ER: The brutal masterpiece that is Be Still My Heart

Be Still My Heart is the beautiful title of the masterful 13th episode of the 6th season, an episode full of sadness, cocky doctors and those warnings we just didn’t see.

“Be Still My heart is” what an old lady tells Abby her late husband used to say to her and what becomes a comfort to her as she herself now is dying. And I can’t help thinking that those same words is something the parents, dead after a car accident, would want to whisper to their young children as they get to see their parents’ bodies in the trauma room.

Be Still My Heart, Valentine's Day, Lucy and CarterThe title also serves as advice to us viewers, even if we don’t understand it until afterwards. Because it is a heartbreaking shock we are given at the end – without a doubt the moment in TV that has shocked me the most –  and it is all delivered with such brilliance.

We already got our share of sadness in the episode and felt Lucy’s frustration over not getting support from Carter as her migraine patient is behaving exceedingly odd. We think it is time to relax, the drama has calmed down and we let ourselves be embraced by the cheerful party atmosphere. It’s Valentine’s day, the ER is decorated, the candy is o display at the counter and the music is playing loudly. Lydia’s ”there’s a bigger knife in the lounge” gives us warning that we do not understand, before we distanced by the heavy beat try to process what we see.

Showrunner John Wells, the scriptwriter Lydia Woodwards and the director Kerry Weaver show exceptional skills and how very thought-throug every episode of ER is.

Note! Photo and video are screenshots from DVD. Material owned by Warner Bros Entertainment Ltd.

More about great episodes here: ER: Great episodes
Like Abby and Luka, check this page out: ER’s Abby and Luka


ER’s Abby and Luka: Using all their strength in 300 Patients

300 Patients is a beautiful but sad Christmas episode where Abby with a push from the hospital chaplain finally finds the courage to ask for help.

”Sometimes using all your strength means asking for help” is the message of the story the chaplain, played by Reiko Aylesworth, tells Abby in the lounge at the ER. ”I thought maybe you needed to hear it” is her reply when Abby asks her why she told her the story. And she was right, Abby did need to hear that.

Remember way back in season 8 when Abby and Luka broke up. “I don’t want help, I don’t want to be pitied. I don’t want to be saved” she told Luka. Her childhood, abandoned by her father and coping with a “crazy” mother, made her feel inferior and people trying to help her made her feel patronised. She had no-one to rely on as a kid and had been used to take of herself, so she wanted to be independent. And now she is also utterly ashamed.

Screenshot toralil, 300 PatientsThe Christmas episode of season 14, 300 Patients, is a truly heartbreaking one, although not tragic as such. The scene at home that starts with Luka playing with Joe, preparing him for the impending flight to Croatia, and Abby coming to sit behind them before the finally gets the courage to take the chaplain’s advice. This is probably one of my favourite Luby moments ever.

Abby is terrified of admitting the truth – the drinking, the cheating and the putting Joe in danger – afraid of what will happen if she does. Luka’s pain is somewhat the same, knowing something wrong, but also afraid of finding out and what that will do to them, confronting her without daring to ask the questions out loud. Abby’s kissing him on the neck before finally saying those words: ”I need help.” Luka freezing, but then never taking his eyes away from her. Two people so evidently in fear and in pain.

Screenshot toralil, 300 patients
Their continuous scene is four minutes long, which seems really unusual for a such a scene, just two persons talking quietly. It’s a heartbreaking one. The confession, the sadness, the wish to get more information than there is a strength to offer. There is no fighting or arguing. The blame is put only on themselves, never on each other.

Screenshot toralil, 300 Patients
“This is how we do it together, you have to help me do it alone”, is Abby’s final solution for them to move on. The guilt ridden Abby knows this is on her to fix. He will take Joe to the funeral in Croatia. She will go to a rehab facility. The heartbroken, but ever supportive Luka, finds his strength to – reluctantly – agree. It’s not a happy Christmas for the two of them, but finally they are on some kind of path forward, without quite knowing yet where it will lead.

300 Patients, also the 300th episode of ER, is written by Joe Sachs and David Zabel and directed by John Wells.

Note! All photos are screenshots from DVD. Material owned by Warner Bros Entertainment Ltd.

