With the The Good Doctor’s 5th season now having come to a close, it’s time to look back at the season as a whole and see what was memorable, and maybe also what was not so memorable. I (
TJ) will be doing this together with my fellow partners in crime Daniela (
Da) and NiceNiceDevice (
N3), so let’s get to it and dive in!
Quick word of warning to set expectations, we will focus mostly on what’s happening around Shaun as our main protagonist, with little mention of other pairings or side characters.
Season 5.0: The Ethicure Family
This season’s tagline was “we’re only as strong as what we overcome”, which may have sounded a bit ominous at first, but as soon as the Ethicure plot started to unfold, it became pretty clear that this was going to be Shaun’s big struggle this season — dealing with a more volatile and unpredictable environment that would constantly challenge him and pull him out of his equilibrium.
It was mentioned in one of the earliest interviews about season 5 that Freddie Highmore was the one who proposed the introduction of Salen’s character to David Shore.
Well, let me say that it was one hell of an idea! Salen was such a good villain, and the Ethicure saga brought some new fresh air to the show. Shaun is at his best as a character when he is in learning mode, because we, the audience, learn as he learns. And let us be honest: There was probably too much stability during season 4.
Shaun got to a point where his back was always covered, and his personal and professional input was not questioned anymore. He was such a trooper, supporting Lea throughout the sad story arc of the miscarriage, to the point that many of us really believed that he reached that emotional maturity that he lacked in the past.
But was that really the case? Many fans with ASD have underlined that ASD is a life-long condition—you don’t grow out of it—and that Shaun was too well shielded in his professional environment, that he needed to face the consequences of his actions.
Suddenly, Salen and Ethicure made all of that possible, bringing Shaun face to face with his own limitations. And as stressful and frustrating as it was, it also brought us great storytelling and masterful acting. Shaun’s huge meltdown scene in Expired will not be forgotten for a very long time.
The Ethicure arc brought consistency and organicism to the first half of the season that really paid off. Unfortunately, that was not the case with the rest of the season.
I can only agree with Daniela, as a season arc (or half season arc), I feel that Ethicure was a great idea, because we all massively cringed along with Shaun and the other doctors at Salen’s misguided mindset and business model, we vicariously suffered the consequences through him, and we felt the pain and stress of it all raining down on not only Shaun.
That said, not everyone loved the Salen arc. She garnered a large amount of animosity from fans as well, to the point where I’ve seen people say they would stop watching the show if they didn’t get rid of Salen soon. Okay, fair point, she was certainly the Anti Miss Congeniality, and very much a character you loved to hate.
What I personally don’t understand is the outspoken hate towards Salen, because while she was meant to be upsetting and evoke antipathy, she was incredibly three-dimensional and very much not black-and-white. Salen wasn’t quintessentially evil or malicious. At times she was incredibly human and relatable, sympathetic, pragmatic and willing to compromise and to indulge others. Ultimately, she was a villain of sorts, but not an inherently wicked and despicable one.
What I loved about Salen was that she brought everyone together. It was almost like she became the glue between all the different characters. She interacted with everyone, she touched everyone’s life in some way, and she brought a freshness to the season that felt, well… refreshing. As much as I hated Salen’s profit oriented business ideas, I loved her for the cohesion she brought to the first half of the season. And that makes me appreciative of her introduction more than it makes me mad or hateful. Plus, Rachel Bay Jones was absolutely fantastically cast as Salen, and I have massive appreciation for her in the role.
Season 5.1: The Internal Nemesis
With the advent of the Ethicure era came a massive hurdle for Shaun to overcome that seemed to kept growing as Salen gained more and more power in her role as CEO of the hospital. Changes to his environment were introduced gradually, but kept chipping away at the rim of his comfort zone, making it smaller and smaller until the edges were frayed and a lot harder to stay confined within.
Another significant contributor to Shaun’s steadily increasing instability was the growing estrangement of Shaun’s mentor and father figure Glassman — the one fixture and rock in his life he could always turn to and rely on. With the Glassman rug slowly being pulled out from under Shaun and the Ethicure changes doing their bidding, was it really that surprising that Shaun would eventually buckle? I think most of us saw it coming, right?
The big culmination eventually came in the form of a dying premature baby. Not just Ethicure and Glassman leaving for Montana was rattling Shaun’s cage, there was also the stress of trying to plan a wedding and those damn client satisfaction scores, and then finally Lea’s deceit of manipulating his scores and her confession of it to Shaun. His world was being shaken to its core, and Alma’s baby that died under Shaun’s fingers at the hand of a medication stock error was really the straw that broke the camel’s back.
