After five years, New Amsterdam bid farewell with medical director Max Goodwin (Ryan Eggold) announcing his departure from the hospital, prompting his colleagues to think back to the moment they each decided they wanted to become doctors.
His own was related to the death of his sister, who spent her last days at the hospital he had been running for the past five years. Bloom's (Janet Montgomery) realization came during her era as a broker when she was unable to help the homeless man dying in her arms. For Reynolds (Jocko Sims), the impetus was the demise of his parents' marriage and putting his mother's heart back together. Iggy (Tyler Labine) went from understanding the difference between being dumped on and being a good listener, which made his family feel better. Wilder's resolve to become a doctor was ignited during Halloween when some kids made fun of her Dr. Ross (from ER) costume, and her brother encouraged her to dream smaller.
The finale also presented full-circle moments that were cause for joy, including Bloom's reunion withher sister Vanessa (Kathryn Prescott), Reynolds' ongoing relationship with Gabrielle (Toya Turner), and Iggy and Martin's (Mike Doyle) renewed nuptials. But the biggest surprise came when viewers realized that the new medical director they had been following throughout the episode was Max's daughter Luna (Molly Griggs) in the future, following in her aspirational father's footsteps.
On second watch, all the signs were there: Luna jogging to the hospital like her father did in the series' premiere episode, catching and calling out her new staff for smack-talking her in a language they assumed she didn't speak, and the final speech that brought everything back to the beginning.
"The symmetry was already built in from the beginning, and we didn't even know it was there," series creator David Schulner tells Metacritic about ending the series on the next generation of Goodwins. "It just made sense because you end where you begin, so it felt like our ending was already planted in the beginning, whether we knew it or not."
Here, Schulner and executive producer Peter Horton talk to Metacritic about the pressures of sticking a landing, why Max couldn't have everything, and why it is still a happy ending.
How did you know you wanted to end it on Luna?
David Schulner: Peter and I never thought about the ending. We got a three-season pickup after our first season. We thought we were going to run for quite a few years. When we got the call that this was the end, neither of us had given it any thought. So, once we knew, I think we were both in denial.
Peter Horton: Still in denial.
D.S.: And then at breakfast, my 11-year-old daughter said, "What if Luna came back as the medical director?" And I was like, "OK, 11-year-old daughter, you eat your Rice Krispies, leave the writing to me. I'm a professional. I got this." And then a week later, one of our writers, Laura Valdivia, said, "Call me crazy, but what if Luna came back as the medical director?" And I was like, "That's weird because my 11-year-old daughter just [pitched that]." And then, a week later, another writer — Erica Green — and I were sitting on set together for the Season 4 finale, and she said, "What if Luna came back as medical director for the very end?" And I was like, "I guess this is our ending because clearly the universe is telling us this is how the show wants to end."
What made sense about it other than maybe giving your 11-year-old a writer's credit and residuals? What made sense about the symmetry?
D.S.: Max's speech in the pilot episode, when he says, "I grew up in this hospital because my sister died here, and that's what made me want to be medical director" — that history was already built in for Luna because her mother died here. She grew up in that daycare downstairs.
There are the flashbacks to the moments where the doctors decided that's what they want to become. Where did that idea come from, and were those moments obvious to you?
D.S.: They definitely weren't obvious, but once we knew that Luna was going to be the medical director, we realized we wanted it to be a surprise. So, we knew we had to have Luna there all day in the present. And it seemed like something should happen this day that makes her want to be the medical director. So, we realized it was Luna's origin story. Then we thought, "Wait, if we're telling Luna's origin story, let's hide it by telling everyone else's origin story." So, the story just kept flowing out of that one decision.
How hard is it to stick a landing?
P.H.: It's really hard. Well, it's really delicate.
D.S.: You've never had to do it. Grey's Anatomy is still running after 19 years.
P.H.: That was our plan with this. It was supposed to go for another — what would that be — 15 years? So, I was of no help to David with ending this. But it is delicate, especially because, in strange way, one of the things you have to do is pare it down to the very essence of what the show is. If it's a show that's edgy and kind of unpredictable, the finale has to be kind of weird and harsh. And our show is all about hope and doing the right thing. And so, how do you find that moment without it being sentimental, without it being overstated or without it being understated? It's a really narrow path with steep cliffs on both sides.
I think what David and the team found was exactly the right moment for this show. It's not even Max's face that says, "How can I help?" the last time — because that would've been a little sentimental and not as satisfying. The fact that his daughter is taking his place, saying the same thing was, to me, sticking the landing, and really landing where this particular show needed to land.
So, although based on a real person, Max is not real. You could have given him anything, but instead, he can't have a job and Wilder (Sandra Mae Frank). Why can't he have both?
P.H.: We didn't want him to have both. We want it to be in the ether. What is his life? What's it going to be? Who's he going to be? And he's choosing his daughter. Out of all the women we've experienced with him, the one that really counted in the end and mattered the most was his daughter. And that's who ends up there at the end. It's a story that's told without having to tell the story. It's just the circumstances that tell the story, which to me, makes me walk away from this show loving him even more.
Do you consider it a happy ending for Max?
D.S.: I do, yeah. And we actually filmed something that gave the audience a hint about him and Wilder, and we decided to take it out because it was so much better. Like Peter said, he chose Luna. And I, as an audience member, am really hoping that he and Wilder stay together or come back to each other or find each other. But I love the feeling of me as an audience member wanting that, as opposed to being told that. It lets me participate in the show, whereas the creators telling you how to feel, or what happens, kind of shuts that off.
P.H.: Even the Sharpwin fans can imagine, "Well, maybe he's over in Europe and there's Sharpe [Freema Agyeman] and who knows?" It's full of potential and possibility. And, as David says, you get to write it as opposed to us.
Daniel Dae Kim is obviously a big return for the final episode. Were there things that maybe we missed along those lines but smaller Easter eggs? What were the things you wanted to sprinkle in?
P.H.: There's one thing that's worth pointing out, which is Eric Manheimer, who is the guy that wrote Twelve Patients — the show is based on him. We had him on the set the day with the big operation. In fact, we have a shot with a group of doctors and he's one of them. Our director Michael Slovis had planned to give him a hero shot where the real guy walks out of the scrub room, but Eric got bored and left. He wasn't there [for that part of filming].
D.S.: But we do have Eric Manheimer as one of the doctors looking [at the surgery] in the scrub room. He has a white beard and glasses.
What's been the impact of this show on your lives?
P.H.: I've always viewed my career as the opportunity to do something worthwhile and good in the world, to have some sort of an impact, as small as it may be. And I've done a lot of shows where I've had to go, "Well, I can see where some good was done in that show." Even though it's about international terrorism, you could find meaning. But I'd never been involved with one that was so directly purposed to have an impact at a time that was so tumultuous and so in need of it. So, for me, it's a real gratifying part of the story of my career that I got to do this show for five years at a time that was really, really difficult. This show that really was directly addressing issues of necessity.
D.S.: Peter and I know nothing about medicine. We just work with a lot of great people and take the stories that are out there and shape them in a way that is meaningful for us. But to have the World Health Organization come out and say, "Thank you," I think that's one of the frustrating things about people who reduce the show to, "Who is Max going to hook up with?" The World Health Organization said, "Thank you for portraying medicine." That, to me, is why we do the show and why I'm so grateful for everyone who's participated.