“The Karman Line” brought the staff of New Amsterdam face to face with their own problems, asking how far they’d go to solve them.
This recap of New Amsterdam Season 2, Episode 5, “The Karman Line”, contains spoilers. You can check out our thoughts on the previous episode by clicking these words.
New Amsterdam Season 2, Episode 5 is about boundaries; those between the Earth and space — that’s the so-called Karman Line, from which the episode gets its title — and the personal ones that everyone has to find a way to bypass in order to grow. Everyone in the hospital has them. Some are consequences of distance. Others are of loss, of desperation, of selfishness. Either way, it’s only by stepping over those boundaries that you can see what’s waiting on the other side of them. “The Karman Line” is about resolving to do so, and beginning the process, for the staff and the patients.
Some are more obvious than others. The upbeat opening mirrors Max’s (Ryan Eggold) over-it exterior, but his awful dance moves aren’t funny as long as Georgia (Lisa O’Hare) watches on in the background — we know she isn’t really there. But does he? The hardest things to deal with are the ones we keep to ourselves. Vijay (Anupam Kher) confides in Iggy (Tyler Labine) that Ella (Dierdre Friel) is debating whether or not to keep Rohan’s (Vandit Bhatt) child; what was, for a brief moment, an unequivocally good thing might turn out to be a tragic one, but at least he shared the burden. Floyd (Jocko Sims) is still frustrated by Evie (Margot Bingham) being away and Lauren (Janet Montgomery) is struggling to cope without Dr. Ligon (JJ Feild) and his unique form of physical therapy, but both are worse off for bottling those problems away.
These internal conflicts keep cropping back up in New Amsterdam Season 2, Episode 5, as the patients of the week prompt some self-reflection. Helen (Freema Agyeman) is working with a woman, Paz Aquino, whose chemotherapy prevents her from using IVF to become pregnant. Instead, she’s using her sister, Jasmine (Aurora Leonard), as a surrogate, but the insurance company has suddenly decided they don’t cover surrogacy anymore. Max believes that he can get them to change the policy, but in a funny montage of him becoming increasingly frustrated as the ball in a game of phone tennis, he realizes that handling the matter face-to-face might be a better idea.
Max goes to see Anil, the Barcroft company’s appeals guy, but even after introducing him to Paz and Jasmine, the people behind the case file, he says that he’s powerless to do anything; he has a cool-sounding job title, but that doesn’t necessarily mean he can get anything done. Max goes further up the chain instead, to Anil’s boss Frances Mayer. He points out that Barcroft covers a uterus transplant, which is much more expensive than surrogacy, and suggests that he might recommend to all his patients that such a transplant is the way to go, affecting the company’s bottom line. In return, Frances suggests they stop covering uterus transplants, too. Stalemate. When Max tries to go above her head he’s removed from the building by security.
Both Max and Helen obviously have an emotional connection to Paz’s plight. Helen’s waning fertility was a major subplot of the first season, and in “The Karman Line”, she reveals that in the aftermath of the crash, she attempted IVF, realizing almost immediately that it was a mistake — she wants to be a mother, just not alone. That’s particularly crushing for Max, who doesn’t want to be a father alone, either. The difference is Helen has accepted she is alone and Max hasn’t. Either way, this admission strengthens Max’s resolve. Luckily, Anil approaches him with a solution. Since he wanted to be a doctor and couldn’t hack it, Anil has been numb for the decade since, realizing he has been doing the exact opposite of helping people. Now he can change that. Anyone on the Barcroft board of trustees can override a policy without changing the policy, so he found a trustee willing to make an exception. “For 4211A?” asks Max. “No, for Paz Aquino,” Anil replies.
Not every story in New Amsterdam Season 2, Episode 5 has such a happy ending. Iggy’s is particularly striking, and also vaguely terrifying. When a seven-year-old, Calvin, is brought into the emergency room after having apparently been choked with window blinds, both Lauren and Casey (Alejandro Hernandez) recognize that something is amiss and call Child Services. In interviews, we see both Calvin’s mother and father be grilled about the circumstances of his injuries, and both admit to having inflicted them. But the father’s hands are too big; the bruising doesn’t match. And the mother’s hands, while small enough, don’t feature any tell-tale defensive injuries, which she’d have were she to choke a seven-year-old almost to death. The real culprit is Calvin’s sister, Juliette (Emma Hong), who wanted her brother’s phone.
