It’s the people and their lives that kept us interested in ER for fifteen seasons. Season thirteen was the first with not a single trace of the original cast, although the season before featured one episode with Sherry Stringfield’s Dr. Susan Lewis character. While the characters here are still just as beloved, the series was beginning to lack some of its original magic. This was also the first season without any trace of Dr. John Carter (Noah Wyle), and he was always the center of the show. It was always told from his perspective as he moved through the ranks from medical student to attending physician. It just seemed to lose its center without him.
John Stamos was moved from a recurring character to a regular, with his character of Tony Gates going from paramedic to ER intern. His storyline became central to the series, and many times it seemed as though he was supposed to be the replacement for Dr. Carter. We learn he has a unique family situation, living as father and husband to his best friend’s wife and daughter after his friend was killed in the war, although he was never married to the woman, Meg. He was only taking care of them to fulfill his duty.
Yet, ultimately what Gates wants is to be with Dr. Neela Rasgotra (Parminder Nagra). She’s still getting over the death of her husband, Dr. Michael Gallant, also in the war. It’s almost as if he has a thing for war widows. He’s torn between his sense of duty to Meg and her daughter and Neela, who he’s been attracted to since they first met. Neela has other suitors as well, in her supervisor Dr. Dubenko (Leland Orser) and her roommate, Dr. Ray Barnett (Shane West). By the end of the season, he leaves the series, with his character suffering a life-changing injury. Dr. Kerry Weaver (Laura Innes) leaves as well when her role at the hospital is reduced because of budget cuts.
Nurse Sam (Linda Cardellini) seems to finally find a way to kick that miserable ex of hers to the curb. The father of her son, Steve, kidnaps her from the hospital, is already holding their son Alex, and all this is after he and his criminal cohorts drugged Dr. Luka Kovac (Goran Visnjic), and shot Jerry (Abraham Benrubi). The trauma of it all sends Abby (Maura Tierney) into an early labor. By the end of the first episode, Luka and Jerry have been saved, Abby has given birth, and after being raped by her ex, Sam has shot and killed him.
Abby and Luka’s preemie baby eventually makes it, but as they get ready to be married, they go through some very convoluted drama. One of Luka’s past patients (Forest Whitaker) wants revenge and is suing for malpractice, and when he doesn’t get the resolution he was looking for, begins stalking Luka and Abby. There was just something about that storylne that seemed too set-up. It just never fit into the natural flow of things, and it was obvious that it was created just to go from drama to drama.
And that’s the crux of the problem with this season of ER. It was nearing its end, and we all knew it. County General struggled without having a place for Dr. John Carter. Yet, the characters here were there longer and proved more endearing than original cast member George Clooney’s character. While possibly going on to more success than the majority of the other actors, he’s rarely remembered for his ER role anymore.
Yet Noah Wyle will probably always be connected to Dr. John Carter, and ER connected to him. The series and hospital survived, to a lesser extent, without him, but it just wasn’t the same. We still tuned in every Thursday night, but were always hoping to see Dr. Carter come back home. We knew we’d lost Dr. Mark Greene (Anthony Edwards) for good, but we always had Dr. Carter, until now.
You can relive all of the entire season with ER: The Complete Thirteenth Season, now out on DVD.