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Understanding Screenwriting #21: Sunshine Cleaning, Everlasting Moments, The Mask of Dimitrios, ER, & More

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Understanding Screenwriting #21: <em>Sunshine Cleaning</em>, <em>Everlasting Moments</em>, <em>The Mask of Dimitrios</em>, <em>ER</em>, & More

Coming Up in This Column: Sunshine Cleaning, Everlasting Moments, Harvard Beats Yale 29-29, Horton Foote, Teaching the Young: Take Two, The Mask of Dimitrios, Burn Notice, Castle, ER.

Sunshine Cleaning (2008. Written by Megan Holley. 102 minutes): Not Little Miss Sunshine.

Yes, it has “sunshine” in the title. Yes, it has Alan Arkin as a crusty grandpa. Yes, it has a light colored van. Yes, it is set the Southwest. Yes, the poster is similar. But does Little Miss Sunshine start with a man bringing a shotgun shell into a sporting goods store, asking to look at a shotgun and blowing his head off with it? No. Sunshine Cleaning is a darker film (in spite of what you may think from the trailer), further along the continuum of dramedy to drama than to comedy.

While the trailer and promotion focus on the company set up by Rose and Norah to clean up crime scenes and the hijinks involved in that, the film’s focus is on the relationship of the two sisters. Rose is the oldest and most responsible, Norah the younger and flakiest. But Holley is pitching all kinds of interesting changeups. It is, to our surprise, Norah who feels the need to connect emotionally with a daughter of one of the victims. We don’t find out why until late in the film, but the scenes between her and the daughter Lynn have an edgy uncertainty. Compare the scene where we think Norah may be coming on to Lynn to the scene in the recent “Story of Lucy and Jessie” episode of Desperate Housewives where we think Susan may be coming on to a teacher she works with. In the Housewives scene we know where we are all the time; in Sunshine we are never quite sure, which is much more realistic.

Holley has written great characters for Amy Adams (Rose) and Emily Blunt (Norah) to play, and director Christine Jeffs is smart enough to simply observe the two of them, individually and together. Adams particularly disappears into the character and makes every moment alive. Look at her in the scene where she is explaining to some old high school classmates what she does for a living and how Rose seems to be understanding for the first time the good that she is doing. Another actress might have just assumed Rose had already thought about that, but Adams makes the realization happen NOW, which is what acting is all about.

The structure of the film is the development of the relationship between the sisters, and the one less than believable moment is the ending, when another character does something we would not expect them to do. Holley, in focusing on the sisters, has not developed the other character enough to make the action completely convincing. That may leave you somewhat disappointed by the ending. I don’t think you will be disappointed by the heart, in both senses, of the movie.

Just so long as you keep in mind that it is NOT Little Miss Sunshine.

Everlasting Moments (2008. Screenplay by Niklas Rådström, story by Jan Troell & Agneta Ulfstäder-Troell. 131 minutes): Pictures, still and moving.

The story comes from tales Agneta Ulfstäder-Troell’s mother told her about her grandmother. Maria Larsson is the wife of a rather brutish husband in Sweden in the early 1900s. She learns how to use a still camera she won in a lottery (and be sure to get there at the beginning of the film to hear the wonderful throwaway line of how the camera led to the marriage). The camera provides a relief from her husband and ultimately seven children. Simple enough, but the script gives us not only the story of the marriage (the husband has his virtues as well as his flaws), but a look at life in Sweden of the time. We get details about work, the role of the lower classes, political action, and how World War I affected Sweden. The script brings us slowly into the life of Maria and Sigge, as the husband is called, and it takes a bit before she begins to explore with the camera. But the camera does not automatically change everything in her life, as it probably would in an American version of the story. Her life goes on, and somewhat to our surprise, so does the marriage. The film is a highly textured look at the characters and their lives. To take only one example, look at the details used to show the relationship between Maria and the owner of a photography studio.

The downside is that it begins to run out of steam in the last hour, where there is very little additional development of the story and characters. Like many films based on true stories, it loses its focus in an effort to get everything in. There are a couple of subplots, including one that goes unresolved for the audience involving Maria’s eldest daughter, who grew up to be Ulfstäder-Troell’s mother, that take us away from the main story. For family reasons I can understand why they are there, but they are part of the reason the film is longer than it needs to be.

Harvard Beats Yale 29-29 (2008. Written by Kevin Rafferty (O.K., there is no official writer credit on the film, but stick with me on this one). 105 minutes): Structure and character.

