There is truth, there are lies, and then there is the middle ground. Most of us know how to navigate between these places, when to tell the absolute truth, when to tell a comforting or protective lie, and when we need to say something from that wide space in the middle.
Shaun Murphy is not most of us. This is not the first time The Good Doctor has explored his discomfort with the idea of comforting lies, but “The Middle Ground” doesn’t feel like it’s rehashing old territory. Instead, we see Shaun make some progress in understanding why a lie can sometimes be a good thing. He also learns a difficult lesson in confronting emotions instead of avoiding them.
Lessons In Lying
People lie for many reasons. The worst lies are told for personal gain, while the best are for protection. The lies told in “The Middle Ground” are generally of the protective variety.
— The Good Doctor (@GoodDoctorABC) October 2, 2018
Shaun’s attempts at protective lies are initially awkward. He believes one of the hospital janitors has pancreatic cancer. Melendez tells him not to scare the man without confirming the diagnosis first, so Shaun makes up an elaborate and unbelievable lie.
“I can’t figure out when I’m supposed to lie, when I’m supposed to tell part of the truth and it doesn’t really matter because I can’t really figure out how to do it anyway,” Shaun tells his patient, Paul.
“Lies don’t protect you from the truth,” Paul tells him.
It’s a wise observation. No matter how many comforting lies we tell ourselves, the truth is still out there. But on the opposite side of the coin, Paul also notes, “Maybe sometimes when the truth can’t help someone, you should definitely just lie.”
Another wise observation, and eventually Shaun manages to convincingly follow that advice to comfort Paul’s family.
Taking A Stand
In my Season 1 review, I complained that the show tended to skirt around controversial issues. That changed in this episode. The episode’s other main patient is a teenaged girl who’d been circumcised as a child. She came in under a false name, and doesn’t want her parents to know she wants reconstructive surgery.
Dr. Lim and her team are faced with an ethical dilemma. If they do the surgery secretly, they are violating parental consent rules and putting the hospital at risk. If they inform Mara’s parents, then the girl will leave and the cycle could continue.
“Every woman deserves the right to make decisions about her sexuality without her parents hanging over her,” Dr. Resnick states in a debate over whether to move forward with Mara’s reconstructive surgery.
This was a surprise on two levels. First, the show took a stand on the parental consent controversy, firmly coming down on the side of the child. It was a bit tempered by the irony that the parents hadn’t consented to the original circumcision. It was performed by older female relatives while the parents were away, but after it was done they accepted it as a norm in their culture. The show was quite clear: Just because you’ve always done something doesn’t mean it’s right.
The other surprise was that Resnick took Lim’s side in the debate. Up to now, we’ve never seen Resnick do anything that won’t benefit her. Hospital president Andrews was firmly opposed to reconstruction, and was ready to fire Lim over it. Taking Lim’s side was a potentially dangerous move for Resnick, and I can’t help but wonder: Is she changing… or does she have something up her sleeve?
Shaun and Aaron both spend much of the episode trying to avoid difficult decisions and conversations. Aaron is delaying choosing a doctor to perform the brain surgery he needs, finding fault with every candidate – including a surgeon with a low mortality rate. He tells his oncologist he’s looking for someone competent, but eventually admits the truth to Shaun: He is afraid the surgery will leave him compromised. “I’m smart and a good surgeon and if I can’t be those things I don’t know what I’d be,” he tells Shaun.
“You’d be my friend,” Shaun replies… but that is not enough for Aaron.
Anyone who has seen a parent, grandparent or spouse decline as they age can understand Aaron’s fear of something worse than dying. What’s worse? Being unable to care for yourself, losing skills and knowledge, losing the ability to recognize those you love. Aaron fears losing all of this. It’s a kind of loss Shaun doesn’t have the experience to truly understand. As Aaron goes into surgery, we hope Shaun won’t get that experience any time soon; he has enough to deal with already.
Shaun’s been avoiding a difficult conversation with Lea, who returned from Hershey at the end of last week’s episode. She’s been staying in his apartment, but he’s done everything he can to stay away from her. It finally leads to a rare emotional explosion – Shaun was hurt when Lea left, and he’s afraid she will go away again. In his mind, it would be better if she just goes away for good.
— The Good Doctor (@GoodDoctorABC) October 2, 2018
It’s a painful few minutes, and we hurt for Shaun and Lea both. Mending this rift won’t be easy, because it will take the one thing Shaun still has trouble with: communication.
The Good Doctor airs Monday nights at 10/9 Central on ABC.