‘Scrubs’ made my cry. Here’s why.

When I was 12 years old, the Scrubs episode titled ‘My Last Words’ premiered. There are a few different storylines of the episode, but only one that this article is discussing: Turk and J.D. talk with a man during the last hours of his life. Scrubs never did mess around with titles and ‘My Last Words’ is exactly what it sounds like.

Things to note:

  1. ‘My Last Words’ was the back half of a two-episode premiere, jammed together with ‘My Jerks’, an episode that kicked off Season 8, the last great season of the show. ‘My Jerks’ is fine, but it lacks an emotional punch and is playing up to more laughs. Watching these two episodes together does create a tremendous building of emotion though, and so I stand by that decision, whoever made it.
  2. These two episodes were the first to be shown on ABC, after the show moved networks from its longstanding home of NBC.
  3. As I stated, I was 12 years old and about to turn 13, which means I was in 7th grade. Very impressionable and turbulent time for a kid, and I was unsure of what I liked or why I liked it.
  4. It felt like Scrubs was always on during this time of my life. I was constantly watching the show, though I wasn’t always keeping up on a week-by-week basis. It was an all-consuming phase.
  5. I found out that 6.7 million people watched this episode. If we say that one out of every two people cried, which is likely, that means at least 3.35 million people cried at the same time that I cried. That is just wild to think about.
  6. Scrubs had already been going for close to a decade. It started in 2001 and this was 2009.

This episode in particular

Scrubs came out 18 years ago, two days ago. Dr. Cox wouldn’t be proud of my tardiness. Each episode followed a pattern: happy, funny stuff to start, a little bit of heavy/sad news in the middle given usually by a J.D. voiceover, more funny stuff, and then really heavy/sad news at the end given by another J.D. voiceover. Shea Serrano details it with some hilarious eloquence for a piece at The Ringer.

Because of the above pattern, you can brace yourself for the sad times. You know that they’re coming and they become less sad. That is how it works for almost all situations in life, except for one: death.

The show has never shied away from death, as it’s featured in dozens of episodes. Patients dying is a regular part of working at a hospital and I’m assuming creator Bill Lawrence wanted us to know that.

In this particular episode, Turk and J.D., perennial best friends played by real-life best friends Donald Faison and Zach Braff, are having their annual steak night. It’s a big occasion with a song and dance.

They are also dealing with interns, one of them being a fresh Aziz Ansari. But that’s about it. Several main characters are not even mentioned or shown in the course of the episode, an oddity for the show.

This episode is fully about Turk, J.D., and their talks with a patient named George Valentine. Glynn Turman was tapped to play Valentine and boy was that a good choice by the casting director.

Valentine is in Sacred Heart because he’s dying and these are his final hours. He has a terminal illness and is going to drift off into an endless sleep on this particular night. Steak night night. This episode doesn’t have all of the funny parts of other episodes. There aren’t lots of “lighten the mood” moments. It’s about death and that’s it.

Why I cried

When J.D. finds out why George is in the hospital, he says, “We think of hospitals as places where people go to heal, but they’re also places where people go to die.” Unpacking the gravity of that sentence is an entire different article, but it hits you as if you forgot you were standing on the tracks.

Scrubs does that to you, as you often forget the bleakness of situations because you’re too busy laughing at “Giant Doctor” or Dr. Cox’s demeaning remarks or J.D. daydreaming once again. You don’t forget in this episode. Upon rewatch, it was the same arresting feeling I felt 10 years ago, and knowing the end didn’t make watching it any easier.

The three talk about death and how none of them are scared of it. The doctors have lost their fear over time, and George has had a good, long life. All he wants is an ice cold beer before he goes.

When J.D. and Turk find out that George doesn’t have family coming to stay with him in his final hours, they stay instead. “When you get down to it, taking care of a patient means more than anything, even steak night,” says J.D. It’s the reason they’re such good doctors and after seven seasons of learning, they’ve grown not just as medical professionals, but as people as well.

They pull up chairs and sit with George, talking about their fathers, their college days, and their views of an afterlife. J.D. even gives a rundown of his and Turk’s first day in heaven, a small respite to the sadness clouding the screen.

“I’ll tell you one thing. I sure didn’t think I’d go like this,” says George, finally speaking up after letting the two friends spout on. George’s entire life “boils down to these four pages”, or his will. He’s grappling with death. We see a man struggle in (almost) real time, a focus on a singular death in a show filled with dying.

Finally, someone says what every audience member is thinking. First J.D. pipes up, and then Turk affirms.

“George, I’m terrified of dying.”

“Me too.”

It’s a moment I’ve remembered for the last 10 years, and a reason I’ve always defended Scrubs. The comedy might miss at times and some dialogue might not work in today’s climate, but scenes like the on in “My Last Words” are unforgettable. They’re so important to watch and experience, and to see them while you’re young, it makes them all the more memorable.

This episode of Scrubs was the first time that a television show or a movie made me cry. I remember tearing up, curled up on our old green couch and covered by a homemade, blue-and-white checkered blanket. It wasn’t the waterworks, but tears were shed, and this so-called comedy was the reason.

It sounds weird but I didn’t realize that fiction could make you cry. I didn’t understand the power of film and television. Maybe I just didn’t allow other stories to affect me, too closed off by how I thought I was supposed to react. I’m not completely sure why this put me over the edge. I felt the wave crashing upon me once again though, 10 years and lots of life experiences later.

Death Cab for Cutie’s “I Will Follow You into the Dark” is still, and always will be, one of the saddest songs I’ve ever heard, a go-to when life takes a wrong turn, when disappointment hits or when heartbreak comes.

J.D. says something though at the end of the episode that has particularly stuck with me.

“I would just hope that my last thought was a good one.”

George’s last thought?

“That beer tasted great.”

Scrubs, thank you for everything.

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