In tonight’s Season 3 finale of The Good Doctor, the staff at St. Bonaventure Hospital continued sifting through the ruins of the massive earthquake that rocked San Jose—and as promised, not everyone on the ABC series made it out alive.
Several characters’ lives hung in the balance during the two-part finale, which began airing last week with Episode 19, “Hurt.” In the end, it was Dr. Neil Melendez (Nicholas Gonzalez) who didn’t make it, in a tragic twist of fate. In the penultimate episode, Melendez was knocked down by rubble, with what appeared to be only minor injuries. Continuing to aid the injured for as long as he could, Melendez ultimately ended up in a bed at St. Bonaventure, succumbing to a rapidly advancing case of ischemic bowel.
While the attending surgeon was tonight’s only casualty among the principal cast, the events of Episode 20, “I Love You,” forecast a number of major changes to come in Season 4. Bonding with a dying young man in the finale, Dr. Alex Park (Will Yun Lee) indicated at episode’s end that he’ll be moving away next season, to be closer with his family.
Then, there’s Dr. Morgan Reznick (Fiona Gubelmann), a surgeon who grappled with a diagnosis of rheumatoid arthritis for much of Season 3, hiding the news from her superiors. Enduring a dramatic surgery late in the season in hopes of saving her hands — and her career — Reznick performs surgery while still healing in the finale, sacrificing her ability to work in that space, in order to save a life at a time when no one else is available to help.
Finally, there’s Dr. Shaun Murphy (Freddie Highmore), the young surgeon with Savant syndrome, who saves the life of a woman impaled by steel rebar, while reeling from the rejection of his longtime love interest Lea (Paige Spara). Coming to grips with Lea’s decision while dealing with a life-or-death crisis, Shaun is surprised to find Lea waiting for him once he emerges from the depths of a destroyed brewery, kissing him passionately and telling him, “You make me more.”
So, what will the events of tonight’s finale mean for the next season of The Good Doctor? In an interview with Deadline, series creator/executive producer David Shore broke down the emotional finale, explained why Melendez had to die and teased what’s to come in Season 4 and the fates of Park and Reznick. A showrunner with a long history in medical television who also created Fox’s House, Shore also touched on the still-unfolding coronavirus epidemic, discussing the impact it would have on the direction of the next season, and on the future of television at large.
DEADLINE: How long have you had the ending for The Good Doctor’s third season in mind?
DAVID SHORE: That’s a tough question to answer, believe it or not. We always wanted Shaun to wind up with Lea. Jasika [Nicole] was so great, and the Carly role was so great that we had to second-guess ourselves on occasion, which was exactly what we wanted. But we always wanted to get towards that. We wanted to do something big to end the season and put a lot of lives in jeopardy, for all the obvious reasons.
The reason we do a medical show is because of life-and-death stakes. Here, we have an opportunity to really put that front and center, and it’s exciting. It was fun to film. The specifics of it started rounding into place just a couple of months, probably, before we filmed it. So, notionally, we had some of this in mind. But as with everything, the specifics take a long time to formulate.
DEADLINE: Did you consider any alternatives, as far as specific aspects of the finale? Were other possibilities evaluated, in determining who would live and die?
SHORE: No [laughs]. I don’t have a good answer. I mean, when you do a story like this, you want to be honest. When you do a series like this, you want to confront mortality. That’s what the series does. You need bad results every now and again to keep things honest and keep the audience believing that bad things are going to happen, just because you want to be honest, and because you want to put people in those positions. You want to see how people react to bad news, as well as good. So, you want, every now and again, bad things to happen, and to see the fallout from it. That’s what you want to explore as an audience; that’s what you want people to feel.
I mean, we’re an unabashedly emotional show. The specifics of it were a lot of room discussion, a lot of back-and-forth, a lot of mind-changing, and I don’t have an answer for you that’ll make everybody go, “Oh, I see. That’s great.” There are going to be people that hate it, and part of me struggles with it. Nick was so great, but you want to go where the stories take you.
DEADLINE: So, there was no specific reason Dr. Melendez ended up on the chopping block?
SHORE: I’d rather not go into it, particularly. None of it is personal. You know, Nick was fantastic, and there’s nothing I can say to you that will make you go, “Oh, yeah. Okay. It had to be that way.” We wanted to lose a character that we would feel something about, and feel pain about, and certainly, he’s a character that so many of them have been in touch with. Lim had a relationship with him; Claire was starting a relationship with him; Shaun obviously had his thing with him, although their paths don’t really cross in the finale. I think that would have been largely true for any of our characters, but it’s particularly true for him.