I’d like to think we all sat on the edge of our figurative seats with a knot of dread in our stomachs as we watched Shaun finally reaching his breaking point, and then crumbling, sliding down the pharmacy wall and desperately clinging to his mentor’s chest as ragged sobs escaped his mouth. (And, yes, Freddie Highmore really should have gotten an Emmy for that performance.)
With that breakdown came another hitch in the road: Calling it (albeit temporarily) quits on the marriage with Lea. “I can’t marry you,” was what Shaun had told Lea — a consequence of her clandestinely manipulating his scores against his explicit wishes, her lying to him and then refusing to make it right. It brought their wedding plans to a screeching halt, and the Shea fans had to start holding their breaths.
That’s how we went into the winter break, which was hard to stomach for the fandom because it was initially indicated to be just over four months long. There had never been a winter hiatus this long for the show, and clickbaity media outlets called it unprecedented and indefinite, already pointing fingers at possible cancellation. Thankfully, ABC’s replacement show’s ratings tanked in a big way, which brought The Good Doctor back over a month earlier than thought, and then renewal of the show was announced a month later.
Season 5.2: Shaun & Lea — Will They Or Won’t They?
Sending us into the winter break on such a discordant note left a lot of fans either bitter or at the very least apprehensive of what the second half of the season would bring. Personally, I was never worried that Shaun and Lea wouldn’t find their way back to each other. And as much as I love them together, I had hoped that more time and a bit more loving attention would be spent on the reconciliation process.
But instead of having us witness a slow and beautiful journey of Shaun and Lea coming to an understanding of each other’s motives and feelings, the writers chose to infuse more relationship drama and upheaval by rushing Shaun’s process of acceptance and forgiveness, only to be met with what felt like a very inorganic and shoehorned overreaction on Lea’s part that drove the wedge between Shaun and Lea in even deeper.
So we went from wedding planning to no wedding to forgiveness and yes wedding to no wedding and Lea moving out while viewers were doing double takes in the process, trying to keep up.
Ah, I thought, now we’ll get to the juicy parts where Shaun and Lea talk about all those trust issues and lack of confidence in each other and all those stormclouds hanging over them. But no, the writers had other plans yet again. Another rush job on the final reconciliation through a mediocre patient case parallel and a childhood bullying story to have Shea back to true form. Hmmm. A definite unhappy frown smiley from me on this one.
It was incredibly frustrating — the speed at which they had Shaun and Lea back together, and even more frustrating that there was explicit mention of all the “hard work” they’d need to put in if they wanted to make a marriage work, and then they chose to show us absolutely nothing of it.
Season 5.2: Divorcing the Ethicure Family
It was probably a no-brainer that the Salen era would end eventually, and with Lim taking an active stand against Salen Morisson, we were all rooting for Lim to get the upper hand. In the end it was Andrews as the unlikely weight that would tip the scale, but finally there was much rejoicing that St. Bonaventure could return to its former glory and sail into smoother waters for everyone involved.
Perhaps it was a bit of a surprise that Salen was over and done with after what we at the time thought was going to to be the exact mid-point of the season. (It turned out to be more like the 55% mark of the season, but that’s a minor and probably insignificant detail.) I had expected for the Salen arc to last a bit longer, although at the time I didn’t particularly mind that it wasn’t.
However, seeing this now in context of what they did with the rest of the season past episode ten, I think I would revoke that statement, because the remaining episodes (with the exception of the season finale) felt incredibly disjointed, uncohesive and so, so much wasted potential that may have been better spent on other things, perhaps including a longer Ethicure arc, perhaps just something other than what they did.
Season 5.3: The Messy In-Between
Once the Ethicure arc was wrapped up at the end of episode 10, we entered into what was kind of a messy flip-floppy phase of disjointed stand-alone episodes. We were back to the regular old formula of two patients per episode that would in some way relate to the characters’ personal lives, mixed up a little with some more light-hearted attempts to infuse humour into the show.
After so much intensity with high stakes and high emotional impact, perhaps the writers felt the viewers deserved a reprieve and a little easy banter, but I think this fell a little flat, particularly because it was such a stark contrast to what we’d been through before. Most of these episodes felt like playful mid-season fillers to bridge something, but ultimately felt like episodes you could easily skip on a rewatch and not miss anything of actual substance.
All these episodes were written by different writers and directed by different directors, which in itself is not unprecedented and definitely not unusual for The Good Doctor, but there was an unsettling lack of flow and coherence across all these episodes. They felt like a mosaic that wasn’t meant to create a whole picture, pieces of a puzzle that looked good in and of themselves but lacked an overall purpose.
