Possibly not what most people wanna hear, but I have mixed feelings about this episode. I wanted to love it unconditionally, and all things considered I liked it a lot, but there were just so many reality check blunders that I found it too hard to fully suspend disbelief. Let’s hope they do better for subsequent episodes, hoping that we get them.
And for those who read last week’s recap where I said I wouldn’t have much time to devote to writing up this particular episode, I have good news for you! My real life weekend plans changed on short notice, so I got to write a nerdy (and wordy) recap for this one after all. Hope you enjoy.
Written by David Shore & Liz Friedman
Directed by Ruben Fleischer
Original airdate 13 Mar 2023
Shaun Murphy, (Alex Park)
Arm laceration and radial artery bleed caused by a car accident
- Bob was the driver of a car that got into an accident, Bob was ejected from the car in the process
- Bob’s most life-threatening injury was an arterial bleed from his radial artery with ongoing blood loss through a gash above his wrist
- Shaun and Park were first responders, Shaun tended to Bob’s injuries, using a makeshift tourniquet to stop the immediate bleeding
- After transporting Bob closer to the road on a wooden board, his breathing became laboured and his pulse was thready
- By that time, the hand had no capillary refill and was irreversibly damaged, leaking toxins into Bob’s blood flow that would stop his heart before he reached the hospital
- Shaun decided to do an impromptu field amputation of the hand to save Bob’s life prior to the ambulance arriving
- Park asked Shaun whether he was certain amputation was the right option and questioned whether it could be a vasospasm that could be treated with a calcium channel blocker from the arriving ambulance to restore the blood flow
- Improvising an amputation kit from tools in the back of the overturned van, Shaun went ahead and started severing the tissue, muscle, tendons and bone to amputate Bob’s hand
- Once the hand was removed, Bob could be taken safely to the hospital for further treatment
- Bob recovered after the accident and is now suing Shaun for malpractice, putting in question that the amputation was truly necessary
- During the trial it’s determined that Shaun acted in the best interest of the patient with the information he had at the time and is thus found not to have acted negligibly
- It’s unclear whether vasospasm occurred in Bob’s arm since the lactate test that would be able to prove it wasn’t run until after the trial was over and the outcome of the test is unknown
In the aftermath of last week’s “you’ve been served” doozie, Shaun is now in search of a lawyer to represent him for his malpractice case. Dr. Glassman recommended one of his trusted lawyer friends, one Janet Stewart who has successfully represented him the two times he’s been sued in his career and he’s called upon her during his hospital presidency times as well.
Reality Check #1: This heavily implies that Janet represented Glassman in an official capacity as hospital president in the past, which seems weird, seeing how the hospital would have their own lawyers on staff. Remember Jessica from the early seasons? She was a lawyer working for St. Bonaventure, which Janet clearly isn’t. So what happened to the hospital lawyers?
When they get to their meeting with Janet, she inquires whether Glassman has played one particular Californian golf course that apparently he didn’t enjoy. Shaun charmingly cuts in whether their inconsequential banter is billable time, but Janet says not to worry, the malpractice insurance will cover it, and she has good news.
When she outlines that the settlement offer is $300,000 that’s paid for by the insurance, plus a six months supervisory period, Shaun hardly thinks that’s good news. He’s worked incredibly hard to get to where he is, and having to accept that someone else will have to sign off on all his medical decisions for the next half year is going to be humiliating, not to mention that his colleagues often don’t actually agree with his medical decisions.
The alternative doesn’t look very enticing either. They’d go to trial, and if Shaun loses, the money would still be paid, but the decision would be sent to the Californian Medical Board, and they would decide whether Shaun has a future as a doctor.
The decision is tough—a catch-22 for sure—but Shaun knows that a malpractice verdict coupled with his autism may very well end his career, so he shakily admits that he’d rather settle. And then he’s off to the bathroom, no doubt not just to pee.
Reality Check #2: The timeline here is very off. It’s been, what? A week since Shaun got the letter that he was being served? If I’m not totally off-base, after being served, there’s a whole investigational period and depositions and meetings and such. The show wants to suggest Janet negotiated a deal with the plaintiff’s party in just a few days without even talking to her clients first? I’m pretty sure that’s very unrealistic.
A young woman catches Shaun in the hallway just as he’s exited the restroom, asking whether he’s Dr. Shaun Murphy, Miss Stewart’s 10 am. She introduces herself as Joni DeGroot and has a question about cancer and formaldehyde in pressed wood office furniture that somehow isn’t work related, which Shaun states is outside his area of expertise.
She asks Shaun to pass something in legalese on to Janet before finalising his NDA, then bolts back into her office. We don’t know if it was the three ballpoint pen clicks that Shaun picked up on, or the three times she said thank you, or if he was naturally curious about this ambitious young woman, but he peeks his head into her office just when she’s going through her 3-times tapping ritual.
Shaun wants to know if she’s working on his case, but Joni is more concerned that there’s someone in her office when no one’s supposed to come into her tiny little, cramped space you can barely call an office. Shaun can empathise, he once had a closet for an office, and he wonders openly if the plastic on the walls is because of her obsessive compulsive disorder. Nice, Shaun, it’s already going swimmingly.
But the way he said it so off-hand, Joni isn’t holding it against him. She’s read his file, so she would know he has ASD, assuming that’s actually in there. And she was impressed by Shaun’s creativity of making arterial clamps from aluminium can.
