It’s been a few months since the first season of The Good Doctor left me in a puddle of tears. To prepare for this season review, I re-read all my previous pieces – and was reminded why I need to keep my Costco membership.
I’m going to need a lot more tissues for Season 2!
This show was quickly rewarded with an extended order, then an early renewal, and then a Golden Globe nomination for star Freddie Highmore. All these rewards were well-earned, and ought to be followed by a stack of Emmy nominations in July. What could too easily have been a stock medical procedural with a nod to autism thrown into the mix was instead a fascinating, very human story of challenges – not just for Highmore’s Dr. Shaun Murphy, but for everyone around him. While a few soap opera tropes were used in the first season, generally the writers were very creative with the events inside and outside of the surgical suite.
Shaun Murphy’s Journey
The show rests on Highmore’s shoulders, and the role is a challenging one. As the parent of a spectrum child, I know that people on the autism spectrum can be emotionally awkward and blunt.. They might seem standoffish or even rude, having trouble expressing themselves in social situations. And it’s not uncommon for someone on the spectrum to have difficulty coping with anything outside of their sometimes very narrow comfort zone. It can make them seem unlikeable to those who are not willing to do the work of getting to know them.
Highmore hit all of these notes. I recognized all of Shaun’s character quirks, from the inability to lie to being at a complete loss when his routine was disrupted. Through the season, we watched Shaun grow and start learning to handle the curve balls life threw at him. Not that he didn’t slip back into old habits, especially when his mentor’s life was on the line. But those old habits turned out to be lifesaving.
Mo More Dr. Arrogant
In my first review, I called Dr. Neal Melendez “Dr. Arrogant.” I disliked his cavalier treatment of Shaun. At one point early in the season, actor Nicholas Gonzalez tweeted out something about “the lovable Dr. Melendez” and I tweeted back that I wasn’t sure I’d go so far as to call him that. (Gonzalez liked the tweet.)
By season’s end… Yeah, I found some lovable things about Neal Melendez.
The writing team was very clever in dealing with their ensemble cast. Through the season, they unpeeled layers so we could see more and more about the characters who run St. Bonaventure Hospital. Through the season, we got to see Melendez struggle with his decisions, go through a romantic upheaval, and learn that maybe, just maybe, the doctor he’d always admired wasn’t quite as admirable a guy as he’d thought.
I need to give a little nod to this; whenever Shaun was thinking his way through a medical challenge, there was an overlay of graphics illustrating his thought process. It’s something that could have been overused but wasn’t. And we got one twist on this with an enjoyable text exchange between Claire and the not-so-tech-savvy Aaron.
It’s just a small detail, but small details are what add up to well-done television.
Shaun & Aaron’s Relationship
Every once in a while, you find a guardian angel. Not the biblical kind with wings, but a person who holds you up, helps you out, guides you and sets an example to be followed. Shaun found that in Dr. Aaron Glassman when he was only a boy trying to escape an abusive father and an ineffectual mother. Glassman stepped in and became the father figure Shaun so desperately needed.
Glassman is played by The West Wing alum Richard Schiff, who himself has a child on the spectrum. Parenting is never an easy task, whether it’s a child, a ten or a young adult. When you’re parenting someone on the autism spectrum, it’s a whole different challenge. I recognized Aaron’s struggles to relate to Shaun as an adult while still wanting to protect him, and Shaun’s pushing back in an effort to gain his independence.
I also recognized Shaun’s difficulty in expressing his feelings to Aaron. In some ways, Aaron also had trouble. “I love you” is a feeling more often expressed in actions than in words between them; their regular breakfasts together, Aaron’s standing up for Shaun to the hospital board, Shaun’s desperate search for a cure for Aaron’s tumor. The old cliche is that actions speak louder than words, and the actions of these two scream their love from the rooftops.
But it was wonderful to hear the words finally spoken in the finale.
What Didn’t Work
As often as the writers got the emotional beats exactly right, the breakups of two major relationships felt like fumbles. First, Melendez and Jessica broke their engagement over a fundamental difference over whether or not to have children. Now, this is a legitimate reason to break off a relationship. But the kids question is one you’re supposed to settle BEFORE agreeing to marry. It’s a Big Deal and a dealbreaker. These two, a surgeon and an attorney, are supposed to be very smart people. It felt like a really stupid mistake and was an off-key note in a show that otherwise is so very smart.
The breakup of Claire and Jared was even more stupid. Jared dumped her because she didn’t remember a song. How petty can you get?
You can do better, Claire.
Claire The Emotional Punching Bag
Antonia Thomas’ Dr. Claire Browne had one hell of a year: Lost her first patient, was sexually harassed by a surgeon, had to treat a wounded neo-Nazi, got hit up for money by her grifter mom, watched a man commit suicide right in front of her and then got dumped by her boyfriend hours after that last.
Oh, and was told by another female resident, the bitchy Dr. Resnick (Fiona Gubelman), that every win for Claire was a loss for Resnick, and because of that they couldn’t be friends.