We can only speculate that this had to do with how these episodes were shot, because all of this was filmed at the height of the omicron variant COVID surge in early 2022, and due to protective measures and some of the cast and crew actually catching COVID, for a period of time they ended up shooting two to three episodes in parallel. One can only imagine that doesn’t exactly help in following a consistent and harmonious vision.
This is also pure conjecture, but showrunner David Shore was working on another project in parallel, with an executive producer and developer credit on a new show called Accused that’s slated for the 2022/23 season on Fox. It’s perhaps not that far-fetched to imagine he might have had a little less oversight on The Good Doctor to be able to devote time to Accused, which may have resulted in missing someone who had a closer eye on the overall direction and execution of the scripts and making sure there was a leitmotif throughout the whole season.
In mid-May, Deadline announced that long-time executive producer and writer Liz Friedman would act as co-showrunner on The Good Doctor for seaosn 6, which perhaps speaks to the fact that they realised there a guiding light was missing. Personally, I’m a fan of Friedman’s past work, and I can only hope this will be a good thing for the coming season.
Season 5.4: Reality Show People (Or Not)
With the introduction of the reality TV show concept at the end of episode 15, things looked promising to pick up the slack again after the mid-season slump of mediocre one-shot episodes.
By this time, we had also learned that season 5 was going to consist of 18 rather than 20 episodes as a decision had been made to move the last two episodes of season 5 into the beginning of season 6, making the coming season a whopping 22 episodes long. And that meant we only had three episodes left until the season would come to a close.
There was some apprehension about the reality TV show mini-arc, as it had potential to end up being awkward and cringey, but there was also a growing sentiment that it could be compelling and interesting if they focused on just the right things.
Much to my dismay, they very much didn’t focus on just the right things and instead chose all the wrong things, with those compelling and interesting things falling by the wayside.
The whole reality show arc was somewhat disappointing. They could have used these two episodes to go back to Shaun’s and Lea’s past, to dig deeper into some personal issues, revisit loose ends from earlier (e.g. Glassman being in essence Shaun’s father, Shaun’s journey how he went from bullied, misunderstood kid to successful surgeon, Glassman almost moving to Montana), but instead we got a jerkily filmed and desaturation filter overlaid medical case study that wasn’t all that interesting.
If they would’ve gone for a realistic reality show they would’ve dug a lot deeper, pushed more buttons. Shaun’s childhood, Lea’s childhood and dating history before Shaun, the loss of their baby… Reality crews want to push all the buttons, and it would have made so much more sense that way when Lea got angry in front of the camera and left. Instead, they were just reviewing a case and Lea stormed off really dramatically over something that seemed too small to merit that reaction. I really wanted them to go there. But they didn’t. This whole reality TV arc was essentially a massive waste of potential.
For the fact that The Lea Show was supposed to be all about Lea, it was a little over-focused on Claire. A lot of us thought that Claire would be back for the actual wedding and be featured more as a side character, but perhaps it should have been expected that they’d write a whole episode that would feature Claire more heavily.
It seemed an odd choice that Claire’s reunion with the team ended up being the “Lea” episode, resulting in the fact that The Lea Show really wasn’t much about Lea at all. NiceNiceDevice remarked that there was also a strange disconnect with The Lea Show, in that it made us realise that Claire seemed to be the one character this season with the most personal growth, yet it all happened off screen. Makes you feel a little short-changed as a viewer, doesn’t it?
Season 5: Expectation vs. Reality
With the season now come and gone, let’s take a closer look at what was being teased and what was actually delivered, because some of it just doesn’t seem to match up all that well. There were several interviews with Freddie Highmore and David Shore before season 5 started airing that gave more or less vague indications of what we would see unfold.
Freddie teased flashback scenes to Shaun’s university days early on, and fans were getting excited about that. Getting a glimpse at Shaun’s past is always incredibly interesting. It instilled a hope in fans that we’d get a substantial storyline out of this, perhaps even a whole episode that focused on Shaun’s past.
However, what we actually got was a total of just about 3 minutes of Shaun and Glassman discussing a failed test, nested within the overall context of Shaun missing a Dr. Glassman gone AWOL. That hardly felt noteworthy to single out as a special storyline, and was a bit of a letdown.
Both Freddie and David spoke about the plans for Shaun’s ongoing personal journey and struggles, particularly emphasising his evolving relationship with Dr. Glassman. Freddie made statements about Shaun and Glassman’s mentor-mentee relationship going through an evolution, including it being suggested that Glassman was coddling Shaun a little too much (a reference to episode 5×04 Rationality and Shaun not needing Glassman’s help to solve his billboard conundrum).
