“The Legend of Howie Cournemeyer” draws parallels between the current pandemic and another, as Max tackles yet another longstanding, bigoted injustice in the hospital.
This recap of New Amsterdam season 3, episode 7, “The Legend of Howie Cournemeyer”, contains spoilers.
As ever, Max has a problem in “The Legend of Howie Cournemeyer”, and true to third-season form, it isn’t one he can solve by being his usual charming self. It stretches all the way back to the AIDS epidemic in the ‘80s and the bigoted medical regulations that ravaged both the gay community and New Amsterdam itself. But rather than just being an issue of the week, the subject is cleverly tied into ongoing character arcs and presented as a parallel to the current pandemic. It’s impressive how well it all comes together, and how much emotional power it’s able to summon in a way that, for once, doesn’t feel all that flagrantly manipulative.
It begins on National HIV Testing Day, a celebratory occasion that mostly pays tribute to George Helms (Larry Bryggman), who was the hospital’s Medical Director at the time and is Max’s self-confessed idol. That is, at least, until he follows the trail from a defaced photograph and learns how Helms handled a critical blood shortage during the epidemic – which is to say he didn’t handle it at all.
During that shortage, gay men, even those who had tested negative for HIV, weren’t allowed to donate blood. To get around this issue, Dale Rustin (André De Shields), who ran the blood bank at the time, had gay men he knew weren’t HIV+ come in and donate blood under the name of another man – the titular Howie Cournemeyer (Stephen Spinella). When Helms found out he threw out the blood, despite knowing it was healthy and could save lives, just to protect the hospital from potential liability. These days, things aren’t much different. Sexually active gay men still can’t donate blood plasma to help combat Coronavirus. Even during a public health crisis, outdated bigotry still reigns supreme.
Well, Max isn’t having that, and he decides to circumvent the regulations so that any healthy individual can give blood, regardless of who they love. Howie is the first donor.
This isn’t Max’s only problem in New Amsterdam season 3, episode 7. Luna is also raising hell around the hospital, and when he catches her staring at a picture of Georgia’s mother, he knows that he has to admit he can’t do this on his own. Luna needs someone who can be there for her more than Max can since he’s always busy solving deep-rooted systemic issues. Luckily, parents aren’t supposed to raise children on their own. It takes a village and all that. Grandma to the rescue.
Bringing things back to the issue of HIV and homophobia, Lauren and Floyd clashed in “The Legend of Howie Cournemeyer” over Kwame (Joshua Gitta), a Mormon missionary who had contracted HIV by sleeping with a man against the rules of his religion. His Elder – how ridiculous giving someone that title in 2021 – considered his sins worthy of dismissal. If he couldn’t marry a woman and have children, he’d be removed from the mission and sent back to his own country. But Kwame’s faith was unwavering.
This caused the problem between Lauren and Floyd since the latter believed that Kwame’s devotion to his religion superseded his desire to live as his authentic self, so he proposed a solution that would find him back in the church but also back in the closet. Lauren was appalled by this, and the show’s reliable no-nonsense no-f*cks-given figurehead continues to be one of the most right-minded people in the entire hospital, especially after what she did for Leyla (although, on that subject, where has Leyla gone?).
New Amsterdam season 3, episode 7 was bookended by love scenes between Iggy and Martin: In the first, Iggy’s body dysmorphia got the better of him, awkwardly insisting that the lights be turned off before he can intimate with his husband; in the second, Iggy keeps the lights on, having not necessarily come to terms with how he looks but at least accepted that he cannot continue to let his own perceptions dominate his life in the way they have. It’s a powerful moment, but it requires some stress for Iggy to get there.
Most of this is rooted in Dr. Kapoor, who sadly resigns in “The Legend of Howie Cournemeyer”. This is a serious shock to Iggy, who had arranged a party for his return. He takes the fact that Kapoor didn’t let him know about this very personally and leaves him several voicemails, some of them frantic and hurtful. It isn’t until Ella calls back and explains what’s really going on that Iggy understands. While Kapoor survived COVID, the long-term have effects have rendered him unable to work ever again. He tried to return but physically couldn’t make it, and the pain of that realization has caused him to close off from his colleagues. That’s why he didn’t tell Iggy or anyone else for that matter. He’ll definitely be missed.