[Warning: The following contains spoilers from the Season 3 finale of The Good Doctor. Read at your own risk]
The Good Doctor fans have become sort of immune to characters who are near death on the hospital drama, because inevitably doctor Shaun Murphy (Freddie Highmore) will come up with a lot a minute miracle save. Shaun's brain is wired for finding missed warning signs and coming up for a fix in seemingly impossible situations. However, in Monday's Season 3 finale, which wrapped up the two-part earthquake storyline, Shaun was too busy amputating legs in a collapsed brewery basement to save the patient we really wanted him to save — Neil Melendez (Nicholas Gonzalez). Shaun's teacher, and one of our favorite attendings, died at St. Bonaventure after the earthquake caused an unseen rupture in his bowel and he went into fatal septic shock.
TV Guide readers, when I tell you that it was heartbreaking, I mean that I hope you drank your recommended 100oz of water for the day and had plenty of tissues before starting the episode because the tears did not stop once Melendez's diagnosis came in. While Melendez put on a brave face, knowing exactly what was happening when he came out of surgery after collapsing at the end of last week's episode, both Lim (Christina Chang) and Claire (Antonia Thomas) had to say goodbye to the man they love.
For Lim, it meant admitting that the reasons they broke up at the beginning of the season felt like a waste of time now that she knew Melendez wasn't going to be around for them to eventually get back together. "I could have spent the rest of my life drinking whiskey with you," Melendez said as I failed to comprehend how that much moisture could be coming out of my face at one time. I think at one point even my ears were shedding tears.
However, Lim was just the warm-up for Claire, who traded barbs with her boss about how bad she was at bowling and how much she hated his tattoo (it is horrendous). Knowing they had a limited amount of time left, Claire admitted that she loved him, and he said it back because there'd be no consequences for his honesty. Did you know the title of the episode is "I Love You"? Were you also the embodiment of this GIF while watching that scene?
You weren't alone. That moment was particularly bittersweet as Claire and Melendez have grown closer and closer over the course of the season. They had to pretend to have a friendship breakup because other people at the hospital became suspicious of their relationship. They continued to hang out, but it was only recently that their mutual "more than friends" feelings became apparent. They were not expressed to each other until Melendez was on his death bed, and now we have to wonder if these two could have made it for the long haul. Ugh, everything hurts.
This is a loss that is going to affect the entire surgical staff at the hospital, and a cloud of grief will be hovering over the show when it returns in Season 4. Melendez's departure was so devastating that it even took some of the shine out of Lea (Paige Spara) finally realizing she is in love with Shaun. And Morgan (Fiona Gubelmann) will have to deal with the loss of a mentor at the same time as mourning her surgical career after jumping into a surgery to save a patient in the finale traumatized her hands and could negate the surgery she had to alleviate her rheumatoid arthritis.
While Shaun may have gotten his happy ending, this was a devastating sign-off for The Good Doctor. The small silver lining is that at least we already know the show will return next season.
The Good Doctor returns next season on ABC.