A page dedicated to the Shaun/Lea Pairing of ABC’s "The Good Doctor"

Season 6 Commentary: A Very Nuanced Storyline

written by Daniela V.

Let me start by saying that it’s been a very long time that The Good Doctor has been offering us a storyline as nuanced, compelling and captivating as this one we’re currently seeing unfold in season 6.

I really think that the writers’ room is taking it to a whole new level this year, and I’m very grateful for that, because they’re making me feel an unprecedented level of anticipation about upcoming episodes. Which makes it even more bewildering that the general mood of the fandom is so out of whack.

The Journey into Season 6

We’re four episodes in, and there’s a whole lot of anger about the plot, anger towards the characters, some even towards the actors (which is very sad). A large portion of fans seem oblivious to what is happening in regard to this very layered plotline. 

What the fans seem to be focusing their whole attention on right now is trying to understand what went wrong with Lim’s surgery and who is really to blame for that. Predominantly, there’s these three opinions: 

  • Owen is the one person who’s really responsible for all of it, why is no one blaming him?
  • Lim is acting very bitchy towards Shaun, how can she be angry with him — he very literally saved her life?
  • Glassman is a jerk, he’s blaming Shaun only because he always wants to be right, and he shouldn’t have left the OR in the first place.

Is that really what you think this boils down to, that this is what the writers are trying to convey with currently unfolding events? Is the sole purpose of this storyline for the writers to have fun with pitting the characters against each other? Can it truly be their ultimate goal to destroy the relationships that have been so carefully crafted throughout the five or so years that the show has been airing? I don’t see that at all.

If you’ve made it this far, I hope you indulge me with further analysis if the whole situation to try and stimulate some critical thinking.

The Surgery

With the help of a fellow fans more knowledgeable in medical matters than me, I’ve come to realize that the medical situation is far more complex than we think. If you want to read more about it, TeeJay has written up a case report that outlines the medical details surrounding Lim’s surgery.

Based on the available information, it’s impossible to determine if Shaun’s surgery was the better or the worse choice over that which Glassman suggested. Both are procedures that present high risks of complications, and it’s absolutely possible that even Glassman’s surgery would have had a negative outcome for Lim (maybe paralysis, maybe something else, maybe even death). And had Shaun gone ahead with Glassman’s approach, I’m sure that, in case of any complications, Glassman would have dealt with them the best way he could.

However, since that didn’t happen and we only know the outcome of Shaun’s chosen approach, we’ll never know who may have been right and who may have been wrong. The only indisputable fact we know is that Lim became paralyzed in the wake of a surgical approach that Shaun chose over the one that his superior explicitly told him to use. So, as far as I’m concerned, it’s a futile exercise to keep trying to ask ourselves who was right and who was wrong.

Owen

Owen is certainly the primarily responsible person for the present circumstance. In a real life setting, all of this would be going differently, but you need to remember that we’re watching a television show with a fixed set of characters we see every week. Owen is not one of them.

So in this context, Owen’s place in this construct doesn’t matter because he’s not a main or even a recurring character at this stage. We’ll likely never see him again. Yes, it’s of course correct that he’s the one to truly blame for this whole mess, but bringing him up in the context of the remainder of season 6 is irrelevant. 

From a strictly psychological point of view, he’s also irrelevant to Lim’s current situation. Through Lim’s lens, it’s Shaun whom she sees at work every day, it’s Shaun who carried out the procedure that resulted in her paralysis. And as a fellow human being (as much as I love Shaun), I can understand why this is a daily struggle.

Lim

Lim is struggling and trying to come to terms with her new situation. Keep in mind that she’s a young and energetic woman with a demanding job, who suddenly finds herself confined to a wheelchair. Is it not a natural human response to feel a certain anger about that? How is it possible that some fans seem to be completely disregarding the notion that she would have feelings of resentment and bitterness, to the point of calling her attitude ‘bitchy’? 

