The Good Doctor: Season 3 Episode 18 “Heartbreak” – Recap/ Review (with Spoilers)

Shaun contemplating destroying Lea's car.

As Shaun deals with his first set of heartbreaks, Morgan and Claire try to decide if they are capable of compromising their passions.

As Shaun deals with his first set of heartbreaks, Morgan and Claire try to decide if they are capable of compromising their passions.

Directed By Steven DePaul
Written By Thomas L. Moran, David Renaud
Aired (ABC) 3/9/2020

 Plot/ Recap

It’s Not About The Dream, It’s About Reality: Morgan, Dr. Glassman, Dr. Lim

With things not getting better using medication solely, Morgan is stuck between a surgery that would remove the joint linings in her fingers, synovectomy surgery, or finding a different specialty. Which, in her mind, is a difficult decision for while talking with Dr. Glassman pushes the idea the surgery would, at best, give her another decade, from then on she’d be in pain. Leading to, at first, the idea she maybe should forego surgery and focus on the fact she will still be a doctor, just not a surgeon.

However, then Dr. Lim, who she reveals she has RA to, allows her to perform osseointegration, and with that, Morgan decides she is going to have the surgery. For what could be seen as Dr. Lim perhaps giving Morgan a swan song actually relights her fire.

Morgan noting she is going to get surgery on her hands.

To Settle Or Go For Something Challenging?: Claire, Dash, Dr. Melendez

Since season 1, when Dr. Melendez was dating Jessica and Claire was dating or just having sex with, Jared, Melendez, and Claire have had a closeness no one else had with their mentor. At least if you exclude Shaun. For whether they were talking about marriage and children, in a private setting, or having fiery back and forths, we’ve long seen passionate, sometimes vulnerable, exchanges between the two.

Which perhaps is why, despite how good things are with Dash, Claire is content but not happy. Not to forget Dash is her best friend’s longtime partner, and her not being comfortable with dating him when it was proposed to her. However, with realizing their kiss doesn’t spark anything, and she is relying on convenience rather than challenging herself, she allows herself to reveal she does has feelings for Dr. Melendez.

Now, as for whether the feeling is reciprocated? Well, being that Dr. Melendez has been accused of favoritism and his last relationship partly ended due to a power imbalance, it’s hard to say. However, without a birthday, promotion, or any other trigger, Melendez does give Claire multiple compliments that extend beyond her abilities as a doctor. So one could submit, in a subtle, can’t be misconstrued by those outside their relationship way, he put his feelings out there.

Somebody To Lean On: Dr. Andrews, Dr. Lim

Dr. Andrews working at a place he was formerly let go from, after climbing to the highest rank, as you can imagine, could be awkward. Especially since he still maintains some of the airs and graces of his former title and almost acts as he still has the weight behind his words of a managerial staff member. Which, for Dr. Lim, leads to some contentious moments, as we’ve seen in the past.

But, rather than them butting heads due to Shaun or the residents, it is because there is this idea they are in competition, or their egos are getting in the way. Leading to a conversation that ultimately reveals, it isn’t about ego what so ever. Competition? Maybe. Dr. Lim will admit she is a competitive person. However, it’s pushed the matter at hand, alongside the competition, might be Lim wanting to maintain the former relationship of Dr. Andrews being a mentor, but with him no longer her supervisor, so comes the awkward clash. One she doesn’t revel in but comes with the territory.

The First Heartbreak Always Hits The Hardest: Shaun, Claire, Lea

For three days, Shaun sulks in his apartment and finds himself stewing in Lea’s rejection. If he had his way, he’d probably take a whole week, since he has the sick days and time off to do so. However, between Claire pressuring him to go to work and then Dr. Melendez forbidding him to go home, unless he wants to be fired, Shaun is forced to be around people. All the while, having no desire to even try to use all the training and knowledge he has about social cues and niceties.

Yet, in seeing a patient’s girlfriend destroy someone’s car, and get a cathartic release, Shaun gets the idea he should do that to Lea’s prized car. You know, transfer his emotional and mental pain onto something physical and get Lea to hurt to boot. But, Shaun isn’t about that “I smashed the windows out your car” life. He may enjoy some rap and potentially R&B, but that is not his life.

So, instead, he decides to viciously give Lea a verbal tongue lashing as if she did more than say she didn’t want to date him. Granted, part of the reason was her recognizing they aren’t compatible, with one of the reasons being Shaun’s autism, but with Shaun wanting to lash out, she takes it. Plus, considering she has seen Shaun agitated, not full-on mad, who knows what he could do with that metal bat in hand.

