Warning: The following contains spoilers from Part 2 of The Good Doctor‘s Season 3 finale.
It was a Good Doctor moment three seasons in the making.
At the end of Monday’s game-changing finale, Lea gave Shaun an “I’m such a stupid idiot for not seeing it, but I love you with all my heart” kiss, marking the start of a romantic relationship — and a happy ending was much appreciated following the events that preceded it.
First, Andrews informed Morgan that her decision to proceed with Tamara’s operation might have cost her her career as a surgeon, having traumatized her joint capsule incisions from the synovectomy procedure.
Later, Park sat with patient Casey at the site of the brewery collapse, as life left the gravely injured teenager’s eyes. The kid’s inability to connect with his father prior to his death left Park so shaken that he called Mia and Kellan and told them that he plans to move back to Arizona to be closer to them.
Then, in a somewhat shocking twist, surgical attending Neil Melendez (played by original cast member Nicholas Gonzalez; read exit interview here) died after succumbing to internal injuries sustained in the aforementioned collapse.
Below, showrunner David Shore (who co-wrote and directed the episode) weighs in on Shaun and Lea’s inevitable coupledom, the death of Dr. Melendez, and the ripple effects that the finale will have on Season 4.
TVLINE | When I watched the finale, I couldn’t help but be reminded of your previous medical drama House, which also shook things up at the end of Season 3 and dismantled the original diagnostics team. Was that what you wanted to do here? Reset the dynamics ahead of Season 4?
A little bit, yeah. I mean, as a writer, and then as a viewer of TV, I never want to be too stable. You want to be ahead of the audience a little bit. If they’re asking for changes, then it’s too late — and not that these would be the things they were asking for necessarily, but you want to shake things up because you want to throw your characters into challenging situations and see how they react. That’s what you like doing as a writer and as a producer.
TVLINE | Did it feel like you needed this catastrophic event to bring Shaun and Lea together — something big to put their feelings into perspective — after how much they hurt each other in the episodes that preceded the the two-part finale?
Yes. At a certain point we were going, “Does he save her life?,” and we almost instantly said no to that. We wanted them together. Whether it will last is another question, but it felt right from the very beginning. Given what we had leading up to this, I didn’t want it to just be that he does something to her that proves she owes him or something. I didn’t want it to be that. It [needed] to be something that showed her, in very extreme circumstances, exactly who he is. She’s seen him, she’s dealt with him, she’s been friends with him, but I wanted her to see that she was wrong. That is kind of a microcosm of what the show’s trying to do [when it speaks to Shaun’s autism]. We all are who we are, we all have weaknesses, we all have strengths, and we all need to be judged on the whole.
Shaun was right in that prior episode: Lea was being prejudiced. He does have limitations and he does have weaknesses, but we need to look at the whole thing. So, we wanted something to force her eyes open to recognize — not to reassess Shaun, but to reassess herself and to recognize that she was wrong.
TVLINE | Why was now the right time to bring Shaun and Lea together?
Early on in Season 3 we had this trajectory mapped out. That doesn’t mean we didn’t second-guess it. It doesn’t mean we’re right. You know, that is the constant battle in TV when you’re dealing with relationships and the struggles of relationships — when is too soon and when is too late? — and I loved the Carly relationship. I loved that and what that did [for Shaun].
TVLINE | Shaun and Carly really were great together. I thought the chemistry between Freddie and Jasika was fantastic. Did you consider letting that relationship continue?
That relationship was so good. The intention was always [that it was] going to be Lea [in the end], and then [departing series regular Jasika Nicole] was so great and that relationship was so great. Absolutely, it made us second-guess ourselves. We’ll still be second-guessing ourselves. We had the luxury of two great relationships, which is what we wanted. It’s easy to chose A over B when B sucks. It’s more difficult to chose A over B when they’re both good options.
TVLINE | We spent the first half of Season 3 watching Shaun navigate his first romantic relationship with Carly. How will watching him navigate this new relationship with Lea play differently in Season 4?
Well that’s what you’re going to have to tune in for, and that’s what we’re going to have to get together in a writers room — virtually or otherwise — and figure out as we go forward over the next few months. I certainly don’t want to tread the same territory. It’s not going to be about first kiss and that sort of thing again. I think it’s going to be less about navigating the beginning of a relationship and more about navigating a relationship.
TVLINE | Moving on to an even bigger development: the death of Dr. Neil Melendez. Why kill him off?