All of that is a LOT to pour on one character, and felt a bit soapy. Next season, let’s not punch Claire out quite so often, hmm?
What We Wanted to See More Of
Claire’s #MeToo Revolution
This was one thing I really wanted them to explore a lot more. After dealing with Dr. Skeevy Coyle, Claire started tracking down other residents who’d had problems with him. It felt like she was getting ready to bring a hammer down on St. Bonaventure, but it never really got anywhere.
Learning Experiences For Shaun
This is his show, and fortunately they didn’t go down the route of Shaun *always* having the answer to every medical crisis. I want to see more of this kind of growth, and see how Shaun can manage not to become arrogant (an impression that can happen with someone on the spectrum because of difficulty with social cues). Let’s see him learn to loosen up a little more. And how about bringing his girlfriend Lea back?
More On Aaron’s Past
We know Aaron and Jessica have a connection through Aaron’s late daughter Maggie. We got a few allusions to this in Season 1, and hopefully we will see more in Season 2.
Taking A Stand
In Season 1, the doctors were confronted with a few controversial issues, but rarely was there any kind of a stand taken on them. From a scientific viewpoint, that’s logical. Biology is biology and doesn’t give a damn about anyone’s morals. But medicine is an art practiced by humans, and we need to see those humans in the lab coats. We’re living in an era where walking the neutral middle ground just isn’t enough.
What We Wanted to See Less Of
Stories Started And Not Finished
In particular, there was an episode with hospital exec Allegra Aoki trying to talk a Silicon Valley exec into participating in a fundraiser and feeling a “spark” in the process. There was some discussion about whether she should try to date the guy, but it was a story that otherwise went nowhere. The same with Claire’s #MeToo story; it never went anywhere after one meeting with another of Dr. Skeevy’s victims.
It may be that there were simply too many characters to really work with all of them. Chuku Modu (Jared) has exited the series, but two new residents were added in the final episodes of Season 1 so the head count is actually higher than it had been before. Hopefully the writers will continue developing some of the stories they’d already started.
Medical Drama Stereotypes
I mentioned this in my very first review: The arrogant surgeons, the residents trying to get in each other’s pants, the hospital execs more worried about liability than medicine. In most cases the stereotypes faded over the course of the season, but we also saw a couple more pop up with the addition of two new residents before season’s end. Dr. Resnick is the poster child for bitchy competitive female. In the final episode, Melendez warned her of a possible comeuppance. While that idea has a little bit of appeal (who doesn’t like to see the bad guy get it in the end?), it’s also a bit too easy.
The other new resident, Dr. Park, is a former cop with all the streetwise cynicism that implies. There wasn’t time to give him much dimension beyond this stereotype, so I’m interested to see what happens next season and hoping they give Will Yun Lee plenty more to work with in the role.
“Islands Part 1 & 2” (Episodes 1×11 & 12) – Like the conjoined twins featured in this two-parter, you can’t look at these episodes separately. It was a heart-wrenching examination of independence and interdependence, with a stunner of an ending.
“22 Steps” (Episode 1×07) – Notable for a couple of reasons: Shaun’s first encounter with another person with autism, and the incredible emotional journey experienced by Jared as he helps ease a man to his death.
“Pain” (Episode 1×16) — The episode contrasts two marriages in life-or-death situations, and includes one of the best lines I’ve ever heard about what spouses do for each other: “Who’s gonna remind me to be a better person? Who’s gonna hold my hand when I’m scared?”
Least Favorite Episodes
“She” (Episode 1×14) –The medical case of a transgender girl was great.This makes my least favorite list because of the introduction of Dr. Resnick and her Machiavellian outlook. In my review I asked, “Do we really have to go here?” Still asking that.
“Heartfelt” (Episode 1×15) – WHY would you send Claire to a hospital formal immediately after she’d watched a man shoot himself? And then to top it off, her boyfriend dumps her over a song? Just – no. That sour ending marred what otherwise was a good episode.
Season Finale Impression
“More” did exactly what a season finale is supposed to do: left the audience wanting more. The emotional drama was at its highest point ever, with Shaun desperately searching for some kind of cure for Aaron’s tumor, and Aaron just as desperately resisting – not because he didn’t want to live, but because he wanted the time he had left to be good and not filled with chemotherapy and radiation and nausea and exhaustion. It was a tearjerker of an episode, and while the medical problem was resolved, we were left with one more crisis: Will Aaron be paying for one of Shaun’s mistakes by giving up his job as hospital president?
Next Season Speculation
So, who will still be standing at the start of Season 2? There are only three resident spots, with four people vying for them. Claire would seem to be a shoe-in, and so would Dr. Park. Will Shaun’s mistake cost him his slot as well as Aaron’s job? Or will they find some way to keep all the residents? If Aaron is bumped from the corner office, will he still be able to practice medicine at St. Bonaventure once his treatments are finished?
Will Shaun and Aaron make it to the Super Bowl?
And will The Good Doctor rack up some Emmy nominations & awards, as it should? Stay tuned. In the meantime, probably ought to stock up on more tissue.