Warning: This article contains spoilers from the first season finale of The Good Doctor, which aired Monday night. Read at your own risk!
In the ABC medical drama’s last episode of the season, Dr. Shaun Murphy (Freddie Highmore) and Dr. Aaron Glassman (Richard Schiff) went on an emotional rollercoaster as they dealt with Glassman’s brain cancer diagnosis. At first the doctors only give Glassman a few months to live, but at Shaun’s urging, Glassman undergoes more tests and discovers that his initial diagnosis was wrong, and he’ll hopefully see the other side of this after some chemotherapy.
Unfortunately, Shaun is so distracted by Glassman’s predicament that he makes a near-fatal error in the operating room. Luckily, he and his colleagues are able to catch the mistake before their patient dies. Although Dr. Melendez (Nicholas Gonzalez) and the team are willing to cover for Shaun, the titular good doctor lives up to his name and decides to report himself to Dr. Marcus Andrews (Hill Harper), which puts Glassman’s job in jeopardy since he promised the hospital’s board that he would step down if Shaun proved to be anything less than excellent. Nevertheless, Glassman stands by Shaun and accompanies him to Andrews’ office at the end of the hour. Thus, both Shaun and Glassman’s jobs hang in the balance as the season comes to a close.
EW had a chance to hop on the phone with showrunner and executive producer David Shore to chat about writing the finale, what to expect from season 2, and more.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Did you know from the beginning that you wanted to end the season with Glassman learning he has brain cancer?
DAVID SHORE: Not specifically. I knew I wanted to bookend what we started the season with, which is Glassman making this promise about Shaun: Shaun would be excellent or they would both be gone was the promise he made. I knew I wanted Shaun to be obviously a human being with strengths and weaknesses, which meant he’s going to make saves other people don’t make and he’s going to make mistakes that other people don’t make. And I wanted him to make a mistake, and I wanted to see the fallout of that.
When I spoke to Richard at PaleyFest, he said he guessed that something was going to happen to Glassman when he read the pilot.
Oddly enough, even though he really discovers it later in the season, we did hint at it, I have to say, in the pilot. There’s a moment in the pilot where Jessica [Beau Garrett] wonders what’s going with him, why is he being so protective of her, and he says he’s not always going to be there to protect her and there seems to be more to the story there. Yeah, right from then I felt like that’s a possibility.
Was there ever a version of this finale or the future of the show where Glassman’s cancer was inoperable and incurable?
Not really. First of all, I neither wanted to end the episode with Glassman’s death, nor did I want to end the episode with “Glassman’s fine.” If we’re going to make a character as important as this guy and as fundamental to our show sick, I want to explore that, and I don’t want to explore that for one episode. The impact that his condition has on Shaun and himself, and their relationship, is something worth exploring. I think it’s going to be very relatable. We’ve all had to, or will have to, deal with caring for people we love, and that’s a storyline I want to explore.
I know the writers’ room isn’t open yet, but is that one of the ideas you have for next season?
Definitely. We’re going to follow through on this. He’s not out of the woods yet. He’s got a lot of treatment, as he says, and we’re going to go down that road.
Shaun and Glassman have that “I love you” moment at the end. Is that something you’ve been working toward all season?
I gotta tell you that moment came to me literally as I was writing the episode. It wasn’t quite structured like that, even at the outline stage. Then when I was writing the script, I rearranged the ending and it just felt right. I was very pleased with the idea, and I hope people respond to it.
The episode ends with them working into Marcus’ offices. Is it fair to assume that he’ll be back San Jose next season?
I think it’s fair to assume he’ll be back at San Jose St. Bonaventure. His role may be different, his relationships may be different, the hierarchy may be different, everything may be different, and we’ll see how that unfolds.
Do you have an idea of what those differences will be yet?
I do, but I don’t think I can go quite that far to share.
This is an emotionally intense episode. What was the hardest scene for you and your co-writer, Lloyd Gilyard Jr., to nail?
Lloyd and I work nicely together. The medicine was a little tricky. That seems so mundane, but I kept having Lloyd go back to the doctor and go, “No, it can’t be bad, but it also can’t be great! It’s gotta be right in that sweet spot of hope.” Then we needed a negative twist and a positive twist. Thank goodness we’ve got good doctors to help us. Yeah, it was a tricky episode, but it came together pretty nicely and relatively easily because it did feel like we had built to this, and it felt like so much of it had been earned in the previous episodes.
Is there a character that you didn’t get to do a lot with this season and have plans for in season 2?
Nothing specific. All of them. I want to learn more about all of them and put all of them in different situations and have Dr. Shaun Murphy learn from them and teach them. That’s a vague answer, but it’s true.
One cliffhanger from the season is Jared’s future at St. Bonaventure. He received an offer from another hospital in the penultimate episode. Will we return to that in season 2?
Yes, I hope so.
Looking back at the first season, what are you most proud of?
Well, I’ll tell you a little story. Look, there’s a lot I’m proud of. This character is unique, and I’m proud of the fact that what I was part of creating here and the impact it’s had on so many people. I react to [this story] emotionally: Several people have told me that they’ve started, in circumstances, imitating Dr. Murphy. You know, speaking like him. It used to be if somebody was imitating a person with autism — and it still is, typically — it’s mean, frankly. It’s not done for any other purpose than mockery. But people are doing it out of respect and people are doing it because on a certain level they want to be like him. They’re truly, I think, paying homage to him. The fact that people are looking at an autistic character that way, to me, is really part of a societal change we’re going through. I hope I’m interpreting it right.
When you hear that, though, isn’t there at least a concern that those people might be missing the fact that there are real challenges that come with this?
Yes, that is an excellent point that we do not just want to gloss over the real challenges of autism, but they’re doing it because they love this character and they’re doing it because they see the way he expressed himself and they see the insights that come from that. At least that’s my interpretation. It’s his simple statements of facts and the way he does it; I think people are responding to that in a powerful way.
Finally, we talked about what you’re most proud of from this season, but is there something that you really want to improve upon next season?
Yes, and there’s no way I’m telling you that. [Laughs]
The Good Doctor has been renewed for season 2.