But, once he lets go of all his ill feelings, it seems he might be better.

Review/ Commentary


A Recognition That Morgan Isn’t Pursuing The Dream But Living It

It’s often easy with Morgan to label what she says or does to either be selfish or stubborn. After all, when made to feel uncomfortable, challenged, or not in control, her default is that girl we were introduced to who was the Black sheep in her family. Someone who had to prove not being a professional in the arts meant something, that it was of value. Which, for the average person, may seem strange since how highly favored doctors and medical professionals are. But that isn’t Morgan’s life.

Hence her conundrum about whether or not to have the surgery for while she could be successful in oncology, maybe pathology, and still very much be a doctor, consider what it means to use her hands. Her family are artists, sculptors, and musicians. Morgan has potentially expanded the idea of what the Reznick family should be known for beyond the arts but rather their dexterity – the use of their hands in artful ways. So while there aren’t any nieces or nephews, or Morgan having children of her own, what she is doing, maybe feels compelled to do, is create a path for those who follow so they don’t experience what she did growing up.

Dr. Lim & Mentorship

Dr. Lim telling Morgan to get to work.

The unfortunate part of such a show with a large cast but singular focus (Shaun) is we often see characters swapped from being front and center to the back. Alex often experiences this, as seen by his family coming and going off and on, and most characters, once an arc is done, are put on ice. If not, in the case of Claire and Morgan, their storylines start and stop almost on a whim (formerly).

But it seems Dr. Lim, post-dating Dr. Melendez, is now finding a new role on the show, and that is of a mentor and also mentee. Something that we saw previously in Dr. Lim having a conversation with Claire about them being women of color but, as with many of Claire’s storylines, what was started didn’t continue. However, with Dr. Lim giving a nod to Morgan, so it seems while Dr. Lim can’t dedicate her time to residents in a full-on mentorship role, if she knows your struggle, she will shine a light on you. One that allows you to push forward despite whatever insecurities or fears you are experiencing.

And in relation to the Morgan topic, one could say this is all in an effort to change how things operate at the hospital. For while Dr. Andrews likely didn’t mean any harm, one could submit him questioning his boss, asking if she is doing things out of ego, if things were switched, that wouldn’t be tolerated. This isn’t to say he doesn’t respect the position or Lim, but whether you contribute his attitude to their previous relationship or possibly sexism, you can potentially see the issues which come from his approach. Especially since he didn’t speak to her in a private setting, away from the resident or nurses, but in a public setting.

On The Fence

Dr. Melendez & Claire Together

As noted, Claire and Dr. Melendez are a long game potential couple. They have had conversations with one another not in group settings, but one on one, and have shown some realm of vulnerability with one another. And while Dr. Melendez’s storyline has basically been about his relationships, I think I’ve come to the point of accepting that’s how they soften and show the human side of his character.

Now, as for Claire? Well, I still don’t like the idea of her being bridled to her storyline revolving around a relationship – a romantic one at that. For as much as I’d like to see Claire be happy, from the handling of her mother’s death, Dr. Coyle, and even her having a ho phase, it seems any individual storyline Claire has doesn’t get to be fleshed out fully. However, if it can include someone else, especially in a romantic context, there is a full dedication there.

Claire admitting to herself she loves Dr. Melendez.

But, with most shows, not just “The Good Doctor,” that is the case.

Shaun Going Off On Lea & His Attitude In General

One of the things I feel the need to recognize is that Shaun isn’t perfect, and as much as he is high functioning and a symbol of what people with autism are capable of, he is human. On top of that, there has never been a pursuit of making Shaun anything but that. Unlike how we see other marginalized people, Shaun has never been writing as the first and dealing with the weight of that or some kind of role model. Shaun’s autism has been an issue more so for other people and their expectations than something Shaun has closely identified with.

Yet, even taking note of that, I find it hard to support how he approached Lea. Granted, the discrimination I can face as a Black person, in the dating world, isn’t the same as Shaun would as someone who deals with autism. However, his handling of that rejection was something I could support up until he wanted to smash Lea’s car.

Why? Well, for one, him threatening her car over being rejected seemed like an overreaction. This isn’t to discount Shaun’s feelings, or the fact, like so many times in this show, he is just doing what he saw someone else do and is seeing whether that would work for him. Not to forget, considering Shaun hasn’t really had a dating life up until now, he is basically a teenager.

Now, this isn’t me saying Shaun is mentally a teenager but more so with this being his first time dealing with romantic emotions, his feelings spike and deep like you’ expect from a teenager. Yet, in him stopping himself from destroying Lea’s car, it showed that, despite his anger, he still cares about Lea enough to not destroy her car.