There were early indications that there would be a strong focus on Shaun and Glassman’s interdependency. How much does Shaun still need Glassman, now that he’s become fully idenpendent and getting married? And how much does Glassman still need Shaun? David talked about the importance of parent/child relationships and how children grow up to become independent but never completely stopping to need their parents, and that we’d learn more about how that relates to Shaun and Glassman this season.
Up until the very last day, before the season finale aired, it was impossible not to question what Freddie Highmore was talking about in his earliest season 5 interviews. Revisit Shaun’s past? Heal old wounds? Explore the relationship between Shaun and Glassman? Where was all of that?
Because what we got up until the very finale was mainly Shea romance, with bite-size hints here and there of Shaun’s past experiences, such as being bullied or being rejected by his parents. At the beginning of the season, Shaun’s mother got a brief mention, but that was it. And what about Shaun and Glassman? What we got was a book on a car seat, the meltdown scene in the pharmacy, and Glassy obviously sad about not having a role in Shaun’s life anymore.
In early interviews there was also a little bit of a teaser for the upcoming wedding for Shaun and Lea, and how Glassman fit into that. Obviously it plays into the aspect of a change in dynamics and dependency, but there was also explicit mention of Glassman playing the role of father of the groom. Up until the season finale, we also saw very little of that.
The absolutely beautiful scene with the heirloom rings and the moving speech Glassman gave may have made up for some of the frustration across the season, but to some extent it felt like nothing of substance was happening with Shaun and Glassman at all, and then suddenly at the very end of the season it was all pressed into one episode.
Throughout the first half of the season the writers were very careful in crafting a situation where Glassman (already beaten down by his second divorce) convinced himself more and more to have become useless in Shaun’s life.
The process actually started toward the end of season 4, and it was very painful and frustrating to watch it play out, episode after episode. Because we could see how much Shaun actually needed Glassy, while Glassman didn’t. We endured the whole arc, believing that they had a specific goal in mind they were aiming at, that all that suffering was for the greater good.
After his explosion in the hospital pharmacy, Shaun finally addressed his abandonment issues and his ASD-related insecurities, that up until that moment prevented him from openly recognizing Glassman as a father. However, when the show resumed after a very long winter hiatus, things magically turned back to the way they used to be between Shaun and Glassman, and their relationship basically wasn’t addressed until the finale.
Not everything was bad, though. Glassman’s storyline this season was very compelling. I’m glad that they finally gave the character more space. He only used to have no more than one scene per episode, usually in his office, giving Shaun advice. And then somehow they lost track of that, too.
The scenes between Glassy and Ilana in Expired were very gratifying and wonderfully acted. Ilana basically forgave Glassman for Maddie’s death and for having Shaun as a ‘son’ in his life, finally letting the healing process start. Probably many of us would have liked to know more about Maddie’s backstory, but we were not given any new information.
Also sadly lacking were hints about what was going on in Glassman’s head in the second half of the season. What had changed? What made him change his mind about leaving? Ilana’s words, sure. Shaun’s meltdown, obviously. Still, it would have been nice to have some more of Glassman’s POV.
More or less the same complaints are valid for Shaun’s journey in season 5. By the end of the season, we were made to understand that Shaun had healed enough from all his childhood trauma.
His time in San Jose has made him value the people he shares his life with more than life itself. Shaun now feels that he belongs to a community. He sees his coworkers as valued friends. He fully trusts Lea and his love for him again. And he’s probably finally made peace with his past and the experiences with his awful parents.
We know that Shaun has always seen Glassman as a father figure, but somehow he kept fighting that, out of fear. Fast forward to the end of season 5, we can say that is not the case anymore. One show of proof is that during the surgery scene in the finale, when all the other doctors were thinking about shared experiences with their dads, Shaun remembers his fishing trip with Glassy.
It would have been nice if we’d been shown the process taking place, though. Instead, they dropped everything related to this storyline almost completely for the second half of the season, and then came out with the final outcome (almost) out of nowhere.
It would have been great to outline Shaun’s POV more—every time he interacted with the many parents and children we had as patients this season, for example. The audience needs to be given an idea of what is happening along the way. Instead, they wasted so much screen time with stupid stuff meant only as comic relief and we were offered the final outcome on a silver platter out of the blue. No doubt, every single moment of Sons was beautiful, especially as far as Shaun and Glassman were concerned. Still, some more cohesion and consistency in the overall story arc would have been appreciated.
There is also the topic of Marcie and Shaun’s sordid family history. In pre-season interviews there were several hints that we could see a reappearance of Marcie Murphy. Freddie spoke about her being invited to the wedding or not, and we saw that addressed briefly in whether they should be sending her a Save-the-Date card or not in 5×03 Measure of Intelligence.