Kevin Rafferty, the great documentarian of Atomic Café and Blood in the Face, is the producer, cinematographer, production designer, sound man, and editor of this film. Since the “writing” of a documentary involves the selection of the subject (in this case a legendary, at least in the Ivy League, 1968 football game in which underdog Harvard manages to come up with a tie in the last minute or so of play) as well as the way it is put together, Rafferty as producer and editor gets the de facto writer’s credit on the film. The film of the game provides a relatively easy basic structure, as Rafferty admits in an interview with The New York Times: “I’ve never had a movie jump together so quickly and joyfully. The movie almost cut itself. I’ve spent years cutting a movie and this was the fastest movie I ever cut.” The tricky part was intercutting the interview material he got from many of the participants in the game, since they go off onto other issues, either consciously or not.

Rafferty, a Harvard man, does cheat a little in the beginning when he introduces several of the players, pointing out that the Harvard players seemed to be mostly blue-collar. Well, the team was the underdog, but Harvard is hardly the heart of blue-collar America. Rafferty does let the Yale men seem to be a little more upper class, and one of the more entertaining interviewees, J.P. Goldsmith, does admit that the Yale men were somewhat isolated in New Haven. That’s an understatement. I’m a Yale graduate (class of ’63, boola, boola) and when I was there, a few years before the game in the film, Yale was an incredibly provincial place.

The characters, oh sorry, the people, Rafferty selected will show you why. They are all white and male, as the Ivies were at the time, although Harvard had Radcliffe right down the street. When I was accepted at Yale, I was their 1959 idea of affirmative action: I was a straight, white, Episcopalian male, but I was middle class and from the Middle West. There were virtually no people of color in my class (and Rafferty was not able to interview the one black player on the Harvard team), and of course no women. One of the Yale players admits to having dated a young woman named Meryl Streep, but listen to how she is talked about, which will tell you all you need to know about the sexual provincialism of the Ivy League at the time. The players do talk about the politics at the time, which were more varied than you might expect from the Ivies, but not as varied as the rest of the world. And from several of the players you get a sense of the entitlement they felt. Listen particularly to Yale player Mike Bouscaren talk about the plays he was involved, or thinks he was involved in. It’s enough to want you to send your kids to a good solid community college.

Horton Foote (1916-2009): An appreciation.

Horton Foote, playwright, screenwriter, and television writer, died March 4th at the age of 92. As screenwriting fans, you may best remember him as the author of the great 1962 Oscar-winning adaptation of Harper Lee’s novel To Kill A Mockingbird. There are those who think Foote’s adaptation improved on the novel. Foote won an Oscar again for his 1983 original screenplay Tender Mercies, a title that could have applied to almost anything Foote wrote. I have never seen as many uses of the word “gentle” as I have in the obits for Foote.

For all his fame as a screenwriter, his experiences with Hollywood were sometimes awful. His play The Chase was adapted by Lillian Hellman (can you think of any writer less suited to adapting Foote?; no one ever use the word “gentle” about Hellman) into one of the legendary flops of the sixties. Hurry Sundown the following year (1967) was slaughtered under Otto Preminger’s hamfisted direction.

Foote is best known and best served as a playwright. But even there the commercial Broadway theater did not do well by him, since his plays were generally not “big,” i.e. melodramatic, enough for the commercial theatre. He had greater success Off-Broadway and in regional theatre, although he finally won a Pulitzer Prize in 1995 for his play The Young Man From Atlanta.

Most his television work were plays and stories he adapted for Public Television in the eighties and nineties, but to me some of his most important and influential work was done for the so-called Golden Age of live television in the fifties. He had already had three plays produced on Broadway when his theatrical partner Vincent Donehue asked him to work on ... The Gabby Hayes Show. It was a children’s show that ran from 1950 to 1956 with the cantankerous B-western sidekick as the host. Foote wrote historical stories for the show and Donehue directed. It was produced by the about-be-legendary Fred Coe. Fortunately Coe moved Foote and Donehue up with him when he moved into the hour-long live dramas. Foote’s “gentle” stories were perfectly suited for the limitations of live television. Because the shows were done mostly in New York in the early fifties, there were considerable space limitations for sets and casts. Foote’s classic 1953 teleplay “A Trip to Bountiful” takes place mostly on a bus, which is represented by a couple of seats. Foote said later that live television “was more like theater in those days,” meaning that you did not need elaborate realistic sets. It’s a tossup whether the longer stage version and the 1985 film were better. The stage play was one of the first, if not the first, adapted from an original television play for the stage, helping convince people good writing could come out of television. Yes, that was a LONG time ago.