Leading to the thing which made me feel uneasy – Shaun going off on her. Which, for viewers, I think it could be an opportunity to live vicariously. A moment that would allow you to say what you thought about Lea for breaking Shaun’s heart and being honest about why she didn’t want to date him. However, for me, it felt like it went a bit too far. For whether you take note of the bat in Shaun’s hand, the threat to her property or, as usual, Shaun showing up when he likes and demanding Lea’s attention, so much of this felt so wrong.

And as for what Shaun said, again, I have mixed feelings. Is most of what he said what Lea has said about herself or is part of a clear pattern? Yes. But Shaun deciding, just because he got rejected romantically, to burn that bridge? I can’t support that and can’t excuse it either. For as much as there is a need to recognize Shaun might be triggered due to his interaction with that girl who faked liking him, among other reasons previously named, it’s hard to blame Lea for not living up to Shaun’s fantasies. If not the side effect of him doing so well at work, and with Carly, to a point, and being unable to handle one of the few failures we’ve got to see him experience.

All of which hopefully doesn’t sound callous, for we have this “On The Fence” heading for a reason. It’s just, I think Lea is being judged a little too harshly, and while she did kiss Shaun, and one could say she did plant some sort of idea here, I feel it is due to Carly and others Shaun took this leap. So, if anything, he should be lashing out on the people who continually plant seeds of doubt in his head, or push him to “Shoot his shot,” for lack of a better term, than the people who don’t respond to him as he hoped.

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  1. You make some valid points Amari while you still fall victim to the wicked writer’s game. You are still looking for excuses where there can only be explanations! You are well meaning, but even well-meaning prejudices against the impaired remain being prejudices. 😉

    Like me, Shaun is a high-functioning individual with ASD. He has probably above average IQ (he’ a MD after all), he pays taxes, he has the right to vote – he is far from being declared mentally incompetent. Therefore, he possesses freewill and must be held accountable for all his actions.

    If this incident of 3.18 had taken place in Germany and Lea decided to press charges, Shaun would probably (I’m no legal expert) stand trial for two criminal offences:

    § 303 StGB: tried property damage – fine or imprisonment up to 2 years;
    § 241 StGB: menace – fine or imprisonment up to 1 year in prison.

    Since Shaun is a first offender an no real harm was done, the judge would probably decide for suspension of sentence on probation with obligation to undergo therapy.

    You see? Shaun’s psychological condition must be taken into consideration, but it does not give him a wild card.

    From my more psychological perspective, Shaun’s diagnosis is a mere guidepost what approaches can be taken to improve his live – but he must go this path willingly or suffer the consequences of failing.

  2. I have wanted to do that to a couple of guys in my life, but I’m too much of a wuss!<<

    Obviously, you are an example for good emotional self-regulation and moral reasoning, Emily51. 😉 Shaun on the other hand… well, not so much.

    And Andreas, after reading your comments, it seems the research backs up that Shaun would be inclined to do that to Lea’s car.<<

    This is somewhat tricky to say. Simply put what the writers do is screening statistics on autism and picking behavior that will proceed their storyline. The statistics give you only a likelihood for a distinct behavior within a population or sample, they don’t say that every individual with ASD will display it at a certain time.

    There is an increased likelihood of violent behavior in autistic populations, so it was an option. But with Shaun there is also his childhood trauma about a violent father. Such violence can be “inherited”. Individuals who were beaten by their parents are more likely (!) to beat their own offspring and to exert violence against others. That’s the reason why educationalists and psychologists advocate for nonviolent upbringing.

    When I saw the promo photos of a desolated Shaun in his apartment before the episode aired, my best guess was another likelihood – suicidal ideation is even more likely within autistic populations (up to 66%!) than violent assault. But the writers went with an assault on Lea’s property instead, probably as a clear signal that her concerns against a romantic relationship are well founded.

    But I’m curious: I noticed that the woman who smashed up the patient’s car got away with it because he was too sick or not inclined to call the police. Do you think Shaun might not have wanted to smash Lea’s car if he had seen consequences for that violent action, instead of the girlfriend telling him how good it made her feel?<<

    Exactly. He did not see the negative consequences and therefore concluded it was a rightful expression of his emotions. His moral reasoning is compromised by his ASD. Individuals with autism like to follow rules. But they need to be explicitly told what the rules are.

