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ER: Season 08 ()

Resolving the cliffhanger ending of season seven, season eight of the award-winning hospital drama ER surveys the damage done when the emergency room of Chicago County was besieged by a gun-wielding lunatic whose son Dr. Greene (Anthony Edwards) had put in foster care. In subsequent episodes, two new characters are introduced: medical student Michael Gallant (Sharif Atkins) and intern Dr. Gregory Pratt (Mekhi Phifer), two polar-opposite personalities whose only common bond is the fact that they are both African-Americans. Under normal circumstances, the season's most dramatic development might have been the return after a five-year absence of Dr. Susan Lewis (Sherry Stringfield), who finds herself re-upping with the ER even though that hadn't been her original intention (the fate of Susan's troublesome sister Chloe and Chloe's daughter, Suzy, would be explained in a "crossover" episode with another NBC series, Third Watch). However, too much happens this season for any one plot strand to predominate. For starters, Dr. Benton (Eriq La Salle) enters into a bitter custody battle over his son, Reese, with Roger (Vondie Curtis-Hall), the widow of Reese's late mother, who had previously been helping to raise the boy, during which Benton's paternity is called into question; this and other crises ultimately inspire Benton to leave the ER and go to work in a small clinic with his current girlfriend, Dr. Cleo Finch (Michael Michele) -- who, ironically, has become exposed to the HIV virus, just like Benton's former sweetheart Jeanie Boulet. Elsewhere, nurse Abby Lockhart (Maura Tierney) tries to mediate an argument between her neighbors, only to get beaten up for her trouble; though East European ???migr??? Dr. Luka Kovac (Goran Visnjic) seizes upon this incident to appoint himself Abby's "protector," she is still sweet on Dr. John Carter (Noah Wyle). As for Carter, he is burdened with family problems brought about by his estranged parents -- especially his guilt-tripping mom. On a lighter note, a case of on-the-job political incorrectness gets several of the ER doctors "sentenced" to a weekend sensitivity-training session, which evolves into the series' own version of The Breakfast Club. In addition to the departing Eriq La Salle, season eight of ER marks the exit of Anthony Edwards as Dr. Mark Greene. After learning that his tumor has returned and is now truly inoperable, Greene slowly loses his faculties and wastes away, as his new wife, Elizabeth Corday (Alex Kingston), and daughter Rachel (Hallee Hirsh) stand by helplessly. Greene's final episode, largely told in flashback, is one of the series' most poignant moments. Curiously, however, the demise of Dr. Greene does not take place in the season finale; that particular episode is reserved for a cliffhanger situation involving a smallpox scare, a lockdown at the ER, and a riot -- not to mention a passionate kiss between two of the principal characters. Hal Erickson, Rovi Hide synopsis

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