Can you not for a minute put yourself in her shoes and imagine what it’s like when you’re suddenly jerked away from your very independent and fulfilled life and find yourself confined to a wheelchair that makes a large part of the world no longer accessible to you? Can you honestly say you would have accepted that in an instant and moved on, with the predominant thought in mind that you’re thankful you’re still alive? If the answer is yes, sorry, I’m inclined to say you’re trying to delude yourself.

Lim is currently projecting her anger onto Shaun. Yes, Shaun is the one who saved her life (which we know very well, since he himself made it a point of reminding us of that so many times), but does that absolve him from any kind of scrutiny of the call he made in the OR? 

And is it really so far-fetched that he’d be the target of Lim’s anger? The way Lim is reacting to her new life situation, that’s a very human reaction. And honestly? Shaun is not helping the situation with his blatant denial that he had any hand in the paralysis, that Lim has no right to be angry at him. Yes, he has trouble with empathy due to his ASD, I know that. But we’ve seen him being very empathetic on different occasions. Sometimes he needs time to get there and here he may need a little help to see Lim’s situation more clearly.

Shaun

If we look at how Shaun is currently handling the situation, he is incredibly confident about what he did. (To tell the truth, he appears a little too overconfident in general, lately.) And it’s absolutely possible that he made the right call and he did save Lim’s life. But there’s a little thing called ‘objective responsibility’ that I feel totally applies here.

If you’re not familiar with the term, let me explain this concept with a little analogy. Let’s say that you’re driving your car, and that you’re a pretty skilled driver. You do everything right, respect all the rules and are very careful. A pedestrian suddenly appears on the road and you run over them. You badly hurt or kill this person, but it’s not (legally) your fault, it’s the pedestrian’s fault. Isn’t it only natural that you’d feel bad about it? Wouldn’t you feel responsible all the same since it was your car with you behind the wheel, hitting the person? 

Now imagine you met this person’s family and friends. Would you go to them and say, “Hey, sorry your family member or friend died, but it wasn’t my fault at all. I did everything right, so I don’t know why you’re resenting me, you should be mad at your family member or friend, because it was their fault, and so I’m just gonna move on because I should be automatically absolved of everything.”

Honestly, that’s not how human nature works. According to human nature, you would feel very badly about that you killed a person and you would be held accountable to some degree, at the very least have to explain yourself to the police and possibly the courts. This is called ‘objective responsibility. To take that a step further, imagine for a moment that the pedestrian was a dear friend of yours. Wouldn’t that make you feel even worse? Of course it would.

Let’s get back to Shaun and to the present predicament.

What happened with Lim’s surgery is, from an emotional point of view, very similar to the running-over-the-pedestrian situation. And even taking Shaun’s ASD into account, it’s not normal nor healthy that he isn’t feeling guilty about the result of something he did. Yes, he saved her life, but that doesn’t change that she’s in a wheelchair. Glassman was trying to drive that point home to Shaun in episode “Shrapnel”.

What I’m trying to say is that it’s beside the point to argue that Shaun should be left alone on the basis of him being great surgeon and him having done what he’s very good at, which was saving someone’s life.

I don’t believe, not even for a moment, that Shaun doesn’t have any regrets about Lim’s paralysis. If episode “Shrapnel” illustrated one thing very clearly, it’s that Shaun is suppressing any negative emotions he has relating to what happened with Lim — his sense of guilt and his sense of loss over an important friendship with a very good mentor he’s now lost.

When he blindly repeated Steve’s advice about how people who don’t want to be his friends aren’t worthy of his friendship, yeah, that was total deflection and self-delusion. And it’s kinda obvious that what Steve told Shaun so many years ago can’t apply to this situation at all. 

All the bickering with Park about how they both annoy each other in the shared office was also deflective bullshit. Shaun was looking for an excuse to go hiding somewhere else, avoidance tactics, so that he wouldn’t have to deal with the frequent reminders of seeing Lim every day. Sure, part of the closet office also was the fact that he gets easily distracted and can work better where he can concentrate, but he must have his spaces where he can do that all figured out after five years of residency without an office.

