At the risk of sounding hyperbolic, it feels like we’re in an emotionally abusive relationship with New Amsterdam.
When it’s good, it truly is good, and there were some solid moments of New Amsterdam Season 5 Episode 1 that hinted at the lovely series that won our hearts and souls and garnered critical acclaim five years ago.
But when it’s off, it’s unfathomably off, all the while gaslighting the viewers and making us question everything we’ve known to be true.
With New Amsterdam Season 4‘s notoriety, that truly abysmal season finale, and the shocking news that Freema Agyeman departed ahead of the final season, tuning back in was always going to be difficult.
A genuine love for this talented cast, attachment to these characters, and desire to see this series through were driving forces in wanting to see and support it to its completion.
But it’s apparent after the premiere that they aren’t going to make it easy on even the best and most loyal of us.
One of the stronger points of the hour was how they leaned into the found family aspect that typically was at the heart of the series. It’s an intelligent choice to make after the loss of one of its primary characters.
But on the downside, it breeds some resentment over the fact that the found family element was lost for Helen’s final season. Max having this host of friends to lean on during these rough days is heartwarming, but it genuinely sucks that it was absent for so long.
It sucks that it was practically non-existent for Helen, who, now that she’s gone for good, feels like she wasn’t even close to any of these people despite her knowing all of them significantly longer than Max.
Sadly, Helen’s absence makes you reevaluate everything in that regard. In hindsight, we haven’t seen that level of support since Max was undergoing cancer treatment and grieving his wife.
But the found family didn’t stop at only centering Max, as we also got some solid friendship moments between Floyd and Lauren, while Floyd and Wilder worked incredibly well together.
Karen had a delightfully large presence during the installment, and her involvement with Brady’s case and the Sex Work Clinic was fun.
Brady, the sweet, terminally ill kid who wanted to star in a Bollywood Musical, provided the type of moving medical storyline that New Amsterdam does well. It gave you all the feelings as it only took a few moments with this kid for anyone to lose the ability to tell this child no.
Wilder’s bright idea of somehow flying Brady to India for a Bollywood Show perfectly highlighted how she’s always matched Max’s energy, spunk, and knack for proposing what should be the impossible.
And she’s lovable enough to charm others into following suit with her plans. It was a surprise that even Karen got wrapped up in the moment. But we all knew they couldn’t send this kid to another country, so it was only biding time until the predictable but sweet moment they brought Bollywood to him.
Seeing the smile on his face was worth it, and my heart fluttered with something akin to the long absent joy as a full-blown Bollywood musical took place in the halls of New Amsterdam.
But even that moment didn’t last as long as one would like, but more on the root of that later.
Iggy’s case with Alex was quintessential New Amsterdam, taking it back to its roots when Iggy proved he is a decent therapist once you better understand where he’s coming from.
His conversation with Grace about what’s best for her and Alex was tough. She’s been her son’s caretaker, but she definitely needed to prepare herself and him for what would happen if she was no longer there.
All I want with the time I have left is to spend that time loving him and him loving me.
She was doing everything she could to help him, and Alex didn’t respond to changes well, but the death of his therapist should’ve been the reality check that nothing is guaranteed. It’s best to help him field these changes and handle them appropriately while she still can.
Initially, Iggy’s notion that Grace should fire the rest of the care time sounded outrageous. However, when he implied that, while veterans in the field, their methods were dated and specialized in children rather than adults, you could understand where Iggy was coming from.
Alex is an autistic man, not a child. He needs treatment and care that treats him as such, and based on Grace’s comments about how he works and communicates with her now versus before, that needs to be fostered and improved. He and Grace are both at an age where Alex needs to start learning how to handle things when she’s not around.
The actress who played Grace had such a commanding presence and gave a heartfelt performance.
And, of course, Max’s particular blend of bringing morality and hope to medicine came from the Wholesome/Sex Clinic arc.
Fortunately, this arc didn’t feel as preachy and heavy-handed as some have been over the years, and one can appreciate the restraint.
I chuckled at the notion that now Max can throw out a “What Would Veronica Do?” as his method of arguing his point on any issue Karen proposes to him.
Karen will never live down that she invited Veronica into the fray and nearly ruined the hospital and everything. Over time, based on the time jump, Karen is fully reinstated to the position she had, and Max has settled back into his role as medical director without a hitch.