As Shaun is about to go (and I’d like to believe Shaun truly meant when he said it was nice to meet Joni – he very much doesn’t use empty phrases just to be polite), Joni can’t help but challenge why he’s settling his case. The supervisory period just doesn’t seem fair when he’s overcome such a lot, when he saved a man’s life. “To have that kind of mark on your record seems very humiliating,” she says to him, very much echoing what he himself told Janet just minutes before.
Reality Check #3: How does Joni know that Shaun is settling his case? He literally only made that decision five minutes ago. Did Janet give Joni a phone call that she should be helping with getting the paperwork put together for that? If so, why? She’s not an administrative assistant or paralegal, and she said she’s not (officially) on Shaun’s case.
You can almost see the switch flicking in Shaun’s head when he realises Joni could be doing way more for him than research and that small, barely perceptible smile spreads across his lips. He forthwith takes Joni with him to see Janet and Dr. Glassman, proudly announcing that Joni is now his lawyer and will be representing him at trial. Cue perplexed glances from Glassman and Janet.
Lea gives him just as perplexed a glance when he bursts in the door at home and happily proclaims that he has a new lawyer. It speaks quite a lot to how well Lea knows Shaun and Glassman’s dynamic when she asks whether Glassman’s statement of, “It’s your decision, Shaun,” was said in a neutral way or an angry way. It takes Shaun a moment to reflect on that before he realises that, hm, yeah, maybe he wasn’t quite as supportive of the idea as Shaun may have thought.
But Shaun still thinks it was the right call despite Joni’s lack of experience. She is smart and very thorough and she can empathise all too well with Shaun’s situation. We are also taught through Shaun that OCD doesn’t mean that someone is neat and organised, it means that she has repetitive intrusive thoughts that cause excessive anxiety which she manages with ritual behaviour. And when Shaun says lack of experience, yes, it means this is Joni’s first trial.
The next day, Joni and Janet meet with Shaun and Park to get the full story of what happened, and now we finally learn why exactly Shaun is being sued, and by whom. Shaun and Park were out to dinner, driving back home through the dark Hellyer County Park in Park’s pickup truck.
I’m so glad that Shaun and Park still have an outside of work friendship going. We didn’t get any indication of that since maybe mid-season 5, and it’s great to learn that Shaun is actually hanging out with friends other than immediate family.
Up ahead, an overturned car is blocking the road, and Park and Shaun stop to render assistance. They help the woman out of the car. She’s conscious with head lacerations, she asks after her brother Bob. Park tends to her and examines her while Shaun starts looking for Bob in the heavy rain.
Bob has been ejected from the car, Shaun finds him in the woods a few yards away from the road. Bob is bleeding heavily from his radial artery through a sizeable gash in his arm. Shaun thinks quick on his feet and makes a make-shift tourniquet to stop the bleeding, but he needs to move Bob closer to the road.
Park is still busy with the sister, so Shaun has to improvise again. He checks the back of the overturned van and finds a wooden board and some fabric he can use. The board becomes an emergency medical backboard that Shaun fastens Bob to and starts dragging him out to the road on his own.
And suddenly Joni is right there at the scene, stating matter-of-factly that Shaun couldn’t have dragged Bob that way. Time stops and everything is suspended except Joni, Shaun and Park, questioning why Shaun couldn’t have gone that way. The explanation from Joni is easy: There was a log in the way, Shaun couldn’t have taken that direct path to the road that he was describing. Joni underscores it with a photo from the scene, and Shaun and Park can only sit agape because Joni is right.
Shaun can only conclude that if he took Bob the way that wasn’t blocked, he would have had to angle the spinal board, which could have led to neurological injury, causing Shaun’s neurological exam to be off, which could also mean that Shaun might not have had to amputate Bob’s hand. Oh dear, that’s not good.
After taking a break, Joni resumes her questioning and Shaun explains that he had to amputate the hand because Bob’s breathing became laboured and his pulse was thready. The hand had no capillary refill and Shaun ascertained that the hand was irreversibly damaged from lack of blood flow, and it was leaking toxins that would stop Bob’s heart before he reached the hospital.
Reality Check #4: Okay, so explain to me, what does the neurological exam have to do with capillary refill? If the blood flow was the problem, then what role did the board angle and any neurological effects (i.e. nerve function) play in the decision whether or not to amputate the hand? Is this an inconsistency? What am I missing?
Reality Check #5: Toxins that would stop Bob’s heart? What is Shaun even talking about? I’m not an MD and I may be wrong about this, but if I understand this correctly, then Shaun was talking about septic shock. My understanding is that sepsis so severe that it requires limb amputation needs a while to develop. As in days or weeks. Sepsis also requires a relatively severe infection as a source. Judging by the fact that the sister was only just crawling out of the car, that Bob hadn’t bled out yet from his radial artery injury and no one else being on the scene yet, the car accident must have only just happened when Park and Shaun stopped to help. I don’t see how Bob would have even developed sepsis yet after, what? Fifteen minutes? Let alone be in septic shock requiring amputation. Plus the fact that it was dark and mucky as shit, how did Shaun make all these quick-fire determinations?
Reality Check #6: What the hell was going on with the sister that Park couldn’t leave her alone for five minutes? Sure, we don’t really know how unstable she was and how much immediate medical attention she needed so that Park couldn’t leave her, but she was shown as conscious and lucid before, so that seemed very forced.
Shaun then goes ahead and uses tools from the utility van to saw off Bob’s hand right there on the forest ground, stating that, once the hand was removed, they travelled safely to the hospital. Joni and Janet’s heads perk up when Park interjects that that’s not quite how he remembers it.
