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Spoilers ahead for the Season 3 finale of The Good Doctor on ABC, called "I Love You."
The Good Doctor delivered what was promised in its third season finale: a major death. There was no bait-and-switch this time around for one character to miraculously survive against all odds while another shockingly died. No, The Good Doctor killed Dr. Melendez, as expected, in the Season 3 finale, and fans will now have to say goodbye to original cast member Nicholas Gonzalez. Good Doctor showrunner David Shore has spoken out to explain why he made the "horrible decisions" that led to Melendez's death.
Melendez of course died to the internal injuries that were hidden for most of last week's episode and proved to be much more serious than anybody initially guessed in "I Love You." He found out he was dying early enough that he got some heartfelt goodbyes with Glassman, Lim, and Claire, though, with the last ending in a mutual confession of love. (I don't want to say that I called it last week, but I totally called it.) It wasn't a cliffhanger death that immediately cut to the credits, but diehard Melendez fans might not be at peace with it for a while.
Good Doctor showrunner David Shore explained why there were "horrible decisions" involved, saying this about why the show killed Melendez off:
That’s a really tough question. Look, I’m not going to give you a good answer, but Nick has been great. He was so great going down the final road here. These are the horrible decisions you have to make when you’re running a TV show. You want to tell honest stories. You want to tell stories of life and death, and that includes your regulars on occasion, and on occasion you have to make the bad choice because otherwise you don’t have credibility. In order to keep the show honest, every now and again the worst has to happen, and we wanted to throw our characters into this situation, and we wanted to be honest about it. We wanted to see the fallout from that. That’s the extent of the answer I can give you.
According to David Shore to TVLine, one of the characters was going to have to die if they were going to go into such a dangerous situation. Many of the main characters' lives were in danger at some point or other in the two-parter due to the earthquake, but by the second half of the finale episode there were really only two regulars who could fulfill the promise that The Good Doctor would kill somebody off. Dr. Melendez was going downhill at the hospital, and Shaun was minutes away from drowning as he refused to abandon a woman to die alone.
Given that The Good Doctor wasn't going to kill the titular good doctor when the show has been renewed for a fourth season, the writing was on the wall for Dr. Melendez. Somebody dying in the finale was realistic for David Shore, and the two-parter set up a plot where it pretty much had to be Melendez who died. So, why the decision that Melendez had to be the one to go, when The Good Doctor seemed to be setting up a love story between him and Claire? David Shore explained:
We second-guessed this decision constantly, still do… Look, we loved throwing him in this world [of the earthquake] at the end and it worked for so many great stories. We’ve got four parallel but different stories going on in these last two episodes — five, actually — and once we were in this world, this is the one that worked for Melendez. But it wasn’t like we were planning for his exit. It was more, 'This was the world we were in, and this is the story we were telling, and this is what worked within that world.'
Apparently, David Shore and the writers didn't decide to kill Melendez and then write the two-parter around his eventual demise. Instead, the story they put together to end the third season culminated in a character's death, and that character was Dr. Melendez. Considering Shore's statement that they're still second-guessing the decision that Melendez would be the one to go, I think it's only fair if fans get to be upset about it for a while. After all, Melendez died on a show that is excellent at finding ways for its characters to survive.
I personally have mixed feelings about Melendez's death. On the one hand, I liked him as a character and was looking forward to how The Good Doctor would handle his shifting dynamic with Claire, who really couldn't catch a break this season. On the other hand, The Good Doctor made it pretty clear that Melendez would be the one to die, so the only punch it really packed was emotional, and it worked emotionally for me.
Did I cry? Yes I did, and I credit the show for delivering a "twist" that I was absolutely convinced was coming but pulling a reaction out of me anyway. Still, why do my shows have to keep killing people off this week?
Of course, plenty of people were crying with this episode, and I have to give kudos to Nicholas Gonzalez, Antonia Thomas, and Christina Chang in particular for their final scenes together. They made Dr. Melendez's arc in "I Love You" pretty much the only interesting part of the episode for me, even though Morgan learning that her career might be over due to her heroic measures that nonetheless may have ruined her hands sets up an interesting plot, and Park's story packed a punch as well.
I did love Shaun's scenes with Vera and the hero reveal at the end when it turned out that he'd saved Vera and himself, but the happily-ever-after kiss with Lea fell flat for me. I'm not sure if that's because I was too busy being sad about Melendez to be happy for them or because I thought it was too easy after all the very real issues still between them, but their reunion wasn't a highlight in my book.
Unfortunately, The Good Doctor won't deliver the aftermath of any of the finale twists any time too soon. Although the show has already been renewed for Season 4, the first three all debuted in late September. Throw in the coronavirus pandemic that halted the production of some of the biggest shows on television, and Season 4 is likely more than six months off. Still, at least it didn't on a cliffhanger that will leave fans wondering for however long hiatus lasts!