Monday, October 23, 2017

REVIEW: 'The Good Doctor' - Shaun's Bond With a Terminally Ill Patient Compromises His Judgment in 'Point Three Percent'

ABC's The Good Doctor - Episode 1.05 "Point Three Percent"

Dr. Shaun Murphy encounters a young patient who looks eerily similar to his deceased brother, Steve. After discovering his parents have hidden his diagnosis from him, Shaun struggles to understand why he doesn't deserve to hear the truth about his own health. The team can't figure out what keeps triggering their patients' increasingly severe allergic reactions and race to find the cause before the next one kills him.

Back in the premiere of The Good Doctor, there were a number of narrative choices where it wasn't abundantly clear which were just for style in that first episode and which would continue on in the subsequent episodes. How much time would actually be spent on the characters talking about Shaun being autistic? It's not as much as that first episode but it's still at the forefront of the narrative. Would the medical stories be allowed to have more focus? That's a very clear yes with most of the episodes including two cases - one with Shaun and one without. Would the board of the hospital continue to have regular and important meetings? It's somewhat surprising how the show has been able to incorporate that device in a smaller way while still being effective. It's not completely necessary but it does highlight the morality and legality of medicine. Would the audience continue to see inside Shaun's mind with those visual flourishes? That was something that seemed like it wouldn't continue but it has. It's not as abundant. But whenever Shaun has a big discovery, there is the show revealing how his brain is getting to that conclusion. And finally, would the flashbacks to Shaun's youth be an ongoing thing? Yes, they have. They felt like they reached a natural conclusion at the end of the premiere. And now, they still feel extremely extraneous in the narrative. It almost seems as if the show keeps doing them because the creative team fell in love with the young actors, Graham Verchere and Dylan Kingwell.

And in that last explanation comes a genuine understanding for the main story at the heart of "Point Three Percent." The show killed off Shaun's brother, Steve, in the premiere. It was a way to give Shaun a tragic moment in his backstory. It was manipulative and formulaic but still a creative decision that was made. Every flashback since then has had the tinge of tragedy because the audience knows the fate that is coming for Steve once he and his brother escape their abusive home. But again, there's only so much the show can do with that. There are so many of Steve's personal belongings that Shaun still keeps as a way to memorialize his brother and everything he taught him. So, there's only a limited amount of time the show can use these flashbacks. And yet, they probably wanted to continue working with the young actors. And so, they bring Dylan Kingwell into the main story. This new character's eery resemblance to Steve is noted by both Shaun and Glassman. It does have an impact on the story because the comparisons are there for the audience. But it's ultimately a way in to the emotional hook of this story that feels natural and easy to process.

So everyone knows that this young patient isn't Shaun's younger brother. But the actor is the same so it's easy to form that connection. It's easy to see Shaun and his patient build a relationship. In fact, the show puts in the effort to ensure that they bond. The past episodes haven't always done that. They've been more fast paced. Of course, the twists and turns of the stories haven't been all that original or different within this particular genre. So, there was still the feeling that things were moving slowly and without much emotion. But the show wasn't spending a whole lot of time to build the connection between doctor and patient. This episode makes sure that that is actually done. It happens in the main story with Shaun and to a lesser extent in the subplot with Jared. Unsurprisingly, it's much more effective in the main storyline because of the actual content of the story. The subplot is perfectly fine. It's just very predictable in that Jared needs to learn how to be a doctor who can bring families together during times of crisis because the patients need that strength and support in their lives. It's a very familiar story in this particular genre. Jared is definitely the resident who needs to learn that skill. Shaun does as well but the narrative has other interests with him. This is a skill that Jared needs to learn at the moment because it will help him be a better surgeon. In the end, that's exactly what occurs. He helps fix a father-son relationship while still being there to assist Glassman as he removes the tapeworms from the father's brain. That's a gross visual that is unlike anything the show has done previously.

