“My Self-Examination” (season 3, episode 21; originally aired 04/27/2004) and “My Best Friend’s Wedding” (season 3, episode 22; originally aired 05/04/2004)
There are two similar moments towards the respective climaxes of “My Self-Examination” and “My Best Friend’s Wedding.” Earlier in each episode, important facts were established that at the time felt largely isolated, only to come back to have significant importance later. In the penultimate episode of the season, Turk interrupts Marco watching and reciting the dialogue from the big speech in When Harry Met Sally, and in the process informs us he’s never seen the film because he is a heterosexual (which I’m not even going to dignify with a response). Meanwhile, in the third season’s finale, we learn that Carla and Turk chose between two churches for their wedding—Holy Trinity and St. John’s—before landing on St. John’s (to Turk’s dismay, because he wanted to be married by the priest who looked like Sulu).
These are both throwaway jokes at their heart, in the former case building more tension between Turk and Marco heading toward Turk and Carla’s rehearsal dinner, and in the latter case signifying natural pre-wedding jitters. And yet “My Self-Examination” ends with Turk unknowingly regurgitating the speech in his Marco-penned wedding vows, while the climax of “My Best Friend’s Wedding” sees Turk—rushing after running late in surgery—sprint into the wrong church and leave Carla waiting alone at the altar.
They’re both effective uses of foreshadowing, something that is simultaneously highlighted and obscured when rewatching a series (in that you see the evidence of the foreshadowing more readily but feel its impact considerably less). In the moment, I think I would have accepted these two moments at face value. It’s easy to imagine a scenario where Marco and Turk resolve their differences, as Turk believes they have when Marco offers to write his vows. Instead it turns out Marco is just kind of a dick, albeit one who’s not wrong for judging Turk for being unable to write his vows. Similarly, it’s not outside of the realm of possibility—especially on a television show—that Turk’s last-minute dash to the wedding would be successful, and they would walk off into the sunset. But that doesn’t keep Turk from leaving Carla sitting in an empty church, waiting for a groom who never came.
In retrospect, knowing these endings were inevitable, it’s hard to imagine these situations turning out differently. As soon as Marco is shown watching When Harry Met Sally, and as soon as the possibility of a second church is introduced, my brain kicked in and connected the dots. It’s been a recurring theme this season, one where J.D. and Elliot dance their way toward an inevitable conclusion that—as we discussed last week—is just ugly. There is nothing pleasant about J.D. realizing he doesn’t love Elliot just as she finally agrees to be with him, just as there’s nothing pleasant about Turk botching his vows or being late for his own wedding. While “My Self-Examination” ends with Turk stumbling his way into some heartfelt feelings about Carla to help undo Marco’s malice, and “My Best Friend’s Wedding” ends with Turk and Carla serendipitously being married by Turk’s patient at Sacred Heart, the brief flirtation with ugliness is a more lasting one when it comes to J.D. and Elliot, and the season as a whole.
The end of “My Fault” has been a cloud hanging over this season as we’ve covered it. It colors everything else J.D. does, as well as our investment in both his relationship with Elliot, and their respective relationships with other potential romantic partners. And while I would agree with those who suggest that scene is a turning point for the series that comes just before its week-to-week quality grows more erratic, I’m not sure I would say the scene damages the third season as a whole. As immature as J.D. can often be, and as much as his mistake in allowing Elliot to leave Sean when he doesn’t love her speaks to a failure of self-examination, the end of the third season is Scrubs at its most human, even if that humanity is darker than one might like it to be. The show rushes into J.D.’s revelation without much subtlety in “My Fault,” but the fallout is such that it could have been resolved quickly and easily; yet Bill Lawrence and his writers reject that simplification at every turn, much as these two episodes reject their easy conclusions in favor of the messiness of stolen vows and missed ceremonies.
[Note: The following paragraphs/video will discuss some details from the series' eighth season - if you're watching for the first time, and want to know no details, avoid accordingly.]
It would have been easy for Elliot to end up with Sean, who J.D. convinces to come to the wedding while Turk is delayed in surgery. It would have only taken a few shifts in storytelling for “My Best Friend’s Wedding” to sell the same story J.D. sells to Sean, revealing that Elliot really was just panicking about moving in with Sean and made a rash mistake she quickly realized was not what she expected. But from the moment J.D. whispers that he doesn’t love her at Turk and Carla’s rehearsal dinner, Elliot isn’t questioning the emotions behind her decision. The character, and the show, firmly establishes she was in love with J.D. after three years of will-they-won’t they tension, and as angry as she is at J.D., she isn’t going to run back to Sean. It’s an uncompromising position in a storyline where compromise would have been easier, leaving J.D. and Elliot’s friendship broken in ways that won’t be healed between seasons, and arguably won’t be healed until they finally break down and talk about it in the eighth season.
