Max tries to end systemic racism in “Why Not Yesterday”, while elsewhere the show returns to its emotionally manipulative best.
This recap of New Amsterdam season 3, episode 6, “Why Not Yesterday”, contains spoilers.
Solving seemingly impossible problems is something of a special skill for Max Goodwin, but totally doing away with systemic racism at New Amsterdam is a difficult day’s work even for him. “Why Not Yesterday” is all about reminding him of the impossibility of that task, but also letting him make some progress, but also making sure he knows he’s wrong for not listening, and indeed for asking in the first place, even though it’s impossible to listen to the response without asking first. Obviously, navigating a tricky subject like race is difficult at the best of times, and near impossible for a proudly liberal show like this, but the overall effect for much of the episode is the same confusion Max himself feels when he takes down all the hospital’s historical pictures and can’t figure out what to replace them with for fear of being too sensitive but not sensitive enough, too obvious but also too subtle, and offensive to anyone for any reason whatsoever.
It isn’t entirely clear if the show is trying to lionize or vilify Max, in other words. Really, it makes the entire subplot bizarre and inconclusive, even if it has some highlights. One of them is Isabel, the hospital’s existing Chief Equity Officer, whom Max is surprised to learn has been at the hospital without his knowledge for three whole years. That’s a better commentary on the realities of systemic racism than almost anything else in “Why Not Yesterday.” They could have just left it there.
Instead, Max is forced to humiliate himself again and again, which has been an unexpected highlight of this season so far but gets taken to extremes here in New Amsterdam season 3, episode 6. He starts by roaming around and removing any pictures or paraphernalia that might be deemed racist, which is all of it, and then paints “Black Lives Matter” on the floor – which Floyd slips on. Floyd tells Max that Black doctors are paid 35% less than their white counterparts, which seems a worrying statistic, but when Max proposes that the highest-paid doctors all agree to give up 10% of their wages to help balance the books, he’s turned down outright because women are paid even less than Black doctors and he’s being sexist by asking them to give up a portion of their earnings. I’m not sure how that lets the men in the room off the hook, and I’m also not sure how women seem to comprise 50% of the highest-paid doctors in the hospital, meaning they’re presumably higher-paid than every other male doctor there, and so why wouldn’t they be okay giving up 10% from their personal salary even if women, on the whole, are paid less? Told you this was complicated!
Max’s next idea is to ask Helen to be the medical director while reducing his own role to a more supporting, advisory one since Isabel has said that he’s really one of the prime examples of systemic racism because he’s a white man in a position of power. But Helen goes ballistic and starts crying about this because this isn’t Max giving a woman of color an opportunity but asking her to shoulder the burden of ending systemic racism, which he should be doing himself, even though she says herself that the only way for him to do it is to listen to people of color. I’m starting to think Max is out of his depth here, and I’m right since the specific subplot is basically abandoned when Max goes on something that Helen later snarkily dubs “a listening tour”, which amounts to various staff members, diverse in all kinds of ways, reeling off very specific examples of discrimination directly to the camera.
Now, I know what “Why Not Yesterday” is trying to achieve here, particularly in highlighting how ridiculous Max’s attitude is when directed at something as complex and insidious as systemic racism. But the fact that the episode couldn’t even be solely about racism for the duration of a single episode suggests to me that it isn’t really equipped to unpack the problem in any meaningful sense. Isn’t shifting a specific discussion to a broader one just whataboutism? Or does that only work one way?
Elsewhere in New Amsterdam season 3, episode 6, things were a lot better. Helen, for instance, was confronted with the problem of her late brother’s daughter, Mina, who is devastated about being sent from Tehran to Dubai to live with family there. Since Helen has been made the executor of her brother’s will, Mina is suddenly her responsibility, so she suggests she comes to New York instead but then tries to swerve the responsibility of caring for her, proving something that Mina’s father said to be uncomfortably true – she doesn’t have room in her hectic working life for family. This is something that evidently hits home for Helen, and results in two developments. One is that she’s stepping down from her role as deputy medical director to focus on other things, and the other is that, if Mina is going to live with her, she’s going to have to devote everything to the task of raising her, which includes breaking up with Cassian. This is something of a bonkers decision since Mina is a teenager and I highly doubt that taking responsibility for her means that Helen can’t have a single professional or romantic responsibility in her life but her, but whatever. At least Helen is making decisions for herself for once.
Iggy has a difficult day in the office in “Why Not Yesterday”, since that creepy little psychopath Juliette returns to make his life difficult. The hook here is that various other children of her acquaintance are getting hurt, and Iggy understandably assumes she’s responsible given her history of hurting other people and her pathological inability to care about doing so. But! The twist is that Juliette isn’t actually hurting anyone, she’s simply coaching her new best friend Louisa into hurting people instead. This raises an interesting problem since she seems to genuinely consider Louisa a friend and care about her wellbeing, but you can’t exactly consider telling your friend to trap a boy’s hand in a door to be “progress”. I think this would have been a more interesting subplot if Iggy was just flat-out wrong in his assumptions and that Juliette really had nothing to do with the violence at all. You could still have her develop a meaningful relationship with Louisa without letting Iggy off the hook for deciding she was guilty before she even stepped into his office. Either way, Emma Hong, who plays Juliette, is great. She has a real future.
New Amsterdam season 3, episode 6 is so shamefully manipulative in two of its other subplots that you’re reminded how infrequently the latest episodes have returned to this well. Nevertheless, though, it’s very difficult not to be moved by the story of Superman, a little dude who spent a lot of “Why Not Yesterday” running around the ED dressed as the Man of Steel, trying to save other patients and worrying not at all about his own wellbeing. It was bad enough when Lauren discovered that he had a brain bleed, and worse still when he died from it, but the bit that truly got to me was when he was wheeled down the hospital corridors between lines of mournful onlookers as he was taken to donate his perfectly-sized heart to Floyd’s young patient, who needed a bypass. Contrived? Yes. Blatantly designed to manipulate the audience into tears? Of course. And I don’t think I’d have it any other way.