First Script Read: Wed, February 6, 1991
Filmed: February 12, 1991
Aired: April 25, 1991
Nielsen rating: 14.7
Audience share: 24
Directed: Tom Cherones
Writer: Larry Charles
Larry Charles wrote this story about George's infected tonsils (which the character mistakes for a heart attack) out of his own fear of aging, according to the DVD's "Notes about Nothing." Fear of aging, fear of death, and, especially, fear of the aged are frequent themes in Seinfeld. This episode offers several different ways that different characters cope with their mortality.
George is overcome by his fears to the point of hypochondria. Throughout the episode he goes into fits of panic when he is confronted by illness. Thinking he has suffered a heart attack at the age of 33, and goaded by the teasing of Jerry and Elaine, George taps into a couple stages of grief. Depressed, he half-seriously asks Jerry to kill him. Soon he begins bargaining:
GEORGE: I'll tell ya, if I ever get out of here, I'm gonna change my life. I'm gonna do a whole Zen thing. Take up yoga, meditate. I'll eat right. Calm down, lose my anger... (Jerry and Elaine aren't paying attention.) Hey, is anybody listening?!
No, George. No one wants to listen. Larry Charles comments, "George, as we all have, making insane proclamations that he has no intention of keeping." But I can think of people who have gone through stressful or life-threatening circumstances and, indeed, changed their worldview and life behavior. Charles' attitude reflects the cynicism at the heart of the show, one that ultimately works well for Seinfeld's humor.
In part out of his own cheapness, in part out of his conclusion that the medical system he has trusted his whole life has let him down, George turns to alternative medicine...and it does not go well. He only finds peace in his suffering when a wish he has held since he was a child is fulfilled at the close of the episode; Elaine gives him ice cream after his tonsillectomy.
Jerry and Elaine are utterly unwilling to engage with mortality, either George's or their own. Even as George believes he is having a heart attack, neither of his friends takes him seriously. They mock him throughout the episode, just as the show will mock the elderly and the dead throughout its run.
Kramer is suspicious of George's ailments because he is suspicious of the medical profession. His faith in alternative medicine, which is actually fulfilled at the end of the episode, allows him to redirect any anxiety he might have about death towards doctors and hospitals.
Even the ambulance drivers aren't preoccupied with their own patient's illness. They are instead focused on an argument about a piece of candy. Ironically, this leads to a car accident that almost kills them.