Understandably, Karen couldn’t pass up the opportunity to get a new clinic and new funding to treat more people in need, even if it meant taking money and using the name Wholesome, which seemed to be some stand-in for Hobby Lobby.
Max pulling a Max with his clever way around that, placing the “non-negotiable” Wholesome name on the new Sex Clinic was ingenious, and one of the few times Max felt truly himself and got a good smile out of something.
They split the baby, and it felt like a more realistic, grounded approach to addressing Max’s social justice ways while maintaining a hospital and its needs.
It hit stronger than Lauren managing the case with Rhonda after Dr. Huxley ran an HIV test for her without consent. That case barely scratched the surface of what it could have been.
But on the Lauren front, there was something that felt a bit off about her characterization during this installment, and I can’t place it.
She was oddly hokey, and it felt off. Perhaps they were leaning too much into the humorous portion of her couch surfing. The tone of some of her dialogue didn’t always fit.
The Lauren/Floyd fake out with her sharing his bed because of her sciatic felt cheap and useless.
But that’s probably because this situation with her giving up her apartment to Leyla doesn’t make sense. She didn’t want to stay at her place in a guest room because she didn’t think she’d have self-control or something.
But it takes two to tango, so would that imply Leyla also would succumb to temptation? And if so, why are they still apart in the first place?
It’s always a struggle to understand what they’re doing with Lauren when she oscillates wildly from being strong-willed and weak-willed pursuant to the plot.
It was already weird that she wasn’t staying at her home because of Leyla, but then she was couch-surfing instead of staying at a hotel or something when we knew she could afford to do that.
And just when it felt like we’d make some progress with her heading home, we get the shock of her realizing that Leyla is entertaining or living with another woman in Lauren’s home.
Like, what? It feels like the senselessness and contrived nature of Leyren’s fractured relationship have carried over into this season, but so has that frustrating bit that has more or less “vilified” Leyla for a large portion of it.
There is no getting around it being incredibly tacky for her to have another woman she may be dating at Lauren’s apartment.
I wouldn’t think Leyla would be that thoughtless and inconsiderate, but it’s hard to know what direction they intend to go with the characters anymore. Either way, the optics of the scenario didn’t do Leyla any favors, which was as frustrating as the whole “privilege” debacle and how it was so poorly handled that it didn’t help with her reception.
Now, we can expect that Lauren may have a front-row seat to whatever is happening with Leyla, which will be awkward.
Floyd’s love life isn’t any better, so they resorted to ignoring it altogether and throwing their eggs in this basket with Floyd and his father.
We did catch a glimpse of his child via video, and there’s no way of making this situation with the two dads sensible, but an update was warranted.
Now, Floyd has to take these baby steps with a father who doesn’t seem to want to get to know him, and I can’t say that watching Floyd have to beg his dad to be in his grown life is any better than the poly plot, but it’s early, so we’ll have to see how it plays out.
Martin is thriving in his single dad who co-parents era, while Iggy is miserable over the whole thing. Maybe Iggy should’ve thought about that before the laundry list of things he’s done to contribute to this situation.
It seems they have it figured out with the fathers rotating their days at the house while the kids get to stay stationary. It’s the ideal setup, and again, it’s interesting to see how happy and relaxed Martin is compared to Iggy, who is struggling.
He’s been joining the sad, lovelorn dad’s club with Max and Floyd.
Ideally, Iggy recognizes that it’s too soon to spill his feelings about how much he misses Martin, and he can spend their time separated working on himself. If he has a shot at reuniting with his husband, that’s imperative.
He has poured a lot of his energy into being Max’s new best friend, and that’s something that elicits mixed feelings all around. It’s also hard because you cannot separate his feelings and position as a “friend” and “confidante” of Max and Helen apart from whatever advice he professes to give as a therapist.
Best separated dads ever!
Iggy feels almost obsessive about making sure that Max is OK, and it feels like a distraction from his life and relationship issues. His insistence that Max be OK or what boils down to “get over” Helen leaving him at the altar doesn’t sit well.
Max is allowed to grieve and have his feelings. He’s entitled to process that however he deems fit without someone inserting themself into the mix and trying to dictate things in their own way.
It’s a challenging situation that has garnered the ire of all types of viewers. But there is no real delicacy in how the Helen situation is addressed.
But taking who was inarguably one of the most agitating characters of the previous season, someone who held information about Helen’s past and micromanaged how she processed what was true or not, and making him the voice for Max working through his feelings doesn’t jive well.
