“My Brother, Where Art Thou” (season 3, episode 5; originally aired 11/06/2003)
When Tom Cavanagh’s Dan finds his way back into J.D.’s life as their mother prepares to remarry, it initially seems like an easy way to further complicate J.D.’s already complicated life. Still pining after Elliot, J.D. doesn’t have time to deal with his obnoxious older brother, and so being tackled after opening his own door was not high on his to-do list. “My Brother, Where Art Thou?” seems like it’s another one of those episodes where someone from a character’s other life outside of the hospital complicates their work life and teaches them a valuable lesson.
It’s not really one of those episodes, though. Sure, Dan proves as much a nuisance as he’s always been, but after spending time in the hospital he doesn’t end up teaching J.D. a lesson. In fact, J.D.’s antagonism toward Dan only reaffirms for the latter that “Johnny’s never going to look up to me.” While the two left on decent terms last season, they are never going to entirely patch up their relationship, especially not when Dan’s lack of forward momentum continues to define his existence. Dan arrives in an effort to draft J.D.’s support in a conflict with their mother, hanging onto his brother because he has no one else to turn to, but what he discovers is that J.D. is the one who needs support, something he’s in no position to give him.
Cavanagh remains great in this role, and he’s particularly strong when Dan discovers a way to help his brother while knowing that his brother would never accept his help. Dan and Dr. Cox butted heads when the former arrived last season, and they pick up where they left off as soon as they run into each other in the hospital. However, the two are similar enough that Dan understands Cox’s worldview, and also sees that J.D. looks up to him in a way that he’ll never look up to Dan. And so he pushes Cox to take responsibility for J.D.’s well-being, and to consider occasionally looking on the bright side instead of turning J.D.’s worldview into the same jaded, broken perspective Cox has developed over the years. It’s a reluctant passing of the baton, certainly, but one that resonates for both characters: there’s this wonderful moment where Dan exhales, as though he finally worked up the courage to do something for his brother that he’s been wanting to do—but unable to do—for a long time.
Dan has the benefit of externality when it comes to observing things like J.D.’s lack of love for his job: While the characters themselves are used to the day-to-day of working in a hospital, he isn’t, and responds to J.D.’s shift in perspective much more strongly than others might. The episode has to somewhat exaggerate J.D.’s jadedness in order to make this point clearer, although I like to imagine he’s really been like this all along, but we’ve never really seen it. We’re not exactly inside Dan’s head within “My Brother, Where Art Thou?,” but the episode nonetheless pushes us to see J.D. and Cox’s relationship from a different perspective.
There’s a similar focus on perspectives in the B-story, which is a really sharp one. Although it always requires some serious retconning, I always enjoy when we discover something has been happening throughout a series without it being mentioned. Once one random doctor is cited for moonlighting by Dr. Kelso, we discover that just about everyone has a second job to help pay the bills. While you could boil it down to a battle between Kelso, Elliot, and Carla once the latter two are caught moonlight at a vet’s office, it’s also a symptom of Elliot wanting to save money to visit Sean, Turk’s desire to work for the Mammogram Mobile, and the rather brilliant showdown between Ted and Kelso’s dog Baxter. Despite being introduced and resolved in a single episode, the storyline nonetheless feels like part of the ecosystem of the hospital, just a part of it we haven’t seen before.
“My Advice To You” (season 3, episode 6; originally aired 11/13/2003)
The same principle applies to the introduction of two more siblings into the Scrubs universe. The test for a television sibling—which I just made up, and is somewhat arbitrary—is finding the right balance between answers and questions: While the introduction of a sibling for characters like Carla and Jordan could help explain some things about their respective pasts and add depth to their characterization, it also needs to create new questions to drive conflict and push the show’s momentum forward after the sibling in question disappears. If the sibling introduction only answers questions, the character can feel too much like a construct designed to make a point about a main character; if it only asks new questions, it can feel too much like a plot device without any real connection to character.
Within “My Advice To You,” Tara Reid’s Danni feels like the latter. The fact that she’s Jordan’s sister isn’t revealed until the end of the episode, and that information does little to change any of J.D.’s fairly nondescript interactions with her. Throughout the episode, she’s pitched as a female equivalent to J.D. who could help him get out of his rut in the wake of Elliot choosing Sean. She’s got her own inner monologue, and she’s trying to get over a relationship of her own, the only problem is she’s going out of town. It’s a classic meet cute right up until J.D. encouraging her to stay so they can get a drink, at which point it’s revealed—in what the episode uses as a cliffhanger—that she’s Jordan’s sister.