In Park’s version, just as Shaun was getting ready to amputate, Park called over to him to question whether it might be a vasospasm. A calcium channel blocker from the ambulance that just arrived may restore the blood flow, the amputation might not be necessary. Is Shaun sure the amputation needs to be done right this second? Shaun never responds and starts cutting.
Reality Check #7: Maybe this is more of a character consistency check, but it just seems odd that Shaun can’t wait two minutes for the ambulance to arrive, justifying that with the fact that ambulances don’t carry amputation kits. So Shaun prefers to cut off the hand alone, in the pouring rain, in the dark, on the muddy forest ground with unsterilised, blunt, possibly rusty make-shift tools, saying he can’t wait two or three minutes for medically qualified help, proper lighting, more sterile conditions, scalpels and other more suitable tools, IVs, monitoring equipment and whatever else the magic storage cabinets of the ambulance would have offered, after Park had questioned whether it might be vasospasm and if Shaun was really sure? Seriously?! That seemed like a real stretch to me. Sorry guys, but I’m not buying it.
Janet probably ended the meeting shortly thereafter, needing to confer with Joni about how to proceed in light of these new revelations. And Shaun then goes to do what he does best: He embarks on a mission to find the truth. Down in pathology, he gets a hold of Bob’s severed hand and wants to check the lactate levels to prove definitively whether he was right to amputate.
Joni rushes in and stops Shaun at the last second, which leaves him confused. The test will reveal the truth, why is Joni scoffing at the truth? She explains that he’s asking the wrong question—stupid or desperate or not. If Shaun’s test proves that he was right to amputate, peachy, he’ll win the case. But what if the test proves the opposite? Then he’s basically screwed. And neither Shaun nor Joni will want that, and it doesn’t answer the question they should be asking instead, which is whether Shaun did the right thing, given what he knew at the time.
When Joni asks if Shaun believes more in that test than he believes in her, he puts the hand away, which actually surprises Joni. Why does he have so much confidence in her—an inexperienced lawyer with OCD who was late to their first (official) meeting. Why does he trust her more than the test? Shaun’s answer is a good one. “Because… the test doesn’t care.”
Reality Check #8: So are we to assume that right after Janet and Joni ended the meeting with Shaun and Park, Shaun went straight to the hospital, somehow immediately located the perfectly preserved amputated hand, thawed it (it must have been stored frozen), texted Joni he was going to run the lactate test before he started with the preparations, and then Joni got that text and drove straight to the hospital to catch Shaun the exact second he was about to draw blood? I mean, come on!
Reality Check #9: We should talk about the hand as well. How realistic is it that they’d have hung on to the hand in the first place? Why would a hospital hold on to an amputated limb months after the amputation? Is it procedure to do so in cases of amputation without written consent? I haven’t been able to find any info on this online, and I will say that there is such a thing as written confirmation by the patient to cede any rights to ownership of a severed limb prior to amputation. (In the US, you can actually even take your severed limb home if they let you.) So I guess there’s a small chance the hospital kept the hand, just in case, but it seemed pretty construed in this case.
That said, even if they kept the hand, I wonder if they would have preserved in formaldehyde rather than keep it frozen. In which case I’m pretty sure Shaun would not have been able to run any lactate test on it because of the way formaldehyde interacts with the tissue and blood. So again, why would a hospital keep a frozen field-amputated hand for Shaun to then be (legally) given immediate access to? And would he be legally allowed to run that test himself as the person being accused of negligently having cut it off? And how did Shaun thaw it so quickly? That’s a few too many convenient happenstances.
The motion to dismiss the next morning is just Joni and Shaun in front of the judge with the plaintiff and his lawyer present as well, the latter looking a little too smug when the judge doesn’t exactly compliment Joni on her novel argument in the motion she filed. That argument uses California’s Good Samaritan law in that Shaun can’t be held liable because he wasn’t acting in a professional capacity.
Californian Law has Good Samaritan Act that states that individuals who are giving assistance at a scene of an emergency are protected against civil lawsuits. Joni is arguing here that this law stayed in effect because Shaun performed the amputation outside of the ambulance and thus didn’t act in his professional capacity as surgeon but just as a civilian with medical knowledge who offered help.
The plaintiff’s attorney gets up to make a point, then sits down in his chair and leans back, and the spring in the chair squeaks. Joni stops. There need to be three squeaks in order to do this right. Two more squeaks, she needs two more squeaks. She freezes and everyone looks at her, but Joni has locked up, her mind taken over by the compulsive need to hear two more squeaks in order to continue. The squeaks never come, and we don’t really know what happened immediately afterwards, but we can only assume that Joni never managed to finish outlining her argument, so the judge dismissed the motion.
When Janet tells Shaun that Joni is no longer going to be his lawyer, he isn’t happy. He still wants Joni to represent him, but Janet tells him that Shaun doesn’t know what she knows. Joni’s deficits are more significant than he may think they are. Shaun knows all about that, doesn’t he? Everyone used to say that about him, and look where he is now.
Janet shares a story about Joni, that when she started working with them, she used to be late a lot. One time she missed a whole motion in court because she thought she saw someone drowning in the bay on her way to work and called the police to get a whole search party going. In the end it was concluded she had probably just seen a log or a wave and her mind had fixated on it having been a drowning person that wasn’t. And it wasn’t the first time that had happened, either.
Shaun asks why they didn’t fire her, and they wanted to, but Joni threatened to sue them on the grounds of it violating the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act). Janet didn’t think that it actually did, but the brief that Joni wrote was the most impressive thing she’s ever read. Joni was hired to do research—just research. She cannot be a trial attorney, and she can’t be Shaun’s trial attorney. He will have to accept that.
