Saturday, April 13, 2013

St. Elsewhere's Series Finale: The Legendary Snow Globe Ending

Video of St. Elsewhere's classic ending: the whole series was imagined by Tommy Westphall, Donald's autistic son.

Tommy Westphall (Chad Allen), the real creative force
behind St. Elsewhere.
It's been great to actually get some feedback from readers of this site! I can say that this post is here by popular demand (i.e. two requests).

This is the classic ending from the series finale, "The Last One", which originally aired May 25, 1988. I've posted the clip on YouTube. (May be blocked in some countries, particularly those that get Channel 4.)

Yes, they did the it-was-all-a-dream ending...sort of. During the finale, we get some emotional closure for most of the show's characters, including Dr. Wayne Fiscus (Howie Mandel), who has completed his residency, Dr. John Gideon (Ronny Cox), who has quit after a disastrous run as the CEO of St. Eligius, and Dr. Donald Westphall (Ed Flanders), who has returned to St. Eligius with his autistic son Tommy (Chad Allen) to reclaim his post as boss after spending most of season six in New Hampshire.

Donald is listening to opera music in the office of long-time colleague and opera buff Dr. Daniel Auschlander (Norman Lloyd), who had passed away earlier that day. (In "Time Heals", we see how they met. In 1945, an angry, teenaged Donald Westphall calls the hospital's new Jewish doctor a "kike," earning him a slap from Father McCabe.) Tommy is watching snow fall through the window.

Then we see an exterior shot of the hospital, and we get a new perspective. Tommy is sitting on the floor of an apartment, holding a snow globe in his hands. We learn that "Auschlander" is his grandfather, and his father, "Westphall", is a construction worker, whose crew just finished the twenty-second storey on a building. (This was the 22nd episode of the season.)

Turns out Tommy spends most of his time staring into the snow globe, which contains a miniature building inside that looks an awful lot like St. Eligius, and his father wonders what he sees in there all day. We viewers know the answer--he imagines his father and grandfather as the heads of the hospital in the snow globe, and he apparently dreamed up a fifty-two year history of the place.

I'll write more about the ending later, and another time, I'll share my thoughts on the implications of the "Tommy Westphall Universe", the intertextual phenomenon that logically follows from this scene's revelation. For now, enjoy the clip!


  1. Does anybody have any idea what aria is played in the next to last scene, as Westphall is reflecting in Auschlander's office?

  2. I always wondered about that too and thankfully I was able to track it down through the Internet. The name of the aria is called "Chi il bel sogno di Doretta", which interestingly translates as "Doretta's beautiful dream" and it can heard in the three act Opera "La rondine" as composed by Giacomo Puccini. Below is a YouTube link to a beautiful rendition of that aria as performed by soprano singer Leontyne Price (the part of the aria heard in the St. Elsewhere finale begins at around the one minute mark in the link below).

  3. According to a high profile individual behind the scenes, there was not actually a "snow globe" used in that final scene . It was a cardboard model and special effects made it look as if St. Eligius was inside the snow globe. My contact had sold me a few St. Elsewhere artifacts, and I talked to him about his experience behind the set, of course he said it was awesome! He said, before we go I have something that I think you'd like. It was one of 2 models made for the snowglobe. He said John Tinker has one of them, and that he had the other. He asked me if I wanted to buy it I could; it was a no brainer. It was comprised of cardboard pieces glued together. I proudly displayed it on my bookshelf in Nashille , but on my way out to my new home in San Diego, it was crushed but not beyond repair, which will be my next project!

    1. Joey, I am so sorry to hear about the cardboard snow globe. I had no idea you had such an artifact...

  4. "Cardboard Artifact" is a horrible thing to call it. Funny, but horrible at best. As Dr. Mark Craig once said, "put an egg in your shoe and beat it!"

  5. You remember the completion of the 22nd story but it was Peterborough, New Hampshire (first introduced in season 6 episode 17 I think; entitled "Their Town" a play on Thorton Wilder's "Our Town" written by Wilder at the Edward MacDowell Artists' Colony in Peterborough supposed basis for the fictional town of Grover's Corners), not Vermont where Ed Flanders' Dr. Westphall had spent his year away from St. Eligius hospital.

  6. I remember being surprised and impressed by Howie Mandel as Dr. Wayne Fiscus. Prior to his being cast in this show he was known only as a particularly goofy comedian with one shitty movie credit, (Gas,) and a few TV appearances as a performer, not an actor. In this he showed us there was more to Howie Mandel than some guy putting a rubber glove on his head and blowing it up with his nose.

  7. I have to chime in here, as I have often used this episode in talking about medieval narratives where realism and allegory mix it up. In the shift from the hospital scene to the apartment, the show seems to move into a more symbolic narrative. Are we supposed to see the series as Tommy's dream? Yes and no. The last shot, with the snow globe left on top of the TV set makes the point: we've been the ones sitting in our living rooms staring into a glass ball all this time, and what the show is, really, is what it allowed itself to become in our imaginations.

  8. A point, by the way, that was set up by the opening scene of the episode, where Dr. Fiscus is just finishing up with a patient who's been suffering eyestrain from watching too much TV :-)


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