Monday, October 9, 2017

REVIEW: 'The Good Doctor' - Shaun and Claire Race to Get a Liver Back to the Hospital in 'Oliver'

ABC's The Good Doctor - Episode 1.03 "Oliver"

Dr. Neil Melendez and Dr. Jared Unger discover their patient isn't being completely honest with them which may cost him his chance at a life-saving surgery. Dr. Claire Browne must learn to communicate with Dr. Shaun Murphy as they race back to St. Bonaventure Hospital with a donated organ.

There's nothing inherently wrong with the various stories happening throughout "Oliver." And yet, there's not a whole lot to actually be all that excited about either. Throughout the first three episodes of the series, the same thing can basically be said. Freddie Highmore is delivering a strong lead performance. The narrative is fascinating when it is focusing on Dr. Shaun Murphy and how he sees the world differently. And things are still awkward and less than compelling when focusing on the supporting characters. That's the same thing I've said in the first two episodes. It's the same thing I'll say in "Oliver" as well. However, this hour is probably less effective than the first two because the way the show tells stories with Shaun is even more alienating and mysterious than before. He's a character where the audience is always suppose to be speculating on what's going on in his head. It's a continuous mystery as to what he's thinking about. With the medical genre, there's the perception that the pace of the storytelling is going to be very fast. This is a life-or-death profession where the quick actions of doctors and nurses can either save or kill someone. That's been the easy way to create urgency in this genre for a long time. The Good Doctor is slowing things down. It could allow time for things to breathe. The time crunch is still apparent. But it also recognizes that the time is still there to allow an explanation for the audience as to what's going on with the various medical cases as well. Here, it's just a little annoying with just how important the mystery of Shaun Murphy is suppose to be.

The main story of the hour includes a patient, Chuck, who needs to get a liver transplant. A donor organ has become available for him. Melendez and Jared are preparing him for surgery while Shaun and Claire are retrieving the organ in San Francisco. It's then a race against the clock to preserve this organ so that it can be transplanted and save a life. The show establishes right away that there is an eight hour window for this procedure. That's the time frame for all of this. As the plot proceeds, the time is dwindling. First, it's an error in communication where the organ was removed from the donor previous to Shaun and Claire's arrival at the hospital. So instead of eight hours, they have less than five. Then, their helicopter is grounded because of the fog. That means they have to make it back to San Jose with a police escort. In addition to all of this, the organ needs to be maintained at a specific temperature. The container it's in has the technology to track all of this for the doctors. But it just further showcases how things could go wrong in so many different ways with this transplant. Shaun and Claire are active participants in this story. Claire thinks it's just scut work when she is assigned to retrieve the organ. It turns out to be a very tense and engaging day where she and Shaun need to think quickly to keep the procedure viable.

Most of this is told from Claire's perspective though. That's perfectly fine. The show has become aware that not everything can be seen through Shaun's eyes. That's a valuable resource for the audience because it allows us to get into his head and understand how he sees the world. But this story is mostly about Claire trying to find a way to connect with Shaun. She can see that he has concerns about the viability of the liver. But she has absolutely no idea what he is doing. Whenever she asks him questions, he doesn't answer. It's easy to understand her frustration with the situation. The audience can feel frustrated as well. Important information is being withheld from us for no good reason. It's all so that Claire and the audience can learn that Shaun doesn't like questions. He doesn't respond when things are posed to him that way. He prefers statements. As such, it represents a learning curve for Claire to understand the situation. She's trying to make this connection. The show is basically forcing it to happen. It's telling the audience that the dynamic between Shaun and Claire is important. It's just done very little to actually justify that. It mostly just represents a way to elongate this story while keeping things as tense as possible. It just makes Shaun more of a mystery than ever before. That could be a very problematic characterization moving forward though. The audience should understand him even if the other characters don't. That's what makes him a sympathetic character even when his demands are very strange and off-putting.