    “Moral reasoning is a social– cognitive process by which one judges an action to be worthy of praise or blame. Moral reasoning may be viewed as a fundamental and specific capability encompassing normative evaluations of one’s own actions and the actions of others in light of their behaviors and mental states. Persons with ASD have more difficulty understanding and predicting the behaviors, beliefs, and intentions of others.” (White et al. 2017, p. 148)

    Concerning Claire, my bet is that her honeymoon of mental clarity will not last long. Melendez is still her direct superior and then there’s his unresolved situation with Lim, professionally as well as personally. They are not setting up a new couple but the first interpersonal conflict of season 4.

    1. Andreas – Thank you for the compliment! Now I will give you a compliment: Your English is excellent!! And thank you for answering my question about Shaun smashing Lea’s car. Your answer was interesting to read.

      With Melendez, I could be wrong, but it seems the whole storyline involving him and Dr, Lim has already been resolved. The show has not addressed it in many episodes, so I believe that means the writers have moved on to other issues like Melendez and Claire and, as Amari pointed out, Dr. Lim being a mentor or “mentee” to other doctors. But I’m not sure what you mean by an “interpersonal conflict” and who it exactly involves.

      1. Thank you Emily51, your compliment lifts my heart and makes me forget the wearisome years of studying your language. 😉 You’re welcome to ask me anything about ASD. For obvious reasons, it’s something I really can give informed advice about.

        Concerning Claire, Lim and Melendez: I guess with TGD no issue is closed for sure. Shaun caught Claire flirting with Melendez mid-season 1. In season 2 Lim and Melendez had thing. They pulled up Dash from season 2 as a plot device to make Claire thinking about her commitment issues… They don’t do straight stories in TGD. With the upcoming disaster episodes Claire and Melendez’s feelings will be fired up, either in Claire alone or in both. And Lim will be involved emotionally, too since Melendez life will be in danger. I wouldn’t write Lim’s feelings about the matter off yet.

        Amari picked that up already, with Lim we have seen the foreshadowing of two new plotlines in the last few episodes: mentorship and motherhood. Both themes are close, it’s about giving and taking care. Divorced chief of surgery Lim will probably feel lonesome soon, I guess. The show can’t constantly introduce additional characters because of runtime and complexity issues, to whom can Lim turn?

        And then, with the upcoming earthquake a classic trope of the action movies comes into play: characters in live-threatening situations start to bond. Sounds like a cliché, but there’s a reason why this has been around so long. It’s called misattribution of arousal in psychology: when individuals experience physiological responses related to fear for example, they might mislabel those responses as romantic arousal. This can supply the needed spark to drive a romantic plot forward. And conveniently for any drama, when the misattribution effect wears off the characters are likely to reconsider…

        1. You’re right that Claire and Melendez have been an ongoing storyline since Season 1. And I see how the upcoming earthquake will bring about romantic feelings with one or both of them. I still don’t think Lim’s feelings towards Melendez will be anything more then concern of the Chief of Surgery towards one of her surgeons and a friend concerned for another friend. But as Amari can attest to, whenever I make a prediction here, I am always wrong!

  3. Regarding that last scene with Shaun and Lea – As I have written before, I place part of the blame on Lea because she told Shaun she loved him, period. Not I love you as a friend or I love you but I’m not IN love with you, but I love you. So even neurotypical people would take that to mean the same thing Shaun did. But Shaun wanting to smash up Lea’s car was going too far and was too violent. And Andreas, after reading your comments, it seems the research backs up that Shaun would be inclined to do that to Lea’s car. But I’m curious: I noticed that the woman who smashed up the patient’s car got away with it because he was too sick or not inclined to call the police. Do you think Shaun might not have wanted to smash Lea’s car if he had seen consequences for that violent action, instead of the girlfriend telling him how good it made her feel? Either way, I don’t blame Shaun for yelling and insulting Lea because I think she led him on with the kiss and telling him she loved him. I have wanted to do that to a couple of guys in my life, but I’m too much of a wuss!

    Regarding Claire – When she said she was in love with her boss, I said (in my head) “Nooooo!!!” Are the writers that lame that they can’t think up a decent storyline for someone as talented as the actress that plays her?!? They have a good one with Morgan and her RA. And I like Dr. Lim and her mentor/sort of mentee mini-storyline. So give something decent to Claire!!

  4. Dear Amari, forgive me for re-using a text I wrote for another social media forum, but it might shed much light on your questions concerning Shaun’s latest behavior (and I need way more time to write in English). Your confusion is – again – a result of little knowledge about autism. An effect I strongly suppose to be volitional by the show.

