Saturday, November 2, 2019


Description: Craig is shocked to learn that his college roommate has checked in for a sex-change opearation. White takes an emotional beating when he must convince a grieving family to sign an autopsy consent form. Samuels and Paxton, having renewed their romantic relationship, clash over how to treat an alcoholic patient. Chandler treats a gunshot victim with amnesia.

"Release" is the 12th episode of season 1 of St. Elsewhere.
Originally aired February 1, 1983.
Teleplay by Tom Fontana, David Assael
Story by Joshua Brand, John Falsey
Directed by Victor Lobl


Dr. Ben Samuels has changed for the better: now he spends
the night.
Dr. Nancy Paxton (Dorothy Fielding) and Dr. Ben Samuels (David Birney) awaken in bed, having spent the night together. Paxton is eager to get to work, as she is worried about an alcoholic patient. Samuels offers to do a surgical consult.

Dr. Mark Craig (William Daniels) spots Dr. Wendy Armstrong (Kim Miyori) in the hallway, and tells her he wants her to assist him in a pericardial window he will be performing at 12:30. She was supposed to scrub with Dr. Pearl, but Craig reminds her that "pericardial windows don't grow on trees." She says she'll do it. At the nurses' station, Mark overhears Nurse Helen Rosenthal (Christina Pickles) mention that a patient named "Overlin" is in the hospital. He asks if it's a "Bob Overlin," and she says it is.

Dr. Philip Chandler (Denzel Washington) tells Dr. Donald Westphall (Ed Flanders) about the shooting victim who is recovering under his care. 72 hours after he was admitted with a gunshot wound "the size of the Callahan tunnel," his condition has stabilized enough that he can be moved out of intensive care. "Only one problem," says Chandler. "He doesn't know who he is."

They enter the room of the patient, known as John Doe #12 (Thomas Hulce). He doesn't remember being shot. He wants to know when he'll remember his name, and Westphall tells him that Dr. Chandler will work with him to get his memory back. Westphall also tells him that the police have distributed a description and photos of him that will be posted nationwide, but the patient asks, "What if no one does recognize me, and my memory never comes back?" They don't have an answer for him.

In a residents' meeting, Dr. Weaver (Sandy Ignon) is describing the case of patient James T. Grisanti, who died that morning of colon cancer that had spread to his liver. Dr. Jacqueline Wade (Sagan Lewis) asks if there will be an autopsy. Weaver asks Dr. Peter White (Terence Knox) what he thinks about that. White says the cancer was widely disseminated and an autopsy isn't necessary. Weaver asks Dr. Jack Morrison (David Morse) why doctors get autopsies, and he explains that they have to confirm the apparent physical causes of death. He asks Morrison why they need a release from the family to authorize the autopsy, and Morrison replies that it's to relieve the hospital of responsibility. Weaver says that if you can't get the release, "you're a wimp." He asks Wade if she'll do it, and when she refuses, he assigns the task to White, as it was his patient. "That is," adds Weaver, "unless you wimp out on us."

Dr. Craig pops his head into a patient's room and says he's looking for Bob Overlin. The man in the room (Andy Romano) turns around, and Craig is delighted to discover that the man is indeed his old friend from college. They embrace, and go into boxing stances--they were teammates on their college boxing squad. They haven't seen each other in fifteen years. Mark wants to know why he's in the hospital. Bob tells him: he's there for a sex change operation. Mark thinks he's kidding, but he's not.

Dr. Samuels is examining Dr. Paxton's alcoholic patient, Norman Wyler (Pat Corley). The patient says he's been drinking his whole life, but especially for the past twenty years. He asks why he's growing breasts, and Paxton tells him that it's quite common in liver failure, as the liver can no longer break down estrogen. His feet and hands are numb due to polyneuropathy, the result of too much alcohol in his nervous system. After leaving the patient's room, Paxton asks Samuels what he thinks. He wants to operate. She's hesitant to operate unless it's absolutely necessary.

"Nancy, I have seen cases like this before."

"I know. Years of experience," she replies sarcastically.

Peter White and Jack Morrison step off the elevator. Peter finds it difficult to fit apartment-hunting into the busy schedule of a resident. He's been sleeping on Jack and Nina's couch, and he has yet to speak to his estranged wife, though she left a message with his answering service. Peter sees the family from whom he needs to get the release for an autopsy. Jack doesn't envy him.

