The Good Patient

I have very slowly become a fan of the ABC show The Good Doctor. The friction that is patient 4the basis of the show—Dr. Shaun Murphy is better than everyone else at the hospital in diagnosis and treatment and worse than everyone else in interpersonal relations—is hard for me to manage. I also thought that they would settle on a format and just crank each week’s episode through that format and be done with it.

They haven’t reused a format so far—or I didn’t catch it—and they keep making the friction worthwhile. So I’m still watching. [1]  Still writing about it, too.

DYLAN KINGWELLThis one is called “Point Three Percent,” [2] and in it we meet an amazing boy. Evan Gallico (Dylan Kingwell, who also plays Steve Murphy, Shaun’s brother, when they both are young). [3]  Evan is committed to protecting his parents. That is the common element of the several strategies he adopts. He is bright and caring and perceptive. He is not the kind of kid you want to see die of cancer.

He tells Dr. Murphy that he already knows he has cancer. The parents have gone to great lengths to keep him from finding out, but he found out anyway. Here is how that goes.

Shaun: You have cancer.

Evan: Yeah, I know. Hey, it’s OK. I’m not afraid to die.

Shaun: You’re not?

Evan: Well, the dying part will suck if it hurts, but I’m not afraid about the actual death part.

Shaun: Because you believe you’re going to heaven? [4]

Evan: Because I don’t. If I believe in Heaven, then I’ve got to believe in God and then I got to believe God made me sick. How messed up is that? It’s just easier to think that it’s all random and when it’s over, it’s just…over.

So that’s where Evan is and why he is there. I want to come back and touch on his theological reasoning later, but I want to look at the second confrontation first—this one with his parents.

Evan: Dad, I know all about the cancer. I have for a long time.

Mr. Gallico: I am so sorry.

Evan: It’s OK. [Looks out the door to the hallway and sees Dr. Murphy there] …because I’m not gonna be alone. Grandma’s going to be there, too. Auntie Arlene. Uncle Jim, if he figures out how to stop swearing…

[Looks out the door again and he and Shaun hold a gaze briefly, then Shaun walks away]

The common element in Evan’s world is not heaven or not. It is protecting his parents as best he can. He protects them first by pretending that he doesn’t know. When, as a result of Dr. Murphy’s investigations, it is no longer possible to pretend, he pretends to believe in heaven and populates it with people who will be meaningful to his parents.

Evan is completely persuasive in each of his narratives. It is only the viewers and Shaun Murphy who see both performances and are forced to realize just how much they are performances. Evan’s love for his parents is shown in his protecting them from knowing that he knows he is dying and also, when that is no longer possible, protecting them from the despair they imagine he must feel. I love him wholeheartedly.

On the other hand, his theological calculations skip over free will. There are a lot ofpatient 1 things God can no longer do once He has committed Himself to free choice in his creatures. That is what intervenes between “if I believe in Heaven, I’ll have to believe in God” on the one hand, and “then I’ve got to believe that God made me sick,” on the other. Evan believes that whatever happens must be the will of God because God can do anything. But it seems to me that God limited the playing field a great deal by creating people capable of saying Yes or No to Him.

Then there is the further question of whether a bad thing is pointless. Job wondered that same thing and came to the opposite conclusion. In 42:3 , Job says,”I was the man who misrepresented your intentions with my ignorant words. You have told me about great works that I cannot understand, about marvels which are beyond me, of which I know nothing.” That is not where Job began, but it is understandable given the argument he has just made. Evan doesn’t get that far. It is either good or random for him. I am willing to praise him for his love of his parents and to admire him for his candor to his doctor.

But I think his theology leaves something to be desired.

[1] There is always something about an episode that isn’t really about the plot, but that catches my attention. Last October, I wrote one on what “honesty” and “candor” mean. See October 13
[2] Although if memory serves, it was actually .003%

[3]  They help us through that by having the president of the hospital (Richard Schiff) say, “He looks exactly like your brother, Steve.”

[4] We are not given any clear theology that Dr. Murphy holds, but his way of saying “die” is “went to heaven.” He saw his rabbit “go to heaven” when his father threw it against a wall. He say his brother, Steve, “go to heaven” when he fell off the roof of a train. Six episodes in, I still have no idea whether Shaun has any beliefs about God at all.



About hessd

Here is all you need to know to follow this blog. I am an old man and I love to think about why we say the things we do. I've taught at the elementary, secondary, collegiate, and doctoral levels. I don't think one is easier than another. They are hard in different ways. I have taught political science for a long time and have practiced politics in and around the Oregon Legislature. I don't think one is easier than another. They are hard in different ways. You'll be seeing a lot about my favorite topics here. There will be religious reflections (I'm a Christian) and political reflections (I'm a Democrat) and a good deal of whimsy. I'm a dilettante.
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