What is it with Neela and non-linear episodes this season? First Dream Runner, now this. As I always do, I completely failed to register who was being billed at the beginning of the episode - though I'd already spoiled myself by finding out when Abbey would return - and so Ray's cameo at the end came as a half-surprise (half in that, seriously, was there anyone else with the history, the presence and the steamy good looks to end Neela's story so satisfactorily?).
Having seen my fair share of TV series coming to an end, one thing in particular that I've noticed about ER is the tenacity of its showrunners, in that, where an old cast member is needed, that cast member *will* return. Here was me thinking we'd never see the likes of Greene, Corday, Ross or Hathaway ever again (even Wyle was questionable to me), but, arguably thanks to the writers' strike, the notion of a definitive final season of the show has brought them all home to roost. Whether it's the "magic" of ER or simply the verbal contracts that these actors had with Zabel or Wells or whoever I can't really say, but it makes for very nostalgic, eclectic television.
Anyway, this episode was first and foremost about Neela. But before I talk about that, can I just ask if I was the only one looking to see how much they covered her stomach up? I don't know how far along her pregnancy would have been at the time of filming, but there is very little of her belly on show throughout the episode. Not that Neela's navel normally takes the centre-stage of ER...
So Neela's leaving, but Dubenko is confident that she'll return. The scenes between these two were sweet, mainly thanks to the fact that the episode starts with them resolving the conflict they have. It was nice to have Neela walk out before hitting 2,500 surgeries, as it ultimately meant that she walked out a better surgeon than one who would cut just to hit the big numbers. It looked like Dubenko took something away from that revelation too, creating a student-becomes-the-master moment that felt wholly appropriate for the episode.
Seeing the wall again was a very sweet moment. It didn't feel like a poor-man's version of the scene at the end of TBOA, mainly because the use of flashbacks (always a good thing on such a character-driven show) made it clear that this was the end of Neela's experience at County, and nobody else's.
Brenner's medical story ultimately failed to impress me (the same may be said about his conversations with Neela at the airport), but it was all part of a good story that's been developing for him. And I really don't mind that this is happening so late in the game; ER is at its best when dramatic situations develop realistically whilst remaining interesting and gripping. As long as Brenner's story is explored in this style (and David Lyons has proved he's up to the job), I'm not too fussed.
It was good to see Abbey, but, without having been spoiled, I would be willing to bet every ER DVD I own that she'll be back. That cannot be the last time we see Abbey Lockheart. Still, her scene felt very organic and comforting to the long-term viewer, not at all unlike Doug and Carol's scenes last week.
Between this episode and 'Old Times', there's a good balance of 'old' and new story lines. Quite frankly, whilst I've mentioned above how pleasing it is to see all these old characters returning to ER, it's good to see that the 'next generation' is getting its share of screen time too. Neela's been at County as long of Doug Ross, and longer than Susan Lewis' on either of her stays, and she deserves every bit of the send-off those characters got (and I'm actually laughing as I'm writing this, as I remember just how horrible Susan's exit in season 12 was... maybe she's not the best example).
It pains me to say it, but roll on April 2. I expect the very best.