The Good Doctor Argentina on Twitter (@TheGoodDoctorAr) is currently running a ’20 Days Countdown to The Good Doctor Season 5’ (the 20 days leading up to the season 5 premiere on ABC), and what better reason to rewatch season 4 and write down some thoughts on each episode? So I guess we’re kicking it off with 4×01 Frontline (Part 1) today.
The big elephant in the hospital room. I believe lots of people liked that they didn’t ignore the pandemic, but I also know there are those who didn’t because they see the show as a welcome dose of escapism and don’t want the reminder. Which is perfectly valid, and I can see both sides.
Me, I’m in the ‘approve’ group. I feel that a global pandemic is a pivotal event that affected all of us in a significant way, and IMHO it would have felt wrong for a hospital show to just gloss over that. I applaud the show’s team to want to make a statement and show how the characters dealt with it and were touched by it.
As to whether it was shown realistically, I’m not truly in a position to say since I’m not a healthcare worker or a US citizen, but from my European outside point of view, I would say yes and no. The medical details looked accurate enough, but I felt that social distancing and mask wearing requirements in the hospital outside of patient care would have been stricter than they showed on the show, and they could have benefitted from at last depicting additional issues like mask rash. However overall, I don’t want to complain, because I thought they did a really good job at portraying both the medical urgency of the pandemic and its impact on personal lives.
Interesting points to note:
- Did you see that they brought Jessica back? She was briefly featured in a video conference call that Glassman participated in.
- Nice nod to what most of us with jobs have been witness to in the last 1½ years: Video conferences and personal interruptions. (Re: Debbie asking Glassman if he wanted nuts in his banana bread.) Suddenly we all know our co-workers’ kids, their pets, their living rooms or bedrooms or kitchens, doorbells being rung by delivery men in the middle of the 10 minute slot you’re asked to actively present something (story of my life!), …
- Good spotlight on the social distancing. It was (or still is) a terrible situation to have to be separated from friends and family, and in a hospital setting especially for patients and relatives, with loved ones being sick and miserable and dying.
- There was a tangible fear of doctors getting infected by patients, or infecting their loved ones at home. They also made it a point to highligh the irritability of the long hours, the doctors’ helplessness and the stress of the whole situation.
- Also realistic was the shortage of COVID test kits and medical supplies, and the cancellation of all elective surgeries to prioritise COVID patient care. Suddenly everything was 99% COVID.
- The doctors wearing laminated photos of their faces around their neck was a nice touch. This was done in real life hospital settings as well. It’s nice to see that the show paid attention to these details.
- The elevator scene with Lim about the appreciation of healthcare workers by the general public was somewhat amusing, but also a good reference. A lot of controversy around that topic still today. I liked the, “Wear your damn mask!” quip, though!
- What was also covered well was showing that hospital staff all around was overwhelmed, for instance with patients’ personal belongings being held because no one had time to sort them out, disinfect them and return them to relatives.
St. Bonaventure is seeing their very first COVID patient, Mildred, and at first they think it’s the ‘flu. We follow her story, and all the different treatments they try. Since there is little to no experience with the disease, there’s a lot of trial and error and uncertainty. Mildred, sadly, eventually dies — alone because her daughter can’t be there due to social distancing. It’s a touching and tragic case, but one we would have seen happen all over the world in real life.
The second COVID patient they focus on is Martin. His symptoms are confusing and new, the doctors try experimental treatments and are not sure what to do. A general feeling of helplessness is tangible because of COVID’s potential multi-organ involvement. We also see aspects of family blaming themselves for infecting their spouse. Martin’s journey is a difficult and complicated one. Heart complications, bacterial pneumonia, blood clots. We see more of his progression throughout episode 4×02.
Patient number three is Ambar, a young pregnant woman. At the time she comes down with COVID, her baby is due in two weeks, and they have to deliver the baby while she is on a ventillator and not conscious. A wholly different tragedy, which we also follow onwards in episode 4×02.
Patients number four and five are invariably tied together, Walter and Deena Petringa. Walter represents one other struggle that doctors are facing: misdiagnosis. He is initially diagnosed with diverticulitis, which turns out to be COVID with unusual symptoms. He ends up infecting Nurse Petringa (and very nearly also Morgan Reznick). Petringa is one of the more tragic cases — a St. Bonaventure nurse whose job gets her infected, and we see her health steadily decline over the course of the episode.
Shaun & Lea
Shaun and Lea’s main theme this episode is “missing each other”, and the social distancing and how that affects their relationship.
We start out with Lea coming to Shaun’s apartment in search of her missing ID badge. They have a conversation about her staying over. Lea is hesitant. “It’s too soon, Shaun.” Shaun is confused, because he wants to be close to Lea, now that they’re a couple with all the strings attached. “How many weeks of being together are required before you can stay over?” Lea then reconsiders. “I will spend the night Saturday,” she tells Shaun before she leaves. Of course after that, COVID hits and no one is gonna be staying over anywhere.
