in Shocktober

ER – “Ghosts”

Season 3, Episode 5
Original Air Date:
October 31, 1996

One of the worst habits I’ve developed over the past few months is wasting time watching clips of TV shows on YouTube. Time that could be spent, at the very least, clearing my backlog of video games, TV shows, movies, and blog posts instead gets taken up mindlessly scrolling through popular moments of, most of the time, show I’ve already watched like New Girl and Scrubs. I guess it doesn’t feel like a waste of time when the clips are usually less than five minutes? Anyway, it all started when I got recommended a scene from ER where one of the doctors finds two other doctors have been stabbed. I had to know more: were they OK? One of them was. Who did the stabbing? David Krumholtz, it turns out. What were the ramifications of this? Hard to say. Thus I was overtaken by a desire to learn just how over-the-top this seemingly respectable show really was.

“Ghosts” is a few years before that stabbing episode, in the early days of season three. ER was at the height of its powers; the most popular show on television ahead of even its “Must See TV” counterparts like Friends and Seinfeld. It’s creator, Michael Crichton, was one of the most popular authors in the world thanks to the success of Jurassic Park and this show (I’m not sure how Congo moved the needle). ER‘s breakout star, George Clooney, only halfway through his time on the show, had already had his big feature film break with From Dusk till Dawn. This was a show with nothing to prove.

That’s certainly how “Ghosts” feels, anyway. It offers very little to new viewers like myself, who have to piece together what the serialized narrative must be in order to understand what’s happening here. For instance, the episode begins with Dr. Boulet (Gloria Reuben) arriving at a house at the same time as some trick-or-treaters. The man who lives there (Michael Beach) jumps out and gives the kids candy, then invites Boulet in. It turns out she’s there to help him apply for a second mortgage – something he’s put off and needs by tomorrow morning. She says she’ll handle the paperwork during her break and that he should meet her at a diner near the hospital later that night to pick it up. But who is this man? Her husband? Her brother? Just a friend? I can only guess.

Later, Boulet and Dr. Doyle (Jorjan Fox) argue about resuscitating an elderly woman who has a DNR and clearly attempted suicide. They save her and her husband explains that he had assisted her and then lost his nerve because he loved her too much. The woman dies anyway, which makes Doyle sad. Boulet, on the other hand, just seems numb. Then I figured out what was really going on when she goes to the diner and meets that man again. She says he never loved her like that old man loved his wife and that their marriage is over. Oh, so he’s her husband! But they’re separated or something. Cool.

The easiest plot to follow is Dr. Ross (Clooney) and Carol (Julianna Margulies) taking a shift on the Healthmobile, a mobile clinic that treats the needy in their own neighborhoods. Carol is a nurse but we see her go to pre-med night school, so clearly she’s thinking about changing things up. When her bag gets knocked over, Ross finds her textbook and encourages her to continue pursuing her dreams. There’s big will-they-won’t-they energy between these two, although I don’t know if they’ve gotten together before or not at this point. Also, one of the prostitutes they treat is a teenage girl played by Kirsten Dunst. I told you this show was a big deal.

Speaking of will-they-won’t-they, Dr. Greene (Anthony Edwards) is nervously awaiting the return of Dr. Lewis (Sherry Stringfield), who’s been in Hawaii. Greene is in a bad mood because Dr. Weaver (Laura Innes) is passing him on the tenure track and the only research opportunity available is a study on puss. When Lewis shows up, she offhandedly says she had a panic attack and ended up staying in Arizona. This story is crazy but they don’t spend time on it so I’ll assume that was an earlier episode. I don’t know what the relationship is between these two characters, but they’re awkward around each other and eventually hang out at the Halloween party at the end, so I assume they also already did or soon will hook up.

Oh, and there’s a thing where they have to check on a patient on the “haunted” fifth floor but nothing happens and I forgot about it.

Finally, there’s the Benton crew. My guess is that if I actually watched ER, Dr. Benton (Eriq La Salle) would be my favorite character. He’s the one who does the iconic fist pump in the opening credits. Benton is a hard-ass but skilled mentor character, clearly a forerunner for the likes of Dr. Cox and Dr. House. He actually has one oddly specific thing in common with Dr. House: one of the interns he’s teaching, Dr. Gant, is played by Omar Epps. In this episode, Gant is fed up with how hard Benton is on him, which leads to a confrontation where Benton reveals it’s because he believes Gant has to prove to people that he deserves to be there and isn’t just benefiting from affirmative action. Meaty stuff that’s mostly just at the fringes of this episode.

Benton and Dr. Carter (Noah Wyle) are also learning about being better with kids for some reason. They turn to Dr. Keaton (Glenne Headly), who tells Carter is naturally gifted with kids but Benton needs to get props. This leads to Benton taking some hospital kids trick-or-treating and tries to earn their respect by doing a handstand. When a father and daughter are brought in for emergency surgery, the father dies. Carter comforts the daughter while she’s being treated and then decides he has to be the one to tell her what happened. Keaton seems proud of him for doing so.

I still haven’t covered all the little plots that are packed into this single 45-minute episode. Like I said at the top, this show is only interested in telling you this week’s slice of the story, leaving me thirsty for more details. Will Boulet go through with the divorce? Will Carol keep going to school? Will whatever is going on with Greene and Lewis lead to something? Will Gant earn Benton’s respect? Why are so many of the doctors’ last names common first names? I have no idea. Maybe someday I’ll take the time to find out. But 15 seasons is a lot of ER, and there are so many Parks and Rec clips I could be watching.