Storms, spirituality and surprises combined to make “King of Swords” perhaps the best episode of New Amsterdam to date.
This New Amsterdam Episode 16 recap for “King of Swords” contains spoilers. You can check out our thoughts on the previous episode by clicking these words.
Neither Max Goodwin (Ryan Eggold) or Helen Sharpe (Freema Agyeman) know if they believe in clairvoyance, but they believe in themselves and each other, and in biology and chemistry, and isn’t that the same thing as knowing the future anyway? That was one of the questions posed by “King of Swords”, which was perhaps the best episode of New Amsterdam thus far, and it’s one that was left tantalizingly unanswered by the time the show cut the lights at episode’s end.
Bringing in a soothsayer to address the romantic elephant in the room might seem insufferably hokey on paper, but New Amsterdam is the kind of drama that embraces hokiness so sincerely and enthusiastically that it becomes some kind of uncanny truth. Marlene, the medium, was nonchalant about her own impending death because she had foreseen it, in cards or tea leaves or whatever, but the “vibe” she got from Helen and Max interested her. And when she survived “King of Swords”, she also offered the possibility that her prognostications about their doomed relationship might have been wrong, too.
This wasn’t New Amsterdam suddenly treating spirituality seriously, but it was New Amsterdam treating spirituality as all people do, knowingly or otherwise; as an excuse to confront reality. It wasn’t until Marlene brought it up that Max and Helen even considered their relationship for themselves. Are they colleagues? Friends? A doctor and her patient? All of those things, and something more besides? Earlier in “King of Swords”, Panthaki (Sendhil Ramamurthy) noticed it too, when Max called Helen to inform her that New York had been beset by its worst blizzard in 72 years and he needed her at the hospital. There’s that “vibe” again. Was there ever any chance that she’d refuse?
But what does all this mean to New Amsterdam and its fans, most of whom adore Max’s wife, Georgia (Lisa O’Hare), and rejoiced when Helen began to find happiness of her own in Panthaki? What does it mean for a relationship that has thus far been ostensibly platonic to become, in the space of one episode, a suddenly real and important thing? We’ll have to wait to find out, since “King of Swords” marks a temporary hiatus, presumably while the production staff gets the lights turned back on.
This week’s Max-ism, while we’re here, was deciding that since ambulances were out of action thanks to the weather, that the hospital staff should don tasteful blue parkers and head out into the blizzard. I can count a hundred reasons why this is a bad idea, but no matter. It meant that Vijay (Anupam Kher) could brave the elements to tell his dying patient’s husband that he was about to lose his wife, and that Iggy (Tyler Labine) could conduct impromptu therapy on a rooftop, and that Floyd (Jocko Sims) could hoist a man from a spike and carry him six blocks. All of these subplots revealed interesting and often moving details about the characters. We learned that Vijay has never been able to process his wife’s sudden death because the last words he said to her was that their gadabout son, Rohan (Vandit Bhatt), was a “lost cause”; we learned that Floyd gets angry at his mother’s forgetfulness because he’s quietly afraid that she is aging and thus, in a slow, unglamorous way, dying.
New Amsterdam is very good at introducing supporting characters; one-time patients who fleetingly appear, force the main cast to confront some truth or memory or anxiety and then vanish as if they were never there. “King of Swords” had several, including Marlene, Floyd’s terrifically likable skewered interlocutor, who had been caught out while picking up a prescription for his husband, and Iggy’s troubled young patient who just wanted someone to notice him. There was no shelter from the storm, and nowhere to hide from the emotion, which was somehow even more resonant than usual, perhaps because in almost every instance there was nothing else to cling to for warmth.
New Amsterdam is a medical drama, but is it, really? It’s much more a show about people, some of whom happen to be doctors and some patients. Oftentimes they flit between the two; Max has cancer, Helen might be unable to conceive children, and Lauren (Janet Montgomery) is an addict, but their primary concern is helping others before themselves. In essence, that’s what the show is about: Helping people, sometimes to get healthy, and sometimes just to be who they are.
Jonathon is the Co-Founder of Ready Steady Cut and has been Senior Editor and Chief Critic of the outlet since 2017.