Look, this is the nature of these sorts of shows, I believe, is you go forward, and people come and go. It’s a dynamic being, the show. New characters are going to come, old characters are going to leave, and we feel the pain when they leave, and we feel excitement when they come. All of it is designed to give us an opportunity to explore different relationships.
DEADLINE: It seems like we might be losing another character in Season 4, albeit in a different sense, with Dr. Park leaving the hospital…
SHORE: You’d have to wait to see on that one.
DEADLINE: Then there’s Dr. Reznick. While she will conceivably end up working in the hospital in a different role, it seems her days as a surgeon are gone.
SHORE: There’s going to be changes for that character. Look, I don’t think Dr. Park is going to be leaving. I don’t think Dr. Morgan’s going to be leaving, but there are going to be changes for those characters as a result of things that have happened to them and the experiences they’ve had—in her case a physical change, in his case an emotional change. But there will be changes for both of them.
DEADLINE: Is there anything else you can share about what’s to come in Season 4?
SHORE: Not a lot. I’m excited by the opportunities that we all see set up in this. I’m not a genius enough to know where things are going. That’s the excitement for me, too. I’m excited by the opportunities it’s presenting for me and the excitement for the audience, but to a great extent, all that’ll be determined over the next few months, as we sit down in the writers’ room, or sit down in our respective offices, and join each other over the internet, and put some flesh on the bones of these opportunities.
DEADLINE: Obviously, production across the industry has been shut down due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. It’s interesting to hear that you will still be able to work together remotely, in writing the next season.
SHORE: It’s not ideal, but it’s not ideal for anybody, obviously. We are in discussions now. We haven’t started yet, but I suspect when we do start, it will be via some sort of video conferencing, and we’ll see how that goes.
DEADLINE: The Good Doctor is one of several medical shows to have donated supplies to medical professionals on the front lines of the pandemic. How did that come about?
SHORE: I believe we did this at the end of House. It wasn’t the same situation, but we donated some supplies, I believe to overseas. Look, the world has a crisis. We’re pretending to save lives, and people are out there really saving lives. We heard there’s a need for equipment, and some of that equipment, we actually had for our little pretend thing, so it was kind of a no-brainer that we should pass that along and do what we can.
DEADLINE: How do you think the pandemic will creatively impact shows like The Good Doctor, going forward?
SHORE: That’s a really good question. I obviously don’t know the answer to it. My basic view when you’re doing a TV show, and this specific TV show, is it exists in the real world. It exists in this world exactly as it is, except for The Good Doctor is not on TV [laughs]. That’s the one thing that’s not in Shaun’s world.
Look, this is a challenge for society. Our little challenges are so trivial by comparison, but yes, we will have to make some decisions about that, and I think, to some extent, live in that reality. But we don’t know what that reality is going to be. You know, when the writers meet in April and May and June to discuss episodes that will be on the air in September, October and November, things are changing so fast that it’s kind of impossible to know.
DEADLINE: Do you think most showrunners will have to confront the question you posed—whether or not, or to what extent, their series will directly address this real-world pandemic?
SHORE: Yes, exactly. Shows in alternative realities won’t have to deal with it—sci-fi and stuff—but if you’re doing a legal show, if you’re doing a cop show, the world just looks different. We’re all hoping things go back to normal, but we don’t know when, we don’t how fast. At the same time, we don’t want to exploit the current situation. But we’re telling stories about the world that we live in, and this is part of the world we live in right now.
DEADLINE: You must regularly consult with medical experts, while working on The Good Doctor. Have you spoken with any of them about what’s happening in the world now?
SHORE: They’re busy right now [laughs]. So, if I happen to be speaking with them, I’ll ask them, and I’m hearing the same stuff that we’re all hearing, to some extent…I don’t have any inside information to give you. We’re all worried about it, including our doctors.
DEADLINE: In the course of your television career, you’ve covered quite a number of natural disasters, The Good Doctor’s disastrous earthquake being just the most recent example. If you do decide to address the current pandemic in the fourth season, how do you think you’ll approach it?
SHORE: We did a quarantine episode last season—a two-parter…about a respiratory illness. For the people involved, it was very, very significant, but it wasn’t global. Those stories…you know, we’re going to have to face the reality of this, but those are not the stories that I’m interested in telling.
Obviously, we’re dealing with the discussions of fictional stories I want to tell. I want to tell personal stories, individual stories, and so how a global pandemic affects one family is the kind of thing that I might be interested in telling. How society at large reacts is not a thing I’m interested in.
Obviously, I hope it’s not reflected in my answer that I think that’s not important. It’s obviously incredibly important, but the stories I want to tell in my little TV show are about individuals and their reactions to the world’s problems.