Fans kept wondering if that was going to be it, after David had said there was potential for Shaun to revisit the relationship with his mother. It was even mentioned in the episode’s dialogue (via Lea) that Shaun still has a lot to work through with his mother. Freddie spoke to Shaun’s ghosts from the past and embarking on a path of maturity that would close old wounds. Some fans thought this was referring to Marcie, but perhaps it was meant to relate to Lea’s initial rejection of Shaun as a romantic partner back in season 3, which became an important plot point for at least two episodes.
As the season progressed, we kept wondering what the significance was of all those patient stories that centered around children or parent/children relationships. Because there sure was a lot of them! Out of 18 episodes in total, we had 17 story arcs that involved children or parents and their children. It felt significant in a way that it could mean we’d see Shaun addressing those demons from his childhood. But apparently it wasn’t, so why all those parent/children stories, particularly since they decided to ignore the Shaun and Glassman relationship for the entirety of the second half of season 5 until the very end?
Yes, of course we had a certain amount of closure with both Shaun and Glassman acknowledging that Glassman is de facto Shaun’s father, but there’s still that Marcie-shaped stain on the fabric of Shaun’s past, and she is now pretty much his only remaining family member from his early childhood that he can try to connect with if he so wishes. And after all this teasing, I can’t help but wonder if Marcie is another ball dropped, or a ball they’re keeping in the basket to retrieve next season?
We should also talk about the Shaun & Lea journey, because, boy, there is a whole lot to unpack right there. Everyone knew and expected that a wedding was going to happen after Lea proposed to Shaun and he said, “Of course.” Then the season premiere promo dropped, and there was speculation left and right whether the wedding scene shown there was the actual wedding or not, particularly since the promo was (as usual) deceptively cut to evoke fake drama.
Freddie teased early on that the Shaun and Lea journey would focus on more mature problems, and that there were going to be bumps in the road for Shaun and Lea—she would make a grave mistake that would have repercussion for their relationship. This turned out to be the manipulated client satisfaction scores, and Shaun’s rather volatile reaction to it that put the brakes on their marriage. And then some.
Shaun & Lea are by far the only couple on the show where we’re exploring the ups and downs of a romantic relationship, and we’ve already had the joy of following the evolution of the Shea journey for some five seasons. Of course as a pairing they offer unique perspectives and stories to tell, because there are different challenges for a relationship with a neurodivergent partner.
We’ve already been through the phase of the two of them finding each other and acknowledging their love for each other. We’re way past the awkward getting to know and dating stages. We saw Shaun and Lea grow and bond in a profound way for a whole year, watched them overcome the challenges of social distancing due to COVID and then coming out stronger as a couple after losing and grieving the loss of an unborn child.
We went into season 5 with a marriage proposal on the books, and a pretty clear expectation that there was going to be a wedding. You know, some time over the course of the next 20 or so episodes. There was probably a stronger sentiment in the fandom that it would not happen right away. A lot of people thought it would take place in or around the mid-season finale, but far from it. They gave us a whole season of will they or won’t they before we finally got a beautiful and fitting wedding for the two of them — with a couple of misfires in the process.
Shaun and Lea certainly had their ups and downs this season, and the downs were particularly low and volatile. Many fans were disheartened and upset that they sent viewers into a several months long winter hiatus with Shaun and the Shea pairing hitting rock bottom, their marital future hanging in the balance. Although personally, I never had any doubt that they would get the two of them back together and married at the latest by the end of the season.
However, my thought and maybe also hope was that they’d be spending a good chunk of the second half of season 5 having Shaun and Lea work on their lack of trust and confidence in their commitment to each other. While others were lamenting the discordance between Shaun and Lea, I was lamenting the rush job they did with having them reconcile their differences, which felt way too fast and forced.
With Salen out the door and Shaun and Lea back in happyland, we went into the second half of the season and the unruly mess of inconsequential standalone episodes that didn’t really add much in terms of overall character development or compelling storytelling. Week after week, there was a certain hope they’d get the mojo back, that they’d give us something more substantial than sex schedules, body modifications and magic mushroom shenanigans, that we’d see some of those earlier teased aspects of old wounds and closure and fear of abandonment be explicitly addressed.
With episode 15, the shift in mojo finally came in the form of spunky Sophie Dryer and an in-episode reality TV premise. Or so we thought.
Episode titles of The Shaun Show and The Lea Show spoke of a promise to explore these two characters more deeply, to learn things about them we didn’t know yet, hear or see anecdotes from their past, get to know unknown family members, see them rekindle old connections, and if we were really lucky, maybe have that relate to all these core issues that were touched on over the course of the season. It all sounded really exciting! All the more disappointing that it amounted to absolutely nothing, and instead of focusing on Shaun and Lea, we were being strung along with a reheated moral debate on physcian fallibility and The Claire & Lucho Show.
