May 6th, 2009
ABC made a decision last year to save Scrubs, which at the time seemed like a mistake: the show was struggling mightily with its creative focus, and if you go back and read my review of the out-of-order finale NBC aired you’ll find that I was more than ready for the show to die. At the same time, there was a sense that a show seven years running deserved a better sendoff. So while I was frustrated that ABC chose to pick up the series on some level, I also hoped that it would be worth it.
It was. The show’s eighth season has not been amongst its most novel, but it’s probably the most consistent the show has been since at least Season 4, and as the series faces yet another finale with an uncertain future this time I find myself entire ready to say goodbye. The show has been on a victory lap all season, giving each character their time to reflect on the past seven years through a vacation, a new set of interns to remind them of themselves, and a new set of memorable if familiar patients that brought the show back to its emotional roots.
There are some rumblings that “My Finale” will actually be “J.D.’s Finale” more than that of the series: the first-person narrator of a majority of the series has been the series’ star, and his relationships with the various characters (his bromance with Turk, his relationship with Elliot, his mentorship with Dr. Cox) are the series’ most memorable. And it’s this reason that this doesn’t just feel like J.D.’s finale: his future is the future of all of these characters, and the idea of them continuing on while he’s off at another hospital doesn’t feel right.
For me, I want the show to be over: I want to go out on a good season, and on a great episode, one which takes some shortcuts but gives John Dorian the kind of exit that feels right for this character, and thus one that felt right for the series. It’s not that the series can’t continue beyond this point, but rather that in many ways it shouldn’t.
But, after a season of good will after seasons of struggle, I’m willing to keep an open mind should they make that decision.
What works about this finale is that it doesn’t waste any time – after last night’s episode, “My Chief Concern,” dealt with Turk and J.D.’s relationship, this time around it was all about J.D. In this sense, it does mean that we didn’t get endings for various characters: we got Carla’s final moment with J.D., but not her final moment with Turk, or her final moment with Elliot, or anything else. Similarly, J.D. and Elliot had a number of moments in the episode, but they never got any which dealt with Elliot’s own characters because Lawrence wasn’t interesting in tying up everything as if this was the end of their lives.
I don’t think this is just the remnants of hope for a ninth season, albeit clearly in a different form: rather, it feels more accurately like Lawrence didn’t want to just shut off the lights of the hospital, as J.D. did in the hilarious dream sequence where one light switch turned off all power in the hospital and send everyone into sheer chaos. That wasn’t how Lawrence wanted to end the series, and instead we got the little moments where characters reflected not on the fact that their lives were ending, but how their lives had changed since J.D. came around. So you had Carla’s lovely moment, which made Judy Reyes cry more than a little in the final behind the scenes reel, where she reflects on her “Bambi,” and that isn’t the end of this character so much as the end of that friendship.
And it’s not really the end, of course: as J.D. notes as he puts the past behind him after walking down the hall with various characters from the show’s past, he can only imagine the future in front of him. That sequence, set to Peter Gabriel’s “Book of Love” (a cover of a Magnetic Fields song, which I’m listening to now), was one of the most emotional in the show’s history, as J.D. imagines his future. We see his wedding with Elliot, we see her having his baby, we see the three happy families (joined by Carla and Turk and Dr. Cox and Jordan) together at Christmas, and we even see J.D. and Turk celebrating the fact that their greatest hopes and dreams came true in Sam and Izzy falling in love and deciding to get married. It was just the right mix of sweet and funny: while the music gave it that sense of remembrance, there were still little jokes throughout, like Dr. Cox’s reaction to J.D. and Turk’s ridiculous sweaters, for example.
