'The Good Doctor' Season Finale Earthquake Pushes Everyone to 'a New Emotional Place'

Ileane Rudolph
The Good Doctor Season 3 Finale Shaun Murphy Preview
Finale ABC/Darko Sikman

Throughout Season 3 of ABC's The Good Doctor, the once solitary and sheltered life of Shaun Murphy (Freddie Highmore) has seen major levels of disruption.

The autistic surgeon broke through his comfort zone to confront his dying abusive father, and after, in a move vastly out of character, he accepted a consoling cuddle from then-roommate Lea Dilallo (Paige Spara). The twentysomething doc also lost his virginity to his first girlfriend, pathologist Carly Lever (Jasika Nicole) — and actually enjoyed it! Plus, after boldly singing karaoke at a bar with both Carly and Lea, his feelings for the latter became impossible for anyone to ignore, and he eventually built up the courage to tell Lea he loved her. (It didn't go so well.)

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But will all his trials help prepare Shaun for when the ground begins to literally shake, endangering not only him but the people he cares about most? That's the question when an earthquake strikes San Jose, California, in the season's penultimate episode, airing March 23 (the finale airs March 30).

According to executive producer Erin Gunn, "the stress of a disaster" impedes Shaun as he sets out on an intense search and rescue through the rubble, but the events of the two-parter provide "some of Shaun's biggest [experiences] learning about himself."

Richard Schiff The Good Doctor Season 3 Glassman

(ABC/Jack Rowand)

Expect plenty of familiar faces in peril as the quake hits near a brewpub where a former St. Bonaventure cancer patient is hosting a fundraiser. Among those attending the event: Shaun's father figure Dr. Aaron Glassman (Richard Schiff), head of surgical residents Dr. Neil Melendez (Nicholas Gonzalez), and Lea, recently hired as Glassman's assistant. St. Bonaventure, the nearest hospital, is inundated with casualties and injuries.

"We immediately find our story split between scenes that play out in the hospital and at the [severely damaged] brewpub," Gunn says.

Surgical Chief Audrey Lim (Christina Chang) quickly builds a team, which includes Shaun and his fellow residents Claire Browne (Antonia Thomas) and Alex Park (Will Yun Lee), to save the wounded alongside firefighters and rescue squads.

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The actor also talks his second time directing the series with February 24's 'Autopsy,' and how his character has changed this season.

But the on-site emotional tremors are epic for Shaun in particular. Remember his public breakdown during Season 2's emergency quarantine, initiated by a buzzing light? This, Highmore promises, is worse. "[These episodes] take the emergency to a whole other level," he cautions.

Gunn agrees. "His mentor, his attending physician, and the woman he loves are all at this location, so where does he go first?" she says. "Shaun is in a position he's never been in before, physically and emotionally." And going through this adversity will change him, she notes, adding, "He'll very much be in a different place at the top of Season 4."

Nicholas Gonzalez Antonia Thomas The Good Doctor Season 3 Melendez Claire

(ABC/Jack Rowand)

During the chaos, Shaun deduces that Lea is trapped and, despite the threat of aftershocks, goes rogue in an attempt to save her. Though she rebuffed his recent romantic declaration, telling her friend she loved him but was too much of a mess for a relationship to work, Shaun thinks he still has a shot. ("At what stage do you give up believing that two people can be together?" Highmore muses.)

