THE GOOD DOCTOR Review: “22 Steps”

I’m going to come out and say this is my favorite episode of The Good Doctor by far. The characters finally feel like real people, the conflicts don’t feel forced, and, while it’s still a little schmaltzy, its humor and genuine heart stop it from becoming too saccharine. This is what this show can be at its best, and it was doubly rewarding as both a reviewer and just a general audience member to finally see all its potential come to fruition.

The premise seems a little gimmicky – Shaun must treat a patient who has autism. But, thanks to Freddie Highmore’s brilliant acting and the subtleties of the writing, it works. For one thing, Shaun is at first disgusted by Liam’s presence. 

I was surprised by this choice for the character’s response, but, thinking it over, it makes sense – Liam is the living image of what Shaun knows he could be, and thus he wants to keep Liam at arm’s length, without any sense of a shared experience. But then Liam reveals that he knows Shaun has autism, and thus ensues a complicated dynamic where Shaun wants nothing to do with Liam, but we learn from Liam’s parents that Liam looks up to him as someone that he could be. 

What makes this episode is watching Shaun’s slow transition towards acceptance of and then a feeling of responsibility towards Liam. For someone who sometimes doesn’t understand other’s emotions, it’s affecting to watch Shaun struggle with a whole range of his own complex emotions, and have that come out while he’s talking to Claire. He’s never met anyone else with autism, and seeing Liam is like looking in a mirror at a reflection he doesn’t want to see. 

What’s really great about this episode is seeing how becoming more willing to help his patient despite his own initial misgivings helps Shaun become a better doctor. Despite what Shaun may have thought at first, the best medical care isn’t just about the most precise data or the most current statistics, which he can name at the drop of a hat – it’s about the patient-doctor relationship and caring even when it’s hard. This is the underlying theme of the show, shown not only in Shaun’s growing care with his patients, but also with his growing relationships with his colleagues, including Claire and Dr. Melendez.

The completion of this character arc is visually displayed when Dr. Melendez hands the scalpel over to Shaun for Liam’s surgery. It’s a veritable passing of the baton, a sign that Shaun is trusted as both a doctor and a team member. The small flash back at this moment may have been a little much, but it was great to hear Shaun rattle off statistics about the material of the scalpel, as we know he does when he’s happy, and to see Dr. Melendez grin a little. Finally, they’ve reached an understanding.

The subplots occurring during the main plot with Shaun are strong as well, creating a solid backbone for the episode to rest on. Claire, having experienced trauma the week before when a patient died because of her mistake, is having difficulty concentrating at work, and, like a lot of us might do, buries herself in her work because of it, creating a vicious cycle. Dr. Glassman insists she go to counseling, but Claire goes extremely reluctantly. Despite her shaking hands and difficulty focusing, she is adamant she can pull through it on her own. Any other response would be weakness, and she’s worked too hard to get this far to show she’s incapable of doing her job now. She needs to get through it on her own or she’s a failure – or, at least in her mind, more of a failure than she already is for letting someone die.

I sympathize with Claire here, and I appreciate that she’s given room to grow, to own her mistakes and not be judged for them, and to slowly realize that she can’t manage her pain on her own. It’s an interesting contrast to see her choose to open up to Jared – they who started the pilot episode by acknowledging that their relationship was purely friends with benefits, no emotions attached. He is the one she chooses to talk to, and I’m glad she does, because that also gives room for him to open up – and he needs to, with his own trauma this week.

What’s also great about this episode is that I can finally remember the patients and their names – they’re no longer just cases of the week to be forgotten once the credits roll. Jared’s patient, Glenn, is dying, and he wants to die – he sabotaged his pacemaker before a neighbor found him and called 911. Jared spends the majority of the episode sitting with Glenn, just talking – and it’s great for the character, as we finally get to learn what shapes him as a person, but it also shows us, once again, the importance of the patient-doctor relationship, and how difficult that relationship can be.

After two escapes from the hospital by Glenn and two long conversations together, Jared makes the hard decision of granting Glenn his request of a DNR (Do Not Resuscitate), essentially watching his patient die. Glenn is grateful, but it leaves a scar on Jared – I hope he and Claire can find a way to get through their pain together, and hopefully become the support they both need.

There is some heavy stuff in this episode, but it’s also the humor and interpersonal connections that make it great. I absolutely loved watching Dr. Melendez’s face when Shaun tells Liam’s parents that Liam’s surgery went well – Liam’s mom wraps Shaun in a hug, and Dr. Melendez has to stifle a laugh as he can clearly see Shaun’s brain going “NOPE NOPE NOPE NOPE NOPE” as she holds him, and then at Shaun’s obvious, strenuous effort to remain polite when she steps back and apologizes. Shaun’s bedside manner still needs a little work, but I think his straightforward response to Liam’s parents is one of the best things I’ve ever seen. Kava root being the cause of Liam’s need for surgery, Shaun tells them, “You love Liam. You want what’s best for him. I didn’t have that with my parents. But that also means I didn’t have to eat kava root.” Shaun makes his exit – Dr. Murphy out – as Dr. Melendez, again, has to hold back laughter. And it’s the best.

I appreciate this show for its heart, and I’m glad this week it could finally shine through. Plus, I love something I can smile at – Shaun’s joyful exclamation of “I want to go to the Super Bowl” at the end of the episode made me do just that. I’m looking forward to next week’s episode – I hope the momentum this episode’s built up will continue!

TB-TV-Grade-A-Season 1, Episode 7 (S01E07)
The Good Doctor airs Mondays at 10PM on ABC

Read all of our reviews of The Good Doctor here. 
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Cailin is a screenwriter and an aspiring TV writer. When not writing, she’s busy convincing random passersby that Firefly was the best show ever, converting her co-workers into Whovians, and waiting for the next season of Sherlock.
Follow Cailin on Twitter: @sherlocked1058
Keep up with all of Cailin’s reviews here.

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One Response to THE GOOD DOCTOR Review: “22 Steps”

  1. Great review! This was a truly great episode and I agree, the nuanced story and strong characters made it even better. The whole thing between Shaun, Liam and his parents was so nuanced. It was powerful to see the parents initially focusing on being over protective of their son, to making the small step towards asking him what he wanted at the end. The subplots were also surprisingly good.

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