“What the Heart Wants” was morbid even by the show’s usual standards, but as hopelessly moving as ever.
This recap of New Amsterdam Season 2, Episode 8, “What the Heart Wants”, contains spoilers. You can check out our thoughts on the previous episode by clicking these words.
Blimey, even by the show’s usual standards, things are not going well in New Amsterdam Season 2, Episode 8. “What the Heart Wants” is, apparently, unrelenting trauma, and a barrage of bad news and decisions besets the entire cast right from the jump. Max (Ryan Eggold) wakes up to his newly cleaned and tidied apartment but is still greeted by the ghost of Georgia (Lisa O’Hare). “I thought you left?” he asks her. “Not until you want me to,” she replies. As it turns out, letting go isn’t as easy as getting someone to do your dirty dishes.
Iggy (Tyler Labine), too, gets a breakfast shock. Roz has found a child for he and Martin (Mike Doyle) to adopt, but he still hasn’t told Martin that he went behind his back and arranged for another kid — and now they have 24 hours to fill in the paperwork. Yikes.
When we finally get to the hospital, things are even worse. Shayna Davis, already a New Amsterdam patient, is dumped outside following a heroin overdose and tells Lauren (Janet Montgomery) and Casey (Alejandro Hernandez) to ask Dr Sharpe (Freema Agyeman) why she hurts all over. When Sharpe gets a minute away from Castro (Ana Villafañe), who is still intent on putting the needs of the many over the few when it comes to experimental and expensive cancer treatments, we learn that Shayna is a patient of hers who turned to heroin to help stave off the pain of her cancer — what she’s being prescribed simply isn’t enough to manage it, and heroin was a lot cheaper. Figures.
That isn’t even all. Vijay (Anupam Kher) and Agnes (Christine Chang) meet with the parents of a young boy whose twitchy symptoms might suggest early-onset MS. And then the worst news. Lauren is late for surgery on her leg, so Max demands she leave him in charge of the ED, just as a heavily-pregnant woman is wheeled in with a clot in her lung. Floyd (Jocko Sims) and Duke (Ian Duff) are summoned, but the news that the woman’s child has died en route has to be delivered by Max himself.
This all happens in the first eight minutes of New Amsterdam Season 2, Episode 8. Goodness.
“What the Heart Wants” slows down to deliver even more bad news, as Max explains to Gabby that the safest way to remove a stillbirth is to induce labor and go through the usual process, which is a cruel and miserable reality that Gabby wants Max to stay and help her through. Also in need of help is Lauren, whose socialite alcoholic mother Jeanine is supposed to be accompanying her for her surgery — one of Lauren’s Twelve Steps is to make amends with her — but predictably fails to arrive when she’s needed.
What seems like it might be good news quickly reveals itself to be undiagnosed news, as Agnes explains to Vijay that their patient doesn’t have MS — which he already knew, or at least suspected since he had privately diagnosed the boy as having Schilder’s Disease. But that isn’t the case either, as they’re both summoned to the boy’s bedside when he has a vivid hallucination of spiders crawling all over his body, which isn’t a symptom of Schilder’s Disease or MS.
Casey lets Helen know that Shayna has bolted, but luckily Helen knows where to: A decrepit drug den where she finds Shayna about to shoot up. If she’s going to do it, and she insists she is, Helen suggests that she at least do it somewhere safe, with clean needles. That turns out to be a “safe consumption clinic” operated by Omar; it’s an underground safe space where drugs are safely administered by medical professionals, but it’s also illegal. Helen is skeptical of the place’s methods, though not its intentions, and as Omar says, if people can make better decisions there, then the place is helping.
Gabby gives birth to Sophie, and a bizarrely lifelike dead baby prop is deployed to make the moment even more miserable. When she’s asked if she wants to hold her daughter, Gabby says no; Max explains that it’s okay, even if only to say goodbye, but she’s adamant. Max later returns with Sophie in a special temperature-controlled bassinet designed to allow grieving parents additional time with stillborn children; the chance to make memories, even if they’re not the kind they imagined or want, and as Max explains, when we lose someone we love most of us would prefer some memories, however painful, over no memories at all. He’s helping Gabby, but it’s obvious he’s also helping himself — or trying to, anyway.
With time running out, Vijay’s patient needs a brain biopsy for a proper diagnosis, even though Agnes feels that drilling a hole into his head might not be ideal. Lauren, too, goes under the knife for a tibia realignment, which goes well. Floyd observes but requests that his presence be kept a secret — Lauren knows he cares, but she gets annoyed when he makes a show of caring. He’s called away anyway to search for Duke, who missed his rounds, and whom he finds roaming the corridors fretting that he has made Gabby’s situation worse by promising her that her baby would be okay. It’s a schoolboy error — you don’t ever make promises to patients since you never know what might happen. Just being there is enough, which is why, when Lauren wakes up alone, Floyd is there for her, proving that someone cares about her even if she thinks that they don’t.
Sometimes, though, being there for someone is also being there for yourself, as New Amsterdam Season 2, Episode 8 proves with Max refusing to allow Gabby to be moved and camping outside her room. He’s behaving irrationally because he sees so much of his own situation in hers; the loss of a loved one, and the refusal to let them go knowing they’re never coming back. He later talks with Iggy about this, confessing that he doesn’t want to get better because if he does he’ll have to let Georgia go. Max’s acknowledgment that what he’s doing is unhealthy, and Iggy allowing him to continue to grieve in his own way, without lectures or intervention, is the show operating on a more complex character level than it could in its first season, leveraging relationships and developments that have metastasized across over thirty episodes.
That, too, is why Iggy’s predicament is so relatable. We have seen how much Iggy’s children mean to him, and how much Martin means to him, and we saw the genesis of his rash decision to adopt again. When Vijay confronts him after spying him talking to Ella (Dierdre Friel), Iggy confesses to his best friend about the adoption, which provides a lightbulb moment for Vijay. His patient was also adopted. Despite his Stateside vaccination, while he was still in a Thai orphanage he contracted SSPE from the measles virus, and it has laid dormant in his brain for the last seven years. Now that it is activated, it has four stages. The kid is in the third. Vijay explains to the boy’s parents that he has never seen a child survive the fourth.
Luckily, Agnes comes to the rescue. Thanks to anti-vaxxers, SSPE is an increasingly common issue, and a very new treatment can make it survivable. It isn’t guaranteed to work, and it’ll be a lifelong process rather than a cure, but it’s better than nothing.
Much like how it opened, “What the Heart Wants” closes with a cavalcade of awfulness. Helen is arrested for visiting Omar’s off-the-books clinic, and despite being bailed out by Castro and Karen (Debra Monk), she is told her fate will be determined by the board. Martin ambushes Iggy in his office, having found out about the adoption, and tells him not to come home. And Max finally unburdens himself to Gabby, telling her about Georgia, and how he has kept her alive in his way so that she could share in the memories he is making with Luna. Healthy or not, that’s the only way he can keep going, but he’s worried that if Gabby doesn’t say goodbye to Sophie now, maybe she never will.
Only in its very final moments does New Amsterdam Season 2, Episode 8 deliver some hope. Ella goes to see Vijay and tells him she has decided to keep his grandson. Gabby finally holds Sophie. And Max, at home, tearfully holds Georgia. She asks if this is goodbye, and he doesn’t answer, but I think it might be.
Jonathon is the Co-Founder of Ready Steady Cut and has been Senior Editor and Chief Critic of the outlet since 2017.