Monday, October 30, 2017

REVIEW: 'The Good Doctor' - A Mass Casualty Accident Challenges Shaun, Claire and Jared in 'Not Fake'

ABC's The Good Doctor - Episode 1.06 "Not Fake"

Dr. Shaun Murphy and Dr. Claire Browne devise an experimental procedure that can save the leg and life of a young groom, that is if his bride-to-be and parents can learn to work together. Jared struggles to emotionally connect with his patient whose scars may prove too deep to overcome.

This season so far has been its most interesting when Dr. Shaun Murphy is the lead character. The show can tell competent stories centered around Claire, Jared and Melendez. But with them, it's mostly just an okay medical procedure. With Shaun, there is an added texture that allows the show to have more of an identity. It's an identity the show is still figuring out as well. It has the luxury to explore and experiment because it's the biggest drama success of the new broadcast season. The Good Doctor has the time to grow and figure how to best balance its characters. "Not Fake" is a new type of episode for the show. One that is very familiar in this particular genre. But one that also highlights the pressure of being a surgical resident. Shaun has chosen a high-pressure job. The board in the very first episode questioned if he could rise to the occasion when the pressure was intense and he needed to make a life or death decision in an instant. The show has already put Shaun in these situations. He's risen to the occasion as well by being able to treat patients who need immediate help while being able to articulate his needs to the world around him. He is capable of being a part of this intense world. But this episode changes things up once again and increases the pressure even more. The hour opens on a mass casualty accident. There's a severe car accident that has severely wounded dozens of patients. The emergency room is filled with traumas that need immediate attention. This is the exact situation Andrews was questioning about with Shaun at the start of the series. As such, the show needs to prove how Shaun can handle himself here. That's the prime objective of this episode.

And so, it's a little surprising to see how quickly into the hour that resolution comes. The intensity of this episode is still pretty high throughout. But it definitely cools off after awhile as well. Shaun and his fellow residents aren't stuck in the emergency room treating a bunch of patients and trying to find the right balance of who they can save and who they can't. They are each given their individual stories from this crash and largely stick with those patients throughout the hour. As such, it feels like a more traditional medical procedural storyline instead of something that is all that exciting or new. It's different for this show in the early going. But Shaun has his call to action early on. He's not the first one to jump onto a trauma. He's waiting for the next serious case to walk through the doors. Even when it arrives, he still needs to be pushed. He's not the one commanding attention and directing traffic. He's not the one telling the first responders where to go and how to help. He's the one just focusing on the patient in front of him. Once he can just operate in that zone, he can assess the situation and figure out the proper treatment. It's him doing things in his own way and relying on the support of the other medical staff to help him land in the correct position. He is getting help. But it's supportive as well. It's not out of malice or confusion for how he could be the best doctor for this situation. He can give clear orders and then provide the treatment to stabilize his patient.

Of course, Shaun then finds himself stuck in a moral dilemma with his patient. He is able to present the case well to Melendez. He follows procedure and is able to explain the medical details. He knows to contact Melendez and tell him about the status of the leg. The two of them quickly make the assessment that it needs to be amputated. They tell the family about the procedure and get the consent. It's an easy and simple story. Then, Claire brings up the suggestion of printing a new femur out of titanium and simply replacing it in the leg. It will ensure that he can keep his leg. It's just a procedure that has never been done before. It's an interesting story that frames the debate as a division within the family. The parents don't want to risk their son's life for an experimental procedure that could ultimately kill him. But his fiancé believes he would want to take the risk in the hopes of keeping his leg because he lives a very active lifestyle. It becomes a debate about the secrets this guy kept from his loved ones. He didn't tell his parents that he's an addict. He didn't tell his fiancé that he cheated on her. It's a complicated story. But it never really amounts to much. Shaun is mostly just on the sidelines observing everything. And in the end, the decision is made by a judge. This should be a better twist because it makes Jessica a more active character in the story. But she still doesn't really have much to do. It all builds to a happy conclusion. The experimental procedure works like it always does. But there is never really a moment of Melendez actually coming to respect how Shaun can handle himself under these circumstances. And that feels like something that should have happened.