Many pointed out that, as an attending, Shaun has the right to have his own office. Yes, he probably does, but Andrews clearly outlined there wasn’t any available, so Shaun’s solution was to move his office into a storage closet. I mean, a messy, cluttered storage closet! Doesn’t that ring any bells about Shaun’s present state of mind? Okay.

Glassman

Let’s talk a little about Glassman’s involvement in all this mess.

Let me highlight some background information as a first step, because maybe some people don’t have all of this at the forefront of their minds.

Glassman has been taking care of Shaun since he was a teenager, basically taking the responsibility upon himself of raising him. He’s supported him through high school and college, fought tooth and nail to hire him as a resident at his hospital, even put his own job on the line for that. Without Glassman, Shaun not only wouldn’t be a surgeon, but very likely he wouldn’t even be a doctor. And, who knows, he might not have graduated high school either.

So when people say that Glassman is acting inappropriately, do you really believe that he doesn’t believe in Shaun’s abilities as a surgeon? That he could be, I dunno, envious of him or something? That he would ever put his need to feed his own ego before Shaun’s best interests? After all that these two have been through, that just doesn’t make any sense.

It was also established on the show that Glassman is a very renowned and established neurosurgeon. On more than one occasion, it was specifically said that he’s one of the best in the whole country. So how does that align with what I see so many people saying, where they dismiss his opinion about the course of the surgery completely. I read that people were saying what he proposed to do with Lim was so ridiculous that he didn’t insist going through with his suggested approach because otherwise the residents would have made fun of him. So everything the show has established in the past about Glassman is false, he’s an incapable surgeon indeed. Lol.

No, but seriously, we need to take into account that, in the moment, Glassman made the choice he genuinely thought would be the best one, based on his competency and (long-standing) experience.

Also, may I remind everyone that when that terrible night happened, Shaun was still a resident and Glassman was the attending surgeon? Have you considered that maybe Shaun ultimately did what he wanted to do with the surgery because he knew he could take advantage of his personal relationship with Glassman? 

It’s not as easy as you might think to work together when you also have a strong personal bond with someone. This issue was briefly tackled during “Potluck”, and I believe that we’ll see more of it unfolding in the near future. It’s also noteworthy that, after becoming an attending himself, Shaun often made it a point to underline that he is the attending to his residents. He also likes to emphasize that he needs his residents to do exactly what he thinks is right. Isn’t that a little ironic?

I also read that people think Glassman pushed Shaun under the bus during the investigation.
Well, he couldn’t exactly lie about how things went since there were other people present (and Shaun wouldn’t have wanted him to lie). But from what we can conclude from the conversation he had with Lim, he must have been pretty reserved and careful with in his statement about potential causality regarding Shaun’s surgical choice.

Glassman is obviously very conflicted about the surgery and Shaun’s conduct, refusing to assume (objective) responsibility for the outcome. He may have even aggravated things and strained the relationship between Shaun and Lim even further.

There’s more to it, though. Glassman is now realizing that Shaun is falling back into old habits, is deploying his well-known coping strategies. Please consider that Glassman has known Shaun since he was a kid, and he’s probably already seen him doing exactly this a number of times (there was specific mention of two instances in the Shaun-Glassy fight scene). As a parent (yes, you’ve read it correctly), not as a mentor, not as a friend, not as a colleague, but as a parent, he felt compelled to intervene and try to open Shaun’s eyes.

People are condemning Glassman for challenging Shaun in the fight scene in “Shrapnel”. I’ve read many very harsh comments about it. But I’m honestly at a loss how people don’t see the underlying dynamics and motivations here. 

In these comments, Glassy has been called childish, unprofessional, arrogant, rude, and a number of other inappropriate things I can’t even remember. Are you serious? As a parent, I can totally understand his impulse to intervene, and none of what he said was below the belt. That’s exactly what I would have done in his place.

