No faithful fan of “The Good Doctor” needs to be told how the writing, direction, production, and acting all blend together, like an exquisite dessert, on the medical drama. There is the vocal and loyal contingent who watch only for Freddie Highmore. He is the central protagonist, and truly delivers another Emmy-caliber performance in this week's December 2 Episode 10 fall finale for Season 3, “Friends and Family.”

As much as the deftly-written episode, by acclaimed producer-director Mike Listo, tugs at the heartstrings of steadfast fans, it speaks to anyone living with the scars of a broken and fractured family, which pretty much includes everyone.

At some point, everyone is confronted with deathbed decisions and whether or not to choose to experience those final moments with someone. Shaun got the news about his father dying from Dr. Glassman (Richard Schiff) at the very end of “Incomplete,” and now, The Good Doctor has to decide if he can do something far more difficult than any surgical procedure.

Speaking of surgery, when a star football athlete (James Earl) faces an injury prompting near paralysis, it requires the rest of the residents and Dr.

Melendez (Nicholas Gonzalez) to pull him back from the brink. He then finds the courage to make a dramatic turn in life, and Dr. Claire Brown (Antonia Thomas) finally comes to terms with needing help.

No hugs and hellos

After a long walk of silent deliberation, Shaun relates to Aaron Glassman that he has nothing to say to father, but that if his father (Michael Trucco) has something to say to him, “I will listen.” He also asks to bring a friend, and that friend is Lea (Paige Spara), not Carly. The request is perfectly sensible, because Lea was the first friend, apart from Dr.

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Glassman, with whom Shaun shared the extent to which “my father was mean” as he described. She also has her understanding of family upheaval, and he hasn't truly gotten that personal, beyond physical, with Carly yet.

Lea has never made any bones about speaking her mind with “Glassy” as viewers will recall, and she speaks very directly about Shaun’s mentor being controlling on the day of departure to Wyoming. She dreads what may come, but is willing to do anything as “Shaun’s best friend” because he “seems to think I can help.” Glassman brings another perspective, as the doting father who didn't always make the right decisions, such as the “tough love” choices that preceded the death of his drug-addicted daughter.

He reiterates that Shaun’s father “needs a little forgiveness” now. He knows that these moments and choices matter.

Dr. Glassman has made all the right arrangements to calm Shaun, such as being in Boarding Group A, and in his preferred seating. Lea and Glassman encourage Shaun to let Carly know where he is going, so he at least sends a text. When they arrive at the house, Shaun immediately recoils, saying that he's changed his mind, and wants to go home, followed by an endless stream of “No, no, no!” Lea suggests just sitting in the car for a while.

Seeing his mother (Joanna Going) come out of the door is the ultimate escalation, and Glassman shakes his head and waves as he turns the car around and leaves. There is more power in every unspoken element of this scene than anything in the script.

During a second try, the estranged dad makes an apology for his failures, praising his son as “so smart,” and “a great man.” He relates that he wanted a son to go fishing with, throw baseballs to, and “have a beer with.” Dad had far more than enough beers for two.

Freddie Highmore’s eyes speak without a word as his character Shaun Murphy listens. He then stands to speak the truth, giving no quarter. He starts with “You are not a good person.” He continues with “you killed my rabbit, and you killed my brother, “noting every “hit and punch” provoked by alcohol. “The Good Doctor” has every right to his own truth, and if his father’s contrition had come years earlier, this encounter could have been different. His mother asks him to calm down. It's hard to forget years of living in an abandoned bus and foraging food while mom knows where you are, but knows “this is best.”

Shaun visits Steve's grave—which puts the full scope of this tragedy in perspective.

These parents were willing to lose two children rather than turn for help.

Lea invites Shaun to a late-night polar dip in the local lake. He doesn't partake but enjoys seeing her lightly spirit until she pretends she is drowning. The feel of mud on his feet provokes another childhood memory for Shaun, one not quite so terrible. His father tries to urge him across a creek for a mountaintop picnic. When Shaun refuses, his dad tries to put him onto his shoulders. The attempt only brings trauma and pleas to “put me down.”

Shaun’s mother comes to the local diner to talk to Shaun. She answers his question of choosing his father over him and his brother, but not satisfactorily.

She says, “I love him,” and she knew how she could help her husband, but not how to help her sons. Life investments all come down to choices, and her choices, as much as Shaun’s father’s, could have turned the family toward healing. She asks to hug Shaun, and he stands to allow it.

Help not too late

Claire and Dr. Melendez are both at the gym when Art, an NFL football player collapses during weightlifting, not able to feel his legs. Initially, there is a battle over who will perform the surgery. A sports medicine physician (Peter Bryant) insists that he is the one to get Art back to doing his job on the field.

Dr. Melendez stresses that this century is much more like a severe collision injury, as in a motorcycle crash, and he cares much more about getting the patient returned to normal life. Art chooses Melendez and his team.

Dr. Reznick (Fiona Gubelmann) knows of a thermogenic procedure that could be successful in restoring function without further damage to the spinal cord. When the patient crashes twice on the operating table until Dr. Melendez delivers an injection straight to the heart. Art will return to full function, but he reveals to Claire that he was actually hoping to blow out his knee, that he never wanted to play or return to football.

Professional athletes feel the pressure of becoming an industry unto themselves, and with his mother, family, and crew of handlers depending on him, he feared he could never quit until he died. Claire shares her own story of trying to please mom, through which only the mistakes seem to be “the real you.” He shares the truth with his mom, and Claire decides to face the truth.

Dr. Park (Will Yun Lee) has a completely refreshing way of being completely direct, but never mean. He tells Claire that if she doesn't get help, “you will fail.” She calls a therapist late at night and makes her own “house call” to seek help.

Shaun returns to see his father. He tells him that he forgives him, and that “I don't want to punish you anymore.” The father seems to be receiving the extension of grace, saying “you’re Shaun, you're not like other boys, you’re smart” after his son recounts that “I couldn't make you happy.” What follows, however, is “you’re weak” and a tirade about being “like a spoiled little baby” that his mother tries to attribute to morphine.

In his hotel room, Shaun is overtaken by tremors and overwhelming emotions. He begins flailing at himself until Lea comes in. She quietly offers her version of a therapeutic hold.

The episode closes with the two remaining in the saving embrace. Shaun, in tears, reaches to cling to her arm.

Life’s turns can never be summed up in a Hallmark card. Sometimes, when words yield to only spewing hurt, a touch or simple presence does the healing that tongues can never accomplish. Love and forgiveness are decisions, never feelings, and nothing about the process is easy.

The Good Doctor” will not return with new episodes until January 13, 2020. That leaves fans plenty of time to ponder the lessons of this episode and speculate on how the future turns in the drama.

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