In “Sanctuary”, another crisis in the hospital finally pushes Max and Helen to confront their feelings for each other.
This New Amsterdam Episode 17 recap for the episode titled “Sanctuary” contains spoilers. You can check out our thoughts on the previous episode by clicking these words.
After a brief but nonetheless horribly long hiatus, New Amsterdam is back in the immediate aftermath of the unprecedented blizzard that wracked New York in the previous episode. The power in the hospital is out, patients are dying, and the only person who can fix the problem is a convicted murderer. There at bad days at work, and then there’s this.
But bad days are what Max (Ryan Eggold) thrives on, since when he can devote himself to helping others despite impossible circumstances, he doesn’t have to address his own battle with cancer, or his rocky marriage to his pregnant wife Georgia (Lisa O’Hare), or the fact that his friend, personal doctor, and deputy, Helen (Freema Agyeman), is in love with him. Or, I suppose, that he’s quite clearly in love with her too.
Max and Helen were due to have a very important chat about their feelings at the end of the previous episode, but it takes until the end of “Sanctuary” for them to find the time. And the crisis pushed both Max and Helen to the brink of not just their personal relationship, but their professional one. Max’s outlandish do-gooder heroism has always been played up by New Amsterdam, which has always refused to have Max pay the price for wanting to save everyone at any cost. But this week his refusal to choose led to a decision being made for him — and it wasn’t the one he wanted.
But more on that in a minute. In the meantime, **** was going down in the hospital that required several leaps of faith, split-second judgments, and no-easy-option risk-taking. One of those risks was Burl (Ólafur Darri Ólafsson, who seems to be cropping up everywhere lately), a Riker’s Island inmate who was swiftly promoted to the role of on-site handyman after the local electrician got electrocuted. Max and Iggy’s (Tyler Labine) faith in him looked at several moments like it was misplaced, but in true New Amsterdam fashion, he came through in the end. However, his success meant that Max once again avoided having to make the tough life-or-death decisions he should be making in his position, solidifying Helen’s opinion that their relationship couldn’t continue in its current form.
Floyd (Jocko Sims), with the no-nonsense help of Dr. Candelario (Nana Mensah), was able to save his new best buddy Hugh (Robert Sella) despite him waking up right in the middle of open-heart surgery. In doing so Floyd learned that he’s both a better and worse surgeon than he first thought and that there really isn’t a correct number of times to fold towels.
Agnes (Christine Chang), usually so unsure of herself, was finally compelled to make bold decisions when her patient had a minor stroke and the relevant doctors — Kapoor (Anupam Kher) and Clint Hartman (Matthew Bellows) — were both trapped in an elevator. Some of the antics here were played for comedy, such as when Kapoor blagged his way into a foot rub, but the heart of it was how the meek shall one day inherit the earth.
But, crises averted, back to Helen and Max. On the roof of the hospital after perhaps the longest night of their respective careers, they finally had the opportunity to be honest with one another. In the most well-written scene of “Sanctuary” and perhaps the entire series, Helen took charge here as she had in the hospital, explaining to Max that she can’t be all the things to him that he wants — and needs — her to be. She can’t be his friend and his doctor if being his friend means that he won’t take her medical advice seriously. She can’t be his deputy if he can’t see past his idealism and make difficult choices. “What if I want you?” he asks of her. “I’m afraid that’s no longer an option because we all want you,” she replies.
There’s a tragedy and a truth in Helen’s decision that is possibly the boldest New Amsterdam has ever been, and while shippers will be devastated, it’s nice to see a show that is almost cartoonish in its uplifting outcomes finally commit to something that isn’t in the best interests of all involved. Wherever the show — and Max and Helen’s relationship — goes from here, it’ll no doubt be better for its honesty.
Jonathon is the Co-Founder of Ready Steady Cut and has been Senior Editor and Chief Critic of the outlet since 2017.