Good Doctor. The title of this show can mean so many things. It can mean that Park Si-on is an untapped “good doctor”. It can ask the question, “Can he be a good doctor?” It can also ask, “What is a good doctor?” I want to add in there, does addressing any of these questions make this a good show? It seems Good Doctor is using autism and other medical “conditions” and “situations” to create tensions rather than use them organically to explore the world of the hospital with Si-on in it.
What I wanted out of this show was for the writer to show Park Si-on adapting to his new environment and learning to use his prodigious skills and intelligence for people. I also wanted to see him learning to deal with his disability that WILL cause him and others a lot of trouble. He chose a career path that deals with people and he has a social disability.
However, instead of focusing on that, the show creates dramatics using the autism as a catalyst rather than making it realistic. Doctors should know and understand autism. Sure, there will be a few who don’t get it. Sure, there will be many who don’t have the patience to deal with a person with autism. But this show has every doctor misunderstanding Si-on and picking on him, including Yoon-seo who supposedly has so much sympathy and understanding for him.
This next subject is for my unni Joanne and dongsaeng Orion. We were talking about it on Twitter. There was also a hugely emotional situation this episode that tried to highlight hospital politics around Si-on’s disability. While that’s all fine and well, the situation is so tender that it deserved it’s own development.
A couple has a newborn in the NICU and it has not long to live. Si-on wants to save it and save them from pain. He also thinks there is a way to save the baby. It turns into a political battle between different departments in the hospital. However, what makes this situation infuriating is that the mother is aching over child. She and her husband feel helpless. She hasn’t even gotten to hold the 550 gram infant. (Roughly a little over a pound!!!) She has to watch it suffer and all she can do is imagine everything she won’t get to do for her child.
Whoa. That is deep, deep material that writer-nim just brought into play. And he spends all of ONE scene on it. And then uses the parents to pin more blame onto Si-on, making the suffering parents, their pain, Si-on’s sincerity and Si-on political pawns rather than people who are hurting. In a medical drama, a writer has such power to address huge events that shape people. The loss of a child is one of the most intense emotional events in the life of a parent. To watch a child suffer is overwhelming. Addressing this pain is no joke. And it is also full of writing fodder that could logically and emotionally connect to Si-on.
Si-on is highly aware of the suffering parents and of the infant struggling for life. He is more than aware. He is completely affected by it. It is a beautiful chance for the writer to explain how deep a person with autism can be despite their inability to SHOW the world. He can have the other doctors (not JUST Yoon-seo) see it and react to it and help Si-on utilize the emotion for good. The writer can also address a huge issue of the NICU: infant death. Think about it. How treasured are our children? Imagine one who just came into the world only to have to leave again. That’s really intense. For the parent. For the infant. For the doctors who try to help and often fail.
The whole situation needs an emotional exploration. Forget the medical mumbo jumbo. Focus on the people. Focus on Si-on’s humanity. Focus on that infant’s humanity. Focus on the mother’s short motherhood. Make humanity the issue and how it circumvents disability, age, position and all of that B.S. Good Doctor totally missed a great opportunity on this one.
Aside from the NICU infant debacle, my biggest issue with this show is the USE of autism. It’s used to make people fight. Fighting doesn’t have to happen to have conflict. The whole situation with the infant makes Yoon-seo doubt Si-on’s humanity. She starts to think that Si-on is a robot like Do-han says. The reason: Si-on can’t directly answer why he wants to be a doctor and work with patients. She asks him questions like “Why do you want to be a doctor?” and expects a PERSON WITH AUTISM TO GIVE HER A STRAIGHT ANSWER.
Wait a moment while I fume.
Okay, I’m calmER. If she really wanted to know how Si-on felt, she should’ve asked him simple, single answer questions. He does not express emotion well. He takes things literally. When she asks, “Why do you want to be a doctor?” he gives a textbook answer because he is answering her question in terms of being a doctor, not himself, the emotion-feeling human. He can’t tell her that he LOVES the definition and identifies with it and wants to uphold it because it’s what he believes in. That’s part of his disability. She should know that.
Here is why:
1) She should know the basic manifestations of autism. People with autism are at hospitals all the time because they have loads of health issues. On rounds, I can’t imagine a doctor not coming into contact with one. I’m NOT an expert and I don’t know about medical care or doctoring. But from my experience, the parents of my students and the people I work with visit hospitals a LOT and do not have many issues with doctors being ignorant of their disability! At one point I thought she understood Si-on. She told him to thank Do-han for taking on the infant’s surgery despite political ramifications. But she didn’t explain WHY. Just that it was the right thing to do. That’s too abstract for Si-on. Fail, Yoon-seo. Fail.
2) Woo-seok failed to do one very, very important thing: explain to Si-on and the staff how to deal with Si-on! He did not give them clear instructions on how to deal with each other. He did not stay by Si-on’s side to give him aid or to assign him an aide to guide Si-on through the very hairy workings of a hospital. Asking Do-han to “watch over him” is not the same thing. Si-on needs constant vigilance. He needs someone to explain why he has to do certain things in terms he can understand. He needs someone to be his social compass. And Woo-seok did not tell the doctors how to deal with Si-on. He didn’t say, “Sarcasm and abstract explanations don’t work with him. You need to be very clear cut with your directions and tell him why you are asking him to do things.” He didn’t bother to tell them that helping Si-on this way would be worth the extra effort because Si-on has so much to give. Woo-seok just threw Si-on to the wolves and expects him to cope.
In terms of the mothers in this episode complaining about Si-on, that’s pretty dead on. They are ignorant of his disability and only worry that it will make him be a bad doctor to their children. That IS an issue a person like Si-on would have to deal with and I think it’s a great issue to address. They do it so badly, though. Again, the writer just stuck it in to make conflict and didn’t bother to deal with it in a realistic and educational manner. The reason I love the premise of this show is that it allows for a venue to teach about autism. It is badly understood by the masses. But instead, this show seems to be re-enforcing the prejudices and misunderstandings about it. It throws information out and doesn’t explain it. Or the information is completely incorrect. One mother said, “I don’t want someone who used to have autism treating my child.” Uh…used to have? It’s fine to have her bring it up, but someone should’ve corrected her.
The ending of the episode was pretty cheap as well. It ended on a surgical dilemma. I’m going to ask for a human dilemma…again. Make this about the people, show. Make it about Si-on learning about himself, his disability, his skill and the world. Make it about other people learning about him and themselves and working in a hospital where stakes are high. Stop copping out and focusing on selfish board members trying to kick other board members out. Stop focusing on a marriage we don’t care about (between Do-han and his board member girlfriend, Chae-kyung).
What does all of this ranting on my part mean? It means that to be a good doctor, a person needs compassion. It means that Woo-seok can’t just leave Si-on to fend for himself. It means that Do-han can’t yell at anyone he likes because that’s just stressful and not helpful. It means that the residents who pick on Si-on should have some empathy for him even if they don’t understand him. One of them does, but it’s only one. It means that to make Good Doctor a good show, contrived tensions need to stop and they need to let it be character-based, as it was promoted.
EDIT: Someone pointed out that surgeons are often ignorant of non-surgical stuff. In that case, isn’t it MORE important for Woo-seok to educate his surgeons? Hrm???
Episode 3: How to create a good doctor