Juliette is a highlight of “The Karman Line”, though “highlight” is probably the wrong word. Iggy quickly determines that she’s a psychopath. And I don’t mean that flippantly — she’s callous and unemotional, totally devoid of empathy. This is, understandably, not a popular diagnosis, as there’s no cure. The standard treatment takes place in a Department of Corrections facility. But punishment doesn’t work for psychopaths because they don’t feel any shame. Iggy suggests another solution; a reward-based behavioral program. But in order for Juliette to be admitted to New Amsterdam as an inpatient, he has to make some progress with her. And that proves difficult.
You can see the logic behind the first idea, which is to devise a currency called Iggy Bucks, fifty of which equate to an hour of playing on Calvin’s phone. If Juliette apologizes to her brother, she can have fifty all at once, but she negotiates him down to smaller apologies for fewer Iggy Bucks. It’s a start. But Juliette has already figured the game out. She starts insulting Iggy and then feigning apologies, pocketing a few of the bucks each time, eventually spitting in his face for the last bunch. That isn’t going to work, then.
Juliette likes winning — but she also likes making people lose. Iggy’s next idea is to play the game on an “expert level”, which is to say playing it in a way that can only be won if nobody else loses. The point, I assume, is to foster in Juliette the idea that winning and being rewarded for doing so is enough; nobody has to suffer as a result. She apologizes to Calvin for what she did to him, becoming increasingly frustrated when he still won’t hand his phone over. She can’t understand why she isn’t receiving the reward despite having done as asked. She offers Iggy Bucks for the phone and is refused again. Out of options, she seemingly opens up, explaining that she does care about people, but doesn’t know how to show it. Playing the same games as Calvin on his phone apparently is the only way she can feel close to him. This is standard New Amsterdam stuff. A seemingly impossible problem is given a last-minute solution. But on her way out of the room with the phone, Juliette mouths to Iggy, “I win.” She was faking.
This is morbid and, again, terrifying, but I’m glad it’s the outcome that “The Karman Line” went with. And when Iggy tried to present it as one of his usual victories, I’m glad the petrified lady from Child Services called him out on it. She rightly says that however much progress Juliette makes, there will always be something missing in her: Empathy. When Iggy says because she’ll never have it everyone else needs to have it for her, you can see his point without necessarily believing he’s confident in it.
Floyd’s patient in New Amsterdam Season 2, Episode 5 is Colonel Mackenzie Adams (Kristen Sieh), an astronaut scheduled to fly out to the Space Station. A problem with her bladder is quickly revealed to be a problem with her heart — one that NASA missed, and that, if it isn’t fixed, might ground her permanently. There are two ways to fix it. The first is surgery, which would prohibit her from going into space. The other would patch up the issue, but her heart would have to be put through a stress test to ensure it had worked, and the test might kill her. That’s the one she goes with.
Before the test, Floyd talks with Mackenzie’s husband, who is clearly used to the question of how he can love someone who loves space more than him. He’s content that she loves him more than anything else on earth — to him, supporting her in her ambitions is how he has chosen to love her back. He explains that the Karman Line is the boundary where Earth ends and space begins. Loving Mackenzie means helping her cross it, even if she’s leaving him on the other side, which resonates with Floyd. Mackenzie undergoes the stress test and passes. She’ll achieve her dream.
While Lauren and Vijay don’t get much to do in New Amsterdam Season 2, Episode 5, the scenes they share are still important. They meditate outside together, and both come to realizations about their predicaments. Vijay realizes he has to be there for Ella whatever she chooses to do; his attempts to broach this while ordering coffee and pastries are funny, but get the point across. Lauren realizes that she has simply replaced pills with sex, distracting herself not from the pain, but from being sober. She attempts to book her PT sessions with someone else other than Dr. Ligon.
The closing moments of “The Karman Line” are more bittersweet than usual. Lauren goes to a support group and sees Dr. Ligon there. Floyd asks Evie how long she needs to be away, and she says six weeks. He says he’ll see her then. Ella goes to see Vijay and tells him that if she needs to talk, it’ll be with him. He lets her know that whatever she decides, they’ll always be family. Baby Luna enjoys her first laugh at Helen. But Max lets slip that they’ll have to show the laugh to mummy, and while he tries to talk his way out of it, Helen noticed all the same. Some boundaries are much harder to clear than others.
Jonathon is the Co-Founder of Ready Steady Cut and has been Senior Editor and Chief Critic of the outlet since 2017.