Over the course the episode, we explore the aspects of physical vs. emotional closeness. Shaun gets upset and yells at Alex for using Lea’s cabinet — a metaphor for staking claims and displacing Lea from Shaun’s life. This scene is actually really beautiful, because rather than getting annoyed at Shaun for his sudden outburst, Alex can read the underlying issue of Shaun missing physical contact with Lea, and is fully understanding of the predicament.
“Why would I want something that isn’t what I want?” Shaun asks. “Why do people on diets want ice cream?” Alex counters. Human desire interplaying with abstinence is a confusing notion, isn’t it?
And then, of course, the phone sex. It’s a whole new concept for Shaun. “Sexual intimacy is beautiful,” Shaun has learned. “I do miss sex, don’t you?” he asks Lea. When they actually do attempt phone (or rather video) sex, Shaun’s ASD gets in the way. He’s taking things very literally, and this causes him a great deal of frustration.
Interestingly, Melissa Reiner talked about this in one of her insights blurbs (I believe it was for episode 2×18 Trampoline). People with autism often have trouble abstracting situations or putting themselves in other people’s shoes. They have a hard time playing make-belief, basically. And Lea asking him to imagine having sex with her when she’s not actually there is just not something that Shaun’s brain is well equipped to do.
Over the course of this conversation, Shaun finally comes to admit that he does physically miss Lea beyond the daily video calls. He finally blurts out, “This is stupid. I don’t want to have sex with you, I want to be with you.” And Lea being Lea, is amazingly understanding of him. “I miss you too, Shaun.”
At the end of the episode, Lea finally caves and sees Shaun at the apartment, but he remains steadfast that they can’t physically be around each other. She makes him a very thoughtful and sweet present by giving him the mask monkey so that his ears wouldn’t be so sore anymore from the mask straps. (Boy, can we all relate!) Their episode journey ends on the beautiful sentiment of the through-the-door conversation about Alex’s ineptitude at making decent pancakes.
Interesting was also the little blurb with the other residents at the hospital, where Shaun is elated that suddenly no one can read people’s emotions because you can’t see their faces below the masks. It doesn’t happen all that often that we truly understand Shaun’s predicaments, but this one very effectively portrayed one of them. And suddenly, we can all relate.
Glassman & Debbie
While Shaun and Lea struggle with having to be physically apart, they juxtapose this against Glassman’s and Debbie’s own struggles, which are very much the opposite. Aaron, as cancer survivor and at-risk immunocompromised patient, is stuck at home. With Debbie also home 100% of the time, they very quickly start going on each other’s nerves.
Very tangible is the frustration of constantly being in each other’s way, not able to avoid and give each other space, and seeing the same four walls 24 hours of the day without much distraction. Aaron tries different avoidance strategies (online poker, video games), but it’s not helping much. Debbie is doing her best to keep herself engaged and entertained, and Aaron is just frustrated. “It’s not a party, it’s a pandemic.”
There’s sereval conversations between them about all these issues, and if I’m being quite honest, I found all of them really awkward. I love Glassy, but in this episode he’s just really weirdly disagreeable and unlikeable, and (quite unusually for me) I sided more with Debbie’s side of things in this episode. He sure was an unsympathetic jerk during a lot of those conversations, and I wanted to just tell him a lot, “Aaron, wtf?”
What I found particularly awkward was that he basically wanted Debbie to suffer the same way that the social isolation was making him suffer. Of course that’s a very human notion, and I’m sure that a lot of couples went through the same thing being cooped up together in the same four walls for extended periods of time, but it also demonstrates very well how unhealthy their relationship really is. Debbie ends up sleeping in the guest room because he’s been so much of a jerk. And honestly? I don’t blame her.
Seeing how Neil Melendez passed away in the previous episode, with several weeks having passed since, Audrey and Claire regularly meet to talk or think about him, to ensure he’s remembered. It’s a way for them to work towards moving on and share in a mutual loss they’ve both faced and experienced.
A bit surprising to a lot of us was, at the very end, the actual appearance of Nicholas Gonzalez, as kind of an apparition or vision for Claire, telling her, “Things will be okay.” This sets up Claire’s personal journey for episode 4×02, and it was a nice send-off for Melendez.
Another personal story that was explored in the episode was Alex and the long distance relationship with his wife Mia and son Kellan. Kellan is graduating high school, and it’s up in the air if Alex can actually be there for the graduation ceremony in person. Just like Shaun and Lea, Alex and Kellan have regular video calls, also feeling the separation and isolation more than they’d care to admit, and the worry on Kellan’s side that his father is putting himself at risk every day.
It’s nice to know that Alex moved in with Shaun for the duration of the lockdown, it was probably good for the both of them to have someone there in person they could lean on or just be around outside of a work environment.
It also made me very happy to see the bond between Alex and Shaun grow. Alex has always been pretty in tune with Shaun’s needs, and often helped him overcome some conundrum or problem by trying to put himself in Shaun’s place (e.g. the buzzing lamp in Quarantine, Shaun’s breakdown during his first lead sugery in First Case, Second Base). It’s lovely to know that they continue having a pretty close relationship, and I’m excited for (hopefully) a bit more friendship bonding in season 5!