I get that not all the fans are parents, but everyone is at least a child of someone, has hopefully grown up with at least one parent around. Think back to those day if you’re already past them: Did your parents walk on eggshells every time they talked to you? Or did they get directly to the point when they thought that something was really, really important for you to realize?

Also, when Glassy said to Shaun that he was acting childishly in his approach to the current situation, I can’t disagree with Glassy. Shaun’s reaction to Glassman was childish as well, he acted like a huffish toddler with a grudge. Some commented that they were proud of Shaun for standing up to Glassman. Was that what it was? Or was it more of Shaun deflecting and retreating into himself, refusing to face his feelings, accusing Glassy of being mean when he took Lim’s side over Shaun’s? How is that a mature reaction?

The end of “Shrapnel” proves my point. Shaun showed up at Glassman’s house in PJs, in the middle of the night, and he acted as if nothing had happened. He was happy to have found a solution to fix not only Lim, but everything. And Shaun’s wording is very relevant here. He comes to Glassman’s house and says, “I know how to fix it. I know how to fix everything.” And with ‘everything’, he meant his relationship with Lim and Glassman specifically, not only Lim’s spine.

This is another one of Shaun’s often seen coping mechanisms. Emotions are hard for him, I get it, so he tries to fix things in order to not have to deal with his feelings. The only way “Shrapnel” could have been more explicit about Shaun being in denial would have been a big sign with the word ‘denial’ written all over it.

Conclusions

So, let’s get back to the beginning. The nuanced, compelling and captivating storyline. I really feel that there’s so much more cooking under the surface than fans are current talking about on social media. The ultimate goal of this show has always been to let us learn what Shaun learns, so I definitely think that Shaun is going to learn something.

It can’t be the show’s aim for us to learn that Shaun is the perfect person and the perfect surgeon, that he succeeds and excels despite everyone around him being against him, constantly wanting him to fail. As much as we love him, Shaun is far from being flawless and infallible. He’s screwed up many times in the past and in most instances he got away Scott-free. If you’re interested to know more, here’s a whole list.

Maybe it’s time for him to fall and not land softly for once, time for him to learn yet another important lesson: humility. He could also possibly learn that there’s more to his profession than just surgical technique. 

That said, the show is about hope, always has been. Many fans are increasingly concerned that Shaun and Lim’s relationship has been irreparably damaged, that Shaun can never work at St. Bonaventure again after this without being resented and judged by his colleagues and peers.

Come on, this is The Good Doctor. Relationships will not totally fall apart as so many people are afraid of. Everything will be fine in the end and some very important lessons will be learned. 

If you’ve read some of the more recent interviews with David Shore, Liz Friedman and Freddie Highmore, this storyline will take quite while to unfold and, probably, Lim will not be magically cured and restored to her old self. And the more emotional layers of the story will teach both Shaun and us valuable lessons about self-awareness, respect, humility, friendship and hope.

Where we currently stand, we need to be patient and try to make the most of what the show is giving us. As sad as things are at the moment, I’m really enjoying season 6. I hope all of you do, too.

8 Comments

  1. barb leik

    Well I’m more concerned About Sheas relationship.They’ve been through so much and except a few minutes bliss at their wedding it’s been pure he—.I hope to see more love shown through them.On episode 5 soon and they haven’t had any endearing moments of closeness together.Hope it steps up.

    • TeeJay

      Barb, I totally understand where you’re coming from, and I also know you pretty much only watch the show because of Shea, but perhaps this helps you in understanding why the show will never solely focus on their relationship, why we will seldom get more than two or three short scenes every episode that revolve around them, and why I think you’re setting yourself up for disappointment if you keep hoping the show will be all about Shea every week.

      The Good Doctor is a medical drama that first and foremost tells the story of how Shaun, as an autistic surgeon, goes through life and makes mistakes and has experiences and learns from them. His love life with Lea is part of that, but it’s only a small part. A bigger part of it is his professional career and how he navigates that environment.

