Not the show you’d expect to see on a list of great horror TV, I know. And yes, this cheats a bit because it’s a single episode, not a series. But if you’ve seen this episode, I think you’ll agree with me that it’s worth bending the rules for.
This is the single most frightening episode of TV I’ve ever seen. Not best, not the saddest, not anything else. The scariest.
The most interesting part of this episode, and the part that gets to the real terror, centers on med student Lucy Knight and Dr. John Carter.
Knight, played by Kellie Martin, had been covering her own incompetence for a long time before its revelation nearly torpedoed her career. Carter, played by Noah Wyle, discovered her secret but gave her a second chance (this was years before his latter-day turn as a very icy dude). Oh, and he was getting kind of sweet on her, too. It was the Valentine’s Day episode, too.
Leading up to this episode, Knight had been doing a psych rotation and had encountered some disturbing, and disturbed, patients, someone of them violent. We’d been getting short glimpses into their ways of thinking and almost got the feeling that there was something building, though it was too subtle to notice except in retrospect.
That episode vacillated, as I recall, between a lightness and humor (Carter noticing, and excited when he realizes Lucy is wearing a thong under her scrubs) and a pervasive, unlocatable air of doom and tension. The sweetness of the pair seeming to finally overcome the gap between them and being on the cusp of progressing to a romance.
When a disturbed man in his 20s is checked into the hospital and is treated by Lucy, he seems like just another patient, just another one of the many colorful characters who parade through the show. But he turns out to be much more.
The final scene of the episode, when Carter is stabbed by an unseen assailant (it’s not close to clear until the next episode who has committed the act), is frightening. The surprise, the sound effects, the look on his face sell the scene as scary.
It gets worse, though, when Carter falls to the floor and comes face to face with Lucy, stabbed and bleeding, amazingly pale and gasping for air like a fish on land. The seeming randomness, the sound of her gasping and her mouth trying to gulp down life, the heft and grisly crunch of the scene make it a rare, starkly terrifying moment on a mainstream, non-genre TV show.
And then the episode faded to black, leaving two key characters dying on the floor of their hospital.
To this day, it’s the scariest thing I’ve seen on TV as an adult. And I love it.