Let me start this review of “The Good Doctor” by going back to my very first review of the show. At the time, I was struck by “the bigoted attitude of the show’s medical professionals toward a person on the spectrum.”
I also considered Dr. Shaun Murphy’s colleagues to be stock characters that you could find in just about any medical drama.
Oh, what a difference a few months makes!
In “22 Steps,” the doctors of St. Bonaventure Hospital have gone from doubting Shaun to championing him, and it was a joy to watch. This is combined with a heart-wrenching story of Jared trying to save a heart patient who doesn’t want to be saved, and Claire’s struggle over losing a patient in the last episode. And there are some wonderful moments with Dr. Glassman.
Before I get into the meat of the episode, and there’s lots of it, I want to point out the opening scene: Shaun watching a TV through the window of an electronics store. Remember that; it will come up later!
Remember Dr. Arrogant?
Back at the start of the series, the managers of St. Bonaventure were doubtful about hiring Shaun as a resident, and the attending responsible for training him promised he’d never do more than scut work. Dr. Arrogant… er, Dr. Melendez, has come a long, long way since then.
We get to see that development in a storyline involving an autistic teenager named Liam who comes in with a head injury, and winds up having additional problems requiring surgery, thanks to an herbal treatment his well-meaning parents have given him. We already know Shaun is an outstanding diagnostician, but I was stunned when he gave Melendez the diagnosis. My notes: “Shaun brings diagnosis to Melendez, who is RESPECTFUL of Shaun!!!!!”
Yep, four exclamation points there. And the caps. I was that surprised.
The young man’s parents thank Shaun for the diagnosis, but knowing that he is autistic, they don’t want him in the surgery. These parents are now playing the role that the hospital executives played back in episode 1, not trusting that he will be able to perform under pressure.
And then Melendez steps forward again, telling them, “After working with him, challenging him probably more than he deserved, I can tell you he has my complete confidence.”
APPLAUSE!!!!! (Five exclamation points there.)
Melendez matches his words with action; when the parents finally consent to letting Shaun in the surgery (at Liam’s request), it’s Shaun who makes the initial incision, and who eventually will literally hold Liam’s life in his hands. When the surgery is successfully completed, Melendez lets Shaun deliver the good news.
I won’t be calling him Dr. Arrogant anymore.
“You’re like me”
There is an additional thread running through Liam’s story. Shaun instantly realized he was autistic due to his behavior when he was first brought in by the paramedics. We learn that Shaun actually has never dealt with an autistic person before. At one point, he asks Claire if she will help him with Liam, because she’s good with people with autism. Shaun himself seems to be uncomfortable and doubting himself, until he realizes he knows ways to reach Liam that might not occur to the other doctors, like counting; the ”22 Steps” of the title are the number of steps from the ambulance to the emergency room. Shaun realizes he can connect with Liam, and does so well enough that Liam wants him in the surgical suite.
“Get me a DNR and a cab”
The other major storyline in “22 Steps” deals with a 73-year-old man named Glen who is dying of heart disease. Jared is assigned to take care of him, with a plan to give him a new pacemaker.
But Glen doesn’t want it. He knows he only has a short time left to live even with a new pacemaker, and he wants to die.
There is no ethical debate in this. No discussion of lawsuits or liability if Glen is allowed to die (and since Glen has no family, neither issue is likely to come up). Jared doesn’t take this to his attending for guidance. Instead, he tries at first to convince Glen to consent to the pacemaker – and very nearly does. But Glen is stubborn, to the point of escaping his hospital room twice and threatening to throw himself from the hospital roof.
It ends up being Jared who relents, providing Glen with morphine for his pain and holding his hand as he dies.
About those guest stars
Usually in my reviews, I don’t refer to the patients by their names but rather by their diagnoses, because I can’t remember hearing the names most of the time. They don’t seem to be mentioned a lot. (Perhaps I should be watching with closed captioning turned on?)
But tonight, I heard those names used often, and they were more than simply plot devices.
Liam was played by 15-year-old Coby Bird of Speechless. Bird is himself on the autism spectrum and is a fan of The Good Doctor himself. In “22 Steps,” Bird’s character seemed to make a real connection with Shaun – something that doesn’t happen very often, and it leads to this bit of sage advice from Shaun: “Mistakes are good. You should make more.”
Glen was played by Paul Dooley, who made me ache with his portrayal of a dying man who just wants to get on with dying. We get snippets of the life he wants to end, along with snippets of Jared’s life, and by the end we are weeping with Jared as Glen dies.
Lean on me
Claire is still dealing with self-doubt after losing her first patient due to a mistake, although she won’t admit it to anyone. Not even the counselor Glassman orders her to see.
But we see the effects of that doubt throughout the episode. Her confidence is shaken, and she hesitates during procedures. None of those hesitations proves fatal, but they seem to be enough for her to finally take the advice given by the counselor. Instead of keeping her feelings bottled up, she takes Jared up on his offer to talk about it, and we see them literally leaning on each other.
It’s a lovely moment, proving there’s more to these two than competition and rolls in the hay. Yes, I’m starting to ship them.
Dealing with doubt
Claire is not the only one dealing with doubts. Dr. Glassman has them too – about his own protege.
He’s worried about some of the things he’s seen; panicked calls at 2 A.M., punctuality problems, the issues with Shaun’s building superintendent – and now Shaun wants $1,643 for a television set!
Glassman expresses his doubt to Jessica, the hospital’s attorney, who notes he’s holding Shaun to a different standard than the other residents. She reminds him, “You fought to hire him because you know he can learn. The question is: can you let him?”
It’s almost a role reversal between Glassman and Melendez, and it doesn’t really feel resolved quite yet. But the show closes on a high note between Glassman and his surrogate son as they watch a football game together. It comes as no surprise that Shaun can quote stats like any football commentator. The surprise comes when the shot reverses, and we see they’re not at Shaun’s place or Glassman’s.
They’re in that electronics store. Yeah, the one from the beginning of the show.
Told you it would come up later!
- I didn’t know Coby Bird before this episode. WOW. Time for me to start watching Speechless.
- Paul Dooley should get an Emmy nomination for his guest turn.
- We are really getting to know the staff of St. Bonaventure, far beyond the stock characters we met in the beginning, and I am loving it.
- Quite possibly the best line of the night, from Shaun to Liam’s parents after they apologized to him: “You shouldn’t feel bad… you love Liam. I didn’t have that from my parents. I also didn’t have to take kava root so I didn’t get gastroenteritis.”
- Loved the use of graphics when Claire and Glassman are texting each other. And loved it even more when Glassman revealed he doesn’t speak emoji!
The Good Doctor airs Monday nights at 10/9 Central on ABC.