The rooftop was where Sharpwin went to die, tarnishing all the good things about it being their place when Helen stood him up at their wedding. The final nail in the coffin was Iggy showing up to revisit their earlier conversation about how Max’s relationship with Helen wasn’t perfect or what he thought it was the whole time.
So, let’s get into this with Helen’s absence. It hurts, and the premiere didn’t make it hurt any less. If anything, it stuck the knife in deeper and twisted.
As suspected, despite the other avenues they could’ve taken to explain why Helen was a runaway bride, they resorted to the most offensive one that would leave a sour taste in the mouth of any Helen and Sharpwin fan. No amount of hearing her voice or flashbacks helped.
The montage of happy Sharpwin moments was brutal when you knew where things ended. It was made worse when they started to inject the “bad memories” that Max reflected on to determine why Helen did what she did.
If your memories aren’t giving you the answers you’re looking for, maybe you’re remembering the wrong ones.
Max has spent months trying to move past this heartbreak, seemingly with no other contact from Helen, and his pathway to getting past all of it fell on the moments he has now concluded that he didn’t “hear” or ignored.
Helen’s “Dear John” letter was a slap in the face. It all resorted to Helen not knowing why she didn’t return to marry Max. It’s now a narrative that Helen is so irrevocably broken and damaged that she can’t allow herself to be loved.
She’s so lost and, I guess, weighed down from past traumas? Her childhood? Her home country? That she can’t live a happy life with the man and child that she loves.
I don’t know what we’re supposed to do with that. It takes what we’ve learned about Helen for the first two and half seasons and dismantles it bit by bit, and that’s where so much of the frustration lies.
Now, we know that Freema Agyeman wanted to exit after the third season, but she agreed to the entire fourth season to build up a storyline to say goodbye to her character.
With such advanced notice, I’m hard-pressed to understand how the writers fumbled so egregiously by giving us what we got. There wasn’t last-minute notice that left writers trying to scramble to create a reasonable exit for a primary character.
They had time to do this right; they simply opted not to, or rather wrote themselves into a corner with some questionable storylines and hoped they would pan out. They did not.
Because even if one has to begrudgingly accept that the introduction of Mina, Helen’s childhood trauma and abandonment issues, the toxic relationship with her mother, and the London opportunity were to build up to Helen’s big exit of being too lost and broken to commit to Max, they didn’t adequately expand on those storylines enough to make the conclusion satisfying.
The abrupt introduction of Helen’s past issues felt like a half-baked side-quest. And now, all the unresolved, contrived moments of regret, doubt, and discontent when Helen and Max finally came together were deliberately dropped to sow seeds in the character assassination of Helen Sharpe.
The problem is marring Sharpwin with this sudden inability to communicate or address their issues after seasons of them doing so with ease felt like shoddy writing.
Sailing them past every issue they had without so much as a conversation was glaringly off.
But now we’re to understand that it was intentional to build up to this umbrage of “bad memories” that should’ve enlightened Max and the audience that Helen didn’t intend to walk down the aisle.
But that’s such a manufactured contrivance to get to the desired result at the expense of continuity and characterization that it backfires spectacularly and remains a nuisance.
I can even see the pathway where they don’t consciously intend to vilify Helen’s character in this because Max reaches conclusions about how he didn’t see or want to see the bad things or red flags and only wanted to “fix” her.
It’s their way of allowing Max to take some culpability in the dissolution of their romantic relationship, so it’s not exclusively on Helen, a woman with abandonment issues, effectively abandoning her fiance, friends, life, and the child she saw as her own.
But it’s the equivalent of when someone says their biggest flaw is that they “care too much,” a soft-blow — strength masked as a character flaw. It’s a cop-out, and it doesn’t change the fact that the result is still the same; Helen is the woman who broke his heart and left him and everyone else behind.
We get some semblance of her side in the story, but just barely. It’s so vague that it feels perfunctory at best.
It still doesn’t feel like the sure-footed, passionate, loving, compassionate, strong-willed, vocal, strong woman that we knew.
The woman who wanted a husband and most definitely longed for a child so much that she ached and caused viewers’ hearts to when expressing it couldn’t even video chat with the child who calls her “mum?” She did this to LUNA? Bullshit.
Luna: Why isn’t mum here?
Max: Because, um…
Out of all of it, that one is the lowest of lows and the most unbelievable. You don’t present us the heart-aching scene of Luna, a character they barely utilized last season, asking Max where her “mum” is on her first day of school, and not expect us to get angry that whoever this version of Helen is abandoned that child and didn’t look back.
