‘The Good Doctor’ 2×04 Review: ‘Tough Titmouse’

“Tough Titmouse” is an odd title for an episode of a medical drama. It sent me to Google, where I learned that a titmouse is a North American songbird, but not one found in San Jose, where The Good Doctor is set.

And nothing I found in my quick Google search during commercial breaks gave me any reason to connect these songbirds with parenting styles and decisions – the focus of this episode.

Stay tuned. The mystery of this title will be revealed!

When Love Is Letting Go

Nicole is a single mother to Mac, a boy with Fragile X, a genetic disorder that causes developmental disabilities. They’ve come to the hospital because of an accident that put a piece of picket fence through his shoulder. When the doctors say Mac will be able to go home the same day, she’s disappointed instead of relieved. She’d been hoping for a break. A short time later, she and Mac are back in the hospital – but Nicole is the injured one, and the doctors are fairly sure Mac hurt her. They suggest she needs to get help, or even better, to put Mac into a group home.

“The Good Doctor” Episode 2×04 “Tough Titmouse.” Source: Twitter/@GoodDoctorABC

It is a gut-wrenching decision for Nicole. Mac’s father has already deserted him, and she’s all he has left. As Melendez tells her, many people might fault her for “giving up.”

But Mac has become more than she can handle. She struggles with the choice. Finally, she decides letting Mac go is the best thing she can do for him – and for herself.

The emotion was all spot-on and real. I do wish there had been some kind of discussion, or maybe even a program tag, about the resources available to families of the developmentally disabled.

When Love Is Saying No

The other patient of the week is Kitty, an 18-year-old climber who falls off a mountainside and breaks her neck. The doctors have two potential ways to save her. One will allow her to walk again, but she won’t be able to climb. The other would allow her to climb, but is a riskier procedure.

Kitty’s parents are less concerned with the surgical risk, though, than the risk of what might happen if she tackles yet another mountain. She already has a serious track record of broken bones and comas. Kitty is dismissive of those concerns, saying, “I can think of worse things than dying doing what I love.” But her death is just what Kitty’s parents fear; she’s already attempted suicide.

They get the support of the hospital’s psychologist to have her declared incompetent, and choose the first procedure. Kitty is livid, saying she never wants to see her parents again. They accept that edict, saying it has to be enough that they’ve given her a chance for a future.

This, too, is a type of letting go. And it may just lead to Kitty eventually coming back to them.

When Love Is Saying You’re Sorry

The third parent/child situation is a ghost story. While recovering from his brain surgery, Aaron sees his long-dead daughter Maddie. We learn that while she’d been his Pinafore Princess as a child, she felt he’d drifted away once she became a teen. She even chides him for having his secretary sign her 16th birthday card because he was away for work.


Maddie’s ghost also resents Shaun. She doesn’t trust him, and she feels Shaun stole her father away. Shaun’s special needs don’t impress her. She feels she was neglected, and says she turned to drugs because her father was never there.

This is all hallucination; Aaron’s guilty conscience tormenting him for having locked Maddie out of the house the night she died. He confesses to his vision that her mother wanted to send her to rehab, but he refused. “I wanted to be the hero,” he admits to her… and to himself.

Admitting mistakes is always the hardest thing to do. Admitting to mistakes that can never, never be undone is a dreadful torment, one that Aaron has been suffering for years. In the end, Maddie finally offers him some absolution, saying, “I know you loved me, Daddy. I loved you too.“

It’s really Aaron absolving himself.

“Tough Titmouse”

We now know Maddie resents Shaun, and a little of the reason why. But there’s still no clear picture of just how much the Glassman family was in Shaun’s life after his brother’s death. We get a set of flashbacks, showing young Shaun being shuffled to a new foster home. From the social worker’s words, it sounds like Bill (formally Sybil) is just the latest in a string of foster mothers.

When we first meet her, Bill seems to be the antithesis of a model foster parent. “I don’t go to church, I swear, and I have sex with strange men,” she tells Shaun when he walks into the house. It makes us wonder if he’s landed in a situation that’s no better than the home he ran away from.

For all of that, Bill seems to be the most clear-eyed parent of the episode. She is not cruel, and she does not debate. “Tough titmouse” is her answer when Shaun doesn’t want to go to school. It’s her way of telling him that sometimes we must do things we don’t want to do. It reinforces the theme we’ve seen in the other parent-child stories: Nicole didn’t want to give up Mac. Kat didn’t want to have the safer surgery. Aaron didn’t want to confront his past.

Tough titmouse.

Bill is only a brief influence in Shaun’s life. He moves on to yet another foster home after she’s diagnosed with a terminal illness. It reinforces another theme we have seen in Shaun’s life throughout the series: Loss. Shaun lost his rabbit, his brother and his parents. He nearly lost Aaron (and still could, but like his mentor, he’d rather not face it). He lost Lea for a while, and he becomes desperate not to lose her again.

Go Big, Go Nice Or Go Away?

Shaun’s blowup at the end of the season premiere is still resonating. Lea is trying to find a place of her own while Shaun is searching for a way to apologize to her. He tries doughnuts and helping with her apartment search and even a karaoke machine. But none of that is what she wants.


All Lea wants is for him to ask her why she left Hershey.

My notes say LEA’S HOLDING SHAUN TO A STANDARD HE CAN’T MEET. And yes, it was in all caps. Research shows empathy is difficult at best for people on the spectrum, even with the people they know and love the most. It’s not impossible, but it is tough. Cognitive empathy is a conscious drive to understand another’s emotional state. Shaun often doesn’t understand his own emotional states. But he makes an effort. “I don’t care what happened in Hershey,” he says, “but I care that you care.”

It may not be a perfect answer, but it is the honest kind that Lea says she wants from Shaun, so she accepts it. It seems she’ll have plenty of opportunity to try to help him with his empathy, now that Shaun’s rented a two bedroom apartment for the two of them!

Go big, indeed.

Other Notes

  • Resnick seemed pretty subdued in this episode. But then, it was probably enough for her to throw a bomb into Katherine’s hospital room by suggesting that risky surgery instead of the safer one.
  • We got a little taste of Park’s previous experience as a cop, when he compares Nicole’s case to one from his past. I hope we get a little more development for him.
  • The hospital execs were missing from this episode, and that absence was a good choice. Usually the show feels a little too crowded, shoehorning too many characters into the hour.
  • Nice little scene between Claire and Melendez out on the balcony.
  • Who is the woman Melendez goes to visit in the group home? I think it might be his sister, since she asks for her parents. His soft smile and tender attitude just made me melt, though.

The Good Doctor returns to ABC on October 29 at 10 p.m/9 p.m. Central.

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