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The Unusual ER Love Triangle You Will Love and Hate

I can’t begin to describe my excitement when I saw NBC’s ER on Hulu. ER offers viewers everything they could want in a medical drama. Catastrophes? Check. Unrecognizable (to laymen!) medical jargon? Check. Gorgeous doctors? Check. Romance? Double check! ER certainly had its share of romances….and love triangles. Some were more subtle – such as Carla, Benton, and Cleo (Carla didn’t stand a chance!) while others were more obvious. An ER love triangle ran the gamut of casual to the more serious. And they certainly gave fans something to talk about.

It’s no secret that I’m not a fan of love triangles; however, ER was quite good at creating a believable love triangle. In fact, I found myself falling into one particularly good ER love triangle. I’m talking really good. The kind of love triangle you love….and hate….at the same time. First, what makes for a good love triangle? The characters, story, and last, but certainly not least, chemistry. These attributes (plus more!) get fans invested in this ER love triangle.

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When Hulu added every single wonderful (and not so wonderful!) season of ER to its line-up, a new generation of fans – and “shippers” – were born. With social media platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, and Tumblr, these fans have a variety of forums to passionately “discuss” why their choice is the best. Perhaps the best, and most debated ER love triangle is the unusual one between John Carter (Noah Wyle), Abby Lockhart (Maura Tierney), and Luka Kovac (Goran Višnjic).

ER, ER Love Triangle, Carter and Abby, Abby and Luka, Carter Abby Luka, Romance
Abby and Luka in ER, Episode 7×19, “Sailing Away.”

But why, you ask, is it an unusual love triangle? Because it’s Carter and Luka! Two very different men vying for the attention of one incredible woman. And yet, despite their difference, Carter and Luka are very similar. Strong ties to family, dedication to their careers, a desire to do good beyond their corner of the world, and, perhaps most importantly, their capacity to love deeply and fiercely.  While their approaches to life are vastly different, it’s this similarity in values that made the ER love triangle between Carter, Abby, and Luka so darn good! Let’s explore!

The Sexy, Yet Flawed Luka Kovac

Part one of this particular ER love triangle is Dr. Luka Kovac. When Luka joined the staff of exceedingly charming doctors at County General, there was an audible sigh of delight. Luka was the personification of tall, dark and handsome. His brooding intensity was captivating. On top of that, he was genuinely kind. A protector of sorts, especially for battered women and children. Despite the slow, sexy smiles and gorgeous green eyes, Luka was a man in pain. He lost his family to a horrific bombing. And yet, here was Luka, in Chicago, seemingly living the ideal life. It’s no wonder he suffered from survivor’s guilt.

ER, Love Triangles, Carter and Abby, Abby and Luka, Romance
A brooding Luka Kovac in ER, Episode 8×16, “Secrets and Lies.”

Yes, Luka is “a catch.” But, he was not without issues. His desire to protect often over-rode his common sense. His first date with Abby ended when he killed a mugger while protecting her. When Abby was struggling with her mother, Luka did not so much as help but rather attempt to make decisions for Abby. Then, there was the jealousy. At times unfounded, there is really nothing attractive about petty jealousy. However, his heart was always there, hidden beneath the cavalier attitude.

The Surprisingly Soulful John Carter

The second ingredient to this delicious ER love triangle is Dr. John Carter. Carter first appeared on the scene as an innocent, medical student. Over the years, Carter became more worldly; however, he never lost his earnest nature. He is boyishly charming with a smile that sneaks under your skin and steals into your heart. He’s endearing and with his dreamy brown eyes, irresistible. Beard or not, Carter’s beautiful. Inside and out. He has a soul that sees the good in others, accepts the bad, and always believes people can be (do!) better. His faith in humanity, while often tested, never faulted.

ER, Love Triangles, Carter and Abby, Abby and Luka, Romance
The charming John Carter in ER, Episode 8×16, “Secrets and Lies.”

If Carter has a flaw, it’s his feelings of jealousy. Unlike Luka, Carter’s jealousy was not petty. It’s how he handled that jealousy that was frustrating. He would act out of character, bluster, or pull from his family background of wealth and privilege. That could, and sometimes did make Carter unlikable. Or, look ridiculous.  Still, it’s easy to see why Abby fell for Carter. They were friends long before they became lovers. Abby and Carter established a relationship built on trust. There weren’t any secrets. They knew each other’s weaknesses and strengths. In the end, it was that knowledge that twisted into something that pushed them apart.  

An ER Love Triangle You’ll Love and Hate

Warning – if you are still watching ER for the first time, spoiler below!

All the twists and turns in Carter, Abby, and Luka’s lives made this ER love triangle fascinating to watch. It was so good to see how these characters pushed each other away while pulling each other close. It’s hard to choose between Carter and Luka. And it should be. Well-developed characters like these two rarely come along. 

