[Editor’s Note: The following contains spoilers for “The Good Doctor” episode “Pain.”]
“The Good Doctor” made a point to call out how Freddie Highmore’s character Dr. Shaun Murphy faces workplace prejudice from the first episode because he is a surgeon with autism and savant syndrome. But in Monday’s episode, the show went one further and drew a parallel between him and a person who has a physical disability. A quick aside that “disability” is a loaded word that implies that someone is not able, and therefore that language can be seen as pejorative or unfair. It is, however, the phrasing that is used in the episode by a character who uses a wheelchair to describe himself and Shaun.
In “Pain,” patient Hunter (Ryan Robbins) was in a motorcycle accident that left him unable to walk a few years ago. He returns to San Jose St. Bonaventure Hospital because of pains that may indicate that he may actually be regaining true feeling in his legs. During his visits, he has a few heart-to-hearts with Shaun because he feels a kinship with him: Hunter explains that he makes a point to hire people with autism because he identifies with how people judge people by their disability first and may not give them a fair shake despite their actual skills.
Hunter and his wife Cora (Anna Belknap) must decide if he should have a risky surgery that could allow him to walk again, but could also kill him. Cora is against it because of the high risk but also because she’s afraid that if the surgery is successful, Hunter would no longer rely on her or want to be with her. It’s an interesting point to make that being in a wheelchair has made him more compassionate and a different person from who he was. He even addresses this point in the clip below:
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— The Good Doctor (@GoodDoctorABC) March 12, 2018
Shaun, who knows that people perceive him as disabled and different, is fascinated by the affection that Cora feels for Hunter. He’s also surprised when his colleague and friend Dr. Claire Browne (Antonia Thomas) says she’d be open to dating someone with a disability. He’s baffled why she’d burden herself with someone with a disability when she could have her pick of anyone, but she points out, “Everyone is dealing with something.”
From a viewer’s perspective, this could be seen as a teaching moment, but we hope that this isn’t a set-up for Shaun to eventually date Claire. Not only do we enjoy their purely platonic friendship and her ability to help him navigate social interactions at work, but romance in the workplace often comes with complications – even though that never stopped anyone from engaging in that on TV – and Shaun has enough to deal with overcoming how people perceive and his abilities at the hospital.
A final note that the actor Ryan Robbins, who plays Hunter, does not seem to be disabled himself. While he does a fine job in the role, it’s a little disappointing since “The Good Doctor” has made efforts to cast marginalized people for proper representation on TV, ranging from hiring an actor with autism to a young transgender actress. That quibble aside, at least the series made a point to explore the subject and has put the message out there.
“The Good Doctor” airs Mondays at 10 p.m. ET on ABC.