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A sneak peek at Julianna Margulies' ''ER'' exit

Viewers better brace themselves for a dramatic ending

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Julianna Margulies
Paul Drinkwater

Although ”ER” fans have known for months that Julianna Margulies tends her last ailing patient Thursday night, her series send-off will be anything but anticlimactic. Nurse Carol Hathaway (Margulies) will go out with more of a roar than a whimper, clashing with Dr. Carrie Weaver (Laura Innes) by reviving a cancer patient despite a do not resuscitate order. Still, that doesn’t mean Hathaway, who will also resolve her budding relationship with resident hottie Dr. Kovac (Goran Visnjic), will walk out of the hospital on a sour note. ”This episode is really quite beautiful,” costar Innes tells EW Online. ”I think people will really be satisfied by how it’s all wrapped up.”

Well, not everyone. Some fans are still up in arms over a cameo by Sugar Ray lead singer Mark McGrath (playing psychology resident Dr. Nadio) that ended up on the cutting room floor when the overlong episode needed trimming. Sugar Ray’s website is urging viewers to write to ER@nbc.com to plead with producers to give McGrath another shot at an appearance next year. And next week’s season finale is sure to shake up viewers when Dr. Carter (Noah Wyle) finally snaps under the strain of post-traumatic stress, and Dr. Benton (Eriq LaSalle) and Kovac battle over which victims should be treated first after a grade school shooting. But that’s all we can tell you about the finale. ”I won’t call it wonderful, because it’s not, but there’s a big surprise coming up for one of our characters,” says Innes. ”It’s shocking, and it’s something that we’ve been building up to for the whole second half of the season, so it doesn’t feel like some add-on cliff-hanger.”

Maybe that big ending will distract fans from Margulies’ exit. But even though producers were panicked enough about her departure to offer her a whopping $27 million to stay on board for just two years, Innes isn’t worried that losing yet another major cast member will hurt the show. ”In some ways we’re stronger because of changes in the cast, because it’s a challenge,” she shrugs. ”Sometimes people forget we’ve had change right from the beginning, when Sherry Stringfield left. But personally it’s hard, because Julianna’s been one of my closest friends.” Still, though Nurse Hathaway may not be dropping into the ER, Innes can visit her pal whenever she wants: ”We live around the corner from each other, so we’ll see each other.” Figures — the one doctor who makes house calls only plays one on TV.