And as if the epitome of missed opportunities in terms of unraveling character backstories wasn’t enough, the execution of these two episodes was also disappointingly poor. They chose entirely different writers and different directors for both episodes, with apparently little attention to homogeneity and coherence, because it was blatantly obvious that both episodes had very different styles and approaches in both visual and directorial storytelling.
The sub-par outcome of this whole reality TV show plot didn’t bode that well for the finale acing its (excuse the D&D reference) charisma saving throw, but thankfully, it did exactly that. There are very few complaints here about the actual wedding. Sure, it would have been nice to hear their actual vows or see Donnie, Lea’s parents and Claire being there to witness it, but those are small details I’m willing to set aside because the low-key somewhat haphazard but still beautifully executed ceremony they got was so fitting for Shaun and Lea. Pairing it up with another point on the wishlist to dig deeper into Asher’s personal history was a great call and well done.
So now we have other questions remaining that we may learn about or explore in season 6, namely:
- What surname is Lea going to take?
- Will they go on a real honeymoon and where will it be?
(I have little expectation that any of it will be featured or even mentioned on the show, which will be a shame but ultimately the crux of it being a weekly network procedural.)
- Will they be thinking about starting a family for real?
Moving the focus away from our main protagonist for a little bit, we should also talk about Dr. Mateo Rendón. There was definite opportunity there, and he addition of Mateo to the cast was an exciting prospect, and he and Lim seemed to have great chemistry.
Personally, I had been hoping for him to introduce a bit more friction among the colleagues. Not in a ‘he’s always so full of himself’ way, but there could have been interesting dynamics of him not having full credentials to work in the US as an attending, and thus perhaps being officially hired as resident, at the same time being overqualified in that role and thus trying to find his place in the team.
Instead they chose to make him Prince Charming with a bit of authority defying cowboy on the side, and that didn’t go down as well as I had hoped. He and Lim seemed good together, but what worked well for a one week trip to Guatemala didn’t quite hold up as well for a stable relationship in less renegade setting.
We can only speculate as to why Mateo (or rather Osvaldo) made such a sudden exit, but that’s a moot point since it will never be more than conjecture. The exit episode’s B-plot around Lim and (the already absent) Mateo was unfortunate at best, more awkward yet with the knowledge that outside circumstances forced the end result.
One can debate whether Mateo’s exit was in the end a positive outcome, seeing how there was already such a large ensemble cast, and having one more person to devote attention to might have been more detrimental to the already overly jam-packed episodes we had this season. Ultimately, there may have been both laughing and crying eyes over his leaving.
Season 5 Bottom Line: What They Did Well
Let it be said that season 5 wasn’t all moping and complaints. Fans are often more outspoken about the negative rather than the positive, so let’s recap all the good things that season 5 brought us.
First of all, the Ethicure arc was in and of itself a refreshing mix-up that gave us many interesting aspects to explore, and most of all gave Shaun so many opportunities to learn and grow. The Shaun we see getting married to Lea in the finale is not the same Shaun we saw saying yes to a marriage proposal in Guatemala. He has learned so many important life lessons in between the two.
Lea’s misstep with the manipulated scores was hard to stomach but also made Shaun and Lea a whole lot stronger as a couple. It had them re-examine fundamental facets and instincts of their personalities, and would hopefully have resulted in a good amount of off-screen deep talk that we sadly never got to witness.
We saw Shaun disintegrate in front of our eyes, stroke of simultaneous lighting and thunder as the culmination of the perfect storm we witnessed brewing for a while. It was as heartbreaking as it was inevitable, but taught both us and the people around Shaun how important personal connections and family support and love are.
Some of Shaun’s learning milestones were interesting and fun to see, most notably his process of deciding that his job wasn’t as important to him than his friends and family, his opportunity to bond with a 10-year-old child and make personal connections to patients, and the evolution of his relationship with Glassman not only as a mentor but also as a colleague and superior in the OR whose authority warrants professional courtesy and respect.
Glassman’s journey, as under-utilised as it was over the course of the season, was a much needed element of closure that many fans had been waiting for. Him and Shaun finally verbally and explicitly expressing their father/son relationship was such an important achievement, perhaps even the most important and the most overlooked milestone of the season.
What happened between Shaun and Glassman in Sons was huge, not only for the outcome itself, but especially for what it implied. Shaun had to overcome a lot of trauma and went through a very long and very hard healing process. (It took him no less than 16-some years!)
