The Good Doctor‘s Season 4 opener featured the return of not one, but two former series regulars.
In addition to Beau Garrett’s previously reported (and all-too-brief) comeback as St. Bonaventure’s in-house attorney Jessica Preston, the pandemic-focused premiere welcomed back Nicholas Gonzalez as Dr. Neil Melendez — but how, exactly?
Melendez was killed off at the end of Season 3 when he succumbed to internal injuries suffered in a partial building collapse. In Monday’s episode, an in-mourning Claire was set to scour through heaps of COVID patients’ belongings when she suddenly heard a reassuring voice in the distance.
“Things will be OK,” the man said. That’s when the fourth-year resident turned around to see her deceased — and, yes, he is still very much deceased — love interest standing before her, setting the stage for Episode 2.
Below, executive producer David Shore — who confirmed that Melendez is just a figment of Claire’s imagination — breaks down the first half of the two-part premiere.
TVLINE | Let’s start at the end. Why did you decide to bring Melendez back?
Part of these [pandemic] episodes is about the stress — the real-world stress that the last [several months] have put on real doctors out there. We tried to [incorporate] all aspects of it, from dealing with the frustration of not knowing what the answer was, or how to help people to begin with, to the frustration of being separated from loved ones.
Claire’s storyline is very much about trying to bring solace to people who have lost somebody [and] doing what you can do. Melendez is one those people [for Claire], more so than anybody else in our hospital at that moment, given the way we ended last season. Of course, we did not anticipate any of this at the end of Season 3. Liz Friedman, who cowrote the episode with me, called me up one day and said, “I think we should see Melendez,” and I went, “That’s a good idea.” We’ve done this before, obviously, with Shaun and his brother, and it seemed like an interesting way for this [grief] to manifest.
I will also add that even when I was talking to Nick towards the end of last year, I said, “This is the type of show where even death doesn’t stop you from being here.” I always thought it would be nice to have a moment to bring him back, and bring Melendez’s spirit back in some way.
TVLINE | Was Nicholas Gonzalez immediately on board when you presented him with the idea?
He was immediately on board. He may have been surprised that it was this soon, but he didn’t hesitate. It was wonderful.
TVLINE | Speaking of returning cast members, you have Beau Garrett back for a Zoom cameo — her first appearance since she departed the show as a series regular at the end of Season 1. Is that all we’ll see of Jessica, or will she be back this season?
I don’t want to overpromise on that front. She’s still technically the hospital’s in-house attorney. We don’t have any plans in that regard, but it felt natural to have her in there.
TVLINE | Your first episode focuses on the gradual severity of the virus over time. Was there ever a point where you considered jumping ahead to present day, rather than relive the early days of the COVID-19 crisis?
Yeah. We had a number of discussions in the writers’ room at the very beginning. We’re [also] at the severe disadvantage that we don’t know how this is going to end. When we first started talking about this in April and May, and we knew we were going to be on the air in October or November, we made the assumption that— not the assumption, but we certainly all hoped this would all be behind us by then, or largely behind us by then.
It was tricky… You don’t want to get bogged down in this forever, but there is real drama here, and there are real heroes here, and it’s impacting every single one of us. It just felt dishonest to not tell this story.
TVLINE | In addition to seeing how the doctors handled all the uncertainty on the frontlines, we also followed some of them home, including Drs. Lim and Andrews. Was it important to you to show how their personal lives have been impacted?
We wanted to portray as much as we possibly could. I mean, we wound up with two episodes [focused on COVID]. We thought we’d do one, but it just seemed to me, fairly quickly, that it wasn’t going to be enough. But yes, we wanted to see [the doctors] at home. We wanted to see people in the hospital. We wanted to see patients. We wanted to see patients and their loved ones. We wanted to see patients who got better, and we wanted it to hit close to home, as it did.
TVLINE | The premiere features a handful of guest stars, including Popular vet Carly Pope as a patient’s wife who appears over FaceTime. How was those scenes shot? Were they filmed on a remote set, or was she filming her scenes from home, to limit the number of people on set?
Carly shot on one of our sets, it was just separated [from everybody else].
TVLINE | The episode also shows how new couple Shaun and Lea are navigating this real-world obstacle to being together — at least in a physical sense. Do you think this latest hurdle actually does that relationship, and the story you’re trying to tell with that relationship, some good?
Look, I don’t sit back and go, “Gosh, I wish COVID hadn’t happened so I could start Shaun and Lea off on a better foot.” [Laughs] There are plenty bigger reasons to wish COVID hadn’t happened. I’m proud of these two episodes. [Being separated from loved ones] is a reality we’ve all faced, and I made it a reality that Shaun and Lea face.
TVLine will have more from our conversation with David Shore following Part 2 (airing next Monday, Nov. 9). In the meantime, hit the comments (and weigh in via the following poll) to let us know what you thought of the Season 4 premiere — and Melendez’s shocking return.