(Warning: This post contains spoilers for the Season 4 premiere of “The Good Doctor.”)
The Season 4 premiere of “The Good Doctor” spends the vast majority of its runtime exploring the effects of the coronavirus pandemic on frontline healthcare workers, but the sense of grief and tragedy underlying the entire episode takes on a new, personal dimension in the final minutes of the show.
Dr. Neil Melendez, played by Nicholas Gonzalez, makes a surprise appearance in the episode’s final scene after having been killed off at the end of last season. Melendez appears as a kind of ghostly vision to Claire (Antonia Thomas) after she comes face-to-face with the scale of the pandemic while looking through the personal effects of the deceased.
In an interview with TheWrap, showrunner David Shore confirmed that the plan for Melendez’s return stemmed from the decision to work the pandemic into the first two episodes of the season. “We started breaking the COVID story and my co-writer [Liz Friedman] and I talked about that idea,” he said. “It was her notion, and I thought it was a great one. It made complete sense with what [Claire] is going through at the end of last season and the beginning of this season.”
Fans will remember Claire’s emotional final scene with Melendez in which the fan-favorite couple finally confessed their love for one another, professional relationship (and bowling ability) aside. Claire’s grief becomes a major through-line of the premiere, as her personal trauma is compounded by the devastating effects of the pandemic. Forming a connection with the daughter of a patient who doesn’t survive the virus, Claire decides to bend the rules and find a way to safely return the patient’s belongings to her family.
“Our focus was on the humanity of it, not on the medicine,” Shore said. “We tried to be accurate and tried to be responsible wherever we could, but it was about the human challenges that doctors are facing, and that the patients are facing. We wanted to explore the personal stories.”
“We’re all alone, then we go through this, and we are social animals,” he said. “And I feel bad for young people who have this experience at this crucial time in their life. Even in the best-case scenario, this is a sad time … And we want to play the sadness, but we’re a show about hope. Because I do believe in that. And whenever you have a situation like this, it’s an opportunity for ordinary people to do extraordinary things. We wanted to focus on that.”
Shore said Melendez will stick around for at least another episode, providing some guidance and perhaps closure for Claire as the pandemic storyline wraps up in next week’s installment.”
“She will continue to be trying to help people in a non-medical way, as we saw at the end of the episode, and he will be counseling her,” Shore said. “It will be as much about, what can we do to help? And what impact does loss have on us? And how do we get through that?”
“The Good Doctor” airs Mondays at 10/9c on ABC.