One can argue the complexities and intricacies of humanity and all that we endure or the multitudes that we contain, but at its most black and white, with that moment alone, Helen just reads as a shitty person.
And Helen Sharpe was never a shitty person.
There are valid reasons why fans have been outraged with how Helen exited, and sadly, it feels as if the series doubled down on all the things we were most critical of regarding handling this character.
I’m at a loss for words when it comes to that.
It also hits harder when you consider that the impact that Helen’s absence leaves on the series lies exclusively with Max. It’s as if she meant nothing to any of the other characters, and their only role in the matter is supporting Max through such heartache.
Iggy’s casual indifference to Helen while urging Max to acknowledge that his relationship with her wasn’t that great felt icky. The lack of acknowledgment about how her absence impacted THEM for Lauren and Floyd, both of whom Helen was close to in some regard, felt strange.
In hindsight, maybe it would’ve been better if they simply killed her off. We would’ve been outraged, but this method hurts and feels more offensive.
There were so many other ways that they could’ve written her out, and they even set up the possibility of a few, so it’s mindboggling that they settled on this.
She could’ve stayed in London to take care of her mother. They could’ve let the senseless stroke storyline carry out and had her in a coma or some recovery offscreen. Hell, a long engagement with Helen doing some Doctors without Borders to “find herself” wouldn’t have been as cruel.
I’ve long since exhausted the conversation of how all of this stings for her character and the particular frustrations of that as a Black Woman. You can check out my and fellow TV Fanatic, Whitney Evans,’ post-season discussion here.
But frankly, I can’t imagine the series could’ve handled the Helen exit any worse.
Of course, there’s the Wilder factor. Should it be a surprise that they are presently taking the BEST thing about the previous season, and attempting to taint that, too?
It’s patently unfair that they’re opting to sacrifice this lovely character, throwing her to the wolves with the allusion that she’s Max’s newest potential love interest. I love her with my entire being, and I hate the position it places the character and even the amazing actress in if fans respond poorly.
It’s not an unexpected potential romance as they gave us a glimpse of her longing for Max during New Amsterdam Season 4 Episode 16‘s karaoke night.
However, it is disappointing because it’s predictable, and the timing is distasteful after the Helen shitshow. They spent the entire hour denigrating Helen and then ended it waving Wilder in front of us like a shiny new toy. WHO thought that was a great idea or respectful in the least?
A more glamorous Wilder, looking even more beautiful, has apparently been one of Max’s rocks amid all of this. She was sweet when checking in on him in the middle of their game night using the Scrabble tiles.
My dearest Max, if you toss this letter, rip it up, burn it, I won’t blame you. I’ve done the same to countless versions. What I’ve done is unforgivable, to you, to our friends, to sweet Luna. It was never my intention. None of this is what I intended. Everything I ever said to you was true. Everything we had was real. But so was this thing that kept me in London, kept me from marrying you. I wish I knew what it was. I wish I could rip it out of me, obliterate it, so I can be with you. Because you deserve all the happiness in the world. I wish I had the explanation to help ease your pain, but none has come. All I have is the time that’s passed and the desperate hope that it heals us both. Heals your heart. Heals your mind. Heals Luna and heals our friends. Max, you are beautiful and shimmering, and I was made better for being in your light. We all were. Please, don’t lose your light. May it shine again even brighter than it did before. All my love, Helen.
It’s the stuff of quality ships. But we only have half the amount of episodes to build upon this, and there’s no way you slice it where it won’t feel too soon after Max and Helen.
They’ll have to accelerate the process, which includes quickly ushering us past Helen’s departure. It’s a hell of a big ask of the audience to move on in the blink of an eye.
The final scene of Max watching Wilder with some quiet contemplation mirrors some of the same fondness he’d express toward Helen after Georgia.
Inserting the hints of Goodwild/Wildwin in the same installment that we’re unpacking the utter dissolution of Sharpwin was just digging the dagger in further and twisting it — even for those who could be receptive to the romance down the line. It just feels mean.
Over to you, ‘Dam Fanatics? What are your thoughts on the show’s return? What are your expectations for this final season? Sound off below.
You can watch New Amsterdam online here via TV Fanatic.
Jasmine Blu is a senior staff writer for TV Fanatic. Follow her on Twitter.