Tonight’s big guest star is Joel Grey, playing Dick Babbit, a doctor from Akalitus’ past who has contracted dementia; he thinks they’re both still on the job together, and also that it’s 1974. When Akalitus is asked to babysit while she’s at work, Jackie suggests that, since he’s fairly reasonable and ambulatory, they should humor Dick’s delusion and let him stroll around the hospital instead of temporarily checking him into a ward. “He’s got people telling him he’s wrong 24 hours a day,” she says. “Let’s not be them.” Akalitus, who’s always up for doing the right thing whenever she can find a way to assure herself that she’s really being pragmatic, reasons that this would make him “less likely to wander away.” So Grey is passed from nurse to nurse, allowed to get up in hospital business, and have a brief, Chauncey Gardiner-style run-in with Cruz, who doesn’t suspect that there’s a thing the matter with Dick, aside from the fact that he’s not wearing his name tag. Wait, it gets worse!
Somewhere in the course of all this wackiness, Coop, Thor, and company attempt to lift an injured teacher onto a gurney; they miss, and the poor bastard crashes to the floor. Cruz, the bottom-line bastard, can only think of the hospital’s liability should the patient think of suing, even though the patient clearly has no such intentions. Cruz is meanest when cautioning Coop to “ease up on the buddy-buddy,” chastening him for his “pathological need to be liked.” He calls everyone into a huddle and says, “No one is to use words like ‘accident,’ ‘mistake,’ or ‘blame.’” Meanwhile, of course, the patient is getting more and more pissed off about the callous treatment he’s receiving, as if the doctors think it was his fault that he got dropped on his coconut.
Finally, just at the moment that Dick’s daughter is arriving to take him home and Cruz is starting to put the pieces together, Grey steps to the patient’s bedside and offers him his sincerest apologies, on behalf of the whole medical staff, on what happened to him. Cruz comes running up to tell the patient that this man is not a real doctor, in fact, he’s not mentally healthy, and nothing he says has any weight. If you say so, says the patient, but “he’s the only one here with enough brains to know that when you drop someone on their heads, you say you’re sorry.” There, we’ve had our fun, and as Bill Cosby used to say, we may have also learned something before we were done.
The heavy-handedness of the message, delivered through a character brought in for the express purpose of delivering this message, recalls the too-obvious symbolism of “Slow Growing Monsters,” this season’s low point to date. This episode doesn’t sink that low, partly because Grey manages, just barely, to turn his stick man into a real character, with real sweetness and warmth but also a fleeting suggestion of hard-headedness that leaves the impression that he must sometimes be a real nightmare for the people who put up with him for longer than a work shift. He gets a major assist from Anna Deavere Smith, whose face mists over with affection, and maybe something more, when they’re together, and just when she’s telling Jackie about what he was like to work with decades ago. There’s the hint of a mutually desired romance that may have never made it off the launching pad. (“He was always a gentleman,” Akalitus says, although “I can’t deny there was a certain electricity.”) By the time he shuffles off screen for the last time, Dick has become a haunting image of better days and missed opportunities, but also a human being.
The show also brings on Aida Turturro as Jackie’s divorce lawyer, who deflects Jackie’s efforts to avoid the subject at hand during their first meeting by telling her, “Even the small talk’s $750 an hour.” The scenes about Jackie girding herself for battle against Kevin give the show a chance to point out how much nobler her instincts are than Cruz’s: She may have cheated on her husband, lied to everyone she knows, and broken the law in the name of keeping herself doped up, but Jackie cannot bend the truth, with the law as her enabler, just for the sake of preventing her husband from depriving her of her kids, home, and money. She isn’t comfortable with trashing Kevin, even though the lawyer tells her that “every kind word on his behalf is a week without your kids.” Nor is she about to get on board when O’Hara suggests dummying up a medical report to suggest that Eddie has sustained lingering damage from Kevin’s having beaten him up.
The show seems to be amping up Cruz’s shortsightedness and meanness as the season heads down the home stretch, as if preparing to turn a complicated character into a pure villain. His most redemptive moment here comes when Jackie asks him to help her out with her problems by agreeing to testify to her good character, and he says that he scarcely knows her, but because she’s a good nurse and he knows something about how divorce works, he’ll write her a letter anyway. This may just be to make him feel that much angrier when, at the end of the episode, he discovers that Jackie is his son’s “friend from rehab.” (Jackie has helped Charlie make it home after getting him out of jail.) There are three more episodes to go, but how this season makes it as a whole may largely come down to what happens next week.
- The theme of telling the truth for the right reasons is also reflected in Zoey’s extremely reluctant efforts to tell Lenny that she doesn’t want to marry him. Zoey spends much of the half-hour trying to compose the perfect breakup speech, asking people for advice based on how they’ve handled such situations in the past; Eddie unhelpfully tells her that he’s usually “tried to slip away like I was never there.” In the end, she sits Lenny down in the chapel and reels off something that sounds suspiciously like a paraphrasing of “I’ve Never Been To Me.” She claims to be worried that, if she marries Lenny now, she’ll never see Paris. “You go to Paris,” says the crestfallen Lenny. “I’ll go to Zales,” he adds, hoping they give refunds.