OH! MY!! GOD!!! Talk about a mind-blowing finale. Literally! Did anybody see that tragic twist coming? “Saving Hope” did a great job of keeping that surprise under wraps. Some Hopefuls began to worry when the cast started tweeting that we should have tissues handy and brace ourselves for a big shock. Most of us assumed we’d shed happy tears for Baby Reid. Where would the “shock” fit in? With a title like “All the Pretty Horses,” we weren’t quite sure what to expect from the Season 3 finale, but once again, this show leaves us hanging with a bang.
The riveting hour is mostly split between two major story lines: Alex takes her surgical exams while going into labor and Joel accompanies Zach on a once-in-a-lifetime case at a nearby military base. Both stories are full of suspense, humor, danger, and heart. The secondary story follows Charlie and Dawn as they try to save a mysterious patient suffering from hypothermia. Hang on tight for a wild and bumpy ride.
The episode opens with Dr. Katz checking on Alex and we learn that she’s due for labor in a week. Shahir is so excited to be a part of this special experience, he’s even made Team Sh-Alex shirts. Too cute! Meanwhile, napping Charlie awakes to a very bizarre vision of a white horse galloping through the hospital. This horse continues to pop up throughout the course of Charlie’s day. We’re not sure what it quite means, all we know is that Charlie has an unsettling feeling about it.
Zach approaches Charlie and Joel in the ER. He’s been called to a nearby military base where one of the soldiers in training ended up in a freak accident. He has a motor shell stuck inside his body. Charlie and Joel argue who should go, so Zach flips a coin and leaves it up to fate. Joel is destined to go with Zach, while Charlie stays at the hospital.
Joel catches Alex before she heads out to take the surgical boards. She says she feels like a parade float, so Joel comforts her saying that she’s a “beautiful float.” Then he assures her that she’ll ace the boards. As they part ways, Joel gives Alex a boost and says, “You’re golden!” Little does Joel know just how much those words will mean to her in the future.
Alex, Maggie and Larouche are all set for the oral exam portion of their surgical boards when Alex’s water suddenly breaks and she goes into labor. Maggie is ready to take her to the hospital, but Alex refuses to miss this opportunity. She doesn’t want to be set back a year. If she doesn’t take the exams now, then Alex will be a new mom and a resident; she’ll have to juggle the exams, work and a baby all at once. Alex decides to suck it up and takes the exam while keeping tabs on the accelerating rate of her contractions. The spectacle that ensues exhibits some of Erica Durance’s best work on “Saving Hope.”
Durance perfectly conveyed a flurry of emotions. It has been a treat to watch her pregnancy progress over the course of this emotional season. She has been absolutely adorable and glowing in every episode, but this one takes the cake. Durance gave Alex an extra sense of humor, charm and vulnerability that we don’t get to see very often. The tension is palpable. The stakes are very high and we feel Alex’s urgency to complete the exams before going into full-blown uncontrollable labor. By the end of the exams, one of the instructors finally comments on the obvious: Are you in labor?! Yes she is, but instead of wasting time talking about it, Alex speeds through all of their hypothetical cases, nails the answers and rushes out to have her baby.
Alex Reid was basically superwoman in this episode. For the first time, we could really see a hint of Lois Lane in Alex. If Lois had a baby on “Smallville,” she would totally power through labor while breaking an epic news story and then gracefully rush off (or conveniently have Clark Kent fly her to the hospital) to birth their super baby. However, in this scenario, Maggie is the one who has Alex’s back.
Maggie drops everything and accompanies Alex in the ambulance. Even when Alex urges Maggie to finish her exams, she refuses to leave her friend’s side. We all know Maggie has the tendency to be flakey, but she really pulls through for Alex in the finale. She calls Shahir, Charlie and Joel, so that they will all be ready for Alex’s arrival. But no one has been able to reach Joel, which is very surprising because he wanted to be the first to know when Alex goes into labor. As the doctors of Hope Zion will soon find out, Joel has been indisposed for a very good reason.
Zach and Joel are working on one of Hope Zion’s most dangerous case yet. A young sergeant (George Tchortov) has a small missile embedded in his abdomen and to make matters even worse, he’s the bomb expert on base. Since his body is in total shock, the sergeant is miraculously lucid and able to help instruct the doctors on how to handle the bomb.
This is “Saving Hope’s” most intense case to date. The stakes can’t get any higher. The bomb is lodged in his pelvic bone and they are going to need tools to drill it out. They carefully move him to a tent for safety. During their preparation, the sergeant visualizes his three year old son telling him to hang in there. Zach relates and talks about his boys. He tells the sergeant to brace himself for the excruciating pain because they don’t have any anesthetics on hand. (Shouldn’t their medical go-bags should be more well stocked than that?) Before cutting into the bone, Joel tells Zach to leave. He’s a father and shouldn’t be placed in this kind of danger. Zach says their patient is also a dad and he needs them both. Zach isn’t bailing. As if the daddy talk isn’t making our hearts swell enough, Charlie and Dawn are having a fatherhood conversation of their own back at the hospital.
