By Whitney Pastorek
November 14, 2008 at 07:14 PM EST

Last night, Anthony Edwards became the first in what is expected to be a long line of former ER cast members who return to the mothership to pay homage during the show’s last season, courtesy of an episode that finally explained the way Angela Bassett’s Dr. Cate Banfield became the ice-cold, short-haired control freak she is today: Her son died at County General while under the treatment of Edwards’ Dr. Greene, and as she struggled to save a girl in the present day, she flashed back to that horrible event and the doctor who couldn’t save her boy.

Well, we knew the dead guy was only reappearing in flashback. And courtesy of NBC’s kind publicity department, we’ve known for a while now those flashes would happen to Banfield. But did it all have to be so hackneyed? The too-obvious references to Mark’s brain tumor (all that sweating! all that grimacing!), the cliche indicators of Banfield’s frigid transformation (she used to wear cute cardigans!), and the closing moments that were supposed to be moving but just made me cringe all fell significantly below the bar this show has set for itself over the years. And while it was great to see Edwards—plus bonus cameos from Laura Innes, Paul McCrane, Haleh’s old hair, and that cute EMT girl—I wish they’d found a way to work Dr. Greene into the story via a character I care more about. It’s not just that Bassett hasn’t been around enough for me to grow emotionally attached; the battleaxe acting choices she’s made so far aren’t helping. Though with Maura Tierney gone, it’s hard to say who might have been a better choice– how about giving Yvette Freeman her own hour? The woman has more than earned it.

But just because I’ve never missed an episode of this show in 14 years doesn’t mean I’ve gotta be right. What did you think, PopWatchers? Any of you loyalists like last night’s hour better than me? Did any old fans come back just to see Edwards? And will you tune in for Clooney et al, if they appear?

addCredit(“Matt Dinnerstein/NBC”)