Things are even more intense because the audience is aware that the transplant is falling apart back at the hospital as well. It further highlights that there is a divide between Melendez and Andrews. Melendez is willing to fight for Chuck to get this transplant despite him having one glass of champagne a few days ago. Andrews believes they should follow the rules because they are in place for a reason. It has all the stylings of a morally ambiguous discussion regarding a medical issue. And yet, there isn't a whole lot of nuance to it - at least not anymore than what other medical procedurals have done with this kind of story. It's just setting up the tragic fate of Chuck not being able to receive the organ and more than likely dying because of that just as Shaun and Claire return to the hospital. The story has the feeling that it's a decision that is going to be made for the doctors because of the time frame involved. Claire and Shaun are just going to get back to the hospital in time. They needed to pull over in the middle of the highway to do a necessary surgery to ensure that the liver would still be viable in thirty minutes. Their efforts needed to have purpose. And then, the story concludes with the tragedy that Chuck won't be getting the organ and that all of the tension from the time crunch wasn't all that necessary. Another hospital was able to pick up the organ to save the life of another patient. It was no problem whatsoever. It just feels like a weird resolution that's perhaps a bit too simple for this story.

The subplot with Andrews doesn't fare that much better. It's nice to see him take center stage for a story. It helps him stand out amongst this cast in a way that is more than just antagonistic to Shaun being a surgeon there. And now, it is revealed that he is very egotistical. He takes great offense to the suggestion from Allegra that he should have Melendez assist him on a surgery for a VIP patient. It's nice to see the business aspect of running a hospital on display in this story. It shows that not everything in this profession is ultimately about saving lives. Sometimes surgeries need to happen in order to pay the bills. People need to be pleased even though they are horrible and may wind up back in the hospital shortly thereafter. Of course, the show doesn't dig much deeper than that. The patient is never really the focus of this story. It's instead all about this brewing conflict between Andrews and Melendez. Andrews wants to be the president of the hospital. But he also wants to be the shining star amongst the surgeons. He still believes he's the reason why people come to this hospital for their surgeries. He doesn't want to admit that Melendez is now the rising star amongst the staff. He wants to keep him in line while ensuring his own reputation is upheld. That's not very presidential as Glassman points out. But it's not all that compelling to watch either. It's a fairly conventional story that doesn't do much to deepen our understanding of the supporting characters.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Oliver" was written by Bill Rotko and directed by John Dahl.
  • This week in trying to understand what some of the supporting characters actually do at the hospital: Allegra is the one running the foundation attached to the hospital and making sure the donations keep coming in while Jessica continues to be one big mystery. She may have something to do with legal because that's her contribution to the big discussion about the transplant. But she's still ill-defined.
  • The flashbacks have already become incredibly pointless. Here, they just set out to explain why Shaun has some trepidations with various things in the world. They are no longer trying to tell a complete story on their own. Everything about his tragic past has already been established. Now, they are just trying to provide some narrative symmetry to make things seem more profound than they are.
  • When the focus is on Shaun and how he relates to the world here, it's incredibly strange and pointless as well. He's seen interacting with his neighbor. She needs to borrow batteries for a game and he demands them back the next day. Meanwhile, he feeds a cat who keeps appearing outside his apartment. But neither of these interactions ultimately mean much.
  • The show cast Jasika Nicole (Fringe, Scandal) as Chuck's concerned daughter and then doesn't really give her much to do. She basically has two scenes that show how quickly her opinion of Melendez changes. She's glad that he has brought hope to her father's life again. Then, she's combative once it's clear that her father won't be getting the surgery.
  • Everyone needs to make peace with the fact that Chuck only has two or three months left to live. His condition worsens while he's in the hospital. That leads to a tense and uncertain moment as well. So, him being denied this transplant now ensures that he'll die before getting another one. That's a sad note to end on. It ensures that things won't always end perfectly with these medical cases. Of course, it also leaves the door open for this case to return again in a future episode.