‘The Good Doctor’: Regina King Directed a Challenging Episode That Questions the Nature of Heroism

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[Editor’s Note: The following contains spoilers about “The Good Doctor” episode “Heartfelt.”]

While “The Good Doctor” has made a point to tell stories about representation, identity, and marginalized people, it’s still a medical show that poses questions about life, death, and how we as people navigate those concepts. On Monday’s episode, “Heartfelt,” a situation arises in which a criminal tries to seek redemption, with mixed results in how his actions are received.

In the episode, a young boy named Eric (Nicholas Johnny) is in dire need of a liver, but it needs to be compatible with Type O blood, and that’s been hard to come by. Dr. Claire Browne (Antonia Thomas) finds one that’s readily available, but it’s not one that’s on the donor registry list because there’s a catch: The organ belongs to seven-time convicted killer Sergey Tirayan (Joris Jarsky), who is still in prison.

(Side note: Living liver donations are possible if the donor provides half of their liver, which will then regenerate over the course of the next two months. This way, both donor and recipient will have two fully functioning livers down the line.)

An allergic reaction to the anesthesia, however, looks like it may put the kibosh on Tirayan’s good deed. There’s no way to undergo that kind of surgery without it. But just as he’s being wheeled out of the hospital back to prison, he breaks free of his bonds, grabs a gun, and dies by his own hand, choosing to give up his life so that the liver transplant can go through.

Nicholas Johnny, "The Good Doctor"

While the parents are gung-ho about this suddenly liberated liver,Eric has a moral dilemma about accepting an organ from a criminal. Browne is able to mollify the boy though by framing Tirayan’s last act as one of sacrifice, and that by using this organ, Eric can help the criminal do some good in the world. The argument works, and afterwards Eric wants to reach out the criminal’s parents in order to tell them of their son’s good deed.

Not everyone is so thrilled though. Dr. Alex Park (Will Yun Lee, whom we last saw kicking ass on Netflix’s “Altered Carbon”) was a cop for 15 years before he went into medicine, and has strong opinions about Tirayan’s “noble deed,” seeing it less as self-sacrifice and more as self-serving to change how he’s perceived by others. “He was a nobody. Now he lives on as a hero,” says Park bitterly.

Park was the one, however, who allowed Tirayan to act and take his own life though, and this sort of practical mentality reflects on his past in law enforcement. What’s one less criminal in the balance of all things, especially when a boy’s life is at stake? That said, Park’s switch from police work to the medical field is one that would require further examination as far as his motives. How much of the Hippocratic Oath does he follow, given that he’s already been shown to have less ethical ways of dealing with patients (such as when he snooped in Eric’s backpack)?

Freddie Highmore and Will Yun Lee, "The Good Doctor"

Freddie Highmore and Will Yun Lee, “The Good Doctor”

ABC

Heroism of course in the eye of the beholder. While people in the military and first responders are often seen as heroes because of their bravery and sacrifice in the face of the greater good, those in the medical profession are also lauded for saving lives, even though they may not risk anything personally. But what of the people who do good works quietly every day but are unsung? When a person’s past is tainted by criminal acts, the definition becomes even murkier.

While the episode poses this question of what makes a hero without spoon-feeding any one correct answer, it should be noted that it was directed by Emmy-winning actress Regina King. Besides being arguably the best part of Netflix’s new series “Seven Seconds” and co-starring recently on “The Leftovers” and “American Crime,” King has had plenty of experience directing. Her resume behind the camera includes “This Is Us,” “Shameless,” “Southland,” “Scandal” and several episodes of “Being Mary Jane,” among others.

We’re just glad that “The Good Doctor” is making good on its efforts for better representation in front of and behind the camera. So far, King is the third woman and the first woman of color to direct the ABC medical drama to date.

“The Good Doctor” airs Mondays at 10 p.m. ET on ABC.