Casey Duby ’21 / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer
Warning: the following contains spoilers for the season premiere of The Good Doctor.
There were a few reasons I watched the pilot of The Good Doctor: it’s created by David Shore, the producer of House, and stars Freddie Highmore of Bates Motel and Richard Schiff of The West Wing, three of my all time favorite shows. The list of reasons I’ll be watching the next episode, though, is much longer.
Richard Schiff plays Doctor Aaron Glassman, the president of a prestigious hospital. HE spends the pilot trying to convince the board of San Jose Bonaventure Hospital to hire a young autistic surgeon, Dr. Shaun Murphy (Freddie Highmore).
Meanwhile, Murphy, on the way to the hospital, stumbles upon a freak accident in the airport. A boy is lying on the ground, impaled by glass, and in bad shape until one of the passersby reveals that he is a doctor. Murphy is simply staring, watching the doctor work, until he quietly points out that the doctor’s attempts to save the boy’s life are actually killing him. He then awkwardly, yet dramatically, runs around the hospital gathering the materials he needs to build some makeshift device that manages to keep the boy breathing.
This scene sets the tone for the rest of the episode. This is the first time we see the extent of Murphy’s disability, as he’s desperately trying to save this boy’s life but he can’t properly emote or explain the situation in a way that other people will be able to understand. The pacing of this scene is what’s important. At no point is the audience sitting down for a class about autism; we’re being shown the struggles that it poses in a real, urgent situation, and we feel for him. We build the understanding on our own. This scene also puts the audience solidly on Murphy’s side because despite Glassman’s ongoing debate of whether or not to hire an autistic surgeon, we know Murphy’s up to the job.
Flashbacks of Murphy’s past are thrown in throughout the episode, and his story only gets more tragic. First we see Murphy’s dad grab his pet rabbit out of his arms and hurl it against the wall in a fit of rage. Then we see Murphy’s brother rushing him and the rabbit to the nearest doctor who will take him seriously, who happens to be Doctor Glassman.
The rabbit is dead. It was dead as soon as he hit the wall. Murphy’s brother vows to put an end to everything Murphy has gone through, and the two of them, not even teenagers, run away from home. This doesn’t last long, as Murphy’s brother dies playing in a train station, with Murphy standing right there.
These flashbacks allow us to understand, and feel the emotion of, Murphy’s final answer to the question: why do you want to be a doctor?
“The day that the rain smelled like ice cream, my bunny went to heaven. In front of my eyes. The day that the copper pipes in the old building smelled like burnt food, my brother went to heaven. In front of my eyes.”
I am in no way an expert on autism, nor a valid authority to say how accurately this show is portraying it. But what I garnered from this episode is that autism is a potentially massive communication barrier, and something that can make social interaction, and life in general, very difficult. The audience is able to connect emotionally with Murphy, something that most people might not be able to do if they simply met him on the street. I think this is a difficult, important, and honorable thing to achieve, especially while maintaining the plot and pacing of what is, at its core, a medical show.
The Good Doctor airs Monday nights at 10 p.m. on ABC and is also available on Hulu and Amazon Prime.