Mrs. Grisanti refuses to sign the release for an autopsy on
her late husband.
Mrs. Grisanti (Gloria Manos) is adamant about refusing the autopsy on her late husband. She doesn't want "a bunch of strangers cutting him up." Peter persists, but Mrs. Grisanti starts crying, and her son, Eddie (Jonathan Luria), tells White to leave her alone.

At 12:46 PM in the cafeteria, Peter is commiserating about the experience with his colleagues, Dr. Victor Ehrlich (Ed Begley, Jr.), Dr. Annie Cavanero (Cynthia Sikes), and two others. Victor says that the first one is the worst, and that "you feel like Invasion of the Body Snatchers". White thinks Weaver has it in for him, but Cavanero counters that Weaver wouldn't put him through this if it wasn't for the best. White asks if someone can help him, but Annie is adamant: "It's never pleasant. You'd better just get it over with, or go tell Weaver you can't hack it."

Lined up at the cafeteria counter are Dr. Craig and Dr. Daniel Auschlander (Norman Lloyd). Mark is preoccupied with his friend, Bob, whom he once saw knock out Blackie Boone, a particularly tough boxer, with a single punch. He can't believe it's the same person. Auschlander suggests that Mark sit down and talk with his friend, to understand what led Bob to make this "complex decision." Mark projects, and says it's "so obviously humiliating for him to see me again." Daniel suggests Mark talk to Bob's wife, or someone close to him.

"Mark, don't take it personally."

"I'm not taking it personally," Mark replies, obviously taking it personally.

Behind them in line are Jack and Phil. Phil is enjoying his psychiatry rotation, and working with the amnesiac patient to "reconstruct his memory, bit by bit. Going slowly, but it's fascinating."

At a table, Dr. Samuels is eating lunch and is joined by Dr. Paxton. She's been thinking about Norman Wyler, and she's decided it's too soon for surgery. She wants to medicate and restrict the patient's diet, but Ben doesn't think it will do any good. "The man is sinking fast," and needs a more drastic intervention. He suggests that her judgment is clouded by her desire to prove herself to Daniel Auschlander, and that she's letting her pride get in the way of her patients. She reminds him that Wyler is her patient and it's her decision.

Dr. Chandler quizzes amnesiac John Doe #12 about the
newspaper he read.
Phil visits John Doe #12. Phil had sent him a newspaper, and he read it front to back, there not being much else to do. Phil wants to see if John can remember the stories he's read, and John passes with flying colors. Phil asks him to count backwards from 100 by sevens, and John pauses. His dessert tastes strange. Phil tells him the hospital tries to pass it off as chocolate pudding. John realizes he can't remember chocolate.

Weaver is letting White have it. "Now look, White, I've been watching you and as far as I'm concerned, you're the kind that does not belong in medicine, because out of the 22 first-year residents who've tried so far, you're the only one who's failed. The only one."

"I don't think this autopsy is necessary."

"Hey, I didn't ask you to think. I told you to get the release. Now, I'm not going to let you off the hook. You go back to that family and you get them to sign the release on the dotted line. Do you understand?"

"The family's already left the hospital, now how am I supposed to convince them now?"

"Hey, you figure it out. I don't care. But I want it today."

Dr. Craig is in his office with Bob Overlin's wife, Anne (Alice Hirson). She explains that Bob made the decision three years earlier, and that he's a careful and conscientious person who wouldn't do something like this if he wasn't certain. She tells Mark about how when Bob, Mark and Neil Abbott dressed up as the Shirelles for the Senior Follies show, Bob didn't get rid of the dress afterwards. She's got a hundred other stories like that one. Mark insists he can talk Bob out of it, but she presses: "Mark, Bob is going to have this operation and you're going to have to come to terms with it, and if you can't, I do not want you to talk to him, no, because I don't want you to hurt him. Just leave Bob alone."

Peter is about to talk to Eddie Grisanti about the autopsy release, when he is stopped in the hallway by Nurse Sandy Burns (Jane Kaczmarek), who wants to have dinner with him that night. Peter explains why he's pre-occupied, and agrees to the date.

