Freddie Highmore may not have won a Golden Globe for The Good Doctor on Sunday night, but his performance in Monday night’s “Islands Part 1” reminds us of why he was a contender. The episode takes his Dr. Shaun Murphy into new, sometimes uncomfortable territory, with a road trip that changes his outlook – and could change his life – and an examination of our sometimes conflicting needs for independence and interdependence.
Hitting the road
Shaun issued a sort of declaration of independence in the mid-season finale by lashing out at his mentor and then clearing out of his apartment, just so he can avoid seeing a therapist. “Islands Part 1” opens with Dr. Glassman looking for Shaun at his neighbor Lea’s apartment – a sequence that includes one of the cleverest hiding places I’ve ever seen (and one that probably should come with a “don’t try this at home” warning).
One Glassman leaves, Lea becomes Shaun’s ally in seeking that independence. She urges him to call in sick, then takes him on a road trip to experience freedom, music (something Shaun claims to hate), driving (something he’s never done before), his first car accident, tequila (something he’s never tried before), karaoke and his first hangover.
Oh, and his first kiss, too.
Lea acts as Shaun’s guide to breaking the rules he’s used to living by. It’s a huge leap for a man whose morning routine has always been guided by the alarm on his cell phone. Highmore takes us through a gamut of Shaun’s reactions to this: by turns exhilarated, terrified… and sometimes mortified, especially when he learns the consequence of too much tequila!
Shaun’s impromptu day off with Lea gives him time to sort out his feelings and be ready to talk to Dr. Glassman. But no sooner does he say this over breakfast, than Lea tells him she is planning to quit her job and move back to her hometown.
It’s upsetting news for Shaun. In a short time he has come to rely on this woman who once stole an apple from his kitchen, setting off a chain of events that led to Glassman’s call for a therapist, the explosion in “Sacrifices,” and this road trip. Shaun reacts the way he often does to stress – he simply leaves. We last see him on a bus bench, listening to music. He may not be able to hold on to Lea, but she has given him some things to hold on to – possibly even the courage to change some of the practices and habits that have so far defined his life.
Meanwhile, Back at St. Bonaventure
Shaun isn’t the only one seeking independence. The big medical case of the episode deals with a pair of college-aged conjoined twins. Joined at the head, sharing a circulatory system, Katie and Jenny are an illustration of interdependence. But that conjunction is preventing them from pursuing their individual dreams, which include the Ivy League. They are set to be separated in a few months’ time, but first, once more act of interdependence: One twin is set to donate a kidney to the other.
After the surgery, a life-threatening complication crops up that requires the separation to happen sooner rather than later. That’s when Katie gets cold feet. She wonders whether she and her sister really should be forever joined at the skull… even though it means that both of them would die.
Katie is afraid of changing something that’s defined her entire life.
As the best communicator on the surgical team, Claire is tasked with talking to the twins, to try to get Katie’s consent. She empathizes with Katie’s fear, and tells her own story of living with her abusive mother in a trashy trailer park – and how frightened she was to leave that life behind.
“So am I the awful mom or the disgusting trailer park?” one of the twins deadpans, with just the right touch in this serious conversation. Easily one of my favorite lines of the night.
Eventually Katie does consent to the surgery, a long procedure that ends with the visually startling moment of the last cut of a blood vessel, and the twins’ beds pushed apart. But as the episode ends, they are not waking up as expected, raising the question of whether Katie was right.
When to let go, and when to hold on
One of the things I found interesting in this episode was the contrasting behavior of the parental figures. Dr. Glassman goes Papa Bear. He first tries to find Shaun, and covers for his absence with the hospital staff. (Shaun never did call in sick, still unable to lie.) Glassman is worried about Shaun’s future, but he may have taken that worry a bit too far with his insistence on a therapist – something Shaun vehemently does not want.
On the other hand, Katie and Jenny’s mother leaves everything up to them. She refuses to weigh in with any advice on their surgery. It’s the polar opposite of Glassman’s behavior. She is so hands-off it’s hard to believe she truly cares… until you see her crying in the waiting room during the surgery.
These two “parents” never meet in this episode, and I wonder if they will meet in Part 2. I think they each have something to teach the other.
The #MeToo story of Claire being harassed by a surgeon is touched on in “Islands, Part 1,” when she confronts the skeevy doctor and demands that he see to it Jared gets his job back. (Remember, Jared got canned for attacking Dr. Skeevy… er, Coyle.) Dr. Skeevy does his part, but Dr. Arrogant the chief of surgery (AKA Dr. Andrews) says he won’t tolerate physical violence. So, no reinstatement. Just wait until Claire hears that one!
Claire also got to be a relationship counselor this episode, after Melendez (her boss, remember) tells her his fiancee Jessica doesn’t want kids. After a brief talk, Melendez tells Jessica that he’ll find other ways to be a father figure. This doesn’t feel like it will end well. Note to all singles: Establish answers to the kids question BEFORE getting engaged, OK?
And one more bit of hospital intrigue: Dr. Arrogant… er, Andrews, is still after Glassman’s job, which may be in even more danger than before because of Shaun’s behavior.
Look for these plot threads to continue not only next week, but through the remainder of the season.
The Good Doctor airs Mondays at 10/9 Central on ABC.