Scrubs has always been at its best when balancing those elements, and the episode was right to acknowledge this: each storyline began with a piece of comedy before evolving into a more emotional moment. This was especially true with Dr. Cox, whose relationship with J.D. was actually the one that I found most interesting and consistently engaging (if I was forced to choose, that is). The giant book of all of Dr. Cox’s rant was a genius idea to tie off their relationship, and their moment of reading “Hugh Jackman!” together was downright priceless, but the scene is nothing without the great scene later as J.D. uses Sunny in order to bait Dr. Cox into saying what he truly thought about him. I was obviously emotional over the final montage, but I think it’s Dr. Cox’s speech here that gets to me the most, as it’s one of those great finale scenes that reflect the amount of change that has happened since the series began.
The episode got to be funny, too: Jordan and Ted’s interaction was particularly a standout, but Kelso’s goodbye (stealing his favourite table, running off to become a globetrotting doctor) was what we’ve come to expect from the character and everyone saying goodbye to him instead of J.D. led to the great banner gag when people co-opted Turk’s handiwork for their own good-byes. The episode wasn’t designed to be a comic showcase, as J.D. was at the heart of some of the funnier dynamics and there was a tinge of regret and sadness which followed all of those, even the enormously epic “EAGLE!” during the cold open.
This was especially clear in the final scenes between J.D. and the Janitor: their relationship has always been one of the funniest of the series, but here it was revealed that the Janitor knew all along that the penny had been an accident and yet chose to make J.D.’s life hell anyways. It implies that he chose to be J.D.’s nemesis, as opposed to feeling obligated, and is kind of a nice thought if you move beyond the pathological creepiness of the Janitor. Whether or not Glenn Matthews is actually the Janitor’s name remains an open question considering the guy who called him Tony, but part of me would like to think that the bond between nemeses is strong enough for a real name to emerge.
The episode wasn’t, admittedly, perfect: while it was strong overall, the “I might have Huntington’s storyline” was a cheap emotional ploy that never really connected, not only because it was already played by another medical series (FOX’s House) but also because it didn’t have sufficient time to develop. Still, even if it was perfunctory, it played its role and gave J.D. a different perspective on the life change ahead of him. Perhaps most importantly, it sort of let him leave on his own terms: as he walked off once he spent some time interacting with Bill Lawrence in the quick cameo as the janitor who pulls down the banner, he walks to his car not to greet Elliot, or hug Turk, but to drive off on his own and leave this all behind without asking every question or delving into every possible impact of his departure.
Which does, admittedly, leave the door open for another season: J.D. might be gone, but Elliot could stick around for a little while, Turk and Carla could emerge, and you could bring in a new intern to add to Sunny and Denise (the two who stuck, and who got to be part of the finale) that could serve as a narrative centerpiece. However, I don’t want it to happen: is there any better conclusion to the series, as a whole, than the one we got here? Yes, J.D. was only one part of the show, but saying goodbye to him feels like the right time to say goodbye to the series even if it’s not the only time this can happen. This ending was just too perfect, with the emotional final scene and then the heartwarming behind the scenes montage set to the show’s theme song as done by “The Blanks,” for me to agree to sullying it with another season that couldn’t possibly capture the same emotional energy.
But, then again, I didn’t think this season could do it either, so there’s room to prove me wrong…I just kind of want to be right, just so this finale can stand as the final moments for the series. It’s a great note to go out on.
- Okay, Bill Lawrence: not only was that book clearly not on Page 19 when Dr. Cox was searching for a specific type of rant, but a Glossary is a list of words and definitions. You meant an index, which would have the page references for various different types of emotional takedowns. If you need a script supervisor with a knack for encyclopedia terminology for Cougar Town, give me a call.
- Of the cameos in the final section, the ones that stood out for me were Amy Smart, Colin Hay, Kathryn Joosten and, of course, HOOCH!
- The one way I support Scrubs stucking around is if Better Off Ted comes back with it – I’m willing to deal with another season if it means the newer, fresher show can also survive.
- Nice little meta-joke about the fact that Dr. Kelso already got his emotional exit before (“You got CAKE!”), so they didn’t spend time on it here: another example of the strong streamlining in the episode.