Meanwhile, the more personal story for Shaun is him continuing to question feelings of love and how that determines the decisions people make in life. Melendez and Jessica are getting married. Their co-workers have questions that they can't quite answer yet. But Shaun wants to know why people get married in the first place. He wants to know why people love. He has loved. He loved Steve and his rabbit. Both were taken from him early in his life. He has never loved anyone since then. His relationship with Glassman could be defined as love. He appreciates him as a mentor. He relies on him as such. Glassman respects Shaun and wants to answer all of his questions as best as he can. But he also wants Shaun to live a fantastic life as well. He doesn't want him to be crippled by his disease. He wants him to shine because of it. And so, it's tragic that Shaun says that he doesn't want to experience love. That's just not something that interests him. That could be a fascinating story angle for the lead character in a show. Many shows on broadcast television are defined by the sexual lives of their characters. That's perfectly fine as well. But it would be fascinating to explore a character who just shows no interest in feeling love in that way. It would make him an even more original character. I just still don't have the trust with this creative team that that is the direction they wish to pursue with him.

Elsewhere, things build to such a tragic conclusion with Claire. There's a big divide between Shaun and the rest of the characters in terms of interest in watching. Claire probably ranks in second because the show has positioned her as the female lead who is experiencing all of this alongside Shaun. She is a surgical resident as well. She has shown an interest in trying to learn how to communicate effectively with Shaun. She's the one who comes up with the brilliant idea to save the leg for Shaun's patient. She struggles to get Melendez to see her as a surgeon with brilliant ideas as well. He just wants to see Shaun as the brains with Claire and Jared as the practical abilities. But Claire is so desperate to be labeled as brilliant that she makes a critical error in handling her own patient. She's the one who rushes out to the field to save a woman who hasn't been discovered yet. She's the one who drills a burr hole to save her life. She's the one who assists Glassman on the brain surgery to reduce the swelling. It's tragic enough that all of this doesn't ultimately save her. She's brain dead despite all of this hard work. It becomes even more tragic that she died because Claire intubated her improperly. She was doing everything right in the field. She was using her skills to the best of her ability. But the simplest task was the one that produced this destructive outcome. She wanted to be seen as brilliant only to make this careless mistake. That's a tragic and surprising twist. It's an action that should carry consequences for her moving forward. She's wanted to prove herself. This needs to be a setback for her. She needs to figure out how to learn from this mistake and continue to be an effective doctor. That's a path the show could set her on that would be very compelling to watch.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Not Fake" was written by Simran Baidwan and directed by Michael Patrick Jann.
  • Jared is just awkward with personal interactions. He doesn't know how to actually connect with patients. He can do the medical procedures but his bedside manner is terrible. He can't connect with the patients' personal anecdotes. He's hopeful a movie will distract from the pain his burn victim is suffering. It's all very awkward for him. At least, it's a consistent characteristic though.
  • By the end, it's revealed that Jared comes from a wealthy family. That could explain how he does such a poor job in interacting with the world. He just never had the experience of connecting to someone in a genuine way. Here, he is able to buy the experimental procedure he wants to try on his patient. He's hopeful for a good outcome. But it doesn't mean he'll be any better interacting with the next patient.
  • Also, Claire can't be the one to give Jared an inspiring pep talk every time he is struggling to deal with one of his patients. It's a skill he needs to learn on his own. He can't just expect the woman he is sleeping with to provide that sense of compassion for him. He can't just look to her for all of the answers. He needs to be active with his own life. He shouldn't just expect this from Claire.
  • Glassman notes that it's been awhile since the hospital has had a rough night in the ER like this one. That establishes a precedent that this kind of event will be a rare one for this show. And yet, it's more likely that the show will return to this type of story soon because it can be an inherently dramatic story when executed properly.
  • There is a sense of tragedy in the scene where Shaun, Melendez and Jessica debate the morals of this case after the injunction has been filed. Melendez believes that parents universally love their children and can make this decision. Shaun can hear everything the two are saying and only interrupts with the medical information. But the audience knows his personal experience would certainly disprove Melendez's argument with this case.