It’s fitting that with the word “legend” in the episode title, Monday Mornings casts a legendary actor in a heartbreaking tale of a doctor reaching the end of his storied career – and being almost the last person to realize it.
This week, Sydney and Lieberman are attempting to have a drama-free date, and it’s not working. Their dinner is interrupted by one of his former patients, a guy named Frank who wants to reiterate the entire experience to Sydney – at least until he falls unconscious at the table. Considering that the last time they went out also ended with someone else’s medical emergency, perhaps the two of them should stop going out for awhile. Just stay in and rent a movie.
Back at Chelsea General, Michelle is quizzing a swimmer about his headache before he collapses onto the floor of the ER, while Tina and Wilson are super-awkward around each other now that their affair has officially wrecked her marriage. She steps in to help Michelle with her seizing patient, as we cut to Park and the legendary Dr. Arvin Wayne (guest star Hal Holbrook) in an operating room. Park wasn’t expecting company, and his colleague doesn’t seem to know what he’s doing there. The other doc wanders out of the OR in a stunned daze.
Once everything has calmed down Sydney and Lieberman explain what happened to Frank to a curious Tierney. Sydney diagnosis him with bacterial endocarditis, and breaks the news to Frank’s disbelieving wife. Park informs Hooten about the incident with Dr. Wayne, and Tierney’s eavesropping on that conversation, too. He chimes in that he’s also had problems with the 85-year-old doc, but Hooten brushes both of them off.
Michelle still doesn’t know what’s wrong with her patient, so Villanueva takes a crack at it, but when he asks about steroid use, the young man gets defensive. Even after another round of questions about his medical history, there’s no idea why he seized. “Should we call House?” Michelle quips as she, Tina and Villanueva confer in Radiology, but no one is amused by the joke.
They’re arguing over whether or not to run a certain test outside Villanueva’s lair when Wilson interjects, wanting to talk to Tina. He pulls her aside and admits he feels “a bit paralyzed” over her situation. “I so want to be here for you,” he says. “But being a contributor to the situation, not to mention perhaps…” He asks if he’s the catalyst, and she says no, but tells him that she needs some time to think (yet doesn’t turn down a hug, because who would, really). What could’ve been a ridiculously sappy moment is thankfully ruined when Park walks in.
Wayne performs another surgical procedure, this one under Hooten’s watchful eye. The two chat afterward, with Wayne blaming his iPhone for the earlier misstep. Hooten doesn’t say anything immediately, but pauses before he moves on.
Sydney finds Lieberman and asks him if he’s spoken to hospital counsel Scott Henderson about Frank, since Frank and his wife are already talking about suing the dentist who performed the routine cleaning that may have contributed to his endocarditis. She’s so insistent that she makes Lieberman second-guess his own earlier treatment of Frank, and Lieberman goes off to see the lawyer.
The test has revealed that the swimmer’s having a stroke, and Villanueva and Michelle urge him to undergo immediate surgery. “You’ve been doping, son,” Villanueva tells him. “Not steroids. Blood doping.” Exactly the same thing Lance Armstrong has been associated with for years. “Why would this make me have a stroke?” the guy asks, not directly admitting to anything. But Villanueva further informs him that they need to remove the resulting blood clot before more brain cells die. He’s not going to take ‘no’ for an answer.
Tierney tells Wilson about Wayne, and Wilson doesn’t look particularly surprised. This leads Tierney to suspect he knows something and Tierney pushes him to speak up. So now it’s Wilson and Tierney going to Hooten, insisting that he take action. Wilson reveals that Wayne was Hooten’s mentor, and implies a bit of favoritism. “We’ve all learned from him, we all admire him, but I’m standing here because of what I’ve learned from you,” Wilson says, telling Hooten that the principles of the hospital can’t be compromised by or for anyone.
Michelle tells her patient that Tina will be performing his procedure and she’ll be assisting. He asks if he should call his parents “like, to say goodbye,” as the seriousness of the situation dawns on him. Tina recruits Wilson to help as well, and then it’s into the OR with everyone. Unfortunately, things don’t go smoothly, as the clot fails to dissolve on the first try. A change of methods seems to solve the problem.
After hearing about Sydney upsetting her would-be boyfriend, Villanueva barks at Lieberman to get into his office and tells him what he thinks Sydney is feeling about him, while she’s sitting there. It’s awkward and hilarious, and provides a nice balance to the tense surgery scene.
Hooten takes Wayne out for a meal over which they discuss Hooten’s own first M&M meeting. Hooten realizes with chagrin that his first infraction was the same mistake that Wayne has made now. “Harding, this hospital is my life,” Wayne insists, but Hooten tells him that he has no choice but to call an M&M for him. He even goes so far to tell him what he’s going to ask at said conference. He still believes that Wayne is fine, and it’s everyone else who’s in denial.
At the meeting, Hooten starts out being short with his surgeons, and Wayne plays off his oversights with humor and a spiel about preparation. Everyone else is surprised when Hooten excuses his mentor without so much as a slap on the wrist and breaks up the meeting shortly thereafter. “What the hell was that?” Villanueva wants to know. “What’s going on?” The two titans have a stare-down before Hooten leaves Room 311.
He goes directly to Wayne’s office, and points out that one of his ‘tells’ is grand gestures in his spiels, but that Wayne did no such thing while going on about preparation. Hooten now believes his mentor has been having “little episodes” that could be precursors to a stroke. When he calls the older man out, Wayne turns on him, insisting that “When I compromise a patient’s health, then we’ll talk.” Hooten leaves without another word and ends up at the dive bar with Villanueva again. Michelle and Tina soon join them.
But while they drink and trade jokes, Wayne is still sitting in his office. He uses his stethoscope to check his own heart and hears the fateful whoosh that informs him he’s got a problem. And that saddening sound stays in our ears as the screen fades to black.
There’s something heartbreaking about “The Legend and the Fall,” which is anchored by a fantastic guest performance by the great Hal Holbrook. For his character (and indeed, the biggest part of the episode) to work at all, the role demands someone who is believable as a master, and Holbrook certainly is that, given that he’s been a star in the acting world for decades now, going back to his amazing performances as Mark Twain. (He’s also written a wonderful autobiography.) Holbrook’s scenes with Alfred Molina – himself a well respected actor – are the highlights of the hour. With the halls of other medical shows often populated by young, beautiful people, it’s nice to see a plot about the elder statesmen of this hospital.
The plot also raises a not-unfamiliar debate. This is a discussion people have had – maybe not about surgeons specifically, but there have been countless stories about how old is too old for someone to drive, or to live on their own. It’s a question with no firm or easy answer, and that’s born out here. While we may understand that Wayne needs to hang up the lab coat, we also can’t help but find ourselves feeling for the man, because what must it be like to realize the thing you’ve done for so many years (indeed, which you’ve made your life, as he tells Hooten), you can’t do anymore?
Everyone else’s stories feel like subplots around Dr. Wayne’s story, or at least the start of plot threads we may see explored in later episodes (remember, this is a show that likes to make callbacks, and deservedly so). Other than knowing that Michelle’s patient has had a successful surgery, we don’t resolve anything and maybe we don’t need to. There are other episodes to explore Sydney and Lieberman’s relationship, Tina’s awkwardness as her marriage dissolves, or the fact that Tierney seems to be in everyone else’s business. When you’ve got someone like Hal Holbrook on your show, there’s nothing wrong with letting him have center stage while he’s there.