That’s a really tough question. Look, I’m not going to give you a good answer, but Nick has been great. He was so great going down the final road here. These are the horrible decisions you have to make when you’re running a TV show. You want to tell honest stories. You want to tell stories of life and death, and that includes your regulars on occasion, and on occasion you have to make the bad choice because otherwise you don’t have credibility. In order to keep the show honest, every now and again the worst has to happen, and we wanted to throw our characters into this situation, and we wanted to be honest about it. We wanted to see the fallout from that. That’s the extent of the answer I can give you.
TVLINE | Why this character, though?
We second-guessed this decision constantly, still do… Look, we loved throwing him in this world [of the earthquake] at the end and it worked for so many great stories. We’ve got four parallel but different stories going on in these last two episodes — five, actually — and once we were in this world, this is the one that worked for Melendez. But it wasn’t like we were planning for his exit. It was more, “This was the world we were in, and this is the story we were telling, and this is what worked within that world.”
TVLINE | Was there any concern, given Melendez’s status as Claire’s superior, what it would have meant to explore a relationship between an attending and his resident, had Melendez survived?
It was something we were grappling with. We even grappled with it with Lim and Melendez [after Lim was named chief of surgery], and it’s all the more true with Claire and Melendez. If this was a show that was on the air 15 years ago, it would be a very different storyline. We as a society have become, I think, much more enlightened than we were. Things that we glossed over and treated as minor inconveniences, [we are now] recognizing are real issues, and that makes storytelling more challenging in some ways. But it also opens up doors that weren’t there before…
Yes, a subordinate sleeping with her boss is an issue, being in a relationship with her boss is an issue, and we were aware of that. We explored that to some extent, and dealt with the challenges of it, when Lim became Melendez’s boss.
TVLINE | Moving on to another potential cast departure… What is Will Yun Lee’s status heading into Season 4? Is Park really moving back to Arizona to be closer to Mia and Kellan?
We’re not planning on losing him from the show is the short answer. But that has been Park’s challenge, is his dealing with his commitments to work and his commitments to his personal life — a challenge we all face, but is all the more dramatic when you’re saving lives and at the same time your family is a thousand miles away.
TVLINE | With Melendez gone, will Claire look to Lim for friendship, as well as guidance, as she enters her fourth year of residency?
That is one of the things that I look forward to exploring. We touched upon it, you may have noticed, at the very, very end of the finale. It’s literally two lines of dialogue [when Lim says, “We should get a drink sometime,” and Claire answers, “I’d like that”], but it’s two lines of dialogue that excite me.
TVLINE | Likewise. It also looks like Andrews is going to take Morgan under his wing.
He has, and we were certainly going there this season. She disappointed him, but at the very end she proved herself to him. I love that relationship and I want to explore that more as well.
TVLINE | If Claire is working under Lim, and Morgan is working under Andrews, will Shaun divide his time between them on Cases of the Week, versus having all the residents go and back and forth among attendings?
That is one of the things we need to figure out, and that was one of the challenges of the show: getting everybody in and giving everybody a fair shake. As our residents became more senior, the attendings got pushed to the background to some extent and we didn’t like that. So yes, we’re trying to figure out a way to keep the people we have — all of them — and make sure we give them [material]. We’ve got a great cast and we want to make sure we continue to give them good stories and great opportunities.
TVLINE | Will Season 4 kick off with some sort of time jump, to give these characters some time to grieve Melendez before we see them again?
I’ve got some thoughts on that, that until I discuss them with all my writers, I’d rather not discuss them with you. [Laughs] But I think I know what [we’re] doing.
TVLINE | As much as this season was about Shaun’s first relationship, it was also about family. What will be the focus of Season 4?
I think we’re going to be putting him in more of a supervisory role in Season 4 and see how he rises to that challenge. And, of course, the relationship [between Shaun and Lea]. Exploring that, as we discussed earlier, will be a big part of it.
TVLINE | When exploring these themes of family, there were a lot of tragic moments — whether it was the death of Claire’s mother, or the subsequent death of Shaun’s father. Will Season 4 be quite as dark and tragic? Or will it be a bit lighter?
I don’t think we’ll have as many family members die… I hope. [Laughs] We’ll try not to make things horrible for Claire [next] season, but you know, it was wonderful watching [Antonia Thomas] rise and flex her acting chops. She’s so good.
What did you think of The Good Doctor finale (and Season 3 overall)? Hit the comments with your reactions, then go here to read our exit interview with Nicholas Gonzalez.