But again, the main story is much more effective because it plays on the audience's expectations. The success rate on this show has been incredibly high. Every week patients come to this hospital needing life-saving surgery. And every week one of the doctors is able to come up with the brilliant solution that can save their lives. Most of the time it is Shaun. The show has created some problems in doing so because it has a tendency of making Shaun seem smarter than his superiors who have been doing this job for much longer and are to be considered the top in their field. If he's outsmarting them, then there is a problem in legitimacy for the overall show - especially in stories where they appear but don't interact with Shaun. It's important to see that all of these doctors are capable of being smart. Shaun just sees the world differently and the show frequently frames that as the big epiphany that helps crack the main case. Again, it's a formula. The show does a solid job in executing it. But it still produces moments where the show goes into a commercial break with Shaun proclaiming to himself that his patient doesn't have cancer. That's an enticing moment that suggests things will once again end happily with this story. That's not ultimately the case and the show is better off because of it. This story doesn't succeed or fail based on a successful surgery. That would be the easy direction for this story. Instead, the show digs deeper so that it hits hard when that reveal happens in the end that this kid does have cancer and Shaun was wrong.

It's because the relationship is developed between Shaun and his patient that that twist can occur. And yes, it is beneficial that this kid reminds Shaun of his brother. It's startling to Glassman as well even though he doesn't spend a whole lot of time with the kid. Shaun doesn't believe this connection is warping his judgment with the case. The actual details of the story are just compromising him in ways that make him uncomfortable. The parents want Shaun to keep the cancer diagnosis a secret. They have no idea that their son already knows the truth. Shaun is agonizing over what to do because he's not a great liar. This kid can call him out on it as soon as it happens. Shaun wants to learn. He wants to be better with social cues like this. He is becoming better with jokes and sarcasm. He can make note of it when he hears it. But here, he is trying to learn. This kid is very beneficial in that way because his insights are genuine. To him, Shaun is just his doctor who is trying to improve in his profession. He understands the world in the same way. That's endearing. It makes him want to go along with the crazy plan to run the test without the parents' consent. That doesn't pan out at all. But the desire to do so informs the dynamic so well. It's what allows everything to build to that bittersweet conclusion with Shaun reading To Kill a Mockingbird to his patient. It highlights that he still sees his brother dying in the hospital bed. But it's a much more nuanced relationship than that as well. The show puts in the work and is very effective because it does so and doesn't shy away from the harsh realities of this case.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Point Three Percent" was written by David Hoselton and directed by Larry Teng.
  • The flashbacks this week show that Steve wants to know as much as possible. He doesn't like surprises. So, he gets punished when he's caught trying to unwrap his birthday present. And then, it's amusing that Shaun always tells Steve what his present is before he can fully unwrap it. That builds the significance of To Kill a Mockingbird in the end.
  • Of course, that book is now a reminder of Steve for Shaun just like the plastic knife from the premiere is. It's clear the show is establishing Shaun's adolescence and his connection with his brother as this very formative time for him. It's the time he learned how to survive on his own and decide that he wants to be a doctor. But again, there's not much more to this story that needs to be told.
  • This week also reveals that Dr. Glassman is actually a neurosurgeon. He's more than just the president of the hospital and Shaun's mentor. That's how he has been defined in this season so far. But it's nice to see him as a mentor to some of the other residents as well. He only spends a brief amount of time with Jared. But that's a dynamic the show should explore more in the future as well.
  • In the end, the disagreement between father and son isn't all that enticing or scandalous. The father was expecting his son to take over the family business. He wanted to retire as soon as his wife got sick. But instead, his son decided to run away to Thailand. He missed his mother's funeral because he was afraid he wouldn't live up to his father's expectations. It's just difficult to really form a connection with them even though they appear in the tense opening of the episode.
  • Shaun only briefly interacts with his fellow residents as well. They are becoming more like friends. Claire is there for Shaun to bounce around some ideas with his case. But she soon leaves for her procedure. Meanwhile, it's just more interesting that Shaun comes to Claire because he needs someone who can convincingly lie. It may just be because she was close to him. Or it may be because he believes she can actually deliver that news.