Episode 413--"sifting the ashes"

Writer

W.H. Macy and Steven Schachter

Director

Martin Nicholson

Air Dates

2/5/91

Guest Stars

Eileen Brennan as Margaret Weston; Jeff Perry as Tommy McArthur; Richard Brestoff as Father Tierney; Alexandra Johnson Sally Brigman or Suzie McArthur; Cecile Callan as Sally Brigman or Suzie McArthur

Synopsis

Elliot returns to his hometown for a business trip and faces issues with his mother and with God while Nancy prepares for her final chemo treatment.

Summary

After getting the children off to school, Elliot accompanies Nancy for one of her chemo treatments. Nancy encourages him to call into the office and he leaves her alone to go check on business. While he is gone, Nancy's turn comes and she goes in without him. Elliot is stuck on the phone for a while and is upset to find that he has yet again missed an important event for her. At D.A.A., Michael shows Elliot some information on a cheap furniture company from Baltimore (Wohlman's) that Miles wants them to go after. Elliot gets excited about the idea and says that he wants to go take the trip and get back to his hometown. He promises that he could go and be back for Nancy's last chemo on Friday. At home, Nancy continues to focus on more "new age" techniques of handling the cancer, including crystals, music, and visual imagery. Ethan is writing a letter to the grandfather of one of his school friends who is a medicine man for a tribe in Arizona, thinking that he could help Nancy. Elliot tries to explain their different belief systems while encouraging Ethan to keep helping his mom. Elliot talks to Nancy about the trip to Baltimore and promises that he'll be back in time for Friday. She is quietly supportive of the idea, mentioning that he could visit his mother, Margaret. Elliot arrives at his mother's in Baltimore and she offers to let him stay at her house, but he points out the advantages of a hotel. Margaret gently broaches the subject of the illness and they connect in a cordial, but ginger manner. While Margaret is out of the room, Elliot picks up her glass of tea and sniffs it for alcohol. She returns to find him in the act and he apologizes genuinely for it. She accepts, noting as Nancy did earlier, that Elliot looks very tired. Elliot goes to the Wohlman office but is given a runaround and sent to see Tommy McArthur, an old high school acquaintance instead. Hope brings Leo to visit Nancy and they discuss the crystals, both of them agreeing it feels a little flaky and Nancy admits she feels embarrassed to be using them. Elliot shows Tommy a demo reel from D.A.A. which is quite impressive, but Tommy seems to have some secondary, snide agenda which includes bringing up the Pogo Pogo incident from high school. Tommy's sidekick Sally seems to like the tape, but there's still no sign of Elliot getting to see the president, Mr. Wohlman. At dinner with his mother, Elliot fields her questions about Nancy's upcoming surgery and his frustration begins to show. Elliot calls Nancy and lets her know that his meeting with Wohlman has been pushed back to dinner on Thursday, but still promises to make it back by Friday morning. Nancy finds Ethan calling on the phone to a televangelist prayer line, asking for prayer for his mother, and then takes the phone and hangs up for him. Elliot arrives at the Wohlman office and finds Tommy in a compromising position with Sally. He asks to see Wohlman, but Tommy puts him off again, saying they'll meet tonight at dinner. Nancy talks to Ethan about how to pray to God and about the differences between Christians. Elliot calls Michael for advice when he gets to the restaurant and finds that it's just Tommy and his wife Suzie--no Wohlman. Michael advises him to get out since they don't need the business that bad, but Elliot says he'll try a little more. At dinner, Tommy tells the story of Pongo Pongo, a place that was destroyed by an earthquake back when they were in high school. Elliot helped collect a lot of money for it and when everyone handed over their money at the assembly, Elliot had sudden doubts, freezes up, and won't let go of the shoebox and it spills across the entire room, in front of the whole school. When Tommy leaves for a moment, Suzie tells Elliot that Tommy hates him and is deliberately interfering with the business deal. When Elliot gets to his mother's that night, he meets Father Ralph Tierney, the new principal at Saint Sebastian's (where Elliot went to school and his mother now works). As they visit, Elliot figures out that his mother had shared his situation with Ralph. Elliot becomes very angry and becomes rude with Ralph until the priest leaves. Elliot then explodes with his mother, asking her how she could talk to Ralph about their private business, but never come to see Nancy while she's been sick. The next morning, Elliot gets into the office first, meets Wohlman, and they hit it off wonderfully. Elliot invites Wohlman to Philadelphia and the man accepts. In the aftermath, it doesn't look good for Tommy at the office. Elliot stops by Ralph Tierney's office to apologize and they end up discussing Elliot's relationship with God. Elliot stops by his mother's house on the way out of town, they talk, apologize, and hug. Elliot rushes back to the hospital in Philadelphia and is panicked that he might have missed her, but finds that the appointment was pushed back and he's in plenty of time to be with her. As the medication begins, Nancy asks Elliot to tell her a story and he begins to tell her about Narnia and Aslan.

Notes

While Elliot is talking to Michael on the phone from the hospital in the opening moments, a sign posted on the side of the phone booth reading "PRAY 555-5860" with a cross next to it is clearly visible. Mrs. Weston smokes; Elliot's sister Ruthie has moved to Japan because her husband Donald has a job there and Elliot did not seem to know about this; Margaret quotes some A.A. aphorisms such as "one day at a time"; Elliot was a year ahead of Tommy in school; the music from the spot that Elliot shows Tommy sounds vaguely Enya-ish; Tommy used to mow the lawn for the Westons; Elliot drinks a Diet Pepsi which he sets on top of a bible in his hotel room; Nancy was raised Lutheran; the last time Margaret was with the family, she was drunk and spilled eggnog on Britty; Elliot thought about committing suicide in college (which would have been after he met Nancy probably); Jeff Perry has appeared on thirtysomething before in "new parents" as a slimy developer, and he also appeared regularly on "My So-Called Life" as the drama teacher.

Fashion

Nancy's hair is very thin and short and she wears a blue bandana there. She is wearing a necklace with a crystal. Elliot wears a gold jacket pin of a large motorcycle. The look at Wohlman's is very conservative. Nancy's glasses have changed at some point to rounded ones with gold wire rims, smaller than her other pair.

Quotes

--"Does [the visual therapy, crystals, candles] work?" --Elliot

--"I'd rather have a margarita." --Nancy

"I want God. It's religion that keeps getting in the way. Which is pretty tragic when you think about it." --Elliot to Father Tierney

--"You know how to jumpstart a car?" --Elliot

--"Well, yeah, I'm very liberated. I have my own set of cables." --Margaret

Analysis

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The dashed line marks the point where Lisa Stevenson Blackwell's original version of this page ended, and where Bob Fahey began adding material.
In January 2004 I had the opportunity to interview Tim Busfield via email. I asked him about this episode.
Tim: "In the meeting to establish Elliotís arc in the first season the spiritual twist at the end was discussed.  I give Marshall and Ed many kudos for following this through to the end.  I won an Emmy for that episode and it will always be one of my favorites."

The complete Tim Busfield interview


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