A month after “A Trip to Bountiful” first aired, Foote’s teleplay “A Young Lady of Property” appeared on The Philco Television Playhouse. It deals with a young woman who is afraid her father, who is going to remarry, will sell the family house. A typical Foote touch has the dramatic face-off between the girl and the fiance off-camera, and we learn about it only from the girl telling her aunt about it. Talk about restraint. And talk about a smart producer: Coe thought it the face-off should be on camera, but figured that Foote knew what he was doing and let him do it his way. Foote later said Coe was “marvelous to work with, very supportive” of the writers.

When I was interviewing writers for my 1992 book Storytellers to the Nation: A History of American Television Writing, I especially wanted to interview Foote, since I remembered his teleplays from my childhood. The quotes above from Foote come from that December 1990 phone interview. It was one of the worst interviews I have ever done. And it was all my fault. When I started doing oral history interviews at UCLA in the late sixties, I quickly developed two rules: 1) do your homework before the interview, and 2) ask your question and shut up. It was not adhering to the first rule that got me into trouble with Foote. I had found a couple of his teleplays, but I could not run down the published edition of his major teleplays. None of the local libraries or bookstores had it. The main UCLA Library was supposed to have the collection, but it had somehow been misplaced. I had to prepare my questions without it.

So when I starting asking him the questions, he kept referring to his introductory essay in the book, which covered everything I was asking. I could tell he thought that if I was not THE village idiot I was certainly his first cousin. I still managed to recover a bit until I used the phrase “a regional writer.” All trace of Foote’s gentleness disappeared, replaced by the toughness he needed to survive as a writer in television, film and theater. Because he wrote about his native Texas and the south, he had been slapped with the “regional writer” label early in his career. He hated it, and rightly so. After all, the New York critics never referred to his contemporary Paddy Chayefsky as a regional writer, and what could have been more regional than “Marty”? The interview ended shortly after that. Sorry, Horton. I tried to make it up to him by dealing with the “regional writer” issue in the book, for whatever good it might do.

It might have done some good. None of the obits that I saw referred to him as a regional writer. I am sure that was less me and more that people have come to realize the region Foote wrote about was America, and the regional (yes) theaters that keep his works in the repertoire know that. Check out his movies, and if and when they show up in New York, check out the plays of a truly ALL-American writer.

Teaching the Young: Get them early, take two.

Readers will remember that a month ago my seven-year-old grandson Noam got caught up in the well scene in Lawrence of Arabia and wanted to watch the movie with me. I figured that would be a couple of years off. Never underestimate the power of a seven-year-old.

A couple of weeks ago we got a call from my daughter Audrey, offering us the chance to spend some “quality time” with our grandson. As usual that meant she had to work, her husband had to work, and their 16-year-old daughter had rehearsal. Audrey had given Noam the option of having a babysitter on that Saturday or going to Grandma and Grandpa’s. He opted for the grandparents and said he wanted to see a movie with me. Audrey suggested one of my Buster Keaton stash, but he said, “No, I want to see Lawrence of Arabia.” Ah, ha.

So he came up and we started. He was not that crazy about the overture or the titles, but began to get at least somewhat into it. He did not care for all of Robert Bolt’s great dialogue and political and character nuances. He had trouble telling the British and the Turks apart, since they all dressed in khaki. He loved the action scenes (he grew up on the Pirates of the Caribbean films, after all), and he loved Maurice Jarre’s music. He did not sit still that much, and was really up and dancing to Jarre’s music.

By the end of the film he was tired of it, and asked me during the scene in Allenby’s office, where Allenby, Feisal, and Dryden dismiss Lawrence, if there were any more battle scenes. When I said no, he went into the other room and continued playing the computer game he started during the intermission.

Afterwards, he said he thought the movie was “good,” but he was disappointed there were no castles or statues in it. He and his parents had been in Jordan a few years ago and seen Petra, the hidden temple seen in the final sequence of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. Noam was expecting something like that. He was not alone. In Michael Wilson’s original screenplay there was a scene set in Petra, because David Lean had been there and wanted to shoot it. The sequence included some of the same kind of self-glorification Lawrence shows in the sequence on top of the train. Lean was not able to shoot at Petra because of a combination of technical problems and producer Sam Spiegel’s insistence on moving the second half of the production from Jordan to Spain. Noam did not get all of the nuances of the film, but he understood at least some of what it was about.

