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'ER' says goodbye in two-hour finale

Well, that's that. The last drawn-out breath of the late great NBC Thursday habit that once included names like " Seinfeld," "Cosby," "Cheers," "Friends," "Hill Street Blues" and - of course - " ER." How are cultural dynasties supposed to end? In fire? Or in ice? Or a warm bath?

"ER's" finale opted for the latter. Written by show boss John Wells and directed by Rob Holcomb - at the helm for the series' premiere, too - it all ended much as it began: just another normal day, in which some people lived, some died. The old cycle of life just kept on turning, for 120 minutes.

In truth, this finale to 15 seasons had enough padding to stock an average Sleepy's for about five months. "And in the End" could have ended after an hour, but this is "ER;" the old girl is allowed one final indulgence.

There were some lovely scenes. Ernest Borgnine's character's bathetic farewell to his wife - a classic "ER" conceit, inherited from episodes past, along with the teen-in-trouble, or mother who seems like she's going to give a normal delivery, until something goes horribly wrong. Carter's ( Noah Wyle) absent-minded instructions to a distraught father to use a phone was a wonderful touch, too; it's over there, pal, he directed over his shoulder, with his arms covered in blood while he jotted notations in a book.

Nice to see familiar faces, too, like Thandie Newton's Makemba - or just "Kem" - who was Carter's ex from four or five seasons past. And nice to see Dr. Greene's daughter Rachel (Hallee Hirsh). Nice to see Sherry Stringfield's Susan Lewis and Laura Innes' Kerry Weaver and Alex Kingston's Elizabeth Corday.

"And in the End" was (all together now) nice. But the hard truth remains. There is simply no scientifically proven way to end a classic series. Some of us may remember "The West Wing's" wrap, or " NYPD Blue's," and how could we ever forget "The Sopranos"? (Aaaarrggh). But we probably best remember and cherish many other episodes that came before.

"ER" simply expired - a gentle, dignified departure into that good night. For longtime fans, that was more than enough.

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