He steps into the office where Eddie Grisanti is waiting. He apologizes for the encounter that morning, and tells Eddie that he had got to know and like his father in the time before his death, and then he mentions the autopsy. Eddie says that it was settled, and he won't put his mother through it. White tells him that there's reason to believe that there may be a genetic component to colon cancer, and the autopsy is necessary to help understand whether or not Mr. Grisanti's illness could be something his children would have to worry about having themselves. Eddie reluctantly agrees to the autopsy.

John Doe #12 describes his near-death experience.
At 2:52 PM, Phil is working with John Doe #12. John is sitting up, eyes closed, in a relaxed state. Phil is speaking softly and slowly. He asks John if he thinks of anything when he hears the word, "home," or if he can describe his father or mother. Nothing. He asks about the word "gun," and John says, "Fiscus." He doesn't know who "Fiscus" is.

"Can you describe him for me?" asks Phil.

"Curly dark hair, white coat. He grabbed paper with a bloody hand, my blood. He read some numbers from the paper."

"What else do you remember?"

"I don't know. I saw a light, like a bright bulb, shining in my face. I remember feeling a strange sensation, starting to rise, but my body was still there on the bed. Someone was holding on to me, squeezing my heart. I was hanging from the upper-right-hand corner of the ceiling, without any strings, or anything. I saw my body, with people around it. Someone said, 'this boy's dead and gone,' and the man with my heart said, 'he's not dead 'til I say he's dead.'"

"That's when you were in the emergency room... What else?"

"I turned away. I heard a very familiar voice, calling me. I don't know who it was. But I went inside the light. This woman. I wanted to hug her. But she asked me if I was ready. And I said 'no, I don't think so.' And then I started falling backwards. I remember waking up here."

Phil asks him to think back to right before "Fiscus," and say what came to his mind. "Sterling," John replies. Phil asks him to describe "sterling," but John can't, and he seems to be struggling.

Dr. Craig vists Bob Overlin's room. It's empty, but Bob's personal items are still there. Mark opens the dresser drawer to find some women's clothing, jewelry, and makeup. He opens the closet, and begins examining a woman's blouse and jacket, but the door opens and he quickly hides the clothing behind his back. It's Ehrlich, who's there to pick up a urine sample. Craig chastises him for being a "delivery boy" instead of a doctor, taking out his own emotional turmoil on the surgical resident he says is "four steps behind" the others.

In the morgue, Dr. Cathy Martin (Barbara Whinnery) is performing the autopsy on Mr. Grisanti, and peppering her story about her interest in "adventure running" with some suggestive adjectives. Peter is not listening. After talking about her desire to visit Tibet and run in the Himalayas, she asks Peter if he's seen the film Lost Horizon with Ronald Colman. His mind is clearly elsewhere. She found no sign of cancer in Mr. Grisanti's brain, and confirms that it was colon cancer that killed him. Peter rushes out of the morgue. She asks if he wants to hear the rest, but he says he has to get back upstairs. As he leaves, she tells him to "stop by."

Chandler is in Westphall's office, relating how John Doe #12 is able to recall things that people said during a moment when he was clinically dead. Chandler wants to know, "How do you know when someone's dead and not coming back?" Westphall tells him that you give it everything you've got and hope for the best. Chandler reminds himself that he needs to focus on John Doe #12's memory.

Dr. Ben Samuels at his most patronizing.
Dr. Paxton enters Dr. Auschlander's office. He had called for her to come see him. Samuels is there already, and they've been discussing the Norman Wyler case. Auschlander recommends Ben's suggested course of treatment. After Samuels gives Paxton a patronizing explanation of the procedure he's recommending, he tells Auschlander he hopes he doesn't come off as "meddling." Auschlander says he appreciated Samuels getting involved.

"Actually, it comes as Dr. Paxton's suggestion," Ben explains. "And from what I've seen, she's done an excellent job with this particular patient. It's just that sometimes you get too close to a case. Lose perspective. Happens to me, happens to all of us."

After she leaves, Auschlander wisely surmises, "Is there something going on between you two?"

"At this point, I'm not sure," replies Ben.

