“The New Normal” finds some poignant moments in amongst a too neat-and-tidy main plot.
This recap of New Amsterdam season 3, episode 1, “The New Normal”, contains spoilers.
The opening five minutes of “The New Normal” are emblematic of everything that New Amsterdam does better than other medical dramas. Entirely without dialogue, it immediately and effortlessly – with some help from “What A Wonderful World” – brings viewers into the headspace of healthcare workers on the front lines of a pandemic; the tell-tale red blemishes left by PPE, the tired, haunted eyes, the long-distance FaceTime calls, the gurneys being wheeled in and out of pop-up tents to contain the overflow of dead and dying. It’s powerful stuff, and perhaps the best evocation of the pandemic that network TV has yet produced.
Covid-19 has also claimed one of the show’s own – the sight of Dr. Kapoor on a ventilator is an immediately haunting image, and by the end of the episode, even though he’s awake, his immediate future is guaranteed to be bleak. In some ways, that’s a good thing, since the rapidity with which New Amsterdam season 3, episode 1 moves away from the chilling tone established in the opening runs the risk of making the whole thing seem like it’s over and done with. Not for Kapoor, obviously, and not for many others in the hospital, even if the more pressing matter of a passenger plane crash-landing in the East River becomes the immediate concern.
I actually found the story of Dane the bipolar pilot very compelling, even if it was wrapped up a bit too neatly in this show’s typically uplifting way. The officials determinedly trying to condemn Dane came across as far too cartoonishly villainous, and it was fairly obvious from early on that his manic episode led him to heroism. Max and Iggy predictably saw this and fought to prove it, and they succeeded a bit too easily. Still, the actual beats of the story were effective, at least for me.
The moral complexity is to be found with Lauren Bloom, who was distressingly comfortable during the worst of the pandemic, able to leap around departments and care for patients in a more meaningful way, and now that she’s back in the ED and isn’t afforded the same privilege of taking matters into her own hands, she feels lost and a little undervalued. Everyone wants to feel valued, of course, but most of us don’t require deaths in the thousands to achieve that. Casey relates her experience to his own military service, and how he missed combat, which is perhaps the closest analog. It’s a complicated subplot, and a welcome one given how neat and tidy the plain plotline is. It also feels like a better outgrowth of the pandemic than Helen struggling with intimacy, especially since she seemed to struggle with it throughout the first two seasons as well.
At least New Amsterdam season 3, episode 1 comes full circle, with a touching moment as Max and Helen hear the city-wide clanging of pots and pans from the hospital’s roof. What seems like a tokenistic gesture is given rare power in that moment, as we see how much it might mean to those it’s meant to show appreciation for. More moments like that will be welcome.