      Add to that, the show has a large ensemble cast of seven other main characters plus the two new residents this year. All of these characters have their own lives and journeys and stories that the writers want to tell, and then we also have the medical cases on top of that. There are only 42 minutes of screentime in which they can do all this, so every minute is precious time they need to limit to driving stories and plots forward and create a harmonious and consistent canvas for a general audience, only a small portion of whom are avid Shea shippers.

      Every single scene needs to serve a purpose in a character’s story, and if they gave us just inconsequential domestic Shea bliss that isn’t supporting an episode plot in some way, that would be considered wasted screen time. So all of the Shea scenes always have a goal, usually to underline something that Shaun is struggling with or a lesson he needs to learn. Like the one with the dishes where he needed to learn to be more flexible around each other’s habits and communicate to Lea that he loves her. Or the one with Lea trying to get him to talk about his emotional state to show the viewers that he’s in denial and shutting down his feelings, which then later came to a head in his fight with Glassman.

      Since right now they are heavily focusing on the aspect of Shaun’s denial to acknowledge the emotional repercussions of Lim’s surgery, Shea is definitely taking a back seat. There isn’t that much that Lea can contribute to that story, other being a supportive force for Shaun, since apparently they chose to have her blindly support Shaun rather than try to help him understand that he needs to take some responsiblity for Lim’s paralysis.

      I know you will keep hoping that we’ll be seeing a heavier focus on Shea every episode, and that the Shea fans will get their fair share, but I don’t think that’ll happen until maybe the second half of the season. Freddie mentioned there will be conversations around having kids, and it’s most likely that will happen after the Lim storyline has been wrapped up and maybe after introducing and addressing whatever legal trouble Shaun gets caught up in. Right now Shaun is definitely not in the right headspace to talk or think about kids. So I think you’ll have to be a lot more patient this season.

      I know it’s not what you wanna hear, but it’s the realities of how medical drama TV like this works. TGD is first and foremost a medical show about an autistic surgeon, not a romcom or a romantic relationship drama. You know, it’s kinda like people say that Twilight is a vampire novel, but it’s actually not. It’s high school drama with vampires and werewolves in it. 🙂

  2. Edward Kihanya

    Daniela,
    Very well written commentary. Thank you for writing this. I agree 100% with all of it. I’m concerned about how this situation between Shaun and Lim, and the resulting fallout in Shaun and Glassman’s relationship, is going to affect Shaun and Lea’s marriage. I know she’s Shaun’s wife, but it looks to me like, so far, Lea is just blindly supporting Shaun and not helping him understand the responsibility that he needs to take for what he did (in Lim’s surgery) and the fact that Lim is hurting.

    What are your thoughts on the way Lea has dealt with this situation so far. How would you like to see her deal with it going forward?

    • Daniela

      Thank you for commenting, Edward.
      I always appreciate your insight.

      What I think about Lea is that she’d been oddly enabling Shaun’s behavior up until the episode “A Big Sign”. I didn’t like it in the least the way the character was written back in “Change of Perspective”. Lea was clearly used as a plot device in that episode, to the point of making her act irresponsibly and impulsively, like when she immediately supported Shaun’s idea about wanting to fire Danica, after having just met her.

      That said, I’ve noticed a change in “Shrapnel”. Lea is clearly starting to recognize that Shaun is struggling and trying to hide his feelings. She tried more than once to make Shaun open up to her about what it’s upsetting him.

      So, now that Lea has finally realized that Shaun needs help, what I honestly hope is that she can team up with Glassy and find the best way to support Shaun.
      As I explained in my comment, I totally understand Glassman’s approach with Shaun. But Lea’s perspective can surely be beneficial, especially since she’s not as involved in the situation as Glassman is. That’s what I hope. That Lea can help smooth things between Shaun and Glassy, while also supporting Shaun throughout the process of coming to terms with his true feelings about what happened with Lim.

