, my chance sighting of Abraham Benrubi—but now here we are and those things will have to wait, if they will.
I am not a slave to the voices in my head. But I have come to trust them and, right now, the voice that says something is coming to an end, is speaking with a kind of sour certainty I can’t dismiss. Still, there’s another voice, a little further up in the corner of my mind, so that I have to kinda’ wink one eye to hear it, and it says something is just beginning.
I know which way I’m leaning.