‘The Good Doctor’ Series Finale: Freddie Highmore & Fellow EPs On Shaun’s Very Personal Last Cases, Pilot References & Flashforward

SPOILER ALERT: The story includes details about The Good Doctor Episode 710, “Goodbye”

ABC’s The Good Doctor ended its seven-season run tonight with Part 2 of its two-hour finale which, like many episodes of the medical drama, mixed tragedy and triumph to close out Shaun Murphy’s journey on a hopeful note.

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The closer dealt with the aftermath of the two shocking Part 1 cliffhangers: Glassman (Richard Schiff) telling Shaun (Freddie Highmore) that his cancer had returned and it was terminal, and Claire (Antonia Thomas) collapsing in Kalu’s arms. They set Shaun on a race to help two of the most important people in his life who are both in grave danger.

He eventually does his thing and finds a treatment that could add a year to Glassman’s life but no matter how many times he pitches it, progressively mitigating potential risks and side effects, he is turned down by Glassman who implores him to accept his decision to not seek treatment and spend the 3-6 months he has left enjoying time with him, Lea (Paige Spara) and little Steve.

It takes awhile — and some persuasion from Lea and Lim (Christina Chang) — but Shaun eventually comes around.

Meanwhile, Claire’s post-op infection turns out to be from acinetobacter, resistant to antibiotics. Before she is put in a coma to help her body fight, she tells Kalu (Chuku Modu) that she loves him. He says it back to her and urges her to stay strong: “I can’t say goodbye, I just got you back.”

Shaun comes up with an unorthodox plan to fight the bacteria with a virus, which involves collecting numerous bacteriophages to find one that could kill the infection before it kills Claire.

This is a painstaking process and, while Shaun and Co. keep at it, Claire’s condition continues to deteriorate to a point where Kalu suggests they amputate her arm — ending her surgical career — to save her life in an impassioned speech.

After a bacteriophage match is finally found, the FDA rejects the treatment, leading to Shaun making a fateful decision. He gathers Lea and Glassman in the same boardroom where his future at the hospital was decided in the pilot. Using the same opening line about losing his brother from the original speech that convinced the board to give him a chance, Shaun reveals his decision to administer the treatment to Claire, which would cost him his medical license. Glassman steps in and, with the team watching on, he starts her IV.

The episode ends with a 10-years time jump when Shaun is Head of Surgery at St. Bonaventura giving a TED talk with Lea, Steve and his little sister, along with Claire, Kalu and their daughter and the rest of the gang — including Lim who had left to join Surgeons For a Better World — all in the audience. Shaun, who, along with Claire, co-heads the Dr. Aaron Glassman foundation for neurodiversity in medicine, ends his speech with another reference to his boardroom plea from the pilot, noting that he now has “two televisions” along with many friends and a family.

In interviews with Deadline, The Good Doctor star Freddie Highmore and co-showrunners David Shore and Liz Friedman dissect the finale’s biggest twists, including Glassman dying, Claire losing an arm and Glassman helping save Claire’s life and Shaun’s medical career. They also discuss Shaun’s long journey to accepting Glassman’s decision not to pursue further treatment, all the pilot references (but no flashbacks!) in both parts of the closer, and why, in a full-circle moment, the show returned to a location used for the pilot to film a key finale scene.

Shore and Friedman also explain where the main characters are in the flashforward, why they opted not to reveal whether any of Shaun and Lea’s children have autism and why Hill Harper did not come back. The duo also shared whether they had ideas for another season of the show, which Shore created based on a Korean format. (And no, the two series’ conclusions have nothing in common as Shore has never seen the finale of the Korean drama.)

For more on Highmore, Shore and Friedman’s comments about Shaun’s evolution throughout the series and Thomas’ finale return, check out Deadline’s Part 1 interview.

DEADLINE: The two-part finale felt very condensed. Was the storyline in it supposed to be a longer arc?

FRIEDMAN: Initially I did see it as playing out a little bit longer although really, it was only one story that got consolidated. We were headed in this direction, and I had thought of it as something that could be either a season ender or series ender. And then when we learned that it was going to be a series ender, we moved some things around a little bit to be able to give a more complete resolution. But it was pretty close to how we planned it.

