Monday, February 3, 2014

The Ski Mask Rapist, Parts 1 & 2

St. Elsewhere got nice and dark with this season two storyline--a serial rapist stalks St. Eligius.

Dr. Peter White (Terence Knox) lends an unwanted hand to
Nurse Shirley Daniels (Ellen Bry).
In my previous video post, Peter White's Downfall, the disgraced doctor (Terence Knox) had been censured--stripped of his license to prescribe drugs after being bamboozled by an undercover police officer in the E.R. His testimony protected Nurse Shirley Daniels (Ellen Bry) from punishment, but the price he paid was stiff: he's been transferred to pathology, his career prospects have been curtailed, and his permanent record is forever marred.

The season two episode "Drama Center" (aired February 15, 1984) opens in the St. Eligius parking lot. A woman is having trouble starting her car in the cold weather when a man in a ski mask appears at her window, offering to help. She declines, but he reappears at the other window and smashes it.

The woman, Roxanne Reid (Allyn Ann McLerie), enters the E.R. reporting a broken wrist. When Dr. Wayne Fiscus (Howie Mandel) tries to take her for x-rays, she confides that she was raped as well, and Dr. Annie Cavanero (Cynthia Sikes) examines her. As she recovers and is visited by a social worker (Jenny O'Hara), she seems to be handling the ordeal remarkably well, despite her husband's discomfort. But at night, she is plagued by nightmares of the assault. Ms. Reid benefits from a therapy session where she works through her trauma.

Elsewhere, Dr. Peter White visits the emergency room and snaps into action when an unconscious man is carried in. While Dr. Wendy Armstrong (Kim Miyori) and Nurse Daniels treat the patient, Peter, the former E.R. physician, pitches in to help, even though he's not allowed to. When they remind him of his restricted status, he grabs Shirley's arm, angry over being stuck in the morgue, and reminds her of the favor he did for her. Later, Peter's friend, Dr. Jack Morrison (David Morse), visits him in his new digs. Peter is bitter, and not appreciative of the support. And he has resumed his addiction to painkillers.

  • This episode was included in the VHS collection The Very Best of St. Elsewhere.
  • For me, I will always identify Allyn Ann McLerie with her role as Carmen Carlson, wife of General Manager Arthur Carlson on WKRP in Cincinnati. I've been a fan of Jenny O'Hara since her role on Beverly Hills 90210 as the grieving mother of accidental suicide victim Scott Scanlan.
  • Jack asks Peter for the Spelling autopsy.
In the next episode, "Attack" (aired February 22, 1984), Peter is performing an autopsy in the morgue with his more experienced colleague in pathology, the flaky vixen Dr. Cathy Martin (Barbara Whinnery), ignoring her spiel about the benefits of Tibetan ginseng. Peter's skills are in need of work, and when his drug-fuelled clumsiness results in the destruction of her IPG stains, Cathy gets upset with him for ruining six weeks of work. But the compassionate Dr. Martin can't help but notice that something is off with Dr. White, who fidgets nervously and says he's fine.

Dr. Victor Ehrlich (Ed Begley, Jr.) returns from his honeymoon and is shocked to learn from Nurse Lucy Papandrao (Jennifer Savidge) that a woman was raped in the parking lot and another was grabbed on the way to the elevated train, but got away. Later, a young candy-striper (Amy Resnick) nervously approaches Nurse Helen Rosenthal (Christina Pickles) and breaks into tears as she describes how a man lured her into a supply closet--the ski-mask rapist has struck again.

The ski mask rapist picks his moment.
Director of Medicine Dr. Donald Westphall (Ed Flanders) orders the hospital locked down and hires extra security to interrogate visitors like City official Joan Halloran (Nancy Stafford), who wants to hire undercover cops to pose as orderlies. In the cafeteria, Rosenthal, Dr. Jackie Wade (Sagan Lewis), and Dr. Wendy Armstrong (Kim Miyori) debate whether they should fight back if attacked. Wade has seen too many women beaten up for resisting, while Armstrong wants to fight back, as she has read that women who fight back are less likely to be depressed afterwards. Rosenthal doesn't want to rearrange her life and give away her power.

The female staff are treated to a rape prevention meeting from the security consultant, who advises the women not to "get hysterical". They are not assured by his statistics about the unlikeliness of being murdered or the airhorns he hands out to them for protection. Cathy Martin, on the other hand, feels that her aura will protect her--rapists seek out victims, and she doesn't project a "victim aura".

Dr. Wayne Fiscus tries to help out by organizing an escort service for the women at the hospital, but Dr. Annie Cavanero points out the flaw in the plan--"how do you know you haven't signed up the rapist?"

Nurse Shirley Daniels has obtained a license to carry a can of mace for self-protection. When she enters a secure prescription drug storage room, she hears noises and springs into action when a man rushes at her from the shadows. The attacker, however, turns out to be merely a thief who picked the wrong drug closet on the wrong day, and he is charged only with criminal trespassing, to Shirley's dismay.

Meanwhile, Dr. Peter White  is not having a good night. We join him as he fails to perform with a prostitute at a seedy motel, and he explains that it was the night of his wedding anniversary, and he and Myra were all set to go out and have a good time when their kids started acting up, triggering the same fight they always have--Myra feels Peter is too lenient on the children and he feels she's too hard on them. He expresses his frustration with family life and leaves.