Although this certainly complicates their relationship, I don’t know if Danni being Jordan’s sister actually does anything for our understanding of Jordan. She’s Jordan’s sister because it makes the storyline more dynamic, and creates a way for J.D. to have a new love interest without having to disconnect him from his relationship to other characters (in this case foregrounding his relationship with Dr. Cox). In truth, I had sort of forgotten that Danni was Jordan’s sister, as it’s mostly incidental to both Danni and Jordan in the grand scheme of things; what it’s central to, however, is how the show integrates the relationship into the show’s ecosystem. It’s a logical move on that level, but I wouldn’t say it keeps Danni from seeming like a pretty generic love interest at this early stage in the game.
By comparison, Carla’s brother Marco more or less passes the test. Having never been introduced previously, Freddy Rodriguez is having a whole lot of fun introducing considerable conflict in Carla’s relationship with Turk. What’s great about this storyline is that it’s given space to evolve: We’re shown the origins of the conflict in flashbacks of Turk mistaking Marco for a valet after he wore a vest to a funeral, we see this distaste manifest during Marco’s visit, and then Marco and Carla resolve (some) of that conflict and reach a new space within their relationship. Using the flashbacks as fuel, Rodriguez and Donald Faison get into a great comic rhythm as the two characters butt heads, with Judy Reyes mostly oblivious to the level of conflict that exists between them. It’s an incredibly fun storyline, with some sharp use of subtitles and a great guest performance from Rodriguez, but in the end we’re given the scenes that give it meaning for Carla: In the wake of her mother’s death, their relationship was one of the last Marco has, which explains both why he would choose to keep his bilingualism a secret and why he would be so openly hostile toward Turk.
When Scrubs temporarily introduces a patient—who are normally more talkative than Mrs. Barteaux, who becomes a rally point for Kelso and Cox’s competing views on patient care in the C-story—it doesn’t have the same burden of developing character while introducing conflict. Although not all siblings stick around for more than a single episode, they need to imply both a history and a future within this world: Danni will have a few more episodes to accomplish this, but Marco’s first of three appearances is a strong and entertaining example of how to play the sitcom sibling card.
- This is a weird comparison, but revisiting this season has been sort of like watching the Studio 60 On The Sunset Strip pilot for me: Most of it works great, and there’s a tremendous sense of flow within each episode, but there’s that one storyline—Harriet/Matt in Studio 60, J.D./Elliot here—that pulls me out of it for a moment.
- Both of these episodes are under 20 minutes in length, and yet they both also have shortened opening credit sequences. I’m not sure if NBC just randomly needed more ad-time those weeks, or if the super-sized episode meant they shortened other episodes to make up that time.
- Cox’s big run about calling up Dan about the “rum and coke situation” was a highlight here for me, as it’s nice to see someone other than J.D. be subject to one of those speeches.
- I really like how the scene with J.D. and Dan entering the hospital was shot, hiding Dan’s presence as J.D. explains his failed attempts to convince him not to tag along. It’s also a great example of the series’ 4:3 aspect ratio being so fundamental to its style, as that shot wouldn’t work the same in widescreen.
- “Call my wife, tell her I won’t be home tonight”—it’s a cheap little joke, and doesn’t exactly line up with “My Tuscaloosa Heart,” but it’s a great Kelso beat nonetheless.
- After J.D. was characterized as being respected by none of his interns a few episodes ago, how is it that all of his fellow residents respect him enough for Dr. Cox to use J.D. as his hype man?
- I’m curious to know if anyone picked up Danni being Jordan’s sister before the reveal: having remembered their relationship pretty soon into the episode, I picked up a whole bunch of hints in the dialogue. I also realize that many of you watched this a decade ago and probably don’t remember.
- “Why is there silverware in the PANCAKE drawer?”—this is as perfect a comeback as have ever existed.
- I love the way Elliot unironically replies “I’ll in the on-call room!” on the phone with Sean as though it’s as equally exciting as him being on the west coast of New Zealand. It’s super charming.
- “But did you or did you not say something about cheese?”—lots of great stuff in Turk and Marco’s exchanges, but this was the biggest laugh for me.