It’s a start.

The Mask of Dimitrios (1944. Screenplay by Frank Gruber, based on the novel by Eric Ambler. 95 minutes): Astaire and Rogers.

This is one of those minor classics it took me until now to catch up with, and boy was I glad I did. The story is a little tricky for a studio film of the period. As Leslie Halliwell puts it in his Film Guide, it is “Remarkable for its time in that the story is not distorted to fit romantic stars: character actors bear the entire burden.” A shady character named Dimitrios is killed and his body washes up on the shores of Turkey. Colonel Haki (yes, the same Turkish policeman who shows up in Ambler’s Journey Into Fear, but not played here by Orson Welles, which may be just as well) tells the Dutch author Leyden about his attempts to capture Dimitrios over the last twenty years. Leyden goes looking for more information about Dimitrios and we get several flashbacks of Dimitrios’s adventures. You can see Frank Gruber’s problem: what’s the star part? Well, Leyden is just asking questions and getting bullied by friends and associates of Dimitrios. Dimitrios appears as the star in the flashbacks, but as much time is spent on the scenes with Leyden. So the obvious choice is to just make it a character actor’s holiday.

Leyden is played by Peter Lorre, and since he does not have to whimper around Humphrey Bogart, he can come into his own. It is one of the richest performances he ever gave in an American film, with all kinds of textures. Leyden is employed, bullied, and harassed by Mr. Peters, who is played by Lorre’s occasional film partner, Sydney Greenstreet. Gruber has given them four or five great scenes together, and watching the pair get the most out of them is like watching Astaire and Rogers dance; if you are like me, you will giggle with pure delight. Lorre is the more flexible actor, but Greenstreet plays his voice like a Stradivarius, and both seem giddy knowing that Bogart is not going to break in and stop their fun. Jean Negulesco is the director, and his reputation was that he never talked to the actors, but let them do what they wanted. Sometimes that is a wise move with actors like these.

Dimitrios is the first film role of Zachary Scott, and Gruber establishes him as a sleek cad, which Scott played better than anybody else, including George Sanders. Not to give too much away, but keep in mind this film was made in 1944, the same year as Laura. Undoubtedly it was a time when many people hoped that people they thought were dead would turn out to still be alive. Because the ending is all character actors all the time, it is more suspenseful than most movies of the period, since you have no idea who will shoot who and who will survive.

It is not yet out on DVD, but Turner Classic Movies ran it recently so keep an eye out for it.

Burn  Notice (2009. Episode “Lesser Evil” written by Matt Nix. 60 minutes): Transition time.

This was the half-season finale of Burn Notice, and Nix, the series creator, pulled a fast one on us. Since the beginning of the show, Michael has been trying to find out who burned him. This half season he and we thought we were getting closer, since the mysterious Carla seemed to be promising him the information. Of course, she also sent Victor to try to kill him, but what’s a little attempted murder between friends?

In a twist early on in the episode, Victor becomes Michael’s “client” as Michael tries to protect him from Carla, since Victor has promised info that will help them deal with her. A number of car chases ensue, since the producers have saved up a lot of money this season for a number of big action scenes they whipped up for this episode. Victor tells him Carla is no longer with “the company” and is doing “black ops” on her own, which we all pretty much know. She has been trying to hustle Michael into working for her the way she hustled Victor. But Victor also suggests that it was not one person in the company that burned Michael, but simply the way the machine works. This would be an anti-climax except we are still in the middle of the chases and shootouts and are more concerned about them.

Then Fi and Sam manage to kill Carla and a helicopter arrives with a character only identified as “Management,” who reveals to Michael that far from leaving him on his own with the burn notice, they did it to protect him from enemies he made in his spy days. Lots and lots of enemies. Management offers to continue to protect Michael, but he refuses the offer by jumping out of the helicopter and swimming to shore.

O.K., what this means for the series is that the writers no longer have to deal with who burned Michael, which is good, since how much more can you dance around that issue? It also opens up a whole can of new bad guys for Michael to have to deal with. How many enemies did he make in his spy days? As many as the writers need to keep the show going for several years. And since Management is played the always-welcome John Mahoney, we probably have not seen the last of him, either.