He now has the family he’s always wanted and deserved in Lea and Glassman. He can enjoy the love of a wife and the love of a parent. Two very different kinds of love, both absolutely important. The wedding ceremony was the culmination of this. Just think about the rings Glassman gave Shaun and Lea as his wedding gift. It’s a powerful symbol, the triumph of love.
The beautiful achievement we got in this episode was probably underrated, swept under the rug in lieu of discussions about Lea’s wedding dress, flower arrangements and missing guests.
Let’s also talk about Claire. Having her back for an episode was sweet and fun, and seeing Shaun happy to have her back, albeit for a very short time, was lovely and heartwarming. It was also great to learn that she was making strides in Guatemala, that her Spanish had greatly improved and she was being offered a better job opportunity (although from 4th year resident to Chief of Surgery within a year sounds a little fast, even for a Guatemalan clinic).
And of course the Shea wedding, which we talked about at length before. What it became in the end felt just right for them. There wasn’t any focus on all those tropey things that would have made it cheesy and cringe, and it hit the mark in terms of mix of traditional and modern, with all the right elements being there for us to relish and cherish.
Outside of things centering around Shaun, we also got to witness the evolution of the other characters on the show. Alex and Morgan’s relationship matured and grew with a few struggles along the way. Both Jordan and Asher became more integrated into the St. Bon’s family, and Asher got himself a cute and sweet boyfriend who I hope will stick around.
Jordan and Lea developed a friendship and a bond beyond being chummy colleagues, they even embarked on getting a new business idea off the ground together. Andrews had a temporary budding relationship with Salen and he went from a brief stint as self-centered opportunist to actually capable hospital president and wedding officiator.
Lim didn’t have a great deal of in-depth storylines this season beyond being the Salen liberator and the brief fling with Mateo, although depending on her fate after the season 5 finale, one logical outcome could be to have a larger focus on her early next season.
All in all, we learned something new and sometimes surprising about all the characters in the now rather large ensemble cast, with lots of opportunities left to explore them further in season 6.
I also saw this season as the one to establish all these new dynamics. To an extent, that worked: These characters are much more developed and easy to like than the earlier cast.
The final arc, which mostly Asher-centered, did round out the season nicely and set the ground for season 6. And with everything established, season 6 can focus more on stories and less on character foundation.
Ethicure took some time but it also created some meaningful change and established the “St. Bon’s family”. I personally like the genre for what it is. Slow development. Almost frustratingly so. But when we do get a meaningful episode it just feels soooo great.
In terms of our favourite episodes, there’s only two that really stood out for all of us, namely…
- So much character exploration and evolution
- So much emotional intensity
- So much edge-of-your-seat television and Freddie Highmore’s awards-worthy acting
- So much wholesome and deeply touching Shaun and Glassman bonding and finally an explicit acknowledgment of their father-son bond
- So much sweet and well deserved wedding bliss for Shaun and Lea
- So much emotional and heartwarming Asher backstory
- So much love/hate for the epic cliffhanger at the end
Season 5 Bottom Line: What They Didn’t Do Very Well
Now. We outlined what we liked. There were things we didn’t like. Perhaps a few too many, but let’s talk about them and hope the showrunner(s) and writers saw those in hindsight too and will make changes to address those shortcomings in the coming season. Because that would really be wonderful, although of course this is just the view of three people, and other fans might feel entirely differently.
We already touched on specific aspects around certain storylines before, so we won’t be rehashing those. Perhaps the biggest complaint this season is that they tried to do a little too much at the same time.
With the constraint of 42 minutes of screentime for each episode, it gets tricky to devote ample time to each and every character for an ensemble cast of nine characters (ten if you include Mateo).
One of the problems this season is that they wanted to stuff too many things into the episodes. Having so many side characters didn’t help either. It seemed that this season, every single character needed to have some kind of arc devoted to them, and that made the primary characters lose focus, and was a source of frustration for some viewers.
In comparison, in seasons 1 and 2 every single story arc used to be concluded in a very satisfactory way. If you consider the Shaun-Glassman conflict, for instance, which ended with that beautiful “I love you more,” quote. This season’s conflict was basically ignored until the very last episode.
The fact that they were devoting so much screen time to supporting characters in season 5 is somewhat problematic. Things always felt too rushed and superficial this season. The writers themselves sometimes lost track of the storylines. With the prospect of having two more supporting characters next season (junior residents Dres. Powell and Perez) to devote screen time to, that worries me. We shall see what happens.
A possible solution to this would be to stop trying to give a storyline to every single character in every single episode. They really should rotate the supporting characters and focus on each one in different episodes. Other shows have utilised this formula very well in the past (e.g. Star Trek The Next Generation), of course with the expectation that the main characters have most of the screen time.