Shaun isn’t the type who just accepts things, so after speaking to Joni in private and hearing her personal story, he talks Janet into making Joni his first chair (i.e. lead attorney on the case). Janet grudgingly accepts it, but now she will be there in court herself, and she will do all the talking. Joni is to sit quietly in her first chair and say or do nothing.
Reality check #10: Okay, so they negotiated a settlement deal in a few days, Shaun rejects the settlement offer, Janet and Joni have one or two interviews with Shaun and Park, Joni fucks up the motion to dismiss, and then the case goes to trial a week or so later? ☝🏼 Uhm, excuse me please. This whole process, in the real world, would take months, if not years. Yes, yes, this is a TV show and they needed to make the episode fit into the season 6 flow, but man… This is some seriously magical Dr. Strange reality bending. And it’s massively messing with my episode immersion, and that’s about the worst thing for me when I truly really just wanna enjoy the show.
Back in court, the plaintiff’s side has their medical expert in the witness stand, who speaks to the medical details of the case, arguing that Shaun unnecessarily amputated the hand because Bob suffered from vasospasm which cut off blood flow to the extremity and could have been restored with a calcium channel blocker from the ambulance, like Park had suggested to Shaun at the scene.
It’s amazing how calm and controlled Shaun was here. I was almost expecting him to jump up from his seat and go, “No, he is wrong!” Kudos to Shaun for having learned quite a lot over the years, and it probably helped that Glassman and Lea were right there with him. Plus, I’m guessing there was a certain amount of briefing beforehand how Shaun could and could not behave in court.
Shaun is still convinced it wasn’t vasospasm, but he has no definitive proof to underscore it. As Janet launches into her cross-examination, Joni is studying photos of the medical details on her tablet, and she suddenly sees something that seems very relevant. She interrupts the questioning, butting in with her own questions about vasospasms. She shows the expert witness a few photos and asks him to identify occluded vessels vs. those with vasospasm. There’s one particular one he identifies as occluded and not vasospasm. Turns out that this last photo is actually of Bob Patton’s radial artery.
The new testimony doesn’t really prove anything definitively, only that it’s possible it wasn’t vasospasm. Still, it’s a good thing and earns Shaun’s side the points back they lost previously. The next day, Janet lets Joni be actual first chair, and Joni’s gonna fight tooth and nail for Shaun. She wants total victory, because she wants Shaun’s medical record to stay spotless. And she’s gonna do that by trying to establish that the plaintiff is actually a dick.
And a dick, he kinda is. He’s laying it on thick, telling a sob story when he’s on the stand how he can’t do his job and can’t even hold his niece.
Wow, dude. I think people with an actual amputated hand would be offended at this. I’ve played badminton with a guy who only had one hand who beat me fifty times over, and there are people who do extreme sports who are missing limbs. Not to mention the thousands of parents with parts of their extremities missing who are safely holding their children every day. A total dick indeed, Joni.
When it’s Joni’s turn to cross-examine, she gets the guy to admit he drove almost twice the speed limit and he wasn’t wearing a seat belt. He also has to admit he feels a little guilty for driving recklessly and almost killing his sister that night. And then Joni stalls again because there’s another chair squeak. Just one. Like before.
However, Janet knows what this is, so she gets up and walks over to Bob’s lawyer and pushes his chair back twice so that it’d squeak, which gets Joni out of her catatonia and she can continue her line of questioning. Unfortunately, the judge isn’t quite so accepting, she finds Janet in contempt and slaps a $5,000 fine on her, calling her lucky it’s not assault.
When they take a break, Janet runs after Joni. Joni is profusely apologetic, but Janet is actually okay with everything, even commends Joni and tells her she’s doing great. There’s just one thing: They need to get the jury to like Shaun, need them to think he did nothing wrong. Has she thought of how she was going to do that?
Joni indeed has, and the way she does so is asking Shaun directly if he did anything wrong at the site of the accident. Bob’s attorney objects, this is a leading question, but Shaun surprises everyone by saying yes, he did.
Befuddled looks all around, but Shaun elaborates that he did four things wrong. He applied the tourniquet in a way that wasn’t the recommended choice, he laid out the clips the wrong way, he only did two wipe-downs of the surgical field rather than three and he angled the spinal board because of the log that was in the way. These things all matter to Shaun but were ultimately inconsequential to the amputation.
Shaun has to agree that there’s no way of telling at the present time if amputating Bob’s hand was the right thing to do, but Shaun knows that stopping to help was the right thing to do, and if he had to do it all over again, he would still amputate.
Joni’s next question is more of an ask, she wants Shaun tell his story of how he became a doctor and the challenges he had to overcome. Objection from the plaintiff’s side that this is irrelevant, but the judge allows it. She seems invested now.
Shaun starts, “I have autism spectrum disorder. I have always had autism spectrum disorder. I have also always wanted to be a doctor. Many people thought that couldn’t happen, but I saved…” He probably goes on to tell the story of saving the young boy’s life at the airport and how that got him accepted into St. Bonaventure’s residency program.
And then it’s time to wrap up the trial, time for Joni’s closing argument. She’s worked hard, tried to take Janet’s advice to just be herself. She outlines that she makes people uncomfortable, that’s she’s different, just like Shaun is different and tends to make people uncomfortable.
