Monday, November 13, 2017

REVIEW: 'The Good Doctor' - Shaun Deals With a Patient Like Him While Jared Explores His Past in '22 Steps'

ABC's The Good Doctor - Episode 1.07 "22 Steps"

Dr. Shaun Murphy has to confront prejudice from an unlikely source when he takes on the case of a patient with autism. Dr. Jared Kalu has to learn to accept his limitations as a surgeon.

The first season of The Good Doctor so far has focused on the staff of the hospital getting adjusted to Dr. Shaun Murphy. He does things in a very specific way. People need to interact with him on a regular basis in order to understand what's going on with him and how his brain works. The show has effectively told this story even though it has started getting a little repetitive. A doctor doesn't believe Shaun can do something, Glassman tells them they are wrong, and then Shaun actually surprises everyone in how well he handles things. It's a solid formula for the show. But it's one that needs to grow and evolve as well. Not everyone at this hospital can be skeptical of Shaun all of the time. Yes, there is still probably reason for them to doubt his abilities. But it can be more on the level of him being a resident who is still learning on the job instead of as a doctor with autism whose disease can potentially cripple him. That's a key difference. One that the show is already making. "22 Steps" appears to be the episode where Melendez finally has enough faith in Shaun to allow him to be a part of his surgical team. He has spent so much time this season talking about running things his way and not appreciating it when the board tells him what to do. He respects Shaun's intellect and medical opinion but has had doubts about his skills in times of crisis and doing big surgeries. Shaun has only had a limited role in the operating room even though he has proven himself capable under pressure elsewhere in the hospital. It's about time that Melendez started respecting what Shaun brings to the table as a surgeon. And now, this episode forces Melendez to actually admit that he trusts Shaun as a surgeon who can get the job done.

It's all told through the story of an autistic patient coming into the hospital. Shaun is the doctor who first treats him. This is the first autistic person Shaun has met. His colleagues are quick to point out that he understands and can connect with him better than anyone else. Shaun doesn't necessarily believe that to be true. He believes it's just a distinction that other people want to make. To him, it's just another patient who needs to be treated in a very specific way. Shaun's forming dynamics with his patients has been a solid theme in these opening episodes of the show. He can connect with them in his own special way. And now, he's a little reluctant to do so. He would rather be the doctor holding the patient down instead of the one actually doing the procedure. He understands how this kid is afraid and doesn't like to be touched. He understands what he's dealing with immediately unlike the world around him. But it's still a lot of pressure that he doesn't really want to address. He would much rather focus on buying a new television even though it's outside of his budget. That's where he wants his focus to be. But instead, he's finding himself challenged at his job because he has to make this difficult diagnosis without using the standard tools available in this hospital. Again, it highlights how Shaun can relate to his patient better than anyone else because he can try to keep him calm during the MRI. It's not ultimately successful. But it's played as a learning experience as well.

Of course, this main story doesn't really get moving until that moment where the diagnosis is made and Melendez has to prep the kid for surgery. The parents are very appreciative of how Shaun has treated their son. But they don't want him in the operating room. That's a very specific perspective for them to have. The show has focused so much on Shaun's colleagues not wanting him performing surgery. Now, the focus is on the patient's family having doubts about his skills. They have doubts because they know the realities of this disease. They understand the struggles. They don't want anything to compromise their son's surgery. It's not a decision they really make out of malice. It's one they make out of concern. They fear that their son won't get the best care. It's up to Melendez to tell them that Shaun is a great surgeon who deserves to be in that room. It's a moment where he has to recognize how silly his beliefs have been as well. Of course, it's unclear if this change in mentality will continue for the dynamic Melendez has with Shaun. It's a very encouraging sign to see Shaun in that surgery and being able to make the first cut. Shaun has done a number of procedures on this show. But this is the moment where Melendez is showing that he has trust in him being able to do this. Of course, there's the manipulative tease that Shaun's actions later on in the surgery ultimately kills the boy. But it's just a fake out in order to create more tension. That's familiar and not all that great. But it's par for the course as well for this show.