Back at St. Eligius, Dr. Cathy Martin is at work in the morgue when a ski-masked face appears at the window. The assailant enters, and despite Cathy's aura, he advances on her. In the struggle, she pulls off the ski mask and reveals the identity of the rapist--Dr. Peter White. The clip cuts off the ending, but after she pulls off the mask, he threatens, "If you tell anyone, I'll kill you." Roll credits.


  • To keep the clips shorter, I decided not to include the "red herring" storyline. In "Drama Center", Dr. Annie Cavanero is dating Dr. Christopher Rant (Michael Goodwin), the moonlighting physician who dumped an indigent patient on St. Eligius in "A Pig Too Far". At Annie's place, Chris won't take no for an answer, and Annie has to fight him off with a face slap. In "Attack", we see Annie enter the rape prevention seminar--she has just had one last fight with Chris, who was getting grabby again, and left with a "to hell with you." Goodwin has a similar build and height to Terence Knox, and both characters kept grabbing women forcefully, so the guy in the ski mask looked like it could have been either of them.
  • "That's why lions sleep in trees." I always enjoyed the show's dark humor. I hope rape prevention lectures are delivered with a bit more sensitivity nowadays.
  • Wendy intends to fight back because she's heard that victims are less depressed afterwards if they resist. This is some pretty brutal foreshadowing, as we shall see.
  • Some even more brutal and amazing foreshadowing--Wayne says to Jack about the panic that has gripped the women at St. Eligius, "I guess we'll never know what the women are going through." In season four, Jack gets raped while doing community outreach work at a prison, and is then stalked by the assailant after he is released in season five.

8 comments:

  1. This is absolutely fantastic. I'm thrilled to find a site about this show - one I've loved for a long time but have not seen every episode and have limited access to the show. My mom spoke wonders of this show - and I'd love to learn more about it, and gain access to episodes so I can enjoy it more.

    I remember one particular episode as a kid. I remember someone was brought in to St. Eligius as they were attacked by a lobster? Also, I'm dying to find the finale to the second to last season where there was a wrecking ball going through the hospital. Any help here would be greatly appreciated. Thanks!

    Scott from MA

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  2. Thanks Scott! Happy to oblige! I'll have to keep my eyes out for the lobster bit (unless anyone can remember and wishes to reply!).

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  3. Were these episodes edited later? I very clearly recall an explanation given for the first rape victim's broken wrist - that the rapist had tied her wrist to the steering wheel. I think Dr. Cavanero mentioned it when she and Fiscus are looking at the x-ray. Something like: "That's a bad break." "Yeah, the bastard tied her wrist to the steering wheel."

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    1. I edited these clips together from the versions I have... You're right, at some point someone comments that her wrist was broken from tied with the seat belt. It looks like I missed it, or it's somewhere else.

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  4. I was confused as to season 3, when the mental patient claimed to be the rapist, but that doesn't explain why Peter was in a ski mask and attacking (I can't remember who) in season 2.

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    1. Okay, so there were two rapists, but the mental patient wasn't one of them. He eventually confessed to a number of other crimes he didn't do, so they released him. Peter committed all the rapes in season two. After he managed to be exonerated and returned to the hospital, the rapes resumed, but in the episode after "My Aim Is True" (pretty sure that's when it is), a detective working undercover (as the world's worst orderly) arrests someone who turns out to have been a copycat. Are you watching them now on Hulu? :)

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    2. Yeah, I just needed to finish the episode, the one you mentioned. Some off topic observations.

      I find this show more than moderately dated after watching ER. I found Hill Street Blues holds up better in regards to early 80's television. Of course, medicine has probably advanced a lot more than police tactics in that time, so it makes sense. That doesn't mean I am not enjoying St. Elsewhere, just a comparison to shows from similar time. The beginning of engaging drama. I find today's procedural's very over produced, csi's, law/order, so much so that they all look the same, homogenized, such as how mainstream rock is overproduced today to all sound the same. I guess after you've known the formula for so long, it is near impossible to break through and create some real grit, as 80's television gives us.

      I do recognized it opened the doors to shows such as ER and there were many firsts in regards to topics being discussed on television (aids, lesbian affairs, etc) which is why I like watching old shows, to see how our culture was back then, as it's hard to gather what it is like to live in an era without being there (although I was born before 1980). It makes me sad, watching St Elsewhere, Hill Street Blues, heck, even The White Shadow, and realize 30+ years later, we are still dealing with the same types of hate and prejudices that we deal with today. It leaves me a bit hopeless for the future.

      I'm surprised at this point with Denzel being a very small role compared to the others. When compared to the trajectory of George Clooney during and after ER, both vaulting to superstardom, it is weird watching him play second banana to Luther and the rest in plot arcs. He's barely even there prior to season 3.

      The one thing that bothers me most is the 2 minute intro (although it's not as painful to listen to as the intro to The Practice's early 90's loud techno beats), it's too long and reminds me of that time in TV before they stopped showing us what will happen 'on tonight's' episode, completely spoiling every episode before watching it. I can't believe they ever thought that was a good idea in television. I wish they could edit it all out, it is often two minutes in before the episode actually starts, already showing us essentially 5% of 'tonight's episode'. I'd like to find out the television producer who put an end to this practice. He should be celebrated as much as anyone for pushing television into what it is today.

      Good to find this blog, and find it still active, Thanks.

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  5. Another comment, I found it fascinating how open the nurse was about having an affair, which doesn't happen so much today, it reminded me how open Michael Conrad's character was in Hill Street Blues, a man in his 60's having a serious relationship with a girl in high school. How did that ever fly?

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