Joni implores the jury not to judge Shaun by his awkwardness, his lack of eye contact, his speech pattern or his mannerisms. They should judge him for who he is – person with a big heart who is trying to do good in this world, who helped a stranger and saved his life. They shouldn’t be punishing him for that, quite the opposite. They should do what the plaintiff should have done—say thank you.
Shaun heart must be swelling right now, and he gives Lea and Glassman sitting behind him a look. Lea meets his eyes when Joni talks about judging him as a whole person, just like Lea did when she met him and became his friend, then his lover, then his wife.
The wait for the jury to make their final decision is fraught with nervousness, but in the end it all pays off. Shaun is found not guilty and wins the case, so of course they all need to go and celebrate in style with Tequila, stat. Shaun is elated and uncharacteristically downs his shot in one go with Park, Lea and Abbie right there, but Joni reminds him that this is not what he wants to be doing right now.
What Shaun wants to be doing is going back to the amputated hand to run that lactate test to prove once and for all if he was truly right to amputate. Joni takes Shaun to the hospital and looks away as Shaun draws the blood sample, and the screen fades to black before we can learn what the outcome of the test was.
We are being introduced to Joni DeGroot through Shaun. She works for Franklin Maxell & Associates, and even though she has a law degree, she’s stuffed away in a tiny office that’s barely larger than a storage closet. She tells Shaun she isn’t supposed to have any direct contact with clients since her OCD makes people uncomfortable and, according to her boss, renders her incapable of ever being a full-fledged defence attorney.
And Joni is okay with that. She’s fully aware of the limitations that her OCD creates, and she tells herself that she’s happy just doing research work, since her brain also gives her incredibly useful abilities in detail perception and recall that other people don’t possess.
It’s hard to tell if she’s annoyed by Shaun mentioning her OCD several times or impressed that he’s not judging her for it, but you can tell she likes Shaun, or at the very least has a certain amount of respect for him. And then Shaun does the unexpected, because he is very good at that. He hires Joni as his defence attorney.
Joni is excited at the prospect. When she gets home to tell her roommate and sister about this new development, she’s super enthusiastic, but her sister Abbie is a little less so. Going to court means putting her OCD rituals on display, means being exposed to contaminants she’s afraid of.
Joni is confident she can do it. She’s practiced exposure to the things that interfere with her ability to function, and she’s tired of being hidden away. Abbie suggests Joni wear suits with pockets to court. She can do all the ritual tapping she wants in there. And she should try not to be late.
Of course she’s late to the first meeting with Shaun in her official capacity. Janet chides Joni about her tardiness, and clearly there’s a history there. This has happened before multiple times, it seems. Just another thing related to her OCD that’s making things more difficult.
And as prepared as Joni thought she was to get past the OCD interferences, it’s not quite working. When Janet points out during their interview with Shaun and Park that Joni’s tapping is distracting Dr. Park (Shaun is total boss and makes it a point to say he’s totally fine with it), she tries suppressing the compulsion to tap. But there are the intrusive thoughts that Shaun explained to Lea: “Tap three times or bad things will happen.” It repeats over and over in her mind, more vehemently and urgently, the more she tries not to tap.
The threatening thoughts take over, and Joni can no longer focus until Janet pulls her out of it. Joni places her hand on her thigh under the table where she can tap more easily. But Joni’s OCD traits aren’t always necessarily of a negative nature. Her brain is also incredibly well equipped to notice and recall tiny details that other people’s brain would deem irrelevant. Sometimes that can actually be helpful, particularly when trying to examine past events tied to legal cases. And in this case, it helps them rehash something that may be relevant to Shaun’s predicament.
They go and finish the interview with Shaun and Park, and when Park shares his side of the story that reveals Shaun may have acted against better judgment, Janet takes Joni aside. This new angle is seriously messing with their chances to win this case, Joni has to convince Shaun to take the settlement. Shaun barely has a leg to stand on regarding the whole amputation situation, and now one of theirown witnesses will have to testify that Shaun screwed up.
And while Janet is halfway through her rant how much of a disaster this case has become, Joni compulsively has to straighten the backs of the books on Janet’s shelf—and that annoys Janet on top everything. While Janet goes on about how Joni’s OCD rituals will not be accepted in court, the one book that still protrudes takes over Joni’s mind. “Fix this, or bad things will happen.”
She tries to resist, Janet’s voice is now a blur, she needs to fix this or bad things will happen. Joni can’t help herself and needs to straighten the book, and tap it three times for good measure. Janet is at her wit’s end. If Joni can’t control herself in her office, how can she get through trial proceedings?
The particular book she touched sparks a memory. There was a case where a student was charged with being on school property with a pocket knife, but the metal detectors were set up outside the front door, so the case was dismissed. Janet isn’t convinced that’s gonna help their case, but Joni wants to try. Then her mobile phone dings three times, and she has to go.
Meeting Shaun was such a game-changer for Joni, because he’s the first to actually put trust in her as a lawyer capable of defending him in court, caring so much about her client that she will give it her all. When she’s on her way to their motion to dismiss meeting in court, Joni remembers a key moment from her own childhood.
She and her sister are waiting outside the courtroom on a bench in the hallway, Joni is pacing and counting in steps of three, clutching her toy rabbit. Her sister assures her their mum will be okay, and Joni hopes so too, but now she has to start over with her counting ritual, because if she doesn’t, it means will have messed this up for their mother. It may have very well been her earliest outward signs of OCD at that age.
Shaun’s motion to dismiss starts off promising despite the judge being a little snarky, and Joni has a good argument going, with the plaintiff’s side already starting to lose the battle, but then her OCD puts a spoke in the wheel. A squeak from a chair starts a pattern of three that needs to complete, but the other two squeaks never come and Joni freezes up, unable to complete her argument. The motion gets dismissed and Janet isn’t happy.