Castle (2009. Episode “Flowers for Your Grave” written by Andrew W. Marlowe. 60 minutes): Murder She Wrote meets Moonlighting.

Burn Notice stops, this one starts. Life goes on.

Richard Castle is a mystery novelist and he is questioned about a murder that uses a scene similar to one of his novels. He is questioned by Detective Kate Beckett. He’s cute. She’s cute. He smirks, since Nathan Fillion who plays him gives good smirk. She rolls her eyes, since Stana Katic gives good eye roll. Needless to say, he gets involved in the case and equally needless to say, by the end of the hour they have solved it. She wants nothing more to do with him, but his friend the mayor has let her boss know that Castle is going to be hanging out with her to study her as a model of the heroine of his next series of books. Series started.

Marlowe does give us the kind of grace notes you hope for in a genre piece like this. Castle has a teenage daughter who seems more mature than he does, and his freewheeling mother is living with them. Not much is done with the mother this time out, but since she is played by the great Susan Sullivan, there should be some fun with her later on. In a gimmick in the pilot that probably will not be repeated that often, Castle’s poker buddies are real-life mystery novelists James Patterson and Steven J. Cannell, who offer him advice on the case. And one other touch that I really, really loved. Castle is wrong. Just once, in this episode, but it was nice to see the smirk go missing for a couple of minutes.

ER (2009. Episode “Old Times” written by John Wells. 60 minutes): Old times indeed.

This is why we go to the theater. This is why we watch movies. This is why we watch television. We watch actors act out stories that move us and tells us about the world we live in, past and present, real and fictional. And creating those stories is not as easy as John Wells makes it seem here.

One problem the writers of ER have had the last few months has been balancing the ongoing stories, the single episode stories, and the coming end of the series. In US#19 I discussed this in regards to the “A Long Strange Trip” episode, and it was a problem in the March 5th “What We Do” episode, which tried to balance a documentary unit in the ER with ongoing stories. The series pulled that off better in the “Ambush” episode that opened the fourth season.

This episode’s teaser has a young woman on the Chicago subway, carrying a baby. We follow her off the train and into the ER, establishing the usual chaos of the ER, which we know now the way we did not when the series started. The fact that the baby is black and she is white helps us believe her story that she found the baby. The fact she leaves the ER almost immediately makes us doubt her story. The baby has a seizure, and over the episode we watch the doctors stabilize the baby and Banfield bond with it. About the only expected thing in the episode is that we pretty much guess early on that this is going to be the baby Banfield adopts before the end of the series.

Act One: At Northwestern Hospital Carter is about to be released when Dr. Kurtag sweeps in announces they may have a kidney for him. Here’s the first surprise. Kurtag is played, with all the arrogance of every surgeon you ever met, by Christian Clemenson. Clemenson just got off Boston Legal playing Jerry Espenson, and Kurtag could not be further from Espenson. Part of the joy of watching a theatrical repertory company is seeing the actors play a variety of parts. Television especially is our national repertory theater and seeing a variety of performances from a single actor is part of the pleasure it gives us.

We cut to Washington University Medical Center in Seattle. Thank God there is not a crossover with, eewww, Grey’s Anatomy. We follow a woman walking into a waiting room, where we discover she is Carol Hathaway, whom we last saw nine years ago. Wells makes no big deal out of it, which makes it the more moving. She is still a nurse and checking with a variety of people who are here from other hospitals awaiting possible organs for transplant. Neela and Sam are awaiting a heart for the 36-year-old mother we have seen in previous episodes. Hathaway tells everyone there may be a delay. Billy, a 16-year-old boy on a bicycle, was hit and is brain dead, but his grandmother, the only family member they can find, held his hand and felt a squeeze. The doctors know this reflex is common, but the grandmother is convinced the boy will survive. And who walks in but Dr. Doug Ross, Hathaway’s husband, whom we have also not seen for nine years. Again, no big deal. He explains in more detail, then Hathaway goes off to try to convince Nora, the grandmother. A simple scene, and since Wells, who also directed, knows that he has Juliana Margulies as Hathaway and Susan Sarandon as Nora (well, you write great parts, you get great actors) he does not have to overdramatize the scene, either in the writing or the directing. As Christine Jeffs on Sunshine Cleaning knows and Jean Negulesco in his whole career knew, Wells knows if you have good material, you can let the actors carry the scene. Hathaway comes back to the waiting room and asks Neela and Sam if they could take a kidney that will become available back to Northwestern, since they are going to Chicago. We know who the kidney is for, even if Neela and Sam do not. Nora insists her daughter has to be there to decide the fate of the boy.

