|Cover of Mandy Patinkin|
I’m guilty of having recorded the first couple episodes of a new show only to see its ratings were rather weak, so I went ahead and wiped them off the DVR only to see them ultimately get the axe. At the time I feel relieved not to have lost another favorite show that I have become attached to. On the other hand, doing so may have cost me the chance to spend even a little time with a show that is in fact really good. Case in point, “Three Rivers.” I became a Carol Barbee loyalist having watched “Jericho” and enduring the “Nuts” campaign. I followed her to “Swingtown,” another show that I watched despite knowing it was probably doomed to be a one season wonder. Lo and behold, “Swingtown” was canceled after one short season, but I have no regrets about watching it. “Swingtown,” much like “Jericho” entertained me. It is one of those shows that many years from now I will still occasionally pop in the DVD of and watch it. The same can be said of “Moonlight,” a show which was also doomed to be a one-season-and-out marvel that I immensely enjoyed. So when the star of that show, Alex O’Loughlin was cast as the star of Carol Barbee’s newest show, “Three Rivers,” I knew I was probably doomed from the start. Despite this, I set my DVR to record the first episode and then the next morning, before having seen it, I looked at the ratings and hoped for the best. I wasn’t surprised to see it underwhelmed. I could have deleted it and not become attached to yet another doomed show, but as I said before, I’m a Carol Barbee loyalist, I liked Alex O’Loughlin in “Moonlight,” and when it comes to television shows, I believe it is better to have love and lost than to never have seen it at all.
If the show disappears from the schedule tomorrow (as of this writing it is scheduled for a one-time time swap with “Cold Case,” which is ultimately a moot point since it will almost inevitably be bumped into the 11 pm hour by football) I will have no regrets about watching it. If you are one of those who hasn’t bothered to watch “Three Rivers” because you too saw its early ratings and assumed it would check out early, or if you did see it but just didn’t particularly care for it, I ask that you watch the most recent episode, “The Luckiest Man.” Real life transplant recipient Mandy Patinkin guest stars as Victor, a car accident victim who is also suffering from ALS. Each episode chronicles the patients at Three Rivers Hospital, some who die and others who are saved by the organs from those lose fortunate. Each story packs an emotional punch, but none so far have been as powerful as Victor’s.
Spoiler Warning if you’re going to read on: I do summarize some of the events at the hospital, so if you’d like to see this without knowing what happens in the show, please stop reading.
Initially Victor’s prognosis isn’t too bad: Dr. Andy Yablonski (Alex O’Loughlin” seems to think that with some heart surgery he’ll be able to recover to the point he was at prior to the accident. However, while in surgery, he finds a larger problem that is further complicated by his ALS. Now Victor faces more grim prognosis of being hooked to a respirator, possibly permanently, and with very limited mobility. While in the hospital, Victor meets Kuol, a patient of Andy’s who is a refugee from war-torn Africa who made it to America only to find out he has a heart ailment that will require a transplant. Just through one conversation about baseball, Kuol is able to get Victor to laugh they become quite close. Victor decides that he doesn’t want to live hooked to a machine, that he wants to donate his heart to Kuol. The moral questions this episode poses is upsetting enough, but it was Mandy Patinkin who drove viewers to tears (and if you saw it and weren’t at least feeling something emotionally for him, something is profoundly wrong.) Mandy gave the performance of a lifetime, struggling to speak every word but still arguing with Andy that he wanted to give his heart to Kuol not just because it meant Kuol could live but so that he himself could die. When he explained what he had to look forward to and summed it up in terms of, “I can’t breathe on my own, I can’t drive, I can’t go for a walk. Soon…I won’t be able to swallow, or talk.” Andy tries to reason, “But you can feel, you can think!” Victor shoots back, “I feel angry! And that’s how I’m gonna die! And I think if I could’ve gone out on top like I wanted, I coulda beat that bastard, ALS, one last time…” Mandy was phenomenal in this episode, those scenes in particular, and I strongly encourage you to at least go to CBS.com and watch this episode. If not for the show, for Mandy Patinkin’s performance, whom I hope Emmy will recognize as being as outstanding as I did. The emotion of his inner struggle to want to die vs. what Andy and his daughter wanted was only the beginning. The feelings of giving up on life, watching his powerful goodbye with his daughter as he was being rolled to surgery one final time, and then watching the patients who had since asked him for his other organs as well lined up to see him roll off for the final time… There are no words for the emotional toll that took on me as a viewer.
I again would ask that anyone reading this who has not seen this episode of “Three Rivers” please view it. You will be treated to one of the finest acting performances I have ever seen. And the greatness didn’t stop with Mandy, Alex O’Loughlin shined as well as rest of the “Three Rivers” cast. This is one of those episodes that you will look at many years down the road and remember it. Some shows are forgettable, some are memorable, this is the latter, and is one which I certainly felt an impact from that will stay with me. I hope you give it a chance and will agree that this was worth watching, or that at the very least Mandy Patinkin deserves nothing short of an Emmy for his performance in this episode. He truly was phenomenal.