Well, that’s an understatement, because Janet is way unhappy, as are the other partners of the firm. They voted unanimously for Joni to be taken off the case. And, oh, by the way, now the plaintiff’s side has pulled the settlement deal. Janet tells Joni in no uncertain terms that she is an excellent researcher, but that she will never be a good lawyer. (Episode title drop right there.)
Back at home that night, Abbie thinks Janet is a dick for pulling Joni off the case, but Joni gets it. She wanted to prove she could stand on her own two feet, but she failed. That’s on her. They’re being interrupted by a knock on the door, which turns out to be… one Shaun Murphy.
He must have come there right after being told by Janet that Joni isn’t working for him anymore, and he stands there in her kitchen doorway, asking flat-out why she wants to be a lawyer. Joni takes him to the living room, and Shaun presses on, wants to know why Joni sued the firm to keep her job. She explains that they’re a really good firm with important cases, and it’s not like she had a lot of options with other employers.
But Shaun wants to know why Joni chose to go into law in the first place and chose to become a lawyer. He answer is fairly simple: A lawyer saved her family. Her father died in a car accident when Joni was eight, and she was very worried that her mother would die, too. That’s when her OCD started.
Joni’s mother started drinking after the accident, it sounds like there was abuse or neglect involved and the children were being put into the foster system and then shuffled around different foster families for a while. A lot of people made a lot of mistakes, including social workers and a judge, but one person made it all right again: a lawyer.
It all resonates with Shaun more than Joni could ever realise, and he still wants Joni as his lawyer, but Joni is okay with the decision. She made a huge mistake. Shaun doesn’t think that’s a good justification, because we all have problems and he’ll talk to Janet again.
Reality check #11: How does Shaun know where Joni lives? If Janet gave him Joni’s address, that would be some massive privacy violation. I kinda doubt Joni would have told Shaun, “Hey, this is where you can find me during off-hours in the privacy of my home, and by the way, I also have a problem with contaminants.”
Don’t get me wrong, the scene was really beautiful and poignant and I love Joni and Shaun together, and the dialogue here was beautiful and important and necessary, but just… so unrealistic.
Good for Joni that Shaun then went and managed to convince Janet to make Joni first chair for his trial. She scores a win when she turns the case around a little by having the medical expert confirm that it’s likely that the lack of blood flow to Bob’s hand wasn’t caused by vasospasm. As they exit the court building, Janet chides Joni for not heeding her instructions of staying quiet in court, but Joni’s never much been a person to buckle down. She knows that she makes people uncomfortable, but that’s never stopped her before.
It reminds Janet a little of her own experience when she was young and the legal world was dominated by men. She gives Joni her next win, letting her be actual first chair at the court meeting the next day.
The court proceedings go (almost) without a hitch, and then the day comes for the jury to make their decision. Joni will have to prepare her closing argument, and she paces the conference room, trying to memorise it. Janet joins her for a moment to give some well-meant advice, and Joni asks if Janet would listen to what she prepared.
Joni lets out a breath, then starts, “My mentor told me that criminal law is about justice, whereas civil law is about one thing, and one thing only: Money. You can’t undo what’s been done, the best you can do is compensate financially. But that’s wrong. Everything we do in this room is about justice. We can’t change what’s happened, but maybe, just maybe, we can change what will happen. We can encourage people to care. To care about strangers—”
“That’s not your closing,” Janet interjects. No, it’s actually Janet’s closing from a long time ago that she built on something that her mentor told her. Joni wants to know if Janet still believes today that they can change the future. Janet answers that question in not actually answering it, and Joni asks her if she has any advice from a mentor perspective, which stops Janet cold. Joni actually considers her a mentor?
Yes, Joni tells her, she’s inspired her. And Janet’s advice is simple. Joni is not Janet. Not once has she done in this trial what Janet would have done. And it’s worked so far, so why change that?
Joni turns Janet’s advice into a moving and effective closing speech. After she finishes and Janet approvingly touches her shoulder, she remembers how they met. All those years ago when Joni was a kid fighting to be reunited with her mother, Jane also reassuringly touched her shoulder when they won their court case and Joni found herself back in her mother’s arms.
As they sit outside the courtroom now, waiting nervously for the jury to decide Shaun’s verdict, Janet gets up and joins Joni where she sits alone on the bench a few feet away. After a moment’s silence, she tells Joni, “You are a good lawyer.” Joni tears up and thanks her. That means a lot, especially after what she said to Joni before.
The hard work all pays off and they win the case, and of course celebrations are in order. Joni and Abbie excitedly share the victory with their mother over the phone, Abbie makes it a point to say how brilliant Joni was and that she should now become her new favourite child. After they hang up to celebrate with Shaun and the others, Abbie says to Joni that she never doubted her, but Joni knows better. Of course she did, because she loves her. And then it’s time for Tequila, stat!
Things to Further Dissect
Suspension of Disbelief
Let me get this off my chest before I can go into what I loved about it, because (as you will probably already have noticed) this is one of the big gripes I have with this episode. As a viewer, I’m one of those people for whom stories set in our contemporary need to be realistically believable within the confines of that world in order to get absorbed in them. And The Good Lawyer missed that mark on several occasions, which made it hard for me to fully get engrossed in it.
