I’d like to start by saying to everyone involved with Eli Stone: Well played. And to programming decision-makers: people deserve well-written scripted shows, even if sometimes they risk wandering a little far into the Earnest Forest. This show is proof positive that they’re so worth it.
OK, getting off the soapbox. I confess I’m not a Lost viewer, so while I’ve learned over the course of this show to suspend disbelief when wacky stuff happens, I’m not as adept at the flashback/flashforward time travel thing. So I found following this episode a little confusing at times.
My rule of thumb is that they can’t kill off the title character — but it was still interesting to see how events unfolded and how the unorthodox structure of this episode worked. We begin with Eli in surgery — they’re about to deal with the aneurysm when he starts to crash. We next see him waking up in bed at home, at the start of the week in which he’ll have brain surgery. At the office, people are unusually friendly. "If anyone deserves to… not die or be brain damaged, it’s you," Matt Dowd mumbles to Eli in the elevator. "But if you do wind up a vegetable, two words: Sponge bath."
Our guy knows something’s amiss when even Patti’s sweet to him. "Where’s the mayor of Sasstown when I need her?" he asks, asking her to be meaner to him than usual this week. He has a new client, David Green (Richard Schiff), a cancer patient who wants to fight his wife’s efforts to declare him incompetent to make his own medical decisions because he wants to refuse chemotherapy for the latest recurrence of his illness. God told him to be at peace with what’s going to happen, he tells Eli.
Meanwhile, Eli goes to see Nate to ask him to be his health care proxy and make sure that his wishes are followed. Nate panics, lacking faith in himself to follow through after his experience with their father and his transplant patient. "I believe you’ll do the right thing," Eli reassures him. "I want you to let me go."
Maggie volunteers to be second chair on the case, which he agrees to after a conversation about how he feels about undergoing life-threatening surgery. But it’s the way he looks at her when she’s not looking — I dare you to not be moved by it.
In pre-trial conference with Mr. Greene and his wife, Rebecca (Jayne Brook) — who’s a rabbi — we get to the crux of the case. Rebecca doesn’t believe that God spoke to David, particularly when what David thinks God told him to do amounts to abandoning his children. He makes an eloquent argument for dying with dignity; she argues equally eloquently that his children need him. It’s a beautifully acted scene — the affection and sadness between them is palpable, and their passion for their own points of view is sincere, tearful and moving.
Back to Eli’s life. Jordan, who survived the partnership vote, tells Eli that his first impression of him was that he was an ass — but he turned out to be so much more. They walk into the conference room, where the entire firm is waiting to congratulate Eli, who’s being made junior partner in charge of pro bono initiatives. "I made you partner because your compassion changed me," Jordan says. Flash — Jordan standing at an unconscious Eli’s bedside.
On the stand in court, Rebecca says she’s convinced that David’s wish is a symptom of his depression, and that she doesn’t believe he could possibly have found new faith and hope because he’s not fighting to live. Later, talking with Eli, David describes the moment of clarity and peace that he knows was God speaking to him. Eli, a little daunted, confesses that he’s never felt something like that.
Next up: Taylor. She offers to give Eli his office back, now that he’s made partner. It’s another touching conversation in an episode filled with touching conversations, and she tells him he’s the most important person in her life, because he taught her about love. "Listen to me — you’re not dead, right?" she says. Flash — Taylor, talking to an unconscious Eli at his bedside.
But for now we stay in this moment. Nate comes in and explains to Taylor what happened. Eli was on the operating table, and they thought he was out of the woods when he had two hemorrhages and a heart attack that cut off blood flow to his brain. Nate’s anguished about the idea of having to remove Eli from life support, and Taylor argues that he doesn’t have to.
Flash — Eli in Dr. Chen’s office, explaining what’s going on with David Greene’s case, and perplexed by the idea that in his relationship with God, he’s never felt the kind of weight being lifted that Greene does. There follows another wonderful piece of acting between Jonny Lee Miller and James Saito, talking through Eli’s frustration with his "spiritual punishment." Chen says that he’s studied religions because he’s never been able to feel close to God — but through Eli, God found him, and lifted his burdens. "Why is everyone talking to me like I’m going to die?" Eli asks. Then Chen wakes up in his own bed — and goes over to Nate’s house.
So if you’re keeping track, the surgery was real, and we’re seeing flashes of conversations that incorporate what people are saying to Eli in the hospital room, or even thinking. Chen has his dream the night before Nate is scheduled to take Eli off life support. He tells Nate he knows part of Eli is still alive, and he’s trying to get a message out. Don’t give up on him yet — he doesn’t yet know that the surgery has happened, but he’s close. Chen believes he’s supposed to convince Nate not to take away the life support, and Nate believes that if he doesn’t honor Eli’s very specific wishes, he’s betraying him. Chen shows Nate the photo of himself with Mr. Stone, saying that their father foresaw him helping Eli, and this is his chance to do it. Nate agrees to wait 48 hours.
After David, on the witness stand, reasserts his belief that he got a divine message, Rebecca goes to see Eli. She tries to convince him to urge David to keep fighting. She knows all about Eli’s story — his illness, his cases, the earthquake — and she believes that David chose him for a reason. She believes Eli can show him that fighting to live is worth it, and that difficulties can be overcome. Eli tells David that he thinks Rebecca is right — he should want to live, for the kids, for her, and for himself. "I believe that God spoke to you," Eli says. "I just think you heard him wrong."
But they don’t get it. David is fighting for his life, he says — the life he has now, which doesn’t revolve around work and actually involves his wife and kids. His life has meaning and purpose now, he says — he was sleepwalking before. And Eli, better than anyone else could, certainly understands. Schiff’s is a wonderful performance, and in the hands of a less skilled actor that speech could have come off as saccharine. Here it was, like all the performances tonight, affecting and excellent. Eli’s close is great — he tells his own story, and asserts that David should be able to make his own decisions about his treatment. And he wins.
Flash — Jordan walks into Taylor’s office to find her crying. They need to get going, he says. But before they do, they talk about what it’s been like for her at the firm, how the office is changing, and how he needs her help.
Flash to the hospital — David Greene has died. One by one, Nate, Patti, Taylor, Jordan, Matt Dowd, Maggie, Keith, and Dr. Chen all come into Eli’s room and gather around his bed. Another flash — Eli’s in Chen’s office, and he’s starting to put two and two together. He had the surgery, didn’t he? and it didn’t go well. Their conversation is almost magical, and the upshot is that Eli can choose whether to let go or whether to live. It’s up to him. Everyone who loves him will survive, albeit sadly, if he dies. But, they both realize, he has more to do. And Chen uses one of his acupuncture needles to get Eli started on his journey back.
But not before a song-and-dance number along the way, complete with a fantastic appearance by George Michael, singing by Victor Garber and Loretta Devine, and a kind of too tarted-up looking Maggie. As the song goes on, Eli regains his composure and his confidence.
Flash. In his hospital room, Eli opens his eyes, takes a deep breath, and exhales. And I dare you not to cry, just a little bit.
So what did you think? Did you feel, like I did, that they left the door open enough for a second season, even while tying up enough loose ends to make it satisfying? Did it live up to your expectations?