Saturday, October 19, 2019

"Cora and Arnie"

Description: A homeless couple face separation when the woman's impending amputation means show won't be able to care for her mentally challenged husband. A vacationing middle-class couple get a crash course in medical costs after a series of routine tests for an unexplained fainting. Beale tells Rhinehardt that he is fit for trial, and will be sent to prison. Fiscus treats a parolee whose back pains turn out to be a gunshot wound. Kochar feels homesick. Katherine McAllister dies, and her husband's grief turns deadly.

"Cora and Arnie" is the 4th episode of season 1 of St. Elsewhere.
Originally aired November 23, 1982.
Teleplay by Neil Cuthbert
Story by Joshua Brand & John Falsey and Neil Cuthbert
Directed by Mark Tinker 


It's Friday night at St. Eligjus, and Luther (Eric Laneuville) is practicing his martial arts skills with a pair of nunchuks in the halls of St. Eligius while Dr. Vijay Kochar (Kavi Raz) writes a letter to his parents back in India. (It's not clear why an anesthesiologist would be hanging out in the emergency room on a Friday night while writing a letter, but... whatever. It's exposition.) Dr. Annie Cavanero (Cynthia Sikes) asks Dr. Jack Morrision (David Morse) about the terrorist bombing victim, Katherine McAllister, and her husband, who spends all his time at her bedside.

Lilian and George Rogers begin their whirlwind trip through
the many departments of St. Eligius.
Also working in the E.R. is Dr. Wayne Fiscus (Howie Mandel). His patient is Lilian Rogers (Anne Gerety), who is vacationing in Boston with her husband George (Bernard Behrens). She fainted in their hotel room. Wayne tells her it could be nothing, or it could be something more serious.

Jack treats a homeless woman, Cora (Doris Roberts), who is complaining about itching and sore feet. She's accompanied by Arnie (James Coco). Jack removes her footwear and finds that her two big toes have turned black, and she has no feeling in the lower half of her foot. Jack decides to admit Cora to find out what's happening with the vessels in her feet.

Wayne recommends that Lilian spend the night in the hospital so they can run tests in the morning. Thus begins the charges on her medical bill: $221 for the E.R. exam and admission.

Cora receives a bath while Arnie waits patiently in the hallway. Back in her room, Jack asks her questions about her health and her medical history. She and Arnie scrounge for food. She hasn't seen her mother since she was 17, and she never knew her father. Her brother, a drinker, was killed in a car crash. Her sister, who hates her, lives in Florida, but she doesn't have a man in her life like Cora does. Jack explains they need to inject dye into her feet and take some pictures.

Wayne meets Jack in the hallway. As they step on to an elevator, Wayne discusses baby names, the news of Jack's impending fatherhood still fresh. Wayne explains how he hates the name, "Cathy", which is the only ordinary thing about his unusual new girlfriend, pathologist Dr. Cathy Martin. In another hallway Jack approaches Mr. McAllister (Jack Bannon) and asks him how his wife is doing. She died.

Dr. Donald Westphall (Ed Flanders) leads a group of residents on rounds, explaining how a thorough case history is the best thing for discovering what's wrong with a patient. Dr. Cavanero is doing just that with Lilian Rogers. After she answers "no" to all the questions, Annie determines the problem wasn't cardiac in origin. She suggests an EEG up in neurology. The consult and EKG add $160 to her bill.

Rhinehardt is not happy with Dr. Beale's assessment.
Dr. Hugh Beale (G.W. Bailey) is playing chess with the terrorist bomber, Andrew Rhinehardt (Tim Robbins). Rhinehardt explains the philosophy of the group of radicals to which he belongs: class struggle, oppressed people overthrowing their oppressors through violent insurrection, and the destruction of societal institutions. After he confesses that he'd be willing to commit another violent act without showing any remorse, Beale announces that he will be recommending that Rhinehardt should be locked up in a maximum security prison. Rhinehardt responds by spitting in Beale's face. "When I get out of here, I'm gonna off your mother, Beale."

Arnie brings Cora a hand-picked bouquet of flowers (from the cemetery). He slept in the park across the street the previous night. He saw Big Tommy in the park, and the junkies stole everything from him, about which he was screaming. Cora tells Arnie that they can't go home, because the doctor needs to take pictures of her feet. Arnie doesn't like hospitals. He also forgot to eat, and isn't interested in going out to get some food. She tells him to go eat, and promises they'll go home after her tests.

