I was requested months ago to develop a list of my top ten episodes of the TV show "Scrubs." My tenth favorite episode is "My Old Man" and my review of that can be found here. Coming in at number nine on my list is "My Own American Girl," the opener to Season 3.
This episode is very straightforward and there's no need to psycho-analyze the themes. Elliott needs confidence in herself and has to decide whether she'll continue to let people push her around. JD, Turk and Carla struggle to find out what's wrong with a patient late on a Friday when specialists leave the hospital. Cox must atone for punching Kelso at the end of Season 2.
As the series kept going year after year, it became easy to forget how truly unconfident Elliott was in herself. She was extremely booksmart but lacked interpersonal skills to deal with patients and coworkers. Towards the end of season 2, she severely began doubting her capabilities to the point that it crippled her. Her lack of self confidence led the others to lose faith in her as well. She has a talk with a janitor that makes her start questioning who she is and how she handles herself.
There is a dichotomy between Elliott's subplot and that of Cox/Kelso. One stimulus in Elliott's doubt in herself stemmed from how Kelso treated her and the quality of her work at the end of the prior season. Cox had just found out he was a father when he and JD saw Kelso needlessly, sadistically tormenting Elliott to the point of tears. JD told Cox, who himself doubted whether he was ready to be a father, "If you were her father, you'd know exactly what to do." So Cox punched Kelso and knocked him out cold.
In "My Own American Girl," Kelso goes out of his way to give Cox all the bad assignments to the point where he barely gets to see his son (Jack) anymore. Together in an elevator, Cox wants to bury the hatchet with Kelso and quit going at each other. Kelso is vehement that the nature of their relationship prevents them from ever being friends. His final line is an adament, "People don't change, Perry." From that line we see Elliott decide to change who she is, how she dresses, and gets a more-adult hair style. She walks in and saves the day for the others, who were fighting with the Chief Radiologist.
JD, Turk and Carla had worked all day, pulling strings with other physicians to get tests done on a certain patient. It's not clear why JD cared so much about this particular patient (more on that in in a second), but Carla and Turk saw what he was doing and wanted to help. The last specialist whose help they needed was the radiologist in question, who was a very bitter man for no apparent reason. (His bitterness did set up one of the best sequences of the season, quoted below.) Upon Elliott using an ace up her sleeve to help her friends, the radiologist consented. However, even after this final examination, the young docs had no clue what ailed the patient. Cox points them in the right direction and they figure it out with his help.
This latter part brings me back to the patient. Honestly I watched the episode earlier today and don't even remember her name. But without a doubt she's one of the most important patient in the history of the show. The reason this crew of doctors and nurses is so likeable is how much they care for even the most forgettable patient. We want them to succeed because the actors make us believe they're good people who want to save lives. Outside of the opening act, we don't even see the patient until the end of the episode. All we see is this group of doctors going the extra ten miles to save someone's life. How can you not root for this crew?
Oh, and JD falls for Elliott again, just as Scott re-enters the picture. This sets up one of the main arcs of Season 3 - JD chases after Elliott and the resulting soul-searching for both.
Elliott: "Laverne, do you call me 'Marshmallow' because I'm soft and easily flattened?" Nurse Laverne Roberts: "Yes. But if it makes you feel any better it's also because you're VERY white."
Elliott: "Janitor, have you ever looked at yourself and wished you were different in every single way?" Janitor: "No...I'm a winner."
Cox: "I'm sorry for cold-cocking you, Bob; I shouldn't have done that...even though it felt so good, I had to change my pants afterwards."
Radiologist: "These are MY MACHINES!" JD: "But sir-" Radiologist: "MY MACHINES!!" Carla: "We just need-" Radiologist: "MY MACHINES!!!" Turk: "Whose machines?" Radiologist: "MY MACHINES" JD to Turk (who's trying not to break character): "How is that helping?"
This could have made the top ten list of best "Scrubs" episodes just on that last sequence alone. It captures Turk's character perfectly - faced with something that he didn't think could change, he wanted to point out the asburdity of the situation in a comical. But the star of this episode is clearly Elliott. It's her most important episode of the series. Without the changes she's decided to make, she would not have been in position to have relationships with Scott, JD, Jake, Keith, or JD again.