It wasn’t just the legal stuff. The hand amputation seemed super shoehorned, like they needed to massively bend reality in order to create this totally unrealistic but maybe kinda sorta barely believable situation where Shaun needed to make a split-second decision to go for what he was convinced was a life-saving amputation. There were a significant number of details and story points in this episode that you could feel were inorganically written that way specifically and often around actual realism, just so certain things could happen on screen that otherwise wouldn’t have.
I’m not the only person to feel that way. I’ve seen some folks on social media saying the same thing—that a lot of the writing was unrealistic, that Shaun should have just settled and taken the supervisory period because it wasn’t a slam dunk he’d win the case, and that it was kind of a dick move to psychologically manipulate the jury. People were questioning whether it was right that Shaun won, not because he could legally be proven free of misconduct but because a jury was emotionally swayed to empathise with him.
It’s a bit of a shame, because I really wanted to love this episode with all my heart, and I still loved the overall story and the new characters and the concept, so I do hope that ABC picks up the show for a full season, but if they do, I hope it’s gonna be a bit more realistic in terms of the legal world. I’m by far no expert in the legal field, and when it’s already blatantly obvious to me that this was mostly TV bullshit, then that’s not a good sign.
I guess I was hoping for more attention to detail here, seeing how David Shore was actually a practicing lawyer before he became a TV writer. Yes, of course I know that, in television, telling a good story is more important than being a 100% realistic. But wanting to make an audience of millions believe that a malpractice lawsuit can go from initial announcement to full-fledged trial in two weeks is more than a bit of a stretch. In the real world, by the time Shaun went to court, his son would be several months old. But okay, let’s move on.
They did a whole lot or mirroring of The Good Lawyer and The Good Doctor in this episode, which was nice to see and I think worked very well. In several ways, Joni and Shaun are very alike, and although they are at their core very different people, there are a lot of parallels in their lives.
When Joni tells Shaun why she became a lawyer, it was almost as if she was telling Shaun’s own story: Separation from the parents, alcohol abuse, a tragic loss at a young age, going into foster care, being misunderstood and misrepresented, overworked social workers, moving around several foster families who couldn’t deal with the neurodiversity, and one person who came into their life and changed their path. Also a nice touch that young Joni was clutching a toy rabbit outside the courtroom.
It wasn’t only Shaun and Joni whose childhood stories were similar, Janet and Glassman bear certain resemblances as well. Both are older mentors to each, helped and inspired them to find their true path in life, shaped them into what they are today. And both gave each their job and a fighting chance to live their dream.
This also reflected in the way they told Joni’s story cinematically. The episode felt very TGD pilot–esque, with the actual flashback scenes mixed in, just like they did back in the day with Burnt Food. I felt it worked incredibly well for both episodes.
What I really loved about the episode was the creative cuts they utilized throughout the episode, particularly the scene with the car accident when Joni questions Shaun and Park. They used a number of really clever cuts, such as mirroring the sound of Shaun biting into his apple in the crumpling of the plastic in Joni’s apartment doorway or the blending of faces from present time to the flashback scenes.
The flashback with when Joni interviews Shaun and Park was also visually and conceptually intriguing. I really loved how they blended Shaun’s and Park’s retelling of the accident into the actual visuals of scene, and how they visually underlined the reconstructive nature of Joni’s analysis that way. The time-stop element with the suspended rain drops and the wooden log was very clever, and if they actually pick up the show for a full season, I hope they stay with that cinematic technique of visually retelling and deconstructing law cases so that the viewer gets a direct insight into the back story of the case.
Random Bits and Pieces
The light blue shirt is back! I almost thought Shaun was over and done with that shirt, but here it is again. Okay, let me explain. There’s this particular light blue shirt with distressed white buttons that we somehow always see when there’s some important milestone happening in Shaun’s life, and I had a little triumphant moment when I realised Shaun was wearing it when he sees Janet in the very first scene of the episode.
If you really dig into it, it’s perhaps a subtle metaphor that Shaun was wearing this exact shirt when he was being hired as a surgical resident at St. Bonaventure, and now he’s wearing it at a crucial moment that may stand the chance of ending his career. And with that in mind, I’m now pretty much convinced that this isn’t just some curious coincidence, but that the shirt holds actual meaning. I’ve written a separate blog post about it if you’d like to know more details.
One scene I wanna single out real quick, because I really don’t know if I’m off base here or not, but when Shaun and Joni first meet, Shaun turns around to peek back into her office and ask her questions. Is that really something that Shaun would do? He doesn’t usually chat up people for the fun of it. And I’m not sure the three ballpoint pen clicks would have piqued his curiosity enough to go back to speak to her when there were more important things at stake. Then again, she mentioned his NDA, so maybe that was reason enough for him to learn more about this person that sounded lawyerly capable and that he might have found mildly interesting…
Daniela made another point regarding a potential inconsistency in the episode: If there was a scientific test that could objectively determine who was right and who was wrong about the amputation (i.e. the lactate test Shaun wanted to run), why didn’t the judge order to perform it? Why let the case be decided over emotional reasons? We get why the plaintiff didn’t require the test, Bob was clearly trying to exploit the situation, counting on Shaun to accept the settlement offer. But the judge not ordering to carry out the test was a bit of a mystery.
