‘The Good Doctor’ 1×16 Review: ‘Pain’

Physical pain is the body’s way of telling us something is wrong and needs to be treated. Sometimes we try to tough it out. Or we try to self-medicate – a route that too often ends up badly, because pain is a symptom and trying to numb it away does nothing for the root problem.

It’s the same with emotional pain. We may try to deny it exists, or we may try to find a way around it instead of addressing what is really hurting us. Usually that’s out of fear of being hurt even more.

Episode 16 is titled “Pain,” and it deals with both kinds as it follows the stories of two husbands and wives, contrasting their marriages, the level of trust each pair has in each other, and the results of that trust… or the lack of it.

Hunter & Cora

Hunter is the first patient, a man paralyzed from the chest down by an accident a decade before. He comes in with a neck problem, but suddenly can feel pain all the way down to his toes.

I’m not going to get into the details of the medical issues here, except to say he has to make a choice between an operation that can let him walk again but also gives him a 15 percent chance of dying on the table – or leaving things as they are. This choice is what sets up conflict between Hunter and his wife Cora.

He wants the surgery. She doesn’t.

Cora comes very close to walking out on Hunter. She’s that serious about not wanting him to have the surgery. But her opposition doesn’t just come from fear he will die. It also comes from a fear of change in their three-year marriage. He’s been disabled as long as she’s known him, and is afraid he won’t need her anymore.

His speech in response touched me so much I went back and replayed it, pausing so I could write down every word:

“You think I married you because I was having trouble hanging clothes in my closet? You’re my girl!. I will always need you, even if I could fly. Who’s gonna remind me to call my mom on her birthday? Or to floss? God I hate flossing! Who’s gonna remind me to be a better person? Who’s gonna hold my hand when I’m scared?”

Shaun hears that speech and declares it “nice.” Shaun is sometimes the master of understatement. In a few words, Hunter encapsulates what it is to be married, things that still exist with or without disability. Especially this:

Who’s gonna remind me to be a better person?”

Helping your mate be a better person may not be written into any marriage vows, but it should be.


“The Good Doctor” Episode 1×16 “Pain.” Source: ABC.

Barry and Emma

The other couple in this episode make a sad contrast. Emma has had a ton of plastic surgery, tucking, lifting and implanting wherever anything can be tucked, lifted or implants. She comes into the hospital because of an infection to a cheek implant. Doctor Andrews fixes that problem, but the infection spreads, and he tells her she has to have all her implants removed.

She refuses, and keeps refusing as the infection spreads – even though she is warned that her refusal will kill her.

As the episode progresses, we learn Emma was using plastic surgery to treat the pain of a troubled marriage. She tells the doctors that before getting her extreme makeover, she’d lost touch with who she’d been. Only Dr. Resnick, surprisingly, reads the situation for what it truly is, telling Barry that she only sees this kind of plastic surgery when someone is about to walk out on a marriage.

More on Dr. Resnick in a moment. But her pushing leads Barry to talk to Emma. The scene is a heartbreaking contrast to the one between Hunter and Cora:

Emma: You were distant before, but since the surgery you can’t get enough of me. It worked, you’re happy, I’m happy….

Barry: I love you. I always have loved you. I always will.

Emma thought she was competing against another woman, but finally learns what she was really competing against was Barry’s shame that he was gambling, and that he’d given her what he considered “a mediocre life.” Both suffer from misunderstandings of what the other wants, and Emma pays for it with her life after consenting to the implant removals too late.

It’s a bitter, bitter lesson about communication and trusting the people you love.

A matter of trust

On the subject of trust: Both Claire and Shaun get some lessons on that. For Claire, it happens when her long-absent mother comes on the scene. Claire doesn’t want anything to do with her at first, but relents when Mom says she’s gotten help for her mental health issues. She breaks down Claire’s barriers, and once their down – asks Claire for money. Instead of pulling the walls back up, Claire gives it to her.

In Shaun’s case, Dr. Park has learned some things about Kenny, Shaun’s new neighbor, and they’re not good. Kenny has a record. And Shaun has gone on the record as having spent several hundred dollars to take Kenny and his girlfriend out for a night. Park warns Shaun that Kenny is using him. But by the end of the episode, Shaun is settling down for a night of Mortal Kombat with Kenny.

Both Claire and Shaun are unwilling to confront these people – throwing money at them instead. We can’t help but worry about what will come of that..

Other notes

Shaun and Hunter have a nice moment talking about how others see the disabled. Hunter says people see his wheelchair first, and he questions Shaun about whether his fellow doctors really respected him in the beginning. “We always spend time and energy trying to prove that we belong,” Hunter tells him, and you can see Shaun thinking about it.

Dr. Resnick continues her campaign of doing good for others wherever it can do her no harm. She offers to put in a good word for Jared at another hospital, since she says he won’t be asked to stay at St. Bonaventure next year. To prove her point, she gives him credit for a few things, trying to make him look good to Dr. Andrews, but Andrews isn’t biting. By the end of the episode, Jared is asking her to make that call. Will Jared leave? Do I care, now that he’s dumped Claire? And will Resnick get a comeuppance? DOES anyone like her?

The example of Barry and Claire leads Dr. Andrews to do something that’s a bit against his previous nature – he actually TALKS to his wife about a potentially risky solution to his infertility problem. Bravo, Dr. Andrews. That’s a start. Now, can you do the same with your surgery team? You might learn a thing or two about Jared. (I guess I do care whether Jared leaves!)

And speaking of doctors getting kudos – I keep liking Dr. Melendez more and more as the season goes on. Lovely, believable progression of a character who started out extremely unlikeable.

Just two episodes left in the season.

The Good Doctor airs Monday nights at 10/9 Central.

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