“Hiding Behind My Smile” sees Helen get a taste of power, and Max takes the next step in single parenting.
This recap of New Amsterdam Season 2, Episode 11, “Hiding Behind My Smile”, contains spoilers. You can check out our thoughts on the previous episode by clicking these words.
Without anyone noticing, Helen (Freema Agyeman) has morphed into Max (Ryan Eggold). I’m not sure how it happened. One minute you’re demoted, suddenly a run-of-the-mill doctor with no authority at all, and the next you’re forging your boss’s signature to bring in unbudgeted new hires and set the medical world to rights. For Helen in “Hiding Behind My Smile”, not being in charge has made her more powerful than she was before.
And that’s probably just as well, since Max’s latest scheme in New Amsterdam Season 2, Episode 11 is to ban all screens from the hospital, which has naturally caused an uproar. But Max is busy with Luna’s 6-month health check-up, and the only person anyone trusts to deal with the matter is Helen. While she reminds everyone that she’s no longer the deputy medical director, as Vijay (Anupam Kher) explains to her, it’s nothing to do with her own rank. She has Max’s ear. When she talks, he listens.
Thus, Helen spends much of “Hiding Behind My Smile” basically impersonating Max, making the decisions she thinks he’d make and using his signature to authorize them. The show is smart in how it repurposes its usual tricks – that signature “Max is about to annoy someone” music, endless scenes of Helen marching down the corridors while being nagged by various colleagues, and eventually the appearance of a frantic Karen Brantley (Debra Monk) – to reposition Helen as the same figure of altruistic authority. As she confirms at the end of the episode, this is freeing for her. Without her title to worry about, she can do whatever she wants without fear of reprisal, and what she wants is the best for everyone.
Of course, most people in New Amsterdam want the best for everyone, and those who don’t – a shout out to Valentina Castro (Ana Villafañe), who appears briefly just to struggle and be mistaken for Helen – are overruled by those who do. Take Vijay, for example, who is moving Ella (Dierdre Friel) into his home, which it turns out is a cluttered memorial to his late wife and his wayward son, and not at all suitable for a baby or a vulnerable woman with severe OCD. It’s a minor subplot in New Amsterdam Season 2, Episode 11, dealt with in two or three short scenes, but it’s a telling reminder of how change comes from within; you can have the best intentions, but they’re all for naught unless you’re willing to desecrate your shrines.
The problem for Floyd (Jocko Sims) in “Hiding Behind My Smile” is that he’s unsure where his shrine should be located. Is his place with Evie (Margot Bingham) in San Francisco, or at the hospital? Despite promising his fiancé that he’ll tell Max he’s leaving by the end of the day, a complicated and lengthy surgery on a Marine with exceptionally rare blood leaves him so flustered that he only does half the job.
Not that Max is particularly focused anyway. While waiting for Luna’s check-up, he meets the good-looking Alice and her cute son Bobby, and by the end of the day she has given him her number – for a playdate, obviously, but it’s enough of a step into post-grief normality that it throws Max for a bit of a loop. So, too, does a slight anomaly in Luna’s tests, which turns out to be nothing but proves that his judgment isn’t the best when it comes to his daughter. He’s quick to overrule his own objective medical opinion and that of his staff, though when the pediatrician tells him so, he admittedly listens to the advice.
All in all, though, a positive day for Max – Luna is fine, a hot single mother is interested in him, and Helen is doing a better job being him that he usually manages himself.
Things aren’t all smooth sailing for Helen in New Amsterdam Season 2, Episode 11 though. Enter the obligatory heartstring-tugging subplot of “Hiding Behind My Smile”, Trey, an 18-year-old recovering cancer patient who arrives with severe allergies and leaves with a death sentence. His lymphoma has returned and has spread like wildfire way beyond the point of treatment. He has four to six months left, and it’s Helen’s job to tell him. After that, it’s Iggy’s (Tyler Labine) job to figure out why he wants to die alone, providing he can take enough time away from studying Narcissistic Personality Disorder to ask him.
You can see Trey’s logic. Having already spent a good chunk of his life battling cancer, he wants to use the few months remaining to him to really live. But he won’t be able to do that if he stays with his parents. His plan is to go abroad and climb mountains until he keels over, and his rationalization is that it’s going to be hard for his parents to lose him anyway – why should it be hard for him too? Since he’s clearly lucid enough to make these decisions for himself, Iggy is willing to discharge him, but with a caveat; he wants him to record a video for his parents, a countdown of five important memories, that Iggy can send along to them once he hears of Trey’s passing. That way everyone gets their closure. Naturally, as soon as Trey starts recounting all the ways in which his parents have been there for him, he tearfully realizes that he can’t end his story without them.
Lauren (Janet Montgomery), sans limp now, has her work cut out in “Hiding Behind My Smile” with an elderly patient whose litany of problems defy a diagnosis. She eventually lands on malnutrition, at which point the man, Eli, admits that he sells his food stamps to cover rent and lives off cheap junk food. She recommends Meals for Seniors, a program to help with that kind of thing, but he says he has been on the waiting list since June 2016. When Lauren calls the place, it’s revealed that there are so many starving elderly people that the backlog is insurmountable without a significant cash injection. Luckily Lauren is possessed of cursed cash that she doesn’t know what to do with, and so the implication is that she pays the substantial figure necessary to ensure that there is no longer a waiting list at all. Money well spent, though, in a telling throwaway line, the woman on the phone at first assumes that Lauren is offering money as a bribe. Says it all, really.
The closing montage of New Amsterdam Season 2, Episode 11 revisits our main cast at the end of the day, raising some questions to deal with going forward. What is Floyd going to do now that Max has misunderstood the fact he intends to leave? How far will Helen go – with Max as her safety net – now that she can get things done her way? Will Max call Alice? How much is Iggy going to eat? Questions, questions. At least we can assume that Ella will be comfortable in Vijay’s redesigned, baby-friendly home. It is, after all, what his wife would have wanted.
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