March 17, 2003


STONE COLD LUKA KOVACS: There was a time not too long ago when "ER" was up there with the top dramas on television. But now, with next to none of its original cast left and other shows like "24," "The Shield," and the Sunday-HBO lineup eclipsing it, primetime television has quite obviously passed "ER" by. However, I've still kept up with the show and generally have enjoyed it so far this season- that is, until last week, when what looked like another strong episode ended with a twist that was so absurdly ridiculous that it left me guffawing at least halfway through the 11:00 news.
Part of "ER"'s absurdity has always been its over-reliance on a plot device that it borrowed from the world of professional wrestling- The Heel Turn. A heel turn, as wrestling fans know, is when a wrestler who's known as a "good guy" all of a sudden switches overnight into an arch-villain- a "heel" in wrestling jargon. Usually a heel turn is foreshadowed when a previously likable character all of a sudden starts acting arrogant, selfish, or otherwise "bad," and hints that he's about to turn against his partner or allies. Outside of wrestling, heel turns have been known to happen in geopolitics (most notably Russia in 1917, Iran in 1979, and France in 2003), and of course most of us can probably name friends or significant others who have turned heel in real life.
On "ER," just about every major character has had at least a brief heel turn, usually to be brought back to hero-dom by a Major Act of Redemption (such as when George Clooney was about to be fired and saved the kid from the river, or when Noah Wyle got over his drug addiction by crying to Dr. Benton). This year, the heel-turn assignment fell to the formerly saintly character of Dr. Kovacs (played by Goran Visnijac), who was nothing but a good boy for his entire four-run on the show, until this year he started to exhibit the classic symptoms of "ER"-heeldom- arrogance, belief that "I'm-a-better-doctor-than-you!," boorish behavior towards women, etc. At one point, after trying unsuccessfully to seduce a comely med student (Leslie Bibb), he even got into a Chappaquiddick-like car accident with her.
Which brings us to last week's episode. "ER" this season has gotten very film-school-ish- the car accident episode, for instance, was told in reverse, Pinter/"Memento" style, for no other reason other than "because." Last week, the regular scenes of the episode were juxtaposed with Dr. Kovacs "confessing" in voice-over narration, and since he had spent the majority of the episode refusing to go to court-mandated counseling, we're led to believe that he finally DID go to see a shrink and that's where the voiceover is coming from. But in the final scene of the episode, the camera pulls back, and we see that the therapist has long, exposed legs- (Dr. Melfi?, we're supposed to think?), until we realize- she's not a therapist at all, but a hooker! Luka's spent the last hour confessing about his professional doubts- to a hooker!
That Dr. Kovacs, what a heel! Oh whatever will he do to redeem himself? Why do I think the inevitable scene of redemption will somehow involve him saving lives?

Posted by Stephen Silver at March 17, 2003 05:52 PM
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