Air Dates: February 19-20 1986
Written by John Masius, Tom Fontana, & John Tinker
Directed by Mark Tinker
"Time Heals" was a two part episode that aired during season four of the NBC series St. Elsewhere (1982-88). Although the show was never a ratings juggernaut, it found a loyal audience who followed the doings at St.Eligius hospital. "Time Heals" provided back stories for the major characters, but even more than that, a history of the hospital (and America) from 1936-1986.
|Edward Herrmann as Father Joseph McCabe|
The episodes are structured in the form of flashbacks of various points in the history of St. Eligius, starting with its founding 1936 by Father Joseph McCabe. An Irish priest straight out of James Joyce brilliantly played by Edward Herrmann, Father McCabe started the hospital to help the people of South Boston struggling to get by during the Depression. In newsreel footage recalling FDR delivering his inaugural "nothing to fear, but fear itself" speech, McCabe's New Deal idealism and optimistic spirit would guide St. Eligius through the decades. He bucks against the Catholic establishment who disapprove of his advocation of birth control as a means to curtail poverty. He takes action against intolerance, stating a failure to act against hate and it will spread like a disease.
We also meet Dr. Westphall's father (played by Ed Flanders) who was a friend of Father McCabe, later Westphall would be mentored McCabe. In a surprising scene a teenage Westphall appears to be on the road to delinquency, an angry young man expressing anti-Semitism and bigotry. How did this kid become the compassionate Dr. Westphall? It's proof that under the right guidance anyone can change for the better. We also see a young Dr. Auschlander (Norman Lloyd) being hired in 1945 after his return from the Pacific theatre during the Second World War (which he mentions throughout the series), unknown to him the kid who just spouted an anti-Semitic slur at him will later be a trusted colleague.
In 1955 we meet a young Dr. Craig William Daniels), as a sycophantic young surgeon to his mentor Dr. Domedion (Jackie Cooper). Craig dreams of leaving St. Eligius and becoming chief of surgery at Boston General, the premier hospital in the city. We see Craig being browbeaten by Domedion during an operation (just as Craig does for everyone he mentors) and losing his confidence. Reference is also made to the polio epidemic of the 1950s, in one scene the doctors discuss their hopes for a vaccine to stop the scourge of that disease after walking through a ward of children confined to iron lungs.
During the 1960s Dr. Craig would become chief of surgery and the lone superstar surgeon St. Eligius after leaving Boston General after being passed over, proud to be a pioneer in open heart bypass surgery. In 1965 we see Nurse Rosenthal (Christina Pickles) being hired (with a stronger English accent) as she provides comfort for a young Luther (Eric Laneuville). By 1975 Dr. Westphall is happily married with two kids (Elizabeth and Tommy), only to lose his wife in a tragic accident, echoing the loss of his mother and sister in the fire in 1936.
|Ed Flanders and William playing younger versions of their characters.|
There's also a present day story set in 1986: Dr. Morrison (David Morse) is having trouble diagnosing a case and even worse his young son has been abducted. As played by Morse, the character epitomized the shows ability to build up characters and then tear them down because of their very strengths. For example, Morrison treats his patients in a humane matter, yet his sensitivity works against him, making him indecisive. His peers consider him ineffectual as a physician. Yet here he makes a breakthrough correctly diagnoses a rare case of polio, connected to the 1950s timeline. Dr. Chandler (Denzel Washington) compliments Morrison and tells despite what everyone thinks he has it in him to be a good doctor. Morse and Washington play the scene well. As St. Eligius celebrates its 50th anniversary and Morrison is reunited with his son.
"Time Heals" reminds that everyone in their endeavors may never live to see the results of their labors or even if they made the right decisions. It's a daily grind. Change is slow and time moves fast. Most days it appears we're going backwards, but we keep struggling.
These episodes were a wonderful gift to fans of the series, but also innovative and in their structure and theme. Each era replicates the style of cinema of that particular decade, the 1930s are in B&W while the 1950s are in technicolor. The two episodes together reminded me of The Godfather Part II, ruminations on how the the actions of the past inform the present and shape the future.