The title “My First Step” is a direct reference to what JD says about his approach to life: always anxious to move, unsure of how to take the first step in any direction. It’s an idea that effectively applies to the entire episode; “My First Step” is essentially a prologue for the larger stories of Scrubs‘ second season, be it Cox’s maturity, Carla and Turk’s relationship, or JD’s increasing realization he’s not the most talented, special doctor in the world.
Through Elliot and Dr. Cox, “My First Step” does hold a nugget of a core Scrubs idea in its hands, about the inner strength it takes to conquer one’s insecurities, to take risks and be truly vulnerable.
Because of the important role it serves, it can be easy to overlook that in isolation, “My First Step” is a rather ineffective episode of Scrubs, a constant crescendo of personal drama that… just kind of goes nowhere, offering a few intriguing images in the final minutes as bread crumbs for later episodes. As a whole, it is a thumb-twiddling placeholder, though one that serves an important role as a catalyst for the season’s big stories.
Where it drops the ball most noticeably is with Carla; in what will eventually become commonplace for Carla-centric stories, it feels like Scrubs doesn’t have a grip on Carla outside of her relationship with Turk. All of “My First Step” posits her as a career nurse completely satisfied with her position, even with the limited responsibilities and benefits of her job; that is, until it anchors her supposed “satisfaction” in her relationship with Turk, a disappointing turn for what was looking to be a rather subversive Carla arc.
Carla spends most of “My First Step” annoyed at Turk for trying to push her into nurse practitioner school, after she mentions that she can’t help patients as effectively as she wants, because she’s “only a nurse.” She gets pissed at Turk for trying to push her, and sarcastically responds to anyone who suggests she might enjoy the position: this continues until she reveals to Cox that she doesn’t want to go to school, because she’s currently making her bet on Turk.
It is one of the most head scratching moments of Scrubs, even when watching with the foreknowledge of its colossal struggles with gender dynamics across the entire nine-season run. Carla doesn’t want to make more money and have more power at work because… she’s just hoping Turk will marry her, so she can have babies and not work anymore? To be quite honest, I don’t get what Scrubs is trying to say through Carla here – the entire episode is about admonishing JD’s “wait and see” approach to doctoring, and yet here is Carla, refusing an opportunity she’s clearly interested in, because she really hopes the romance in her life works out?
It’s disappointing to see Carla reduced to a device for other characters: “My First Step” tries to overtly connect her professional reluctance to that in Cox’s personal life, as he tries to resist the feminine wiles of pharmaceutical rep Julie Keaton (Heather Locklear, fresh off her Spin City run). It’s a forced attempt to tether the two stories together, and tries to use Carla’s turmoil as a lightning rod for Cox’s story – which, in reality, are two stories only tangentially connected by the shared concept of fear driving us away from finding our true selves.
Julie’s introduction is an important conduit for Scrubs‘ second season; her presence is a turning point for Dr. Cox as a character, as he begins to truly contend with his own strange, twisted self-perception. Cox sees Julie as everything wrong with medicine – he dresses her down as a soulless pill pusher only interested in profits – but he’s also wildly attracted to her, a hypocrisy that feels more grounded and layered than Carla’s “I can either be professionally satisfied, or have a boyfriend” internal debate.
Like most of humanity, Cox is equally driven by desire and self-loathing; Julie is the epitome of both, a frightening proposition for a man like Perry Cox. Of course, we’re only an episode or two away from Scrubs fundamentally challenging Cox’s sense of identity; in that sense, “My First Step” is a rather tepid introduction to these ideas, drawing on Cox’s self-destructive psyche in a very similar way to his ex-wife in ways that are neither redundant or expansive.
But again, foreknowledge is everything: knowing Julie’s appearance is really the catalyst for Jordan’s reappearance gives some much necessary perspective on Cox’s story in “My First Step.” Without it, his reluctant rejection of Julie kind of has no teeth – we know Cox is going to give in to his hateful lust eventually, because it’s television. What “My First Step” doesn’t engage with is the emotional component of it all for Cox: season two of Scrubs is spends a lot of time Cox fundamentally challenging his own perceptions as a doctor, a man, and a partner, none of which bubble to the surface of “My First Step,” limiting the impact and importance of Julie’s arrival (however brief it’ll turn out to be) into the world of Sacred Heart.
There is one component of “My First Step” that feels fully formed: Elliot, whose journey through the emotional wringer of Scrubs season two begins in earnest when her patient dies in a dangerous surgery she recommended. Persisting through some truly awful JD behavior (it cannot be understated what a dickhead he is to Elliot at every turn), Elliot is given a rare victory in “My First Step” when Dr. Kelso commends her ability to make a decision in a tough moment – the kind of compromised moral victory Scrubs often makes its sharpest observations, though it mistakenly latches onto it as a lesson for JD to learn about his own impotence in taking risks.
Before it does that, though, it gives the scrappy underdog of Scrubs a much-deserved victory; an important moment for a character whose journey through season two is equally dynamic (if not quite as effectively communicated) as Cox’s. Elliot asserting herself, and having that validated by Kelso, taps into so many interesting aspects of her character: though it doesn’t necessarily play to these strengths (again, this becomes a story about lame JD), how she reacts to the board’s decision captures the neuroses and talents of Dr. Reid in a rare early moment of Scrubs finding harmony in her character’s many facets.
Much of Scrubs‘ early years are dedicated to challenging (and caricaturing) Elliot as a doctor: dismissed by many of her (male) colleagues, Elliot’s sheer force of will carries her through so many crises of identities, a foundation we can see being built during the events after Mrs. Kahn’s unfortunate, offscreen death. That’s why it’s such a bummer it uses her arc as a framing device for JD’s character: it’s a really strong episode for Elliot, so often the butt of Scrubs‘ humor and male gaze, one that gives her agency as a doctor, and presence as a three-dimensional character.
Through Elliot and Dr. Cox, “My First Step” does hold a nugget of an idea in its hands, about the inner strength it takes to conquer one’s insecurities, to take risks and be vulnerable. Complacency can often be more dangerous – and limiting – than failure; knowing Scrubs is building some of these larger ideas in a serialized fashion makes some of the more frustrating, unresolved elements of “My First Step” easier to endure, a sign that the series isn’t falling into the same metaphorical traps in its sophomore effort.
- Yes, this episode is focused on JD, who I barely talk about in the review: it’s because he’s so insufferably selfish and indignant in this episode, he’s not worth discussing. We’ll talk plenty about JD’s personality “quirks” as the season continues. The same goes for Turk, whose “innocently naive” bit runs very thin at various points through the season.
- so much of Scrubs music has changed on Hulu, since many of the series’ original music rights have expired – “My First Step” in particular suffers, the opening and closing sequences completely losing their tone with the generic replacements offered for Robert Palmer and the Counting Crows.
- The Janitor is just kind of there in “My First Step”: he turns an innocuous comment JD makes into a funny, though pointless series of punch lines about JD’s sense of power around the hospital.
- ahh, remember “skateboarding fail” videos? Early internet was so innocent.
- Todd gets a high five from Turk for the line “I’d like to double her entendre.” In his defense, Todd was pretty desperate for approval.
- I’m willing to bet Heather Locklear smacking her own butt was in every single NBC promo that week.
- “If I wanted to make small talk over low grade beef, I’d eat dinner at home!”
- Turk’s “turf and turf” meal is just abominable.