For more about  ER, check out: ER’s Abby and Luka and ER: Favourite episodes

ER’s Luka and Carter: The journeys, the brutality and the beauty of Kisangani and The Lost

In Kisangani and The Lost we get a brutal story about war and its victims, a glimpse of the fantastic work of Doctors Without Borders as well as the seeing Carter and Kovac find new purpose and meaning in life.

Nine years into ER it shows with grandiosity how it is still an amazing show. In two episodes, the last of season 9, Kisangani, and the second of season 10, The Lost, the screenwriters John Wells and David Zabel together with the director Christopher Chulack do not only tell an incredibly captivating and brutal story about war and its victims but also about Doctors Without Borders/Médecins sans Frontières and their fantastic work. They also manage to magically weave in the inner journeys of two doctors, which both come to an end somewhere on the road in Congo. John Carter goes to Kisangani to find a greater purpose in life. Luka Kovac goes there to find any purpose at all, or maybe he goes there to die.

ER Kis 6
Luka spent season 9 being depressed. It was triggered by Abby choosing Carter instead of coming back to him. The reason itself was more likely the pain over the family that died and the guilt of being alive himself. You could also sense a death wish when Luka after having caused the death of a patient drove his Porsche into a building. After using a prostitute as therapist and getting an ultimatum from Weaver he tries to shape up before he decides to once again join Doctors Without Borders.

ER Kis 2
Carter comes from a very wealthy family and working as an ER doctor at the county hospital for little money seemed like a way for him to do good and give back in a way that his parents did not. When he realises that Abby is not the woman for him at the same time as his beloved grandmother dies he is distraught and when Luka asks him to come to Kisangani he knows he wants to go.

ER Kis 1
It’s a somewhat shocked and astounded Carter that realises the situation at the primitive hospital he has arrived to and gets a lesson in what symptoms means what diseases and what medicines are available. Both we and Carter get brutally aware of the everyday life where pneumonia and malaria are the milder ailments, polio, aids and not to forget the shooting and machete injuries, the worse.

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While Carter sees the bad things, there is not enough or the right medicines to help, Luka sees the good: “We vaccinated 200 kids today. We saved their lives.” At the very basic clinic in Matenda Carter starts to feel at ease. Luka laughs and seems really happy in the midst of everything. He seems to be at home. When the war comes close he refuses to go back to Kisangani, he won’t leave his patients. He seems utterly calm and in harmony as he tends to his patients after Carter and the others have left. He is not afraid of the danger because Luka is not afraid to die.

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When the rebels come back he runs to the woods with a child in his arms and it’s like he gets to do what he could not do with his own family. When his malaria stops him he urges the others to continue without him. Captured with tied hands, shaking from the fever, bruised and prepared to die, Luka says a prayer for the first time in a very long while, a prayer that actually saves him. Maybe he is not supposed to die after all. Luka is believed to be dead though and Carter comes back to Congo to find his body. Back in Africa and looking for his colleague he realises that he should stay. He has found his calling at the same time as Luka found his will to live.

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What is so beautiful with this story also is how Carter and Luka find the respect for each other. While they both were pining for Abby they pretended it wasn’t there, but the fact that Luka asked Carter to come shows that of course there was some respect there already. In Congo it didn’t just grow unlimited. No, it almost feels like love when Luka reaches for Carter to give him a kiss on the cheek and thanks him for saving him. Maybe if you have stood on your knees next to each other, with guns pointed at your heads, there are no other feelings left to have for each other, even if you once fought over the same woman.

Note! All photos are screenshots from DVD. Material owned by Warner Bros Entertainment Ltd.

For more about  ER, check out: ER’s Abby and Luka and ER: Favourite episodes

ER’s Abby Lockhart: The three amigos in An Intern’s Guide to the Galaxy

In An Intern’s Guide to the Galaxy we get to see our favourite new interns stress, learn and finding their own ways in that messy, energetic, rewarding galaxy that is the ER.

An Intern’s Guide to the Galaxy is one of my favourite episodes of season 11. It’s about Neela, who is back in the ER after doubting she wanted to be a doctor, Ray, the new intern and Abby of course, finally a doctor.

Screenshot toralil, An Intern's Guide to the Galaxy, Abby
The episode entails so much. It has the doctors challenging them (Pratt demanding them to discharge at least 25 patients each during their 12-hour shift), doctors being supportive (Luka of course, of Abby), doctors telling them to be more assertive (Dubenko to Abby who is letting Ray take over her cases) and doctors reprimanding them (Carter to Ray).