Elsewhere, it's fascinating to see Claire continue to deal with the consequences of having accidentally killed her patient in the previous episode. She was quick to action and placed the intubation tube too deep into her patient's throat. It was that action that led to her brain death. That was such a tragic reveal. It deserved to have ongoing consequences for her. It's an intriguing story because it pairs Claire with Glassman. It's important to see Glassman as the president of this hospital as well as a surgeon and not just the paternal figure in Shaun's life. He can be a good influence on the other residents too. Yes, he has a special interest and connection with Shaun. But this is a moment where Claire needs someone to make sure she gets the proper help in dealing with these complicated emotions. Her actions killed someone. It was an accident. But now, she is wrapped with guilt. She is literally shaking whenever she is about to do a procedure. The show is a little inconsistent with that. It's a big deal in some moments and not mentioned at all in others. It has the potential to spiral into something even more destructive if she doesn't get the help she needs. It seems like she is going to be very self-destructive because she is just telling the therapist what she needs to hear. But then, she actually listens to the advice of telling someone what happened. Of course, it's still a little weird that it's Jared. The show is propping them up as a romantic couple. They just have sex with no expectations of anything beyond that. But intimacy is growing. That's what this moment signifies. It will better define their dynamic. Of course, Jared probably won't be the best for her to confide. Shaun probably wouldn't be that great either. But the Shaun-Claire relationship is much more interesting to watch.

And finally, it's strange how the focus of the episode starts on Jared's patient and then shifts over to what Shaun is doing. In the early going, it feels like Jared's patient will be a major story. And yes, it ultimately is. But Jared is the only one actually affected by it. Shaun, Claire and Melendez are all busy dealing with the autistic patient. It's a matter of life or death with Jared's patient and he's all alone. The patient is literally trying to run away from the hospital multiple times because he wants to die. But still, Jared gets no additional help nor does he think it's a good idea to keep watch over his patient in the room. It's a weird story that is building to this big emotional moment where the two can relate to each other. It's odd because it feels very forced. It's mostly just introducing more of the backstory for Jared. In the previous episode, it was mentioned that he came from a wealthy family. Now, he talks about his parents never being there for him as a child and him basically having to fend for himself once he turned 18. But it was always expected that he and his parents would be on speaking terms in the present because Andrews still believed Jared's family money could influence his judgment when dealing with patients. It's a very strangely paced story. One where it seems like this guy's suicidal impulses will lead to tragedy. Instead, it's a story building to Jared being there for this guy as he's ready to die. In the end, the isolation of this story is good because no one else will suspect that Jared helped kill him. That's an action that should carry some consequences. But here, it's just suppose to be a nice emotional moment between two characters who surprisingly affected one another in life.

Some more thoughts:
  • "22 Steps" was written by Johanna Lee and directed by David Straiton.
  • Glassman and Jessica were established as friends in the premiere. And yet, they haven't really interacted one-on-one since that episode. Sure, they've been in group scenes as the board has had to make some big decisions. But here, the show suddenly remembers that they're friends and that she can help him realize what to do with Shaun and the TV.
  • Of course, the payoff to all of the talk about a TV really isn't that great. It shows how fixated Shaun can get about one idea. He's still learning how to function as an adult in this world. Glassman wants him to stick to and appreciate a sensible budget. But in the end, he gets swept up in the fantasy of attending the Super Bowl alongside Shaun.
  • In the end, the main story is about growth for the teen with autism as well. He spends most of this episode being afraid of the light. He needs everything to be dim in order to be relaxed. But after the surgery, he is able to be perfectly fine with the lights as they are. It's a forced bit that is meant to hit the audience in an emotional sweet spot.
  • And yet, it's significant that the patient is the one who ultimately gets Shaun in the room for the surgery. Melendez is forced by Glassman to figure out why he is upset about this request from the parents. He presents his case. But it's ultimately their son telling them that he wants Shaun for them to actually change their minds.
  • The parallel between Shaun and his patient isn't perfect either. It doesn't need to be. Shaun can recognize and respect that his patient has parents who love him and fight for him. That's something he never had. That's a peak into his past that Melendez becomes aware of. But it's also a moment where Shaun is judgmental about the parents as well. And that's not great or healthy at all.