What I love about that scene—yes, we’re talking about season eight because you and I both know these reviews will never get to it—is that it doesn’t shy away from how ugly this moment was, and how ugly their relationship was as a whole. In an eighth season that finally forced the show’s characters to confront their status as full-fledged adults and matured their perspective on their careers and personal lives, it does so not by having the characters forget about their past, but rather by embracing the weight of seven-plus seasons of sitcom-standard relationship drama. As much as one could look at Elliot and J.D.’s violent breakup and see it as Bill Lawrence salting the earth for those who wanted them to get together and allowing for four seasons of further will-they won’t-they torture as Elliot and J.D. explore a range of failed romantic relationships, in retrospect I admire it as a brave choice to let a bad situation remain a bad situation that all parties involved are forced to live with.
That is how relationships work. Perry and Jordan have their own history of complication, a relationship built on anger and distrust and eventually reconciliation. They have their own version of that reflective conversation in “My Self-Examination,” in which they acknowledge they are never going to have a perfect relationship; they’re going to bicker even when they have a son, and even when they’re ostensibly happy. Years earlier, they divorced because they thought those things meant they weren’t meant to be together; now, more mature and more settled in their respective lives, they have the perspective necessary to realize this is what a healthy relationship looks like (or, at the very least, what their healthy relationship looks like). “My Self-Examination,” which strips out almost all hospital-related material, makes clear that the third season is a season about three distinct relationships, with each exploring the uncertainty that comes with romantic love in all of its forms.
Turk and Carla join Perry and Jordan, and J.D. and Elliot in this triumvirate, and it may seem weird to talk so little about them in episodes organized around one of the most important events in their lives. And yet Scrubs always needed an anchor relationship, one that wasn’t as turbulent in its ups and downs. This doesn’t mean that Turk and Carla don’t face their share of challenges in the seasons that follow, but at no point in these episodes—even when Turk misses his own wedding—does it ever feel like their relationship is in jeopardy. Carla is just that little bit older than Elliot, more aware of who she is and what she wants, and Turk is just that little bit more confident than J.D. and able to express and understand his feelings more readily (even if, like any twenty-something, he still trips over himself on occasion as he does here). If love truly is a battlefield (and I refuse to believe Pat Benatar would lead us astray), Turk and Carla are in the trenches, whereas J.D. and Elliot are caught in no man’s land, as Perry and Jordan have settled into a different life back at base camp.
Burdened as they are with the weight of these relationships, “My Self-Examination” and “My Best Friend’s Wedding” are not as distinctly memorable as standout episodes in seasons that came both before and after. They’re also not typical Scrubs episodes, largely eschewing medical stories and focusing exclusively on stories driven by characters and relationships. What they represent, though, is the show at the moment when it had to stop and acknowledge the burden of its own storytelling, for better or for worse. When all of the supporting characters gather at Turk and Carla’s wedding, none of them have what one would call storylines, but we get the Janitor stealing silverware, Doug and Ted fighting over Danni, Todd fighting with Marco, and Kelso getting blackout drunk and congratulating Turk and Carla Turkleton; it’s a rich ensemble, one that has been developed slowly but surely over the course of three seasons.
The show will have its share of musical moments soundtracked by Ted’s Band over the course of its run, many of them more memorable than “Eight Days A Week” (which I had honestly forgotten about). But there’s something meaningful about seeing all of the recurring cast together on the dance floor, celebrating a show that has evolved to the point where it can successfully convince us this group of human beings would gather for a co-worker’s wedding, but also a show that has evolved to the point where two of those characters aren’t speaking to one another. Sometimes coming together also means falling apart, which will define Scrubs in its subsequent seasons, but this marks an important turning point for a maturing series (if one that will become less mature in the years to follow).
- Netflix Music Rights Watch: ABC must really hate Bill Lawrence for licensing a Beatles song that’s performed by characters in the show with choreographed dance moves, eh?
- “Say the soup thing”—I’m struggling to determine whether the reference to the Soup Nazi feels circa 2004, or if this is how a sitcom today would deal with the same reference.
- I’m not sure there’s ever been a more “writers’ room inside joke” running gag than the twisty bottoms/clicky top debate. I mean that as a compliment.
- “Well, you can cross-off keys in the face”—I need to find a way to work this into conversation more often. It made me laugh a lot for some reason.
- Regarding the Turk Turkleton scene, it was a nice moment where your consistent references to this line in the comments made it all the more memorable, so thanks for that.
- And on that note: As some of the above review might have indicated, this looks likely to be the end of the road of the Scrubs reviews. I’m happy we got to see through “My Screw Up,” and there’s a slim chance of finding some way to address the rest of the series in the future, but for now I’ll simply thank those of you who’ve commented or been reading for sticking around to cover three seasons of a messy, charming, and ultimately meaningful sitcom.
- And with that, I’ll leave you with “Good night.”
- Okay, and with the observation that the centrality of the three relationships to these episodes is nicely mirrored in that emotional conclusion to the series’ eighth season.