In neurology, Dr. Victor Ehrlich (Ed Begley, Jr.) admires the alpha waves of Lilian Rogers that appear on her EEG scan. He tells the story of a yogi he observed in Berkeley who could light up the scanner like it was a pinball machine. There's nothing wrong with her scan, but perhaps it could have been some kind of embolism, so Ehrlich suggests taking a look at her ear, nose and throat. The neurology consult and EEG will cost $301.90.

In the on-call room, Dr. Ben Samuels (David Birney) encounters Vijay, who is listening to sitar music. "Why can't you listen to Springsteen, you know, like a normal human being?" he kids. Ben tries some of the tea Vijay's mother sent him from Darjeeling. Vijay shows Ben some family photographs. The Kochars are the leading family in their village. Vijay's great uncle is a swami. His mother is "a real Yenta", a term he learned from Woody Allen. Ben asks for Vijay's cousin's phone number.

In the morgue, Wayne pays a visit to his love interest, Dr. Cathy Martin (Barbara Whinnery), who is performing an autopsy. She doesn't seem to care much for his kidding around, but she enjoyed their date the night before. Wayne proposes that she come over to his place that evening for some eggplant parmesan, Jiffy Pop, and To Have or Have Not on television (as well as "roll[ing] up some oregano"). She seems concerned that they'd be spending two nights in a row together, but she agrees to the date.

Is it Viola Tri-Color or Johnny Jump-Up? No, it's Footsteps
of Spring.
In Westphall's office, Mr. McAllister admires the native plant poster on the wall, a gift from Westphall's daughter, Elizabeth. Westphall confides that he is not married. It's just him and the kids. McAllister points out what he thinks is a Viola Tri-Color. Westphall corrects him, guessing Johnny Jump-Up. McAlllister looks closer. "Footsteps of Spring, that's what it is... My wife Katherine and I went to college in New Hampshire. There was a section of the campus where we used to play touch football that was bordered by Footsteps of Spring, hundreds of 'em. I remember this one Sunday, we were playing. Katherine was the quarterback on the other team, and as she faded back, I came in from the right, from the blind side, and she didn't see me. She looked so hopeful, scanning the field, looking for somebody to throw to. Almost didn't want to disturb her, but it was a one-in-a-million shot, and I took it. Caught her just below the hip, and we both went flying into the Footsteps of Spring... I would like her body flown home to Minnesota."

Back in the E.R. Wayne treats a man (Lionel Smith) who has come in after feeling a sharp pain in his lower back while getting in his car. The man takes off his jacket, and Wayne finds the problem: he's been shot. The man gets up to leave. He's on parole, having just served three years of a ten-year sentence, and he doesn't want his parole officer finding out about this. Wayne is worried about the injury, and is dismayed to learn the man gave his real name. The man had business with some friends who are "criminally affiliated", and he gets up to leave. After pushing his way past a security guard, he collapses to the floor.

In Cora's room, Arnie eats a sandwich while Cora flips through a magazine. She tells Arnie that the women in the magazine are smiling because "they got their good looks, they got their nice big houses, they got plenty of dough in the bank, and they got their Joes, that's why." Nurse Helen Rosenthal (Christina Pickles) arrives to take Cora for a set of x-rays. Cora tells Arnie that it's time to go feed their dogs, and he takes his leave. Cora explains to Rosenthal why Arnie is scared of hospitals. As a child, he saw his family die in a house fire, and after acting out, he was put in a "loony park, and twenty-five years later, when the money ran out, they put him back on the street." She thinks he suffered damage from shock treatments and drugs. She met him two years earlier on Comm. Avenue. He was yelling at random people, and she took him to the Mission.

Dr. Wendy Armstrong (Kim Miyori) examines Lilian Rogers's ears, and finds nothing wrong. But she hasn't had her eyes checked recently, so Wendy sends her upstairs for a look. Another $385.74 is added to her bill.

Vijay is listening to music on his walkman in a park. A pretty young woman walks by, and Vijay is inspired to follow her. She sits on a bench, sees him approaching, makes eye contact and smiles. Vijay smiles back, but is overcome by nerves and walks away.

