Faith is the running theme of “Believe.” Different characters face tests of faith, not only of the religious kind, but also faith in themselves and in others. These kinds of faith journeys can make us stronger and wiser. They can also reveal some of our greatest flaws.
Believe In Yourself
Shaun Murphy is not the kind of person who can easily put the best face on a bad situation. He’s very unhappy about his transfer to Pathology. He even refuses his favorite breakfast: pancakes.
To her credit, his new boss tries to make him comfortable and excited about his new role. She tells him pathologists are detectives, while surgeons are beat cops. And Shaun does get excited for a few minutes when he spots a nifty piece of diagnostic equipment. But the shiny wears off pretty quickly, because pathology is not his heart’s desire. Unable to express this frustration at work, he lets it out at home by obsessively alphabetizing the canned goods in his kitchen. His pantry is something he can control.
Except, as Aaron points out, Shaun does have some control. Aaron (now finished with chemo, by the way) advises Shaun to talk to Dr. Han, and prove that he belongs in surgery. Shaun’s proof is one of those wild leap-of-logic diagnoses that only he can make — when he has more information at hand than just a bunch of lab tests. By snooping into a patient’s social media accounts — and into her handbag — he rightly determines her problem is a worm from sushi, not a terminal, inoperable brain tumor.
Han gives Shaun faint praise for “good work.” Shaun — again rightly — counters that he did excellent work.
It’s rarely easy to advocate for one’s self. It’s even harder when you have the type of communication problems Shaun does. Those problems are what got him booted from surgery, after all. Ironically, this week he proves himself to be a better communicator than the other doctors on this case simply by being a better listener and investigator.
But it’s not enough for Han.
Believe In Others
Dr. Han certainly doesn’t lack self confidence. Rather, he has too much of it. Another word for it might just be arrogance. Han has managed to surpass Season 1 Melendez and Andrews in that respect.
Han is certain that he’s right about moving Shaun. So certain, he refuses to listen to Lim when she tells him that Shaun should still be in surgery. He also refuses to look at Claire’s written evidence of the lives Shaun has saved. He may be leading this surgical department, but he’s not showing any evidence of faith in its doctors. That is a terrible flaw in a leader, one that can lead to disaster.
Han’s bought into the idea that he is a rock star, and doesn’t know how to admit mistakes. In that, he’s less knowledgeable than Shaun, who had to admit to a nearly career-ending mistake last season. Han also doesn’t realize that letting a young woman believe she has cancer is no better than Shaun’s admittedly ham-handed conversation last week with two distraught parents about antidepressants in pregnancy.
Han is right when he says Shaun is an excellent diagnostician. But by banning him from patient contact, he’s throwing away one of Shaun’s best tools — an interest in people that leads him to those wild leaps. It’s a tool Han lacks. He sees what’s in front of him and makes a judgment, rather than looking at different angles of a problem.
Judging from next week’s preview, Han’s inflexibility may just lead to trouble in the operating room. I don’t know if I’ll be satisfied with that kind of a comeuppance, though, because it could mean a patient will suffer. I’m still kind of rooting for an ER Romano-style exit for Han. (But if they do drop a helicopter on him, make it an empty one. Don’t hurt anybody else.)
One note of praise here, though. While I’m dragging Dr. Han, Daniel Dae Kim has done a stellar job of creating a character I love to hate.
Believe In Something Greater Than Yourself
The Good Doctor’s always been a bit hit and miss with controversial issues. Religion can be one of those issues, which is why I was raised with the idea that you don’t discuss that (or politics) with friends. Religious faith is the theme of the episode’s other medical story. It involves a pastor, Clarence, who needs a tumor removed from his spine. The procedure also involves fusing Clarence’s spinal cord, which would give him some relief from constant back pain. But Clarence doesn’t want it. He believes the pain is God’s punishment for what he considers a failure as a pastor.
As an Episcopalian, I believe in a God who loves and forgives. I don’t recognize a God who inflicts pain as punishment on anyone. But I do recognize guilt. Clarence is punishing himself for not taking a call from a suicidal member of his flock.
Claire recognizes the guilt too, and calls him out as narcissistic for believing God has made him a personal project over one mistake. We all make mistakes. There are plenty of people who are directly responsible for deaths. If God was in the habit of doling out pain as punishment, there are plenty of people who’d have been struck down.
God doesn’t work that way.
But maybe, just maybe, we are given a look at how God does work. When Clarence has his surgery, with the spinal fusion, the doctors discover that his tumor has shrunk. They can’t explain it.
Which leaves us with the thought that there are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in our philosophy.
The Good Doctor airs Monday nights at 10/9 Central on ABC.