Charlie helps Dawn treat Graham, a naked man brought into the ER with a dislocated elbow and hypothermia. While operating on his arm, Charlie’s cell goes off with a hard rock guitar solo ring tone and Maggie alerts him about Alex’s labor status. After a few moments, Dawn can’t handle his manly silence anymore. Joel may be winning the paternity pool, but Dawn and the nurse in their OR both bet on Charlie. It’s cute to see how Dawn is trying to comfort Charlie. Of course, she’s still Dawn, so she has to cover the downside of this situation.
She asks if Charlie’s conducted the father experiment: what if he’s not father? Charlie teases that he’ll get a dog. Aww, poor Charlie. They focus back on their patient and realize that his fingers need to be amputated. Since there is no one there to speak on Graham’s behalf, the doc’s make the call for him. As they continue working away, Charlie tells Dawn that he does the dad experiment every day. Sigh.
The former lovebirds recall how Charlie used to play the guitar for Dawn. With one moment of reminiscing, we are reminded of how hard this must be for her. Dawn desperately wants a child. She suffered a miscarriage with Charlie in the past, she raised her hopes of bearing his child again this season, only to learn she’s unable to, and now Alex is likely to give birth to Charlie’s baby. This is a loaded memory and Michelle Nolden plays this scene so wonderfully. Dawn is one of the most guarded characters on “Saving Hope” and in scenes like these, Nolden speaks volumes with such nuance.
When Graham’s fingers come off, Charlie’s phone rings again. Dawn tells him to go and she’ll finish up. As Charlie excitedly leaves the OR, he sees the ominous white horse again. While he anxiously waits by the doors with Shahir (who hilariously cracks a terrible contraction joke to ease the tension), Charlie confesses that he feels like something bad is about to happen. He worries that something may be wrong with Alex or the baby.
As Charlie’s uneasiness fills us with fear, Alex experiences a bit of difficulty while giving birth inside the ambulance. Alex is rightfully freaking out and snaps at Maggie, “Don’t break my baby!” Thankfully, Maggie handles the delivery like a pro and Alex gives birth to a healthy baby boy. Yay!
Dr. Katz greets Maggie the moment she enters the ER. While on the phone, Katz asks Maggie to explain exactly what she did during the complicated birth. Given that Alex still has to birth the placenta, this line of questioning seems ill-timed and strange. Katz presses for an answer. After Maggie gives her response, we realize that Katz was prompting Maggie to complete the final question to help her pass the board exam. Sure, it may be a bit far-fetched, but the sentiment is sweet, so we don’t really care.
Elsewhere in the hospital, Dawn hears the sounds of a guitar and finds Graham carefully strumming with the two fingers he has left. Then we finally get some backstory on this mystery man. Graham was asking for his ex-girlfriend, Misty, when he was first brought into the ER. He explains how he dove into the lake to retrieve his guitar, then he got locked out of his car, and embarked on a series of misadventures, which all led to this. Then he pauses and says Dawn looks sadder than he does. She admits she is sad. Baby Reid’s birth is a bittersweet moment for Dawn. Seeing ChAlex together with a baby reminds her of life she could’ve had. Despite her heartache, Dawn is still happy for Charlie.
At this moment, you can’t help but wonder what became of Dawn’s temporary custody of Giselle. We really hope it works out for the two of them. It would be sweet to see them form a little feisty family. Speaking of which, Charlie already feels right at home with Alex and Baby. Brace yourselves because we are all about to start bawling.
Charlie sweetly brings a burger, fries and pie for Alex. (Now that’s my kind of man.) He sits down beside her and asks what she has decided to name the baby. Then we are officially introduced to baby Luke Reid. Awww!!! The sentiment, Charlie’s response, the look on Alex’s face and memories of Luke (We still miss you, Tyler Hynes!) all set off the waterworks. As Alex hands Baby Luke over to Charlie, she has another moving ChAlex flashback. For a moment it feels like they both know Charlie is the father. Sigh. Sadly, this sweet moment is abruptly soured.
Joel and Zach are still trying to get the missile out of the sergeant’s pelvic bone, when he starts bleeding out. Joel says they are nearly out of blood and sends Zach out to get more. Joel promises to wait for Zach, but we know he won’t. Once Zach is out if the tent, the sergeant says he’s onto Joel’s game. He has carried his buddy’s dog tags with him for good luck, now he’s giving them to Joel. In return, Joel gives the sergeant his St. Jude pendant. He chalks it up to a superstition that claims empty pockets are bad luck and they agree to trade their tokens of good luck afterwards. We are already feeling uneasy about all of this, come to think of it, the second we saw a bomb sticking out a guy’s gut, we knew this wasn’t going to end well.
Unfortunately, Zach is on five second delay and doesn’t put Joel’s rouse together until he’s driving away in the car. The second he realizes what Joel has done, Zach turns back around in hopes of stopping him. We teeter on the edge of our seats as the moment of truth arrives.
Joel successfully pulls the missile out of the sergeant and carefully walks out of tent with it. The bomb squad tells him to stay still and wait for them to diffuse the bomb. Zach arrives on the scene and realizes he’s too late. Just as the bomb squad takes a step towards him, Joel sees the white horse. He exudes a serenity like we’ve never seen from Joel before. For once, Dr. Goran seems to be at peace. Yet all we can think is: Oh no. No. No. No. This doesn’t mean what we fear it means. Right? Right?!
