New Amsterdam 4×18 “No Ifs, Ands, or Buts” is one of those hours of television that reminds us of what we’ve known all along: Freema Agyeman is truly something special. And the episode gives us that reminder in a painfully heartbreaking, agonizingly relatable way. Self-doubt seems to be about as universal a feeling as any, even for the giants among us like Agyeman’s Dr. Helen Sharpe.
Self-sabotage in the face of fear, too, is common—even for people like Juliette Kimura, Iggy’s patient who doesn’t experience emotions in a “normal” way. These two characters, Helen and Juliette, might seem so different as to not quite “fit” together in the same narrative. But “No Ifs, Ands, or Buts” shows us otherwise. For both, new experiences are difficult. What binds them is the struggle and a seemingly-contradictory statement: Sometimes, it is in feeling at our lowest that we show just how far we’ve managed to climb—how much we’ve grown.
And even if the current season is still lacking on that “more joy” promise, at least New Amsterdam 4×18 shows us more love. Maybe that’s the joy?
“No Ifs, Ands, or Buts”
Sometimes, a goal can be a burden; support can be pressure. If you’ve never seen or experienced it elsewhere, well, here it is. It’s written all over Helen Sharpe’s need to “fix” herself, to regain her ability to speak. Max Goodwin believes in Helen Sharpe. His faith is the textbook definition of “unwavering.”
That’s…actually one of the biggest hurdles here.
Because…what if? Stuck inside the excruciatingly painful, hours-long speech therapy sessions, learning some days are actually worse than others, Helen is on her own. Or, that’s clearly how she feels. After all, all the promises of “no ifs, ands, or buts” in the world are not going to make Max able to help her through this. She has to hope for that miracle breakthrough.
That’s bad enough—the not knowing when, or even if, she’ll ever be the same.
Then, however, there’s the doubt. Max sees Helen as perfect (same)…but what if this huge imperfection never goes away? Or. Well. We’re meant to believe, based on ableist societal norms, that it’s an imperfection. And for someone like Helen, who has always been able to speak her mind, it feels like a loss.
So, sure. Max has all the faith in the world in Helen. But she’s left wondering: What if that faith is a waste?
These are the things she’s struggling with, in her mind, as she’s having to claw her way back to something she might never be able to achieve again. And then—and here’s where Helen’s pain feels so relatable—she also has to wonder whether or not the things Max loves about her are the things she can not regain.
What do we do about the people who have expectations for us when something, over which we have no control, makes it impossible for us to be who others want us to be? When we can no longer fit that image, the one others love—or at least respect—us for, what then? And who is Helen Sharpe, if not the “take no shit,” confident, successful doctor we fell in love with the very first second she appeared in the very first episode of New Amsterdam?
What happens when we are abandoned because we are not the success stories that made us worth supporting? If we lose everything we thought we were or could be, are the people who held us to those standards even going to be there to catch us when we fall? Sometimes (hi), the answer is no.
So, Helen’s worries were one hundred percent valid. Sometimes, our worth to others is in our smarts, or our degrees, or our ability to work a certain way…at a certain level.
After all, there is no sign of that Dr. Helen—the one we originally met—in New Amsterdam 4×18. Agyeman erases her own larger-than-life command of the camera, creating a Helen that draws in on herself. She keeps her eyes downcast, rather than being ready to take on—and take over—the world. There is something in her performance that is about making herself…small. Obsolete. The opposite of everything she has always been.
As Helen fights her way back, as she refuses to give up even as she thinks she has done so…That’s where we see the same character we’ve always adored—just hidden under all the pain and doubt. It’s where we experience the person Max Goodwin loves, and will always love—no ifs, ands, or buts.
For him, it’s not about loving her potential, or her many accolades as a physician. Sharpwin isn’t the tale of a love of convenience…It’s what actual love and support, in the ideal, are meant to be.
The pressure is there. Helen feels it—I felt it in watching New Amsterdam 4×18, as an echo of what I once lived through when my own perfectionism and dreaded high potential crippled me. It burned me out. Ultimately, I failed. Ultimately, the “support” I had was either unintended extra stress or something that only existed if there was a payoff of success in the end.
But the difference in the story of Helen and Max is simple: Max’s love was never conditional. Helen’s value to him has never been about what she is but who she is.
No career, no method of communication, and no impossible standard of her own making could ever change that. It’s not that Helen’s suffering was “worth it,” or that we ever really needed her to be stripped down to her most vulnerable, insecure, and diminished self to see how much she has changed over the course of this series. At least, we could have done without such utterly traumatizing circumstances to get us here…
But in this lowest of lows, we have seen how far Helen has come, how far Sharpwin has come. This is a ship, a love story, that has been built in spite of half of it thinking only her intelligence and utter badassery were worth respecting—with the jury still out on whether or not love was in the cards. But Helen, after spending so much time trying to hide her “weakness” behind that wall of strength, has grown to be able to be vulnerable with Max. And despite so many reasons why he thought he’d never have this either, here is Max…barreling toward his own happy ending. With her.
