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The third season of The Good Doctor ended on a tragic two-parter that culminated in the death of a character who had been around from the beginning: Nicholas Gonzalez's Dr. Neil Melendez. The show had teased at least one major death before the end of Season 3, and Melendez's injuries that originally seemed minor turned out to be fatal. Although the season did end on a higher note thanks to Shaun and Lea finally sharing a big kiss, Melendez's death needs to be dealt with in Season 4, and here's how.
Now, if you had asked me back when Season 3 ended for my thoughts on how Season 4 should handle Melendez's death, my answer would have been very different than now that we're just days away from the premiere. The production shutdowns throughout the entertainment industry that cut many shows' seasons short in the spring and delayed fall debuts meant that The Good Doctor couldn't return for its usual September premiere, and it will be one of many medical dramas that will address the real-life COVID-19 pandemic.
The Good Doctor needs to start on a different page than if COVID wasn't a factor. And, in fact, it will, so the aftermath of Dr. Melendez's death won't be the top priority. Executive producer David Shore shared with TV Insider that the Season 4 premiere two-parter will be "taking place over the days, weeks and months that we’ve all been dealing with this and portraying how everything changed," and payoff on the plots from Season 3 won't come right away.
That's not to say that The Good Doctor has to just pick up Season 4 without addressing why Melendez is not around. For one thing, if the new season picks up in the "days, weeks, and months" after Melendez's death, then it stands to reason that the loss could still be quite fresh before any big time jumps.
Even if some of the other characters can at least fake their way through business as usual after Melendez died, The Good Doctor can use Claire and Lim to show the emotional impact of his death while the plot focuses on COVID. Claire and Dr. Lim are both skilled doctors who know how to operate under difficult circumstances, so I don't think The Good Doctor showing these two women altered by the loss of Melendez would take away from their work to save lives in the midst of a pandemic.
While Lim is his ex and Claire seemed bound to become his future, and that could have led to some sticky situations if The Good Doctor had delivered a love triangle rather than Melendez's death, they share a loss in that he was a man who was more important than a colleague or even friend. That's bound to pack a punch!
As somebody who was in tears due to Antonia Thomas' performance in the Season 3 finale, I definitely think it would be a shame if The Good Doctor didn't let the characters show the loss. Besides, The Good Doctor is often quite procedural with its cases, and the character developments and emotions are what keep me hooked from week to week. The doctors and nurses at St. Bonaventure tackling COVID on top of their regular workload will be interesting; the emotional beats are what have me excited for Season 4.
If The Good Doctor ignores or only barely touches on Melendez's demise in the first episodes of Season 4, then the show might fall flat emotionally, even if Shaun and Lea's relationship is a draw after overcoming so many obstacles in Season 3. The Good Doctor needs to focus the story on COVID, but let Claire and Lim show that they're feeling the loss while they do their part with the pandemic, and viewers can feel the emotional connection to Melendez's death even as the show's plot moves forward.
Find out how The Good Doctor handles Melendez's death right off the bat with the Season 4 premiere on Monday, November 2 at 10 p.m. ET on ABC. For some more viewing options as more and more big TV shows make their delayed fall debuts, check out our 2020 fall TV premiere schedule.