DEADLINE: Can you reveal what story got consolidated because of the condensed time?

FRIEDMAN: I’d rather not. It’s in its perfect form the way it is.

Richard Schiff in ‘The Good Doctor’ finale (Jeff Weddell)
Richard Schiff in ‘The Good Doctor’ finale (Jeff Weddell)

DEADLINE: Did you always envision Glassman to die at the end of the series?

FRIEDMAN: I don’t think we’d really decided on that. David, had we?

SHORE: I would certainly not say we always envisioned that. But we got him very sick at the beginning. Liz ran with this in Season 7, I thought in a great way, and it just felt like the right ending. We wanted a hopeful ending but nor did we want a perfect ending because that’s been the nature of the show throughout, that things are not perfect, but they are hopeful. And I think it fit very nicely into that theme.

FRIEDMAN: We’ve always tried as the show goes on, every season we give Shaun a new challenge. That is something that would have been interesting to play, seeing him go through the process of Glassman passing and then finding his way to be a grownup and have a family and do all that without his mentor.

I would have loved to have seen that process. But also I think that was clearly a challenge that Shaun was going to face, and this allowed us to see how much he’s grown and is able to move past it and make something great out of it.

HIGHMORE: Obviously, there are two episodes or even less than that really for Shaun to have that journey and to go on that process of realization. And I think that the way that David and Liz decided to have the very last act take place in the future was an excellent way of showing that, If we have one episode to deal with Shaun and Dr. Glassman and the finality of that episode, it can’t take place within a week or within a set of weeks.

You need to see the way in which Shaun, over those 10 years that we are without him, has been able to move on and grow and learn as an individual.

And on that note, I think one of the things that I’ve been most careful about and wanting to focus on and make sure we did a good job at is, from the very beginning, we were aware of the stereotype of someone who has autism who will always be the same and somehow will never be able to change.

Of course Shaun has autism, has always had autism and he always will, but that doesn’t mean that he can’t grow and change and learn as an individual as all of us can. There’s a stereotype that he will or should have been always stuck in his ways, but I’m proud of the fact that we have given him a journey as he deserved, and that his preferences, his desires, the essence of what makes him a human being has been able to evolve and change.

Richard Schiff and Freddie Highmore in ‘The Good Doctor’ finale (Jeff Weddell)
Richard Schiff and Freddie Highmore in ‘The Good Doctor’ finale (Jeff Weddell)

DEADLINE: Speaking of Shaun’s evolution, let’s talk about him making the decision to give up the meaning of his life, being a doctor, in order to save his friend Claire and the decision by Glassman, the other very important person in Shaun’s life, to step in to protect his protege one last time.

FRIEDMAN: I think there is just a lovely symmetry to me that it’s Shaun wanting to save Glassman and unable to take in the fact that Glassman doesn’t want to be saved and that’s not the right decision for him. For Shaun to accept that, I thought was such a big step for him.

And, and then also at the same moment to be ready to give up the exact thing that has given his life a shape and a meaning and it’s given him a path to save his friend. That’s a great heroic story, and that’s who Shaun is.

SHORE: Originally, when we were working on this final story, it was always Glassman stepping in, but it wasn’t Shaun’s decision. It was — I don’t know if I should give that away — but collectively we realized what better symbol of his growth as a human being than to be willing to sacrifice like that. And it so connects to what Liz was just talking about in terms of accepting loss.

FRIEDMAN: We really liked the idea that there would be two cases in this episode. And in one of the cases, the solution would be that you have to accept, and the other case gets solved by the refusal to accept.

HIGHMORE: Yes, I think it was very special that at the end, the only patients left for Shaun to work on and to help were people that he cared so deeply about and that the audience cared deeply about.

I think on the Glassman side, it was a huge journey for Shaun to get the point — and we’ve seen him struggle with this over the years — but come to terms with the fact that at some point — and obviously in the finale, that comes sooner that they had hoped — he is going to have to navigate the world on his own without Dr. Glassman who has always been by his side but who has been able to set him up to be more independent and to move forward on his own without his guidance. But I think that was a huge moment for Shaun to get to, the acceptance of that and the acceptance of it in a mature way as well.