On top of that, the third part of the love triangle is incredible. Abby is a phenomenal character. She is strong yet vulnerable. She is complex – in both heart and mind. Life, even daily life, was never easy for Abby. Yet, she persevered. That made her a character worth rooting for. At the end of the day, Carter was my pick for Abby. There was just something about Carter that tipped him over the edge for me.

ER, ER Love Triangle, Carter and Abby, Abby and Luka, Carter Abby Luka, Romance
Carter and Abby in ER, Episode 9×13, “No Good Deed Goes Unpunished.”

Ultimately, Abby ended up with Luka. Their second chance together never felt right to me. I never felt like that was Abby’s true story. For me, Carter and Abby remained unfinished. I think this was because the writers and showrunners made a switch midway through as a result of Noah Wyle leaving the show for extended periods (pure conjecture on my part). Still, I like to think that Abby and Carter’s unwritten happily ever after would have been just that….happily ever after.

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So ER fans, who was your favorite pairing in this dynamic ER love triangle? Carter and Abby or Luka and Abby? Drop me a line down below!

Photos credit: NBC

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By on August 8th, 2018

About Catherine

Catherine is an avid reader and a self-declared professional binge watcher. It's not uncommon to find her re-watching a series or movie for the umpteenth time and still be crying into a box of tissues. When she's not hiding in her closet to read or watch a show or movie, Catherine is a wife, mother, and, in her spare time, a lawyer.

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23 thoughts on “The Unusual ER Love Triangle You Will Love and Hate”

  1. I love Carter. He was always my favorite character of the series! I love when they get trapped in quarantine and finally they are together!!! I always thought Luka was not perfect for her but finally, I didn´t like Abby either.

    • Yes, I loved Carter from day one! I thought his friendship with Benton was fantastic. His character growth was one of the more interesting stories on the show. Thanks for reading!

  2. Couldn’t have found this article at a better time. I have been rewatching ER on POP but didn’t find it until seaon 6. Wow, did I forget a lot. Couldn’t agree more with you about John and Abby. I LOVE Luka but Abby and John were just meant to be together. He got her through some tough times even though she kept pushing him away–that is love. Just at the episode where Luka has returned from Croatia and she’s still drinking. Sorry to ramble but I’m so glad someone agrees that Carter and Abby belong together. BTW, everyone reacts differently but Kem pushing John away for so long made no sense to me. I lost a newborn, and all the other people I’ve known who’ve lost a child, don’t push away their partner. If they did, it was for a short time.

    • I’m wondering if the show didn’t know if Noah Wylie was going to leave ER after Season 11 and so maybe they decided to keep Kem off screen and pushing Carter away and that way when Carter he could get his happy ending by reuniting with Kem and putting their relationship first over his career and him staying in Chicago.Plus i also wonder if the show decided to break Abby and Carter because Noah Wylie was talking some time off to spend time with his family and they couldn’t have Abby be in a relationship with Carter while he was off screen because it would have tied their hands in regards to what they could have done with Abby.

      • One series made it clear to several that Luka and Abby never bonded. Her relationship with Carter, on the other hand, begins with a break in his acceptance of her behavior. In the quarantine episode, they argue about her “Abby” not needing fixing.

  3. Abby and Luka by a landslide. They truly loved each other (and did from the beginning), despite their own issues. They helped each other and worked together to get through rough spots. Neither of them ever tried to change the other, they just loved each other. They got their happy ever after, and they deserved it. They were perfect for each other.

    Plus, they had MUCH more chemistry than Carter and Abby ever had. Also, Carter and Abby were never intended to last. Zabel (one of the head writers) has confirmed multiple times that they always planned a Luka/Abby “endgame”. That’s why there are so many little moments between them scattered throughout the series, even when they were with other people.

    Carter’s “love” had conditions. He spent his entire relationship with Abby trying to make her into something she wasn’t so she would fit the fantasy he had of them together. That’s not love. Sorry. Add in the fact that he dumped her in a letter, sent through his “rival” (and Abby’s eventual husband). He didn’t want her, and he made that clear. Not only in the letter, but by almost immediately getting someone else pregnant. The idea that Abby would have gone back to him after that is baffling to me.

    • Perfect. She took the words out of my mouth. One thing is what the fan would like to see and another is the characters’ own history. Abby and Luka met for the first time still very hurt and needed to become great friends to be able to live this great love as they should. Luka and Abby never left each other’s lives. John, on the other hand, discarded her from his life as a page turned.

    • I completely agree. Abby and Carter were more like brother and sister to me and not believable as lovers. Not to mention, they were so childish together. Luka and Abby were more adult and mature and had wayyyy more chemistry.

