The slow evolution of Perry Cox is definitively the strongest, most defined arc of Scrubs across its nine seasons (yes, nine – Med School doesn’t suck!); after a strong introduction to these ideas in the first episodes of season two, Cox’s story flourishes in “My Case Study”, an early example of how the gravitas around Cox’s character would often contrast – and in many cases, drown out – the stories of everyone else in Sacred Heart.
If there’s anything distinctly different in these first three episodes, it’s how Cox’s behavior is no longer an accepted reality; in every corner of his life, professionally and personally, Scrubs is challenging him to be more than he is. For somehow as magnetic and confident as Cox, it seems he’d welcome these challenges with open arms; however, his bitter disposition and reluctance to fall in line make him a bit of a sad presence at Sacred Heart, the doctor who refuses to get out of his own way to advance. And if there’s anything Scrubs excelled at, it was understanding the slow, painful process that is evolution, where in an organism has to exhaust every known way of survival before morphing into something new.
Cox’s story flourishes in “My Case Study”, an early example of how the gravitas around Cox’s character would often contrast – and in many cases, drown out – the stories of everyone else in Sacred Heart.
For Cox, it’s allowing others to help him further his life and career. We’ve seen an inkling of that this season with him rekindling his relationship with Jordan; however, her disappointment at his inability to mature in “My Nightingale” proved that even his personal relationships suffer from his immaturity and arrogant disposition. In fact, it’s J.D. who gives great voice to this in “My Case Study”, when he pushes back against Cox teasing him for playing Kelso’s game to see who got sent to a conference in Reno: he points out to Cox that while he wants to be a great doctor, he wants to be one that’s better than Cox, one who doesn’t get tripped up on his own attitude.
That’s a powerful moment; while J.D. still neatly fits into the ‘green protege’ role, the clarity with which he views his mentor’s career is fascinating – and enlightening, giving newfound depth to the complicated father/son relationship between J.D. and Cox. Like he is with his own father, J.D. is disappointed that Cox can’t be something more, and truly live up to the ideals J.D. places for said paternal presences in his life; and while we’ll see J.D. get disappointed in everyone at some point throughout the show’s extended run, his rare moments of criticism for Cox always hits the hardest; both for his character and Cox’s, which we see when Cox stands astounded at what J.D. has to say about his career (specifically, the “I’ll put in a good word when I’m your boss in ten years” bit – boy, that is just scathing).
What’s odd is how this story revolves, especially considering the framing of the secondary plots in “My Case Study”. While Cox’s story noticeably dominates the episode, there’s also a running thread about the day after Kelso’s wedding anniversary, and how that provides one day a year where people can ask him for random stuff around the hospital. Led by a fantastic dance performance by Ken Jenkins, this provides the basis for the other two stories in the episode: Turk trying (and forgetting) to ask Kelso for a new argon laser, and the awkward position Elliot and Carla are left in, with the male leads tied up in their own stories.
Both of these stories are silly in their own regard (particularly the Elliot/Carla material; their friendship stems from their attraction to each other?), but its the resolutions of them both that stand out: they both suggest that things take their natural course in life. Carla and Elliot will become friends because they find what they have in common, and Turk does the same with Kelso, except using his knowledge of Kelso to save face in the surgery department.
Regardless of the outcome, the stories are essentially the same: they’re about staying the course, remaining consistent and allowing the world around them to take care of the details and make the pieces fit. So why does Cox’s story see him forcing, with all of his will, to fight against the person he is, and the path he sets for himself? Maybe it’s designed to run against the rest of the episode’s current; it’s definitely a powerful moment, watching Cox ask the sick board member to make good on her promise to put in a good word for him. However, it feels a bit adrift next to the other, much lesser stories of “My Case Study”, ones that rely on their jokes and a much lighter tone to convey its ideas of relationships and how they grow; and as it acts in direct contrast to the B and C stories, Cox’s resolution feels a bit dissonant with the rest of the episode.
Regardless, “My Case Study” nails its final moments with Cox and J.D., and at the very least, sets up the Carla/Elliot dynamic to pay off in future episodes, as few and far in between as they may be throughout their eight-year run on the show together. For an episode with such incongruent priorities, “My Case Study” mostly makes things work, a half hour that doesn’t necessarily elevate the season ahead, but continues to set the stage for meaningful stories to follow throughout season two and beyond.
– One of the best cutaway lines in Scrubs history: “Now as you can see, the a** is on the front.”
– Michael McDonald makes one of his many appearances as the disgruntled Mike Davis – here, he’s suffering from a broken penis.
– There’s a story about an old woman getting a breast enhancement; it’s really only there for a predictable Todd punchline, and that’s ok.
– “She’s not my mother, damnit!”