In the stairwell, Annie asks Peter how he got the release for the autopsy. "I lied through my teeth," he responds. He doesn't want to hear that sometimes you've got to do things you don't want to. Westphall tells Chandler, who was walking behind the two of them, that Lt. Gerard just called, and they found John Doe's parents. Chandler asks if their name was "Sterling," and Westphall doesn't know. Chandler thanks him, and hurries down the stairs.

Peter is watching an elderly patient entertaining a girl in a wheelchair when Eddie Grisanti comes rushing down the hallway towards him. "Dr. White! White... Do you know the agony you caused, huh? You know how hard it was to convince my mother to let you... I had to force her to sign, my sisters and I. We were at my uncle's funeral home when the body arrived. We saw what they did to him. The top of his head was sawed off. The skin on his face had been pulled of the skull. My mother took one look, and she cried, she cried so hard she collapsed in the middle of the funeral home. You cut off my father's brain, and for what? You have no right to treat people this way. That's my father you did this to..."

Grisanti shoves White against the wall and punches him in the abdomen. He dares White to hit him back, and when White apologizes, he says, "You doctors, you got no guts."

At 4:27 PM, Mark enters Bob's room. He tells Bob he wants to postpone the operation, to be sure that the surgery is his "only option." Bob tells him to sit down and listen. He's been thinking about this for a long time. He knew he felt this way even before college, before they were roommates for four years. He wanted to say something about it to Mark, but he knew that if he did, their friendship would be shattered. Bob valued Mark's friendship more than telling him the truth.

"Nothing's changed, Mark. I've just become more fully aware of who I really am. It's taken me years to stop trying to be something I'm not. Years of trying to be the best athlete, dating the most beautiful ladies, merely to compensate for my own strange feelings I have inside."

Mark isn't willing to accept his old friend's decision.
"You admit they're abnormal."

"Abnormal or not, it's what I feel inside, Mark. And finally I have enough courage to do something about it."

"Not in my hospital, you're not."

"You can't do that to me."

"Well, as Chief of Surgery, I can halt any procedure that I deem unsuitable."

"You have no right to tamper with my life."

"I am trying to help you, damn it!"

"The only help I want is your support and your understanding."

"You want my approval? You are about to destroy yourself, and you want us all to stand around ringside, and cheer. Well, you may have convinced your wife, but not me, buddy. I know you too well to agree to anything so disgusting."

"Bob Overlin is gone, he's dead."

"No, no, no, I know Bob Overlin. And I'm gonna save him."

At 7:14 PM, Peter spots Dr. Weaver, and follows him on to the elevator. White tells Weaver that there was no cancer in Mr. Grisanti's brain. Weaver doesn't remember who Grisanti was. White explains that he was right, and the autopsy wasn't needed, but Weaver holds firm. "Look, White, those are the rules of the game. If you don't like it, don't play." Peter follows him out of the elevator, and gives Weaver a piece of his mind, telling him how rotten he is, but Weaver shakes it off. "I'll see you tomorrow. Don't forget rounds, huh?"

In the doctor's lounge, Phil is pacing nervously while Dr. Stephens (Drew Katzman) is watching the Celtics game on TV. Stephens asks Chandler what he's getting so excited about, which gives Phil pause. He admits he's more nervous about the meeting than the patient is, then leaves to wait by the nurses' station.

Ben walks in, carrying a flower to offer to Dr. Paxton. He asks if she wants to go to dinner with him. She's still mad about the condescending way he spoke to her in Auschlander's office. He doesn't understand what he did to offend her. She explains. He thinks she overreacted. She says he hasn't changed, he's still smug, just like twelve years ago. She's not one of his bimbos. As the fight escalates, she tells him she doesn't want him in her life anymore. Relationship over.

John Doe #12 is excited about the prospect of meeting his parents, even combing his hair. The couple, Mr. and Mrs. Kotlarz (Tom Tarpey, Judy Jean Berns), say hello, but quickly turn around and leave. In the hallway, they explain to Dr. Chandler that their son Patrick has been missing for two years, and the description the police gave was a close match, but John Doe #12 is not their son.

