Casey Duby ’21 / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer
This season of The Good Doctor has spent much more time on characters’ backgrounds and personal lives, and this episode is no exception. “Tough Titmouse” focuses on how tough parental decisions shape kids’ lives, and if those decisions were the right ones. Dr. Glassman (Richard Schiff) is still visiting with the sleep deprivation-induced hallucination of his daughter, though she’s not there for the pleasant reunion he’d like it to be. When a patient’s behavioral issues become more prevalent than his physical ones, Shaun (Freddie Highmore) harkens back to how adults treated him when he was young – and yes, that means another flashback, which we haven’t seen in quite a while. We see the influence of parenting from other angles as well, as Claire (Antonia Thomas), Melendez (Nicholas Gonzalez), and Dr. Park (Will Yun Lee) are forced to address how their baggage influences their medical decisions – and confront that baggage in the process.
The show is finally hitting its stride as this episode finds the sweet spot between being a medical show and being a drama with complex, compelling characters. Past episodes have featured difficult procedures and medical phenomena that are fascinating in and of themselves, yet “Tough Titmouse” doesn’t even see an operating room. The physical reasons the patients are at the hospital are uncomplicated, easy medical fixes, yet somehow, we don’t even notice their simplicity because what this episode does have in common with every other is that the doctors face an ethical dilemma. Sometimes their choice isn’t the one we would’ve made, and the show’s acknowledgement of a moral middle ground where there can be two right answers – or no right answer – is what keeps us tuning in. This episode has taken more time than any other to delve into why the doctors vouch for what they do, and we’re indulged in a glimpse into Melendez’s family, a flashback of Shaun’s childhood, a mention of Claire’s mother (just to remind us that they haven’t forgotten about her), and more screen time for Dr. Glassman than he ever saw in season one despite the fact that he isn’t contributing to any medical decisions.
Another major aspect of the show that finally finds itself in this episode is the fact that at its core, The Good Doctor is a wholesome show. All of these doctors are good people who want what’s best for their patients, even though their ideas of what’s best are often at odds with each other. We want them to succeed and we especially want things to work out for Shaun. We want him to say and do the right things so that the episode can end on a high note, but with Shaun that can’t always happen. For a while, the show felt at risk of succumbing to this draw to end on an uplifting note, and in doing so turn Shaun into a character that was no longer true to life. In “Tough Titmouse” Shaun is still trying to make up with Lea (Paige Spara) and he, as he often does, fields social advice from his colleagues. But Lea doesn’t want gestures, she wants Shaun to acknowledge what he did and understand what that means about himself. While we know that there are many things about other people that Shaun doesn’t understand, in this episode we see that there are also things about other people that Shaun simply doesn’t care about. This is an aspect of his character that hasn’t been touched on directly before now, and it’s a heavy one to address, yet the final moments of “Tough Titmouse” had me smiling through the credits.
Overall, this episode proves that The Good Doctor knows its characters and is unafraid take the time to let us know them too. Following last week, the first episode where a character other than Shaun had a complete arc outside the main medical plotlines (and outside the hospital entirely), the show is hitting a rhythm and sets itself apart by being a thought-provoking medical drama that is driven as much by character as it is plot, if not more so.
Episode Grade: A-
Watch The Good Doctor on ABC tonight, October 15th, at 10 PM EST.