DEADLINE: What was Antonia’s reaction when she realized that Claire would be put through the wringer and lose her arm? Until the last second in the OR, I thought that Shaun may come up with the one of his brilliant ideas and save the limb.

FRIEDMAN: No, no, it wasn’t meant to be. Antonia is great, and she’s always game for anything. And yes, she was good to go as always.

SHORE: And we never even thought about saving her arm really, it was important to this. The speech that that Chuku’s character gives would have been rendered moot had we saved the arm. It was again, sacrifice for a greater good.

DEADLINE: Freddie, were you OK with that development?

HIGHMORE: Yes, I think it was also a relief that she survived. It feels like at least these things were as good as they possibly could have been for Claire at the end. I don’t harbor any regrets or feel guilty through my character.

DEADLINE: After years apart, Claire and Kalu reunited and fell back in love. Probably a little too quickly for me, there was “I love you” said like 10 minutes after they’d met. What was behind the decision to bring back the romance; was it the fans asking for them to get back together for some unfinished business?

FRIEDMAN: Our intent was to have Claire return to the hospital and be able to comment on how people had changed and specifically how Shaun and Lea had changed.

And then It really felt like a natural… I get your point that it happened quickly but when I went back and looked at when Claire and Kalu said goodbye, it was a really sad goodbye when he left, and I do believe that there was still an attachment there and they just both had their own individual stuff they needed to get over.

SHORE: If I can just add two things to that. One, in my mind from day one, they were sleeping together In the pilot but she was saying it’s just a fling, it’s just a fling, it’s just a fling. In my mind, they were always in love.

So it was a fulfillment of that. But secondly, even within these final couple episodes, she doesn’t say she loves them until she’s dying, basically. And I think 10 minutes is an eternity when you’re dying, it forces you to make certain decisions about yourself, about the people around you and to think about that and to not play games.

DEADLINE: Speaking of unfinished business, fans probably were hoping to see Hill Harper pop into the finale. David, how crazy is it to have two series regulars on medical dramas you created who both left for careers in politics? (Before Harper left The Good Doctor to run for the Senate, House‘s Kal Penn exited to join Obama’s White House.)

SHORE: (laughs): I don’t think that’s a typical story, is it? I guess I’m kind of proud of that. I don’t want people to stay on my shows if they don’t want to stay on my shows, and I haven’t run into that very often through my career. Usually they want to stay, and if they come to me and say, I want a movie career, that just depresses me. If they come to me and say, I want to make the world a better place through politics, I’ll go, you’re naive as hell but good for you, god bless you, I’m proud to know you. And that’s the situation with both Hill and Kal.

DEADLINE: Was there a possibility for Hill to come back for the finale or would that have run afoul with political rules?

SHORE: Yeah, basically.

FRIEDMAN: This proved to be a very complicated situation for some of the people in the entities that David and I worked for. It was sad to have to say goodbye to Hill, he was a great part of the show.

DEADLINE: There’s a lot of references to the pilot in the two-part finale and yet you’ve opted not to do any flashbacks to those scenes. Why?

SHORE: We did a lot of flashbacks through the years on this show to stuff that built to this. But they were flashbacks to before the series generally. And they worked really nicely, and we had really good actors who played young Sean and young Steve.

That wasn’t what this story was. But at the same time, we liked the idea that there were just subtle or not so subtle allusions to where Shaun came from and what brought him here. And the scene in the boardroom, we shot that on location. That is theoretically part of the hospital, and we’ve had rooms that look like that in the hospital, but not that room.

It was important to us that we went back to the actual room where we filmed that scene because Shaun was making two incredibly important decisions, what he’s going to do about Glassman, and what he’s going to do about Claire, and we wanted to take him back to where he made that first speech and where his life changed, where people had power over him and what he said that brought him to this moment. So I think it really worked nicely personally.

HIGHMORE: For me it felt very — I was going to say strange but more sort of nostalgic than anything, going back to the same boardroom where we filmed the pilot and giving that speech where Shaun speaks to Glassman and Lea.

It was very odd to walk into that exact same space and stand in the exact same spot seven years later. David Shore wanted to do that from the very beginning to return physically to the same spot, and I think it added a little bit of something.

