Good Doctor’s premise had me hooked. I’ve worked with children and adults with autism and it’s one of my passions in life. I’m no expert by any means, but I know a thing or two about autism and people with autism. So I decided to review Good Doctor and its portrayal of autism. All I have to say is: Joo Won is brilliant. And, the writer needs to research autism a bit more.
Before I get started, I will lay this down: I do not think autism is something to be cured. It is something that a person learns how to live with and deal with. That is my biggest contention with this show. Everyone, doctors and non-doctors alike, are concerned with the treatment/curing of Joo Won’s character with autism, Park Si-on.
Si-on is a high-functioning individual diagnosed with autism. He is NOT retarded nor of low intelligence. Not only is he high-functioning, but he is a savant in terms of memory and some sort of medical problem solving. He has the capability to live and function on his own and he seems to have had the proper guidance in terms of day-to-day living. Where he lacks, as is the case with his disability, is with socialization: reading social cues, expressing himself, and general social awareness. These things, with patience, can be taught to some degree.
I have a lot to say about Si-on and Joo Won, so let’s touch on the episode first. There was a lot of unnecessary medical jargon. The particular sequence I’m thinking of involved Si-on standing outside an operating room imaging the operation that the other male lead, Kim Do-han (Joo Sang-wook), was performing. On Si-on’s part, the verbal technical babble makes sense because talking out loud provides necessary aural feedback for him, thinking incrementally is just how he functions. But the other doctors throwing out terminology was overkill. I understand the show was trying to highlight Si-on’s genius by paralleling the situations, but I ended up getting bored.
The entire sequence with Si-on helping the child was a bit over-the-top in terms of dramatics. Si-on’s behavior seemed pretty realistic to me in terms of the disability. There was very little emotional interaction between him and anyone else. He only showed emotion towards the wounded child and it was very stilted and so ADORABLE. The autism aspect of these scenes as fine. It was just how super involved the entire thing was. It seemed excessive. But I’ll go with it because I got to see Joo Won kick acting’s ass.
Also, so far LOVING the OST. The opening song was perfect.
The camera work was very beautiful as well, especially phasing in and out of flashbacks. It also perfectly highlighted the awkward, ill-timed reactions and emotional beats of Si-on and his very different world.
Then we have Park Si-on’s past. First, Choi Ro-won as young Si-on was great. But what was even better was to watch his hyung defend him, care for him, get annoyed at him; all things that a siblings of a person would autism would do. I love the relationship between them and I want to see the after effects of the hyung’s death play out more over the series. The only one we really see is that the death is a catalyst for Si-on to become a doctor; that, and the death of Si-on’s baby rabbit at the hands of his abusive father. Both deaths were inexplicable to him and something he wants to be able to fix and/or prevent in the future. But both deaths, especially the hyung’s would have a major impact on him, as it would on anyone.
I just loved watching the hyung read his outwardly inexpressive sibling like a book. He knew what Si-on was feeling even if Si-on couldn’t properly say it. I loved watching him trying to help his brother make friends. I even love that he died helping his brother make friends (the friends weren’t really friends, but still.)
After his hyung died, I’m guessing Si-on went to an orphanage because he mentioned growing up in one later in the episode. I’m also guessing that the people at the orphanage were semi-knowledgeable about how to treat him because he has a bunch of important life skills as an adult and he graduated from medical school.
Choi Woo-seok played by Cheon Ho-jin is a character I’m loving, although his outlook on “treatment/curing” is convoluted and frustrating. He wants to use residency to test Si-on’s decision skills and understanding of people. Really, a hospital is the WRONG venue for that kind of test. But again, we have to go with it. Also, he is putting his position as director on the line to vouch for Si-on. While that’s all good and well, it’s really not a great idea in terms of, y’know, job security. Si-on is pretty likely to mess up. So is anyone! Because of his autism, I think Woo-seok should’ve taken more time in introducing Si-oh to his colleagues and helped him get settled in. He just left him to the wolves. It’s hard to be the new guy, much less a new guy who can’t really properly react in a new social situation.
As a mentor/parental figure though, Woo-seok is FABULOUS. He is infinitely patient, keeps his voice volume low (most of the time), he stops Si-oh’s fidgeting – all things necessary to have a great relationship with someone with autism. And really, with anyone. Who wants to be in a relationship with someone who always shouts at you for your mistakes?
And by putting his job on the line, Woo-seok makes Si-oh a political pawn, which is a position he is NOT capable of dealing with. Si-oh is not and will probably never be equipped to deal with schemes and political mechanizations. I’m interested to see how writer Park Jae-bum will address this subject. Si-oh will be aware of the tensions and may understand them if they’re explained, but that’s not something he can handle. It could be his downfall in the hospital.
Speaking of the hospital, I really felt that the reactions of the doctors/residents to Si-oh were pretty spot on. Even with knowledge of a disability, being confronted with it is often something people aren’t ready for. The other doctors were extremely put off by his bizarre behavior, which is exactly what happens in real life. And what happens when people are put off? They shun and ridicule. I foresee that in Si-oh’s future. Poor thing. His past was riddled with it.
However, I’m baffled that the doctors and hospital board members have zero understanding of Si-oh’s condition. They think he’s stupid and completely incapable. How is he stupid? He went to MEDICAL school. He speaks well. He functions in daily life. If he had the intelligence of a child, he would not be where he is. My objections would be that he would not be socially aware enough to deal with parents and other doctors. And, he might get too obsessed with a case or issue to let it go. Like how he stood in front of the OR (where the boy he saved was being worked on) for two hours imagining the surgery. He lost his sense of time and was obsessed with it. Also, how will he deal with failure, which in the medical field means death. That’s a biggie.
That said, the doctors are people, too, and even within the medical field there is a surprising lack of knowledge and understanding for autism and disabilities in general. This would be a great topic for the story to address.
I was a bit surprised to see Si-oh has spatial awareness and punctuality. Those are very rare traits in a person with autism. But I guess they’re needed for this story to work
As for Joo Won, how awesome is he? He got the cute little autism mannerisms down pat: the slow way of taking in the world, stance slightly hunch and askew, some hand fidgeting, playing with his beloved scalpal (a gift from his hyung), the aural recitation of direction, his inability to focus on Do-han talking because of his fascination with the Rubik’s cube-type puzzle, and the utter enjoyment of the 3-D cartoon at the train station. I think that was my favorite. That’s not childish, that’s ENJOYMENT. That’s tapping into his sensory needs. It was awesome.
Then we have the romance, which starts early on Si-oh’s part. A drunk Cha Yoon-seo (Moon Chae-won) passes out in the apartment where Si-oh has moved in. Before she does, she strips down to her slip and Si-oh just stares like the man that he is. That and he has no idea what to do about it. It doesn’t even occur to him to talk. It’s so funny. She doesn’t notice he’s there until morning when she screams at the image before her: Si-oh in boxers with a towel around his next, brushing his teeth and staring at the pretty in his bed without any self-awareness. I love his one-sided adoration already. Sensory overload for him: pretty and nearly nekkid. Heh.
I wasn’t really interested in anything else but Joo Won. But Do-han will be a fun watch, I think. He is adamantly opposed to Si-oh and I hope to see him become Si-oh’s biggest advocate. He’s also against Yoon-seo’s focus on the patients’ mental health before physical health. That HAS to change. I actually like Yoon-seo, too. Sweet and she gets drunk and curses at her boss. That’s fun. Hehe.
I’m going to ask my sister for some opinions later once she watches. She’s a music therapy major and her job is to work with people with disabilities. Her input would be totally awesome. (Hint, hint, Lil’ Raine. Hop to it and watch the show!)