Another small thing, but the scene where Joni comes home from work and immediately changes into more comfortable clothes was a lovely little detail. Anyone who works a job that requires business clothes at work will probably empathise with the notion of swapping those out for comfy slouch clothes as soon as you get in the door. Because news flash for those who don’t know: Fancy business clothes aren’t always the most comfortable to wear. Although on second thought, her changing clothes probably had more to do with fear of contaminants than feeling comfortable…
This was probably not intentional on the writers’ part, but when Shaun says to Joni, “Because the test doesn’t care,” it reminded me of episode 4×12 Teeny Blue Eyes and Shaun’s case of the autistic surgeon who didn’t want to admit he had ASD. Shaun and Dr. Chambers have a conversation where Chambers tells Shaun that he’d long given up on friendships and personal connections. No one cares about him as a person and people only tolerate him because he saves lives. Shaun takes a moment, then tells Chambers, “I care.” I love that Shaun is paying it forward.
This week’s autism insights from Melissa Reiner talk about a small change she made to the episode dialogue. When Glassman and Shaun first seek out Janet for legal representation, Shaun tells Janet the supervisory period feels humiliating. The original script had used the word “embarrassing”, and Reiner rightly remarked that Shaun seldom or maybe never feels actually embarrassed. Humiliating seemed like a much more appropriate expression, and I very much agree. It fits a lot better, and it’s also a key piece of dialogue because Joni echoes it later in front of Shaun.
I also wanna say a quick word about the casting choices, because I think they did a fantastic job with everyone. Kennedy McMann brought the quirky and the feisty. Joni seems like a three-dimensional human being with an interesting personality, and I wanna know and learn more about her, and I also wanna see more of Kennedy showing us more of Joni.
Felicity Huffman was also a wonderful choice for Janet. She was just the right amount of stern, authoritative but kind-hearted under the surface. Not the most loveable on the outside, but compassionate and caring underneath the aloof façade. I like her. Not quite sure Abbie’s gonna become my favourite character, but Bethlehem Million did a fine job there as well.
Favourite Scenes and Lines
- Shaun evoking his Shaun charm right away with Janet by cutting in whether their meaningless banter was billable time. And then Glassman’s knowing look he gave Janet that spelled, “Welcome to life with Shaun in all its glory.”
- Shaun peeking his head around Joni’s doorframe was super cute. I just loved that. Him stepping back just outside the door when she said no one was supposed to be in her office was also a very Shaun thing to do.
- Lea checking with Shaun if Glassman was supportive or aggravated when Shaun chose Joni to represent him. Shaun’s, “…Angry,” was so on point.
- I loved the visual effects they used to illustrate the car accident and the really creative cuts and transitions they used here.
- “Because… the test doesn’t care.” What a typical Shaun thing to say, and what a beautiful thing to say, too.
- Shaun going to see Joni at home because he wants to fight for her. Clearly, he’s mostly doing that for himself to have the best chance at winning this lawsuit, but I also think he’s doing it a little bit to pay forward all those times where people fought for him. Such a beautiful notion.
- Joni being kickass in court. Just that. I wanna see more of Joni being kickass in court in the future. Please pick up the show, ABC.
- Shaun being Shaun on the stand, and yet saying all the right things to make the right impact. It’s nice to see Shaun being quirky but not at the expense of using it for cheap chuckles.
- Shaun and Joni bonding. If The Good Lawyer becomes a full-fledged show, I’d love to see Joni and Shaun becoming friends. Not sure that’s in the cards, but I love their neurodivergent buddies energy.
I get why they couldn’t spend more time on this, but I would have loved to see more of Lea’s reaction to all the things Shaun had to say about Joni. Stuff for the fanfics, I’m sure.
We can probably imagine how this conversation went, but I would have loved to actually see Shaun making a case in front of Janet to reinstate Joni as his first chair after he’s heard Joni tell him why she became a lawyer. I’m sure it would have been a conversation that made us proud of Shaun. Him standing up for Joni is such a wholesome thing, and I love that he’s trying to pay the kindness forward that people have shown to him.
It’s a shame they faded out when Shaun was about to tell his story in the courtroom. Granted, we likely wouldn’t have learned anything there we didn’t already know about Shaun’s career and struggles to become an accepted doctor, but damn, I wish we could hear him actually say it in his own words.
Sorely missing was also us finding out whether the lactate test came back positive or negative. Yes, the point was that the audience is supposed to be kept guessing, but it would have been nice to be taken fully full circle on it.
Also, I kinda wish they hadn’t cut away from the celebration so quickly and Joni hadn’t taken Shaun right back to the hospital. A little alcohol-infused bonding would have been awesome. And if we assumed that Shaun didn’t already know who Abbie was, I could totally see this conversation taking place:
“So,” Joni drinks a sip from her glass and looks at Lea. “How did you two meet?”
Lea smiles. “You know, kind of a long story.”
Shaun cuts in, “She borrowed my batteries for her PlayStation controller.”
Joni raises her eyebrows. “Oh?”
Lea shrugs. “Yeah, well, that how we met-met. We didn’t become a couple until we both got trapped under a collapsed building two years later.”
Shaun corrects, “Until after we got trapped under a collapsed building.”
“No, that’s true. Like I said, long story.”
“Well, it’s one I’d love to hear.”
Shaun regards her with one of those intense looks. “Do you have a boyfriend? Or a girlfriend?”
Joni has already learned that Shaun isn’t always the best with polite tactfulness, so she says, “Nope. Regrettably single.”
Shaun looks at Abbie. “So Abbie is not your girlfriend?”
Joni can’t help but laugh at the idea. “Geez, no, she’s my sister.”
Shaun only looks surprised for about half a second, then he gives a little shrug. “Okay. I don’t want to tell you the whole story of how Lea and I fell in love, so Lea can do it.”
Joni laughs again. “Please do. I’m dying to hear it.”
Best Shaun Muffin Face
No Spoilers, please!
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