If only we all had a Max Goodwin to love us, always, and even help us find a way to laugh at—rather than loathe ourselves for—our mistakes.
And if only anyone on this planet would ever, just for a moment, recognize the true gem that is Freema Agyeman. I still don’t think our collective awe, even after “No Ifs, Ands, or Buts,” has yet reached its full potential. Maybe we’ll just have to accept our failure to truly identify, and quantify, the scope of Agyeman’s talent.
And that’s actually ok, as long as we realize her star is so impossibly bright.
Would Romeo have been too on the nose?
Obligatory Iggy shade before we wax poetic: Please explain to me how this child—the one who once had no ability to feel, who was just…empty—has grown more than Iggy Frome. No, really. Please drop a comment. Explain.
Ok. Back to the matter at hand: The strikingly beautiful storytelling that is New Amsterdam 4×18.
So, the whole “more joy” thing…kind of a lie. But in the same promotional materials for New Amsterdam Season 4 there’s another phrase: “Love heals.” And that one…That’s all over “No Ifs, Ands, or Buts.”
Juliette’s first true breakthrough comes from just that: love. It’s first love, probably what we all refer to and minimize as “puppy love.” But it’s still love. And sometimes, that first time we experience it, it is enough to shake us.
That’s certainly the case for Juliette, who realizes she feels different when she kisses Isaac than when she tries with other boys.
“I knew it was only a matter of time before I got dumped. So, I wanted to win. Before I lost again.”
When she dumps Isaac to protect herself, and even explains how afraid of being dumped again herself she is…Shots fired, honestly. It’s one of the most adult conversations we’ve ever seen Iggy have. And all the maturity is coming from a child—one he once thought was a lost cause at that.
(Ok, so we weren’t completely through with Iggy.)
That’s just it, though—Juliette is at her most healed when she is at her most hurt. Because she can hurt now. And it’s also such a strange thing that the urge to protect oneself is so fundamentally human, even someone who has struggled her whole life to connect with her emotions feels that need. It’s so powerful to see how similar she is to not only Helen Sharpe, of all people, but also…Yeah…ourselves.
Such has always been the power of New Amsterdam—to make us see what connects us. And, of course, to always make us ask: How can I help?
New Amsterdam 4×18…thoughts
- Look: I’m basically not writing a whole thing about how Leyren is transactional and pain right now because I…don’t want to experience the pain again. I still want to believe…Or. Uh. Insert support that doesn’t sound like I ripped it from The X-Files here. Ok? Ok.
- No but Helen’s little pleased grin when Max tells her she’s “doing so great,” even though she’s…not. Yet.
- “…because we’re worth it. Aren’t we?” Um. Martin is. You aren’t. Next.
- It’s the way my eye damned near started twitching at the “in-network” comment. Health insurance is such a garbage scam.
- “You know what would make the situation better? Ritalin. Booze. Sex with a stranger.” Me @ the news.
- Jokes aside…Lauren, honey…It’s the gallows humor about your recovery that actually feels like…recovery.
- No but Emma Hong. That kid is…She continues to blow me away, ok?
- “..revenge? A desire to make his pathetic life into everliving hell?” Should I be worried about how much I sided with Juliette here or.
- …because I’m really not.
- “If you hurt a person that you really like—even by accident—can you…ever get them back?” “All you can do is try.”
- “…you have a mountain to climb. You’re not climbing badly; you’re just climbing.” I wish someone had told me this. Fuck. I still wish someone would. (At this point, I’d call them mean for it and say they’re attacking me if they did, though.)
- Never heard that butterfly feeling described as good throw-up before…and yet.
- I don’t want to jinx Floyd’s newfound…actually, probably, having a good storyline by talking about it. So. Um. No sudden moves or loud sounds, y’all.
- “…because it’s hard to accept that something you love is hurting you.”
- “I’m not supposed to be happy with someone else. I’m clinically pre-disposed to be alone.” New Amsterdam 4×18 has some audacity coming for me like this.
- Helen Sharpe’s smitten little smile. Her little giggle about having to lose her shirt. All of it.
- The tears when she repeatedly gets the phrase right.
- Is the whole “Helen is magically healed by letting go with Max” a little cheesy and unrealistic? Probably. Do I give one iota of a fuck? No. Never.
What did you think of New Amsterdam 4×18? Drop us a comment.