Screenshot toralil, An Intern's Guide to the Galaxy
None of the doctors are mean or obnoxious, they just show different ways of teaching. The interns, or the Three Amigos as I like to call them, are stressed and get a bit too confident, nervous or overzealous, but in the end they all get to learn, grow and find their own way during the shift.

Screenshot toralil, An Intern's Guide to the Galaxy, the three amigos
They get to know each other better as well as the become competitors during the day while both in the beginning and in the end working more as a team. We in turn get to learn more about them, dig deeper into their personalities. And all is done with such nuance and care as always. And it’s funny!

Screenshot toralil, The Intern's Guide to the Galaxy, Abby and Luka
They casually squeeze in a bit of Abby and Luka, thank you very much, and Abby gets to be Abby working on her insecurities: ”I’m trying to embrace uncertainty” is the way she handles the day. What is not as uncertain though, is that Abby cannot take care if her plants!

The episode is written by Lisa Swerling and directed by Arthur Albert.

Note! All photos are screenshots from DVD. Material owned by Warner Bros Entertainment Ltd.

For more about ER, check out: ER’s Abby and Luka and ER: Favourite episodes

ER’s Abby and Luka: How the ending perfectly fit their stories

The stories of Abby and Luka get the endings that perfectly reflects the journeys they have travelled through their nine years in the County General’s ER.

I love how the writers, led by David Zabel, focus on different things in Abby and Luka’s last (main) episodes respectively and emphasize their separate personal journeys as well as their common one.

The Chicago Way (14×19)

Luka’s last episode is really The Chicago Way, where he mourns, contemplates and takes to heart that nothing stays the same and there is no magical happily ever after. When one is weak the other one has to be strong and if they just keep rowing the boat, they will be okey.

He loves Abby, he wants their family and he knows finally how to let go of the pain. The show ends for him having what he longed for from the beginning – a family again, not just with anyone though, but with someone he truly loves.

Screenshot toralil, Abby and Luka kissing in The Chicago Way

The Book of Abby (15×03)

Abby’s last episode, The Book of Abby, gives a testament to her personal and professional growth over the years. She is now very confident in her role as a doctor. Her self criticism has turned into self confidence, she is even prepared to joke about it and show it off.

The episode also emphasises on ”keeping your head up” telling Abby to stop stumbling around, looking down at her problems and failures, but instead to look forward and see the possibilities as she and Luka moves to Boston. She has learned to let go of her fears and that asking for help is not a sign of weakness, but something that requires strength.

Screenshot by Tora, The Book of Abby

It’s hard to imagine a better ending for these two. Their respective journeys have taken them to where they are now and made a loving and successful relationship possible. The ER writing team knew them so well, had a clear vision of where they were heading and understood how to give them a perfectly fitting ending. Not all long running shows manage to do that for their main characters.

Note! All photos are screenshots from DVD. Material owned by Warner Bros Entertainment Ltd.

For more about ER, check out: ER’s Abby and Luka and ER: Favourite episodes

ER’s Abby and Luka: Looking for answers in A Walk in the Woods

Season 7 is the one where Abby and Luka are struggling to connect and in episode 14, Luka’s patient the bishop helps them on a new path.

In October 2001, The New York Times called Abby and Luka’s season 7 hookup “the most fascinating relationship on prime-time TV”. I totally agree although I have slightly different take on the relationship itself. There is no doubt these two were attracted to each other and that they cared about each other. Still they are struggling to really connect as the fear of letting someone in and the hesitation of getting close to someone again is looming.

A Walk in the Woods is depicting much of this and it starts off with four amorous morning scenes with four couples of the show. The last ones out are Abby and Luka who just concludes some morning loving and I have always loved this after-sex small talk that has so much in it. I find it very sweet and intimate in their own, introverted kind of way and the way Abby cautiously start to talk and explore is something the really have not done before.

I have also come to love that whole episode and realising how that first scene sets up the rest of the episode for these struggling love birds.