As we went into season 5, I was excited to see what they would do with the remaining cast. With Claire as co-lead gone, there was going to be a new dynamic, and apparently that new dynamic was going to be ‘focus on everyone equally’. As Daniela mentioned, I think that backfired, or at the very least wasn’t well executed. There just isn’t enough time to shine a spotlight on everyone, next to the two patients (almost) every week, and that resulted in many of the episodes feeling incredibly crammed and busy.
The best episodes in past seasons have always been those were they explored Shaun’s past, where they dug deeper, where they gave us insight into how he became the person he is. Maybe they feel like they’ve given us enough of a skeleton to work with, but I think there is much more to explore that would be interesting. There was nothing at all in s5 that scratched beneath the surface.
In retrospect, I can limit my grievances with this season into one complaint: Less scattered POV, more of Shaun’s POV.
This goes back to the aforementioned large ensemble cast and the limitations that this brings, but I miss the style of storytelling where it was clear Shaun was observing, listening and learning from everyone’s experiences, and then he would talk to Lea or Glassman or someone else and would mention something that resonated with him in a previous scene. It would always make sense and also hold greater significance. It seems the writers are still trying to do that, but in a way that it’s not always from Shaun’s point of view, like we are looking at Shaun from someone else’s eyes instead of seeing the situation through his.
Now, we’ve talked at length about the writing and the execution of the show itself. There are other aspects tied to the show that could use definite improvement—one of them the online promotion and online engagement.
I’m not sure who is governing what the official The Good Doctor Twitter, Facebook and Instagram accounts are posting, but whoever is doing it, they are not exactly doing a stellar job. (Understatement!)
During any and all of the hiatus breaks, all they ever post are every-3-day low effort reminders that the show is now streaming on Hulu, accompanied by old stills we’ve seen before. While the show is airing, they post episode promo videos, GIFs and stills, all of which we can also get on YouTube or the ABC press website or other media outlets. To the casual viewer, these things might be mildly interesting, but to the fans, this is honestly boring af and creates zero excitement or anticipation.
I can only assume there is some kind of no-direct-fan-interaction policy tied to the show, otherwise it would be incredibly sad that there’s an absolute lack of interaction with fans from anyone tied to the show. There is little to no engagement with fans, there is zero support of fan creations or fan content, and very little acknowledgement that an online fanbase actually exists.
I have seen this being done differently in other fandoms, and I’ve been a part of many a fandom where selective or channelled interaction from showrunners, writers, cast and crew with fans created and maintained a sense of community and fueled fan enthusiasm in a way that fans by themselves will seldom achieve, particularly if the fandom is as scattered as this one. There’s always a fine line between fan service and fan support, and surely it’s hard to strike a good balance, but I know it can be done, and it can be done incredibly well.
Particularly in season 5, there also seems to be a general lack of promotion for the show throughout the year, especially during the hiatus. We won’t truly know if that had a negative impact on the ratings, but it could be one of the reasons why season 5 ratings were lower than previous seasons.
That said, what we would really like to see the official account doing isn’t rocket science. Here’s a few examples of things that would generate more buzz among fans and energise the fandom:
- share behind-the-scenes tidbits
- ask the actors to record a 10 second video, saying hi to the fans
- post a cover page of a script about to be shot during shooting period
- share fanart or fan creations
- post photos from table-reads or screenshots of video calls with the actors
- fun games and quizzes for fans
- share trivia that fans don’t know yet
- post non-spoilery storyboard photos or concept art
- post photos of props (e.g. what’s in Shaun’s grey notebook?)
- post photos of the soundstage, sets or floor plans of sets
- share trivia about how things are made or conceptualised
- showcase unique make-up artist work
- show VFX before/after examples
Season 6: What Lies Ahead
With season 6 already on the horizon (air date Oct 03, 2022 for US and Canada), we were already fed a few tidbits of what we can expect, at least for the earlier part of the season. David Shore has teased the outcome of the cliffhanger for Dr. Lim in a TV Line interview, which I encourage you to only look at if you don’t mind mild spoilers.
As usual, we don’t know that much and can only guess what’s to come for our favourite doctors and their spouse. Two new recurring cast members have been announced, and I don’t think it’s a huge spoiler to say that they portray the two new junior residents that likely will shake things up a little bit — also with the prospect of Dres. Murphy and Park becoming attendings and having to guide and supervise them.
Until new episodes flicker across our screens, all we can do is make educated guesses as to what’s in store, and I will be making a wishlist in the near future to go into more detail what I hope that season 6 will cover.
Shooting of season 6 will commence this month in Vancouver, the first two episodes of season 6 were already shot at the backend of the season 5 shoot back in April.