Yesterday I questioned whether or not I should bother with Mark Greene's return to ER. I bothered, but still don't know if I should have.
The episode both caused fond reminisces and broke my heart. It didn't break my heart in the way I think the producers would have had it; I didn't care that much for either of the sick kid storylines. It broke my heart because it reminded me what a great show ER used to be. There was a time, perhaps if ER had ended after seven or eight seasons, that I would have argued that the series should go down as one of the best dramas ever; now it's just one of the longest-running.
You see, in bringing back Doctor Greene they showed us both how great the series was and how long its slide has been. Notice that they didn't bring back Mark Greene from the early days of the series; they didn't bring back the Mark Greene that fought with Benton and Weaver, they brought back the Mark Greene that was already sick with cancer and temporarily estranged from Corday. At that point the show was already many a season into its run, and already had told some of its best stories. That was after Benton had left, after Hathaway and Ross had left, it was after Lucy died and Carter had been stabbed. It was a LONG way into the series and the best plotlines the show ever had were already finished.
It was heartbreaking to me to realize just how long ago those flashbacks were set. They did a very good job of placing the episode at a definitive spot in the timeline, and the momentary appearances by Paul McCrane, Abraham Benrubi, and Laura Innes helped situate the flashbacks (though they were perhaps a little silly knowing that the scenes were newly filmed). The mention of, and later the phone call to, Corday were a little troubling however. Clearly the series couldn't get Alex Kingston to come back and reprise her role for 30 seconds, which only served to make me wonder why they bothered placing the flashback during the period when Mark was married to her. They could have easily set the flashbacks two or three years earlier and still used McCrane, Benrubi, and Innes.
I guess that they wanted Mark's story to have some meat to it rather than him having no emotional arc in the episode and the brain cancer story was the easiest way to do that. That's fine, but to do that story they needed a scene with Corday. They just did, and to not have one showed me how willing the current series is to do something on a subpar level. Mark had other storylines and issues which could have been explored more fully — perhaps the attack he experienced in the ER bathroom, perhaps his distress the first time Susan Lewis left — the man was on the show for a bunch of seasons, there was other stuff that could have been explored. Stuff that didn't require Elizabeth Corday to make an appearance.
I'm still on the fence though about watching the finale. Perhaps it'll provide this one-time devotee of the show with a quantum of solace, but I'm just not sure.