FRIEDMAN: And the carousel wasn’t featured in the pilot but it was featured pretty prominently in the first season and that was a great thing, I think, to go back to and gave us a great metaphor device from the passing of time.

Paige Spara and Freddie Highmore in ‘The Good Doctor’ finale (Jeff Weddell)
Paige Spara and Freddie Highmore in ‘The Good Doctor’ finale (Jeff Weddell)

DEADLINE: The flashforward gave us an idea where everybody is in the future. Shaun and Lea also have a daughter. There was a major storyline recently about him pushing against Lea’s wishes to test their infant son, something he eventually didn’t go through with. You don’t address in the finale whether any of his kids have autism. Why is that?

FRIEDMAN: In my mind, neither of Shaun’s kids have autism.

SHORE: I think the significant thing is that the two of them made a decision in essence that it doesn’t really matter. I mean, it matters how you treat the kid but, like the part of his speech at the end is, we should judge people on what they can do rather than what they can’t do. The whole theme of the series is we have capabilities and limitations, and we have to embrace both.

Had we gone down the road of dealing with the son’s or daughter’s autism — should they have that — we just could not have done that justice. These are their children. They love their children and are wonderful but flawed, whatever the case may be.

DEADLINE: In the flashforward, Shaun is head of surgery. Who else is with him at St. Bonaventure?

FRIEDMAN: I think Charlie is definitely still there working with him. Dom went home to start the Family Medical Practice that he and his brother had talked about. I think Jordan may still be there, and I don’t know if that means that Perez is there with her or if he’s at San Francisco General or something like that.

I think those are the main people who were still at St. Bones. Well, now that I think about it, Kalu is probably there since Claire works with Shaun running the foundation. And Reznick and Park are probably still around the hospital, too.

DEADLINE: With Claire and Kalu having a child and her working for the foundation (and not being able to perform surgeries because of her amputated arm), I assume that Guatemala is over for her?

FRIEDMAN: Yes. I think Claire had met the challenge in Guatemala and got things; they’re working there quite well. The foundation took a little while before it came into being but then I think she came back to do that.

DEADLINE: Freddie, was Shaun’s TED talk speech in the flashforward the last scene that you filmed and how was it for you delivering it, sharing Shaun’s life journey?

HIGHMORE: It probably was more than Shaun had spoken ever before. I was definitely wanting to get on top of the speech and the lines a few weeks before we filmed it. We didn’t actually film that last, we filmed it a week or so before the end.

It was hard to describe but it did feel incredibly meaningful and moving, and I think, just as a cast, it was so lovely to have a scene where everyone was in the same space, in the same room and able to say goodbye to each other. Hopefully they weren’t too sick of me saying the same things again and again by the end of the day. But I think it was a lovely way of concluding the story.

Freddie Highmore in ‘The Good Doctor’ finale
Freddie Highmore in ‘The Good Doctor’ finale

DEADLINE: What was your final scene and what happened after you finished it?

HIGHMORE: The final scene that we filmed was when Shaun is doing his lab test in the Resident lounge. And then Lea ultimately comes in and sits down and says to him that he should go to Dr. Glassman. Everyone was in filming-wise on the last day. And so everyone had a lovely special moment at the end.

And that was the last thing that we actually filmed, which I think in some ways was fitting because whilst the speech is with lots of people in the room, and there’s an element of it feeling big and splashy to some degree, ultimately the show has always been about these tiny little moments and the small little slices of life and nuances rather than than the big showy stuff. So, finishing with a really quiet scene like that when Paige was so wonderful and moving, and we see Shaun quietly processing as she leaves, it felt like a very fitting end to the show.

DEADLINE: Liz, David, did you have ideas for another season?

FRIEDMAN: Oh, absolutely. I still wake up dreaming of Shaun Murphy and Good Doctor Ideas. So yes, I had an idea what I wanted to do next season.

DEADLINE: Can you share it?

FRIEDMAN: I can’t. I want everyone to be happy with what is there because I’m very happy.

SHORE: The nature of TV is, things evolve. I think we’re both very happy with how it ended and proud of all seven years and pleased with the ending. There are always things you wished you did but I’m very proud of what we collectively did.

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