Screenshot by toralil, A Walk in the WoodsThe scene itself is beautiful:

  • Abby’s tender kissing of his hand as they finish sex.
  • Their sweet mutual check to see if the other one is okey.
  • How Luka first says “nothing really” before honestly telling her he is thinking about the bishop at the hospital.
  • How Abby feels comfortable to make a joke: ”Making love with me makes you think about a priest with lupus?”
  • Luka laughing, appreciating the joke.
  • Abby using the ”making love”-words again as she is noticing that Luka looks at her when doing that.
  • How Abby connects Luka’s thinking about the bishop with him thinking about his past, and hesitates but then asks him about his dead wife.
  • How Luka never stops touching her, stroking  her hand, her hair and letting his lips touch her head.
  • How Luka quietly tells Abby what she wants to know.
  • How Abby is not threatened by his answers, but happy he had loved.

It’s all very soft and low-key and shows their relationship is more to them then just something casual. That the want to connect even though they are struggling to do it. They talked, even if not using so many words. They opened up, if only just a little bit.

Screenshot by toralil, A Walk in the WoodsIn a later scene Abby goes to find Luka in the ambulance bay, and I love that fact that she goes and finds him (”we always seem to find each other”). He is upset about the bishop leaving the hospital against medical advice. Abby understands him, not only that he is worried about the bishop, but that Luka needs him. She is the one telling him to go after the bishop and help him, understanding it will also help Luka.

Screenshot by toralil, Abby and Luka in A Walk in the WoodsThe bishop’s story about a walk in the woods, when he was feeling lost, not knowing which way to go, as he tells Luka at the church, becomes Luka’s story. And when Abby again comes to find Luka in their final scene, Luka is also looking for answers in the snow. He too is lost and confused, not finding it as easy as he first thought perhaps to actually move on with another woman. When Abby shows up he takes another look towards the sky before deciding he is ready to go home with her and be with her, not only physically but emotionally. It will just takes another visit to the bishop and a heartbreaking confession before he is completely ready.

A Walk in the Woods is written and directed by John Wells.

Note! All photos are screenshots from DVD. Material owned by Warner Bros Entertainment Ltd.

For more about ER, check out: ER’s Abby and Luka and ER: Favourite episodes

ER’s Luka Kovac: Evidence of the carefully constructed and complex character he is

Luka’s 9-year long story on #ER is one of the most touching I’ve seen on TV and it’s an unusual one as well, I think, especially for being about a man and the fact that his characters is so very carefully constructed.

Just as Abby is freed from any stereotype female traits, Luka too is not your average guy, but one inhabiting traits both associated with men (the protector and provider) and women (passive, patient, compassionate and caregiving). Most of all he is just a very carefully constructed, complex man driven by his quest to fill the void after the family he lost.

Here are 8 things characterising him:

1. He is caring, compassionate and fond of children, which together with his longing attracts him to women with kids.

2. He is very competent but not competitive. He is encouraging, supportive and always confident in others’ (Abby’s) capabilities.

3. His survivor’s guilt and longing for a family throws him into a depression triggered by Abby choosing Carter over him. It starts with some kind of sex addiction to numb the pain and ends with a death wish fortunately not being accommodated nor when he crashes his Porsche into a building nor when going to Africa and getting captured by militia.

4. He does have a violent streak, seen when it comes to protecting women as illustrated both with the man that tried to rob him and Abby and the neighbour beating up Abby. After surviving Africa though, we never see the survivor’s guilt, the death wish or the violence again.

5. He is passive in his ways and usually lets things happen to him, especially when it comes to women. He is never flirty or makes passes. Abby, Nicole, Gillian, Sam and all the women he had encounters with during his slutty phase, he was never the initiator (Carol is the exception.) Not until he decides to show Abby what he feels and wants, does he make the first move, kissing her at the end of The Human Shield (probably the best of all ER scenes)

6. When it comes to relationships Luka gets beguiled by his visions of an idyllic future and doesn’t really get why they don’t turn into reality (Carol, Sam). Abby was the exception who with her pessimism never projected any kind of happy future for him to fall in love with, he just loved her.

7. He learns to be patient when getting back together with Abby. He knows she can’t be pushed and patiently waits for her to get ready to ”define” their relationship (Abby’s word), moving in together and finally getting married.

8. He never understands (Abby’s) jokes!

No one could portray Luka the way Goran Visnjic does, having the capability to express so much emotion and states of mind without usually many words to go with it. All the credit to him and the writing team for creating such a unique, deep and interesting male character.

Read more about Luka here:
ER’s Abby and Luka, part 1: Luka’s story through 10 episodes

For more about ER, check out: ER’s Abby and Luka and More ER greatness