      • Edward Kihanya

        You’re welcome, Daniela. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and insights on Lea here. I agree with you on all of what you’ve said here. I appreciate your insight on this.

      • Edward Kihanya

        Daniela,
        Just to expand on my last reply to you, I, too hope that, now that Lea has finally realized that Shaun needs help, she can team up with Glassy and find the best way to support Shaun. I’m not a parent myself, so I can’t say I understand Glassman’s approach with Shaun from personal experience. However, having said that, I do very much respect it and believe it is the right and necessary approach. But you’re right. Lea’s perspective, like you said, CAN surely be beneficial, especially since she’s not as involved in the situation as Glassman is. It is also my hope that, like you said, Lea can help smooth things between Shaun and Glassy, while also supporting Shaun throughout the process of coming to terms with his true feelings about what happened with Lim.

        Beyond Lea teaming up with Glassy and finding the best way to support Shaun, though, do you think therapy would also help Shaun with the process of coming to terms with his true feelings about what happened with Lim? Would you like to see this happen (Shaun going to therapy)? Do you see it happening? Do you think the writers would see therapy for Shaun as fitting effectively into the Shaun/Lim storyline? I ask these questions because I can’t help but think that Shaun’s struggle to understand the emotional aspect of what happened with Lim is a consequence of his refusal to see a therapist back in Season 1. In saying this, I feel the need to mention that I’m on the Autism Spectrum myself (I have Asperger’s). Am I wrong in thinking this? What are your thoughts on this?

        • Daniela

          Hey, Edward.
          I’m quite satisfied with the way things have evolved between Shaun and Glassman, in the latest episode (also, thanks to Lea’s intervention with Glassy).
          As a parent, all I can say is that he definitely did great. That was 100% over the top parenting, as far as I’m concerned. And it also shows an important evolution of Glassman’s character in this department. I loved how he reflected on his past experiences with Maddie in order to improve as a father. The fact that Glassy doesn’t want to make the same mistakes with Shaun and be a better father to him is really heartwarming.

          And I definitely believe that Shaun is very lucky to have both Glassman and Lea in his corner. Both are a great source of support for him.

          I agree with you about therapy. Shaun could only benefit from it and Glassman was probably right in trying to push him for it, back in season 1. And it would help not only with all this mess involving Lim’s surgery, but also in general to help Shaun better coping with his childhood trauma, which is still there under the surface.

          That said, I don’t think that Shaun would want it now, just as much as he didn’t want it years ago. He likes to handle his issues himself and to learn by making mistakes. That’s Shaun for you. And it’s interesting to see his struggles, his failures, and his successes.

          I also think, from a dramatic point of view, that therapy sessions could become too boring to work for the show in the long run. But I wouldn’t mind to see a couple of sessions, maybe with the addition of some flashbacks. There’s still so much that we don’t completely know about Shaun’s past. This could provide an occasion to explore that more in depth.

          But, to be honest, I don’t believe that we’re gonna get that from the show. And I won’t be over disappointed in that case, since I’m liking what I’m seeing so far. I like the way the story is developing and how Shaun’s journey is still front and central.

          Thank you for your comments. Knowing that you’re on the Spectrum makes your insights even more valuable.

          • Edward Kihanya

            Thank you, Daniela, for responding and sharing your thoughts and feelings on all of this, especially what you said about how things evolved between Shaun and Glassman in the latest episode, and how Glassman did as a parent (from your perspective as
            a parent) in the latest episode. It was all great and helpful to hear. Thank you also for agreeing with me about therapy (and explaining why) but also sharing your honest opinion on the likelihood of it. Finally, you’re welcome for my comments, and thank you for valuing my insight as a person on the Spectrum. (By the way, I was not diagnosed with Asperger’s until I was 39, and am 50 now). I will share any further comments in response to what you’ve said here at another time.

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