Helen and Donald try, unsuccessfully, to cheer up Mark.
At a bar, Rosenthal, Craig, and Westphall are having a drink. Craig laments the changing times, and comments that he never found Milton Berle funny, nor Lemmon and Curtis in Some Like it Hot. "Marilyn Monroe was the best thing in it. At least she was normal. And look what happened to her." Helen suggests that the past is never as good as you think it was. Mark mentions how his father was the kind of man who gave things order. Helen thinks people are happier not trying to fit into roles they can't conform to. Mark asks Helen what she'd do if it was her son wanting to transition. She replies that though she'd be shocked, she hopes she would have the strength not to stand in his way. After some more back and forth about the ways of the world, Mark gets up to leave. Donald reminds Mark that it's his friend's life to lead as he sees fit, and Mark says he's not going to give up.

"So much for cheering him up," says Rosenthal.

"You're buying, right?" asks Westphall.

She slides the bill towards Donald. "I think we'd better get back to more traditional male-female role models."

Trivia for "Release":
  • The incumbent mayor of Boston mentioned in John Doe #12's "civics exam," Kevin White, served from 1968 to 1984.
  • Strange moment with Peter and Cathy in the morgue. He's separated from his wife, and open to seeing other women (like Nurse Burns), but he's so distracted he doesn't notice that Cathy seems interested in him. Especially strange given what's to come with the two of them.
  • I'm assuming it's just a coincidence that Peter says he feels like he "raped" the Grisantis, and not intentional foreshadowing. Haven't found any evidence to suggest anything else.
  • "Lt. Gerard" is a reference to the TV series, The Fugitive (1963-67). Lieutenant Gerard, played by Barry Morse, was the detective who chased the fugitive, Dr. Richard Kimble, for four TV seasons.
  • This is Drew Katzman's second and final appearance as dermatologist Dr. Lyle Stephens, who played poker in the previous episode, "Graveyard".
  • At this point in his career, Tom Hulce was best known for his role in National Lampoon's Animal House as Kroger. Shortly after this, he would begin filming his starring role as Mozart in Milos Forman's Oscar-winning Amadeus (1984). In addition to his numerous film roles (he has retired from acting), he is also a Tony- and Drama Desk-award winning producer of plays and musicals, as well as the occasional film.
  • Director Victor Lobl was married to Christina Pickles from 1962 to 1985.

Here's "Release" on DailyMotion:


Ed Flanders as Dr. Donald Westphall
David Birney as Dr. Ben Samuels

Also Starring (in alphabetical order)
G.W. Bailey as Dr. Hugh Beale
Ed Begley, Jr. as Dr. Victor Ehrlich
Terence Knox as Dr. Peter White
Howie Mandel as Dr. Wayne Fiscus
David Morse as Dr. Jack Morrison
Christina Pickles as Nurse Helen Rosenthal
Kavi Raz as Dr. Vijay Kochar
Cynthia Sikes as Dr. Annie Cavanero
Denzel Washington as Dr. Philip Chandler

and Starring
William Daniels as Dr. Mark Craig

Guest Starring
Norman Lloyd as Dr. Daniel Auschlander
Dorothy Fielding as Dr. Nancy Paxton
Barbara Whinnery as Dr. Cathy Martin
Kim Miyori as Dr. Wendy Armstrong
Thomas Hulce as John Doe #12
Andy Romano as Bob Overlin
Jane Kaczmarek as Nurse Sandy Burns
Alice Hirson as Anne Overlin

Pat Corley as Norman Wyler
Jonathan Luria as Eddie Grisanti
Sagan Lewis as Dr. Wade
Sandy Ignon as Dr. Kirk Weaver
Gloria Manos as Margaret Grisanti
Drew Katzman as Dr. Lyle Stephens
Judy Jean Berns as Mrs. Kotlarz
Tom Tarpey as Mr. Kotlarz

Watching St. Elsewhere on Hulu or elsewhere? Feel free to comment on this episode below.

1 comment:

  1. One more piece of trivia. At the bar Helen mentions that she'd support her son if he decided to transition. In fact, the actor who would later play her son, Ian Fried, eventually left acting and transitioned to female, adopting the new moniker Ina Fried. Ina is now a well-respected technology journalist writing for CNET and other tech sites.


Due to the volume of fake/spam blog comments this site receives, I will be moderating comments. If your comment is a real comment about the show or the website, I will approve it within a day or so. I used to work in SEO, so I know what fake SEO comments look like. If that's what you're doing, go somewhere else.

Search this site