Monday, October 2, 2017

REVIEW: 'The Good Doctor' - Shaun Struggles to Work Alongside His New Colleagues in 'Mount Rushmore'

ABC's The Good Doctor - Episode 1.02 "Mount Rushmore"

Dr. Shaun Murphy's attention to detail complicates his first day at St. Bonaventure Hospital. Dr. Claire Browne learns a valuable lesson about honesty when confronted with a difficult diagnosis for her patient.

The premiere of The Good Doctor was all about getting Dr. Shaun Murphy to St. Bonaventure Hospital and ensuring that he could actually stay there. It was a problematic first episode because it spent so much time talking about its premise and the potential problems that could be created if Shaun worked at this hospital. It was a show about autism and very little else. It was scattered. One moment Shaun was in the middle of a daring rescue of an injured boy and trying to assert himself in a way that proved beneficial to his care. Then, the narrative was flashing back to Shaun's childhood to give him a tragic backstory. Then, it jumped over to a board meeting where a bunch of characters in suits where discussing things in the broad abstract about Shaun and the pros and cons that would come from hiring him. Not a lot of it was subtle nor all that indicative of what the ongoing series would look like. On the broadcast networks, pilots have a tendency to go over-the-top with exposition and not really being clear what the ongoing series is like. That task falls squarely on the second episode where the creative team just basically repeats everything in the first episode with a little less flare and more of an example of how the formula can be repeated. "Mount Rushmore" sticks to that familiar script a little too much. It still all comes down to Shaun's heroic actions saving a child's life. It's a compelling story that allows him to shine despite his differences. But this episode also does a much stronger job in actually defining the supporting characters as well.

Of course, this is still fundamentally a show about Shaun Murphy. It's a somewhat formulaic story here because he's the brilliant new surgical resident who is forced to do work that is deemed beneath him or not worth his time or effort. He's assigned to the work that his fellow surgeons don't want to do. Consults for the cases that won't lead to anything or discharging people after they've already been treated. It's a story that has been told many times across a number of medical procedurals. The show attempts to find a new spin on it by showing just how passionate and enthusiastic Shaun is about this kind of work. He's not annoyed by it like his fellow surgeons are. Sure, he questions if he is being punished for something he may or may not have done. He can't tell when Dr. Melendez is being sarcastic. But he still approaches this task as the most important thing he could be doing. That's to the great annoyance of everyone around him though. The people being discharged are ready to go. They've already been cleared. They just needed the surgical sign off. But Shaun is insisting on running tests that are completely pointless in the end to rule out diseases that seem like long shots. It's a semi-amusing story mostly because of the reactions from the nurse. She feels she's being punished when Melendez tells her to be Shaun's boss for the day. But it's a kind of authority that she likes because he actually listens to her as well.

And yet, Shaun is still a surgical resident who can defy the ideas of his colleagues when he believes he has stumbled upon something incredibly serious. He listens to the nurse when it comes to tests and procedures that aren't life-threatening. But he asserts himself as the fiercest advocate for a young girl who came in complaining of a stomach ache. The other surgeons believe it's just stress as a result of her constantly bickering parents. That seems like the rational conclusion to draw. But Shaun insists of looking deeper into this case. He's willing to run a number of tests. He's formed a connection with a technician in the lab. Everyone in this hospital is still getting used to him and the way he sees the world differently. No one truly knows what to expect. He's different and unusual. But they all respect how capable he is at diagnosing medical conditions. They also respect the way his brain can figure out creative ways around seemingly impossible problems in the operating room. Most of their problems with him come from him interacting with patients and actually performing the procedures. The show has presented him as very confident and brilliant at what he does. He's able to perform when the situation calls for it. He can be clear and assertive. It's just taken him a bit longer to find that confidence. And even now, he still feels the hesitation before acting.