Gasp!!! Holy crap! “Saving Hope” has done the unthinkable. We just watched Joel explode into smithereens. Oh my God! This is crazy. We are stunned speechless. Joel’s eradication is literally a jaw-dropping moment.
Take a second to process this. Deep breaths. Your eyes are not playing tricks on you, no matter how cartoonish it may feel. If you are still slack-jawed, your tears probably haven’t kicked in yet. Much of our reaction hinges on Zach’s response in this unbelievable second and Benjamin Ayers nails it. He perfectly emotes the horror, sorrow, regret, shock and gut-wrenching sadness that Zach is experiencing in this awful moment. Wow.
Surprisingly, the sergeant survived this crazy procedure. Chalk it up to a TV miracle. Seriously, he should’ve passed out from the drilling pain, let alone having a mini missile sized hole in his gut while being transported to the hospital. As Zach brings the sergeant into the ER, “Saving Hope” touchingly juxtaposes the heartbreak of Joel’s mind-boggling death with the joy of Baby Luke’s birth and ChAlex’s reunion.
Once again, Charlie asks Alex what she remembers and for the first time this season, Alex says she remembers everything. The birth of Baby Luke restores the vital piece of her soul that had gone missing. Now she remembers all the plans she made with Charlie in limbo. Most importantly, she remembers wanting to have Charlie’s baby. Sigh. Finally! This is the moment we’ve all been waiting for. Unfortunately, their happiness is abruptly spoiled.
The doctors of Hope Zion are mourning the loss of their dear friend and respected colleague. When Charlie helps Zach tend to the sergeant, the brave soldier gives Charlie the St. Jude’s pendant. Of course, we can all imagine who it will be passed on to. Despite being rattled, Charlie does his job. While he works, Alex and Maggie tearfully exchange memories of Joel as they process the news.
Maggie cradles Baby Luke as Alex tells the story of how she first met Joel back in medical school. When she learned this admirer had someone “steal” her bike, she looked him up. She thought he was cute, so she went along for the ride.
Joel’s spirit appears and he tenderly kisses Alex on the forehead. He walks over to Charlie, who has been watching over them from the doorway. Joel looks Charlie in the eyes and says, “Take care of them.” With that, Dr. Joel Goran crosses over in peace, knowing that Charlie will always be there to care for Alex and Baby Luke.
How are you holding up, Hopefuls? Are you still getting teary-eyed just thinking about it? Where do you think “Saving Hope” will go from here? Does Joel’s death change your opinion of who the father is? Would you find it more fitting if Joel was Baby Luke’s father? Would Charlie be a better man if he knowingly raised Joel’s son as his own? Why did Joel have to die to begin with? Will you miss Joel? Are you relieved to know the Charlie-Alex-Joel love triangle is finally over? What’s the significance of the white horse? Luckily, we have answers to some of those questions.
After the finale aired, exit interviews with Daniel Gillies were posted online. If it is any consolation, you should know that Gillies asked to leave the show before Season 3 began and he pretty much got the ending he was hoping for. In a very candid conversation, Gillies tells The TV Junkies why he asked to be killed off, explains why he thinks Joel should be the father, shares his meaning behind the white horse and more. Read the interview here.
Benjamin Ayers also shares his thoughts on Joel’s shocking death, the cast’s reaction, his theory on Baby Luke’s paternity and his final days of filming with his friend. Read his interview with The TV Junkies here.
For starters, let’s give the entire cast and crew a huge round of applause. Everyone brought their A game in these last few episodes. Of course, Michael Shanks was wonderful, as always. His interaction with Nolden and Durance is such a joy to watch. He hit all the right notes in this episode, covering a full spectrum of emotion from cheeky to charming and heartwarming to heartbroken. But let’s move on to the man of the hour.
Gillies delivered a memorable and moving performance in his final episode. A death like that will be very hard forget and the look on his face in that last second was loaded with emotion. Seriously, way to make an exit! (Side note: The last time someone exploded like that was Castiel in “Supernatural’s” Season 5 finale. At least Cas made a comeback.)
This was an epic move on Joel’s part. He made a very important decision. He weighed the pros and cons of this scenario. Even though Joel was excited and optimistic about fatherhood, deep down, he knew Charlie would be an amazing dad because Charlie’s been ready for the family life for quite some time.
Joel, on the other hand, has always been a wandering soul. His life has been full of fleeting relationships. He was going to take a chance on Alex, propose, try to settle down, but it just wasn’t meant to be. In the final days of Joel’s life, we witnessed his great effort to change and become the kind of man Alex and her baby need him to be.
Ultimately, Joel proved to be the honorable man he strived to become. He sacrificed his life, so that Zach could continue being a father to his boys. Joel knew Alex and the baby would be left in good hands with Charlie caring for them. In the end, Joel went down in a blaze of glory, receiving the redemption he had been seeking this season.
Share your thoughts and feel free to mourn for Joel in the comments below.
This article was originally published on Examiner.com on February 27, 2015.