  4. I never liked Carter and Abby together. In fact, it was a pretty toxic relationship in my opinion. From the time they got together, Abby was so emotionally scarred. She had a lot of issues that she had yet to deal with. All of that anger mixed with her alcoholism made for a plethora of “red flags”. She didn’t need to be in a relationship at that point, she needed to get help. John thought that he could fix her and was determined to. Even though he said that he wasn’t trying to change her, you could tell that he was still holding on to the idea that he would. He became so codependent in that relationship that it made me despise him (which sucks because up until they got together, I loved Carter). It was just very frustrating to me to watch. Maybe if both of them had been in a healthier place, I would be able to support it, but that wasn’t the case. So after all that ranting, I support Luka and Abby all the way

  5. I’m rooting for Abby with Luka, it just that Carter the type of person that will support you whatever your decision was and Abby sometimes can be reckless and need an second opinion, a person that would tell Abby what’s the right thing to do and i think Luka is the right person for it. I know Abby is tough but at the end of the day tho she still needs someone that could tell her what to do or a second opinion. Like in the episode where Abby’s mom is locked up in a hotel, Luka told Abby to hospitalized her mother, but Abby decided to road trip from Oklahoma to Chicago, and Carter support that idea. And at the end of episode, Abby told Luka that she should have listened to his idea and let her mother to be hospitalized. See! Carter support Abby’s choice and idea, while Luka is trying to help her do the right thing

    Carter and Abby is more a match for a friend than a lover

  6. Luka and Abby by a landslide, I mean nothing wrong with Carter but I sometimes felt he was trying to mold Abby into something she wasn’t or wasn’t ready for at that moment of her life to fit that image he had in his mind (kind of felt the same with that other relationship he had with Kem).

    Luka and Abby both went through their time apart and grew up, there were also very nice moments between them while they were not together that showed their growth, by the time they came back together for me it made sense and I always had the hope they were going to be endgame (apparently one of the writers said that was the plan all along) and also I do think Luka and Abby had better chemistry together (lol even a friend of mine who leans a bit more fot Carter admits Luka and Abby’s chemistry was better) I kind of preferred Carter with Susan but that’s just me.

  7. Carter goes into the whole series without a relationship that deepens. Luka comes from a huge tragedy and tries to rebuild himself in Chicago. Abby is coming out of a disastrous marriage and is trying to keep fighting to get back on her feet. Luka and Carol’s relationship is much more of affection than love, as Carol is very reminiscent of the personality described by him of his dead wife. Abby appears to be the first woman he has in his arms after arriving in America. Both are very hurt when they start dating, but the chemistry between the two is obvious. Carter, meanwhile, had found a woman who would stand up to him “Abby reported him to his superiors for taking drugs” and saved his life.
    Carter greatly interferes with Abby and Luka’s relationship, making him always present almost as an appendix of the couple. As the two were still facing their past demons, communication between the two was more physical than spoken. Luka was jealous, but he didn’t show it, and Abby saw this behavior as lack of interest. When the two separate, Carter seems to show jealousy and a sense of possession, for this reason, he doesn’t stay with her right away. Carter likes Abby, but he wants her in his mold, he wants her to fit into his perfect life. Abby felt in Carter’s “protective” mode a security for fear of failing again. Carter and Abby never had the chemistry necessary for a relationship. Abby, even though she’s with Carter, won’t hold a desire to protect Luka with him. When Lu voltaka “death” in Congo it becomes obvious, but they may have to make sure Carter Gil feels it obviously doesn’t. Abby and Luka’s characters have a big growth arc and when they meet again, they realize that the flame had never gone out between the two of them. The two if they are proper, are perfect for each other. I really love every moment of this couple. They have a lighter, more fun relationship. I love when she says to him: I want to have this baby with you. She trusts Luka and gives him her hopes and her love.

    • “Abby and Luka’s characters have a big growth arc and when they meet again, they realize that the flame had never gone out between the two of them. The two if they are proper, are perfect for each other. I really love every moment of this couple. They have a lighter, more fun relationship. I love when she says to him: I want to have this baby with you. She trusts Luka and gives him her hopes and her love.”

      Thank you! This all day!

  8. The way I always saw it was that Luka was still in love with his wife who died. I think Abby really loved Carter but Carter was truly in love with Kem. If Abby could have had her choice I think she would have chosen Carter. I don’t think Abby could really trust Luka. They got married because she was pregnant. He leaves her when his father died and I think she fell apart because she always knew she really couldn’t trust him.

    • I agree that Luka was probably still in love with his dead wife but that doesn’t mean he didn’t love Abby and their family with their child but maybe subconsciously Luke was trying to replace his dead family with Abby and their child.So in a way that might not have been fair to Abby since she may have known she was always in Luka’s dead wife shadow and that she’d never live up to Luka’s memory of his dead wife.However Luka and Abby got married after their child was born and not when Abby was pregnant.