All of this shows just how far Shaun is willing to go for his patients. Most of them are annoyed by interacting with him. He's unusual and doesn't have a strong bedside manner that they find reassuring. It's a skill that Shaun still has to learn. This episode is essentially about him questioning the purpose of sarcasm while also trying to be reassuring with patients while failing spectacularly. He's still learning in this job. It's a little strange that these issues haven't come up before. I guess that's the purpose of the continuing use of the flashbacks. That seemed like a device that would go away after the first episode. It set up his tragic backstory of losing his brother in an accident and meeting Glassman. But now, it shows how far he has come. He's willing to pound on that door in the middle of the night because it is urgent. He's not lying or apologetic over what happened. He's doing it in order to save this young girl's life. He's not getting carried away. He's doing the right thing. And in the end, his persistence is what ultimately saves her. The parents had no cause to worry until they tried to wake her up. Shaun wanting to perform the surgery to repair her twisted bowel was a thrilling moment the audience could easily get swept up in. It's left unclear if Shaun is actually capable enough to do this procedure though. He's confident but he's still just a resident. He hasn't had the opportunity to practice his skills in the operating room. He's allowed to stay but hasn't made much significant progress in impressing Melendez.

"Mount Rushmore" allows Claire to be a chief character of focus as well. She's the one ultimately carrying the other medical case of the week. It too is a very formulaic and easy story to digest. She tells a woman that she is going to survive a complex surgery and be able to attend her son's wedding in a few weeks. It's a lie because it's a truth she wants to believe despite knowing the risks. She has an aggressive tumor that is revealed to have taken over a significant part of her chest. The doctors have no idea how to remove it. Shaun is the one who comes up with the suggestion to remove her kidney in order to increase visibility. But Shaun really isn't an active part of this story for very long. He comes in with these new results after going to the lab and tells this suggestion to Claire and Jared. Jared then presents the strategy to Melendez and they decide to actually do it. But this story largely highlights Claire's own uncertainties and difficulties in this job. It's easy to get wrapped up in how Shaun does this job differently and is struggling to figure things out. But that's the same exact thing that's going on with Claire. She's unable to be blunt with patients. She wants to be optimistic. She doesn't want to present things in a grim way before a major surgery. She wants to make promises she can't keep. She wants to have the moral high ground of not trying to take credit for something Shaun came up with for this surgery. But she's still just trying to find her own way as a surgeon. That's a fascinating parallel journey that doesn't have much nuance at the moment. But it could be a promising direction for the show to pursue in the future.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Mount Rushmore" was written by David Shore and directed by Mike Listo.
  • It's a little off-putting to see how persistent Jared is in trying to form a more meaningful romantic relationship with Claire. They were introduced as two people sleeping together last week. Now, she has slightly more importance in the overall show. Her concerns are greater than that relationship while Jared is completely defined by it. That's weird and not all that compelling to watch.
  • I still have no idea what the character played by Beau Garrett actually does in this hospital. Right now, it seems like she's just a sounding board for Melendez. She's an ally for him who is able to call him out on his own prejudices. It's still a forced character dynamic that is heavily one-sided as well. She doesn't exist outside of it.
  • Meanwhile, Dr. Marcus Andrews continues to come across as the one-note antagonist in this story. He wasn't able to keep the board from hiring Shaun. But now, he's changing his tactics to ensure that he fails which would lead to Glassman's resignation. Again, it's not a particularly nuanced character that only slightly works because of what Hill Harper is doing.
  • So are the flashbacks going to continue to be important in this narrative? It seems unlikely because the lifetime of adventures that Shaun has had would probably start getting boring and repetitive after awhile. The show could try telling things from one of the other characters' backgrounds. But that could also be stealing focus away from the one character who is actually interesting to watch.
  • How long was Shaun awake throughout this episode? It doesn't appear like he slept at all before his first day at the hospital. And then, he has a lengthy shift that culminates in him waking the family up in the middle of the night to then assist on the surgery alongside Melendez. At yet, sleep depravation doesn't appear to be a major concern at all. After all of that, he is soundly asleep.