I'm not talking about something like last week's episode, where the show was good at what it did, but what it did wasn't really for me. No, I'm talking about a legitimately compelling episode of dramatic television, with stakes, a point-of-view, moving moments, and an exciting idea at its core. If I'm going to watch a procedural, I want to watch a procedural like this one, where the episodic storylines slowly flesh out the world at the show's center and contribute to making everything feel like, even if there's a new story every week, at least the setting and characters are cohesive and interesting. Plus, then, you can take all of those stories and tie them together in a satisfying way at the end of the season.
This episode did that thing where something you didn't think the show would pay off was paid off out of nowhere, and, as I said, it was awesome. Until it wasn't, but we'll get to that. A kid comes into Clinica Sanando with a bruised side. He says he got it skateboarding, but Dr. Kate thinks he's lying, since the skateboard looks brand new. Is he lying to cover up the fact that one of his parents beat him? This is a television medical drama, so of course he is. Anyway, the doctors at the clinic see his dad—played by the great John Benjamin Hickey—have an angry outburst, and put two and two together soon enough.
But what's nice about this is that it jangles everything up. We know that whatever's up with this guy is going to have something to do with his brain being out of whack—because we know what show we're watching—but the show immediately lets us know that he has a tumor on his amygdala, something that's caused his emotional reactions to go all screwy. And Michael says, "Hey, we should take that out, or you'll die. And, bonus, once we do, your emotions will get back under control." No, says the dad. He can't do that. He needs to die because he's been living with guilt for a few months now. He killed a woman, see, by hitting her with his car. A white woman with red hair, and the place he killed her sounds awfully like the place where Anna died…
On the face of it, bringing in the person who killed Anna is a stupid, desperation move, the sort of thing the show can only do once to do effectively. It seems purely coincidental, something that would never ever happen. But Gifted Man gets around it for one very good reason: It exists in a clockwork universe where there's some sort of higher power tugging at everybody's strings. It can give Michael a chance to give Anna's killer a forgiveness he doesn't deserve, and it can give Anna a chance to deal with her anger at being dead. The show has always been at its best when dealing with Michael and Anna's relationship, and this episode digs deep to get at a story of how he's still trying to process his feelings for her, for how their marriage crumbled and he let it. Here's a whole episode designed to do just that, via the patient of the week structure. It stretches credulity a bit that Michael would be allowed to operate on someone suspected of killing his wife, but that's the sort of suspension of disbelief I'm willing to go along with to watch a medical drama.
In its own way, this also gets at a couple of interesting ideas. The first is the central idea of every medical drama worth its salt: What is a human life worth? If this guy wants to die, can't Michael just let him, particularly when he's taken something so precious from Michael? And is it worth making him live just so he can face what he did to Anna? The second idea is almost one out of science fiction: What would you do if there was some other, darker self growing inside of you, one that you couldn't control? The scenes where this man flies off the handle and does real damage to the things and people around him are legitimately terrifying, and hearing about how he used to be before the tumor makes him something of a tragic figure. These are both interesting things to consider, and the show does a fine job with playing out all of their various permutations.
That said, the episode utterly lets itself down in the end. We find out that Hickey didn't kill Anna, as he takes one look at her photo and says, "Oh, that wasn't her." It's a total wimp-out, on a show that suddenly seemed to be growing a spine, and even though everything leading up to it is legitimately good, legitimately the best thing this show has done yet, the cop-out is enough to take the episode down several points for me. I can see the argument that having Michael meet his wife's killer is too coincidental, but the show should have embraced that ambiguity sooner. What was a powerful episode of TV only became a hypothetical, and a good final scene between Michael and Anna wasn't enough to make up for that cop-out.
So that makes this both a great episode of A Gifted Man and a supremely disappointing one. It proves the show's capable of the kinds of raw emotion it evoked so well in the pilot—particularly where Michael and Anna are concerned—but it also finds a way to back out of doing anything too serious or lasting. I don't have a problem with procedurals or patient-of-the-week shows. But it feels like a cheat to have a show promise to do so much, then jerk it all away at the end because it would mess with the status quo even in the slightest amount. There was no reason this episode couldn't have reached an emotional catharsis and allowed the show to go on as it always had been next week. But in choosing the cop-out, the writers showed they don't really want this to be anything more than it is in an incredibly disappointing way.