    A flawed hero: The darkness in Murphy MD

    Psychology and creative writing have shared ambitions. Both aim to describe, explain, predict and control human behavior and cognition. Most is easier done with characters in a work of fiction, obviously.

    I’m really impressed with the finesse of The Good Doctor’s storytelling style. For weeks now, I hoped for Lea to speak up in length to make the audience understand her reasons for rejecting Shaun as a boyfriend.

    Instead, the writers showed us Lea’s concerns in detail:

    Shaun does not listen to her (2.2-6, 3.14, 3.15, 3.17);
    Shaun is not responsive to her emotional needs (1.11, 2.1-4, 2.7, 3.14, 3.15);
    and now in 3.18 – Shaun lashes out on her because he can’t process and control his own emotions properly.

    This is very elegant, simple yet concise storytelling, because it accomplishes much with little screen time:

    it’s stringent, because the story develops from already established character traits,
    it describes several negative autism-related traits and behavioral effects in one single story arc

    What’s the problem with Shaun’s ASD?
    – literal-mindedness: he tries to “fix it” by hanging toilet paper the other way;
    – naivety & moral reasoning: he is easily manipulated by other’s sentiments and actions (co-workers, patients, and patients’ associates);
    – hyper-focus: he has highly restricted, fixated interests that are abnormal in intensity;
    – perspective taking/theory of mind: he lacks reciprocity in relationships;
    – alexithymia as comorbidity: he has difficulties to identify and express his emotional states (“loves both but one more”);
    – emotional self-regulation: he has difficulties to regulate his emotional expression in a socially tolerable manner;
    – self-injurious (3.10!) and offensive behaviors (1.10, 2.17, 3.18!);
    – childhood trauma as comorbidity.

    Violent behavior is a known problem with autistic individuals: “The offenses linked to autism are usually arson, sexual assault, stalking, and in some rare cases, homicide (…).” (White, Meloy, Mohandie, & Kienlen, 2017, p. 145) A UK study by Balfe and Tantam (2010) on 42 individuals with high-functioning autism (like Shaun)/Asperger syndrome found that 84% of felt angered easily, 31% often hit other people and 15% had trouble with the police:

    “Problems with aggression and violence were also common. Berney […] notes that children with Asperger syndrome who have anxiety or mood problems are often more aggressive than those without, which may account for the high levels of violent behaviour reported in this study. Figures here match those supplied by Tantam […] though exceed by some threshold figures supplied in other studies […]. Other risk factors for violence in people with Asperger syndrome include impairments in interpreting nonverbal expressions, which can reduce empathy for other […], and feeling isolated and powerless, which are again characteristics shared by this sample.”

    “In his review, Im (2016) also concluded that descriptive case reports suggest the following features of ASD could increase the likelihood of violent acts: impaired theory-of-mind abilities; difficulty appropriately perceiving nonverbal cues; intense, restricted interests; and comorbid psychiatric disorders. The exact nature of such contributions—whether causation, correlation, mediation, or moderation—is not well understood at present.” (White et al., 2017, pp. 147–148)

    This storyline dives deep into darkness. Now, considering this—why is it that so many in social media have lashed out at Lea for rejection, but excuse Shaun’s misconduct? Because they want their heroes to be all good? Should autism be told as fairytale?

    Balfe, M., & Tantam, D. (2010). A descriptive social and health profile of a community sample of adults and adolescents with Asperger syndrome. BMC Research Notes, 3, 1–7.
    White, S. G., Meloy, J. R., Mohandie, K., & Kienlen, K. (2017). Autism spectrum disorder and violence: Threat assessment issues. Journal of Threat Assessment and Management, 4(3), 144–163.

    1. I think most have a need to see Shaun as a victim. It’s like shown on “Everything’s Gonna Be Okay” with the character Matilda, who is on the spectrum. When she has sex with someone, which we see she initiated, there is the question if she can give consent, despite her being high functioning.

      With Shaun, I think people, myself included likely, due to our ignorance due to not having someone with autism in our personal lives, aren’t necessarily sure how to see certain things which deal with Shaun. Especially as it is pushed autism is less of a spectrum and more like a slew of dials or levers. Making it so you aren’t sure what should and can be excused due to his autism, what is due to Dr. Glassman raising him, and what is purely Shaun? And while, in many ways, all of this together is Shaun, I think there is that unfortunate need for anyone who isn’t atypical, cis, and what have you, to always be the best representative of their community.

      Thus leaving Shaun, one of only a handful of depictions of a person with autism, maybe the sole one leading a program on network TV, having to carry the weight of an entire demographic.

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