  9. I think Abby played them both and in the long run she should have lost BOTH of them. She was a mess from the get go. She should have hooked up with Romano.

  10. I do wonder if one of the reasons the show never revisited reuniting Carter and Abby is because Noah Wylie wasn’t going to be on full time and thus they couldn’t tie Abby romantically to a character that would be popping in and out.As for Abby and Luka, i think they both needed to grow as individuals before they be back together as a couple.Plus when they got back together they were on even ground in a way in that they were both doctors and they equally respected and trusted each other and they learned from their mistakes from their previous relationship in that they needed to talk.

  11. I strongly DISAGREE, I felt Carter and Abby was one of the worst relationships in ER history. I felt from their first encounter Abby and Luka were meant to be. Abby and Carter always came off like brother and sister. Abby and Luka were affectionate, passionate and clearly in love. Carter went after Abby when she was unavailable and when she and Luka broke up her turned his attentions elsewhere. I remember that vividly. When the finally got together he was trying to mold her into somebody else. Luka did that at first but in the end, he simply loved Abby for Abby. To me they were finished when he wrote that Dear John letter, which is cold and reappearing with a pregnant girlfriend. Nothing was incomplete IMO, carter made his choice, Abby move on. I would have hated if she even considered entertaining him again. All through season 11 (Noah’s last full season) it was never even hinted there were any lingering feelings between the two. he was still in love with Kem and Abby had etched out her own path.

    • Depois do episódio da carta, Abby parece fechar totalmente para Carter. Entre eles nem amizade restou. Alguns dizem que foi porque Noah decidiu sair da série, mas os roteiristas afirmar que a história final sempre foi de Luka e Abby. Durante toda a Season 8 Abby e Luka mantém um relacionamento, pois nem sempre precisa-se ter sexo para continuar relacionando-se com alguém. Carter só se aproxima definitivamente dela no fim dessa temporada. Durante a season 9, Luka deixa claro que sente muito por ter perdido Abby e se comporta de forma “com o olhar do presente” de forma abusiva com ela. Ela, por sua vez, nunca toma uma atitude severa com ele. No episódio do Halloween, Luka assedia Abby abertamente e ela reage como se ainda houvesse algo entre os dois e não como alguém que está ofendida de fato. No episódio do Natal, ela reage de forma estranha quando ele fica fazendo carícias em seu braço. Ela não o afasta imediatamente. Eu sei que eles sempre deixaram resquícios desse relacionamento. Já Abby e Carter, depois de tanto Carter insistir, demonstrando-se sensível e compreensivo, tiveram uma relação péssima. Carter queria que Abby mudasse de personalidade para caber na caixinha dele. Carter é um personagem incrível como médico, mas nas suas relações amorosas ele é péssimo. Abby parecia aquele brinquedo que ele queria e não tinha, Quando teve, não soube o que fazer com ele.

  12. After the letter episode, Abby seems totally closed off to Carter. There was no friendship between them. Some say it was because Noah decided to leave the series, but the writers claim that the final story was always Luka and Abby. Throughout Season 8 Abby and Luka maintain a relationship, as you don’t always need to have sex to continue having a relationship with someone. Carter only definitely approaches her at the end of this season. During season 9, Luka makes it clear that he is sorry for losing Abby and behaves “with the look of the present” abusively towards her. She, in turn, never takes a stern attitude with him. In the Halloween episode, Luka openly harasses Abby and she reacts as if there is still something between the two of them and not as someone who is actually offended. In the Christmas episode, she reacts strangely when he keeps stroking her arm. She doesn’t push him away right away. I know they always left traces of that relationship. As for Abby and Carter, after Carter insisted so much, showing himself to be sensitive and understanding, they had a terrible relationship. Carter wanted Abby to change her personality to fit into his little box. Carter is an amazing character as a doctor, but in his love relationships he sucks. Abby looked like that toy he wanted and didn’t have. When he had it, he didn’t know what to do with it.

    • Hey Deborah, you keep mentioning that Noah’s leaving may have been the reason Carter and Abby didn’t last but I disagree. I think it had nothing to do with it. They had all of season 10 and 11 to reconnect Abby and Carter and they went out of their way NOT to do it. Whereas we knew George Clooney was leaving and they made sure to keep Doug and Carol connected. Even after he was gone, TPTB made sure the audience knew Carol loved Doug. IMVHO, I think Carter and Abby was just a huge bust. They had no romantic chemistry and I couldn’t tell if Abby actually liked Carter let alone loved him. If people look at Carter/Abby, Luka/Abby with honest eyes, you will see Luka was always Abby’s choice. When they reunited they way she looked at him. melted in his arms, and how overall comfortable they were with each other, says it all


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