2 minutes and years of twists
On the night of Feb. 10, 2000 -- in the pre-spoiler era, when it was possible to watch an episode of television and be wholly surprised -- “ER” viewers found themselves stunned/petrified by its final two minutes.
The scene: During a Valentine’s Day party in the ER, an annoyed Carter (Noah Wyle) goes looking for his put-upon medical student, Lucy (Kellie Martin), to reprimand her one more time for the day. He enters a darkened room and, to the ominous, thumping electronica sound of Lo Fidelity Allstars’ “Battleflag,” is stabbed from behind in his lower back by Paul (David Krumholtz), a delusional patient who has crept out of a shadowy corner. After Carter falls to the floor and begins to pass out, he sees that Lucy -- deathly pale, soaked in blood -- has also been attacked.
Those two minutes, written by Lydia Woodward and directed by Laura Innes (part of the “ER” acting ensemble as rigid boss Kerry Weaver), affected “ER’s” story for years to come: The Lucy character was being written out (she dies, heartbreakingly, in the subsequent episode), and Carter’s bumpy recovery sent him down a path of pain, addiction and the need for an eventual kidney transplant, the last of which took place earlier this month.
We offer the scene’s origins and aftermath in this little oral history.
Noah Wyle: [Executive producer] John Wells and I had lunch in the very commissary I’m eating in right now and he said he was thinking of giving Carter a drug addiction. And I thought that sounded exciting, but slightly implausible. And he said there was a catalyst for it that would make it seem extremely plausible -- that I would be attacked by a patient and be dealing with a certain chronic pain.
Kellie Martin: Lucy wasn’t quite working out. I had the most amazing experience, but it was kind of time to go. And when they said she was going to go, I said, “OK -- make it big.” They did.
David Krumholtz: When I got the part, I was just really jazzed, because it was an opportunity for me to do something so different than I’d ever been given the chance to do. I guess I surprised a lot of people, including my own family and friends. They didn’t realize I could get that psychotic.
Laura Innes: He was so good. So credible. He was layering in all the different realities without red-flagging it, like, “Here’s the crazy dude.”
Krumholtz: Kellie Martin pulled me aside and said, “Hey, you know, I just found out about this a couple of weeks ago, and please just try to be sensitive.” Laura made sure that was the tone that was established on set: respect for Kellie. I thought that was smart and important.
Martin: When it aired, I was back East, sitting there by myself in my apartment watching it. I felt definitely just like a viewer. I was as surprised as everyone else at how creepy it ended up being, and how disturbing it ended up being.
Innes: I didn’t want to see the knife go in -- I didn’t want it to be gory in that way. I wanted it to be almost like a Hitchcock kind of feeling, where you don’t see the violence.
Martin: I kind of held my breath for a while, and after the episode was over, waited probably about five minutes, picked up the phone, called my husband out in L.A. and said, “Go over to my mom’s house and turn off the television.”
Wyle: I got a lot of sympathy and empathy cards and letters and phone calls. David got a lot more of a volatile reaction! He’s a very good actor and a very nice man, and when I bumped into him years later, he told me the [hell] he caught cutting America’s sweetheart’s throat. I felt for him.
Krumholtz: The next day, I went out in Burbank, and went shopping in a mall or something. I got recognized at least five or six times from that episode, and people were actually frightened! I couldn’t have been more unassuming to those people that probably were surprised to see that I was short and sweet and smiley. This past summer, CBS sent me on a press tour in Europe for “Numb3rs.” And a good portion -- if not most -- of the questions European reporters asked me were about that episode of “ER.”
Martin: The way that they sent Lucy off was the coolest. It was so captivating. And it was important to the series as a whole, which I feel really proud of. I like that people remember that Lucy was there. And that Lucy was gone. And that David Krumholtz killed me. I like that!
Denise Martin contributed to this report.