Dr. Morrison shows Cora's x-rays to Dr. Westphall. The angiography showed severe obstructions, and the vascular specialist agreed the only option is bilateral amputation of both her feet at the ankles. Jack delivers the bad news to Cora. Cora is more worried about looking after Arnie, but Jack presses: her feet must be amputated to prevent the infection from spreading. She tells him not to worry about her: "Cora can take a punch. It's okay."

Westphall enters Rhinehardt's room, and with an angry glare, informs the patient that the woman he injured in the bombing has succumbed to her injuries. Rhinehardt's response is flippant: "Talk about being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Wild." Westphall tells him that he'll be transferred to the jail ward that night.

Cora tells Arnie the bad news.
Arnie looks for Cora in her room, but she's not there. He wanders the hall, calling her name, and collapses in a corner, crying and panicked. Rosenthal comforts him. Later, Cora is back in her hospital bed, and she discovers that Arnie had been struck in the head with a bottle. She asks him why he didn't have the sense to run. Arnie spies the I.V. and speculates that hospitals take patients' blood and sell it. She tells him about her diagnosis. He just wants to go home and offers to take care of her. Her emotions overtake her. "They're gonna cut off my feet! Don't you understand anything? You can't go running around like a chicken without a head because I can't chase after you no more." Cora takes a moment to consider her situation. She tells Arnie to tell the nurse to give him her things.

Wayne visits the man with the bullet in his bac, who is not happy about going back to prison. Wayne then drops in on Mrs. Rogers. All the tests have failed to explain her fainting, so Wayne tells her to visit her family doctor when she gets home for more tests. They go to the billing office and learn the extent of the damage: $1,380.90 (or $1,665.90, according to the print-out... Whoops!). Vacation ruined.

Mr. McAllister takes justice into his own hands.
Jack stops Cora and Arnie on their way out of the hospital. He explains that the infection is going to kill her if she leaves. But Arnie is the only meaningful thing left in her life, and she cares about him too much to leave him. She has accepted her fate.

As he is cuffed to his wheelchair, Rhinehardt tells Westphall that he'd be doing the hospital a favor if he blew it up. As they wait at the elevator, Mr. McAllister is lying in wait. He turns towards Rhinehardt and pulls a out a gun, firing a single shot into Rhinehardt's chest. Westphall tries to stop him, but it's too late. The policeman handcuffs McAllister while Rhinehardt lies dying on the floor.

Trivia for "Cora and Arnie":
  • Doris Roberts and James Coco won the 1983 Emmy Awards for Outstanding Supporting Actress and Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series for this episode. After Alfre Woodard won for Supporting Actress the following year for a guest appearance on Hill Street Blues, the Television Academy created awards for Outstanding Guest Actor and Outstanding Guest Actress.
    • Roberts was sitting beside Coco at the ceremony, and when she went up to the stage to accept the award, she asked him to hold on to her purse for her. When Coco's win was announced moments later, he had to carry the purse with him.
  • A production mistake was made when the Rogers couple learns the amount of their hospital bill--the number read aloud does not match what was on their bill.
  • A commentary track for this episode with Mark Tinker and Doris Roberts appears on the season one DVD release.
  • This episode appears on the VHS four-tape set, The Very Best of St. Elsewhere.
  • We find out what becomes of Mr. McAllister in the season four episode, "Cheek to Cheek", when Morrison does community service doing medical exams in a local prison. It does not go well for Jack.
  • The Johnny Jump-Up/Footsteps of Spring conversation is referenced in season four's "Black's Magic", the episode immediately following "Cheek to Cheek". Phil buys Roxanne a bouquet of flowers. "Roxanne loves Johnny Jump-Ups." Dr. Kiley tells him that he's actually purchased Footsteps of Spring. Robert Thompson, in his book, Television's Second Golden Age, points out the connection, the writers' way of alluding to what McAllister was like before he turned vigilante.

Here's the episode, posted 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
Barbara Whinnery as Dr. Cathy Martin
Kim Miyori as Dr. Wendy Armstrong
James Coco as Arnie
Doris Roberts as Cora
Jack Bannon as Stephen McAllister
Lionel Smith as Man shot in back

Eric G. Laneuville as Luther
Bernard Behrens as George Rogers
Tim Robbins as Andrew Rhinehardt
Anne Gerety as Lillian Rogers
Camila Ashlend as Billing Clerk

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