Act Two: We get Hathaway and Ross talking, reminding us of how charming he can be, and then he finds out that Neela and Sam are from County. Now how would you write that scene? Wells handles it with great simplicity. Ross mentions that he was there. He asks about people we know have gone, such as Weaver and Lewis. We and Ross lived through a lot with them, which Wells is reminding us in an off-hand way. Back in Chicago a woman is brought in for vomiting, and who is her devoted husband Paul but Ernest Borgnine, who won the Oscar 54 years ago for the film version of Marty. Borgnine has done a lot of crap in his career since, but in his early nineties he still has the chops. Wells does not give him big scenes here, but we may see him later. At Northwestern who shows up in Carter’s room but Benton, who terrorized Carter when Carter first came to County. Now they are like two old veterans, which the actors are, catching up. In Seattle, Ross talks to Nora about Billy, asking about him. At one point he asks, “Generous?” We see from Hathaway’s reaction she knows he’s sprung the trap. I had to watch Sarandon’s reactions twice to realize that Nora knows, at least subconsciously. Ross asks again for permission, Nora shakes her head, then almost imperceptibly nods, then nods again, all the while dealing with her grief. Now you know why Wells got Sarandon to do the part, and why Sarandon did it. Sarandon takes you into the woman’s heart, without a lot of speeches. Wells has been at this a long time and worked with a lot of great actors, and as is true of most great screenwriters, he understands what actors can bring to the moment and how to write to let them do that.

Act Three: Nora watches as Billy is brought through on a gurney. Look at how little Sarandon does and how much she gets out of it. After a bit back in Chicago, we see Neela and Sam getting into an elevator, each with her own cooler. That’s all you need for that scene. After another Banfield and the baby scene, we pick up Neela and Sam at the airport. Their plane has had to return, but the clerk (Wells’s attention to detail: look at her reaction to learning there is a heart in the cooler) manages to get them to hitch a ride on a private jet with ... a reggae group. Now imagine all the scenes Wells could write with Neela and Sam, ganja, music, etc. He does not give us any of them because that is not what the story is about. And it’s often better to let the audience imagine something like that. At Northwestern Benton asks Carter if he has let his parents or his wife know, and Carter tells him no. We may or may not remember Carter’s African adventures, but we do remember his wife. He does have a picture of her, leading to Benton’s great line, “You married a sister?” Sam arrives with the kidney, and Neela arrives with the heart, going past the woman’s daughter.

Act Four: At Northwestern, Benton stays with Carter through the surgery, irritating Kurtag by insisting they all go through the pre-surgery checklist. The checklist turns up a missing item, which they get before the surgery starts, and which they need, of course. Just like cop show are supposed to reassure us that justice will prevail, doctor shows are supposed to reassure us that good doctors will prevent mistakes. And lawyer shows, at least David E. Kelly’s, show us that none of that is true. At County there are problems with the heart, but Neela insists the patient has a better chance with it than without. She persuades an older, white, male doctor she is right. Remember the problems that Neela has had asserting herself? They’re gone. And then there are problems with the heart and Neela has to use the paddles. After a scene with Banfield and the baby’s mother, who came back to check on her, Neela comes in and asks the daughter if she would like to see her mom. At Northwestern Benton is there when Carter wakes up and shows him the bag of 800ccs of urine to prove his new kidney is now working. Carter has Benton speed dial his wife, and Carter tells her he has “some really good news.” In Seattle, Ross and Hathaway are asleep when Hathaway gets a call from the hospital. Chicago has called and the heart is working fine. She tells Ross that the heart went to a 36-year-old mom. Even if you are looking at the clock, you are now awaiting the big reveal: Ross and Hathaway realizing the kidney has gone to John Carter, whom they started working with fifteen years ago. Have you learned nothing from the way Wells has written this episode? Hathaway adds, “And the kidney went to some doctor.” They cuddle and we fade out.

Life does go on. People connect, lose touch, connect again. Films and television shows connect, sometimes lose touch, sometimes connect again. That’s why we can’t not watch.

Tom Stempel is the author of several books on film. His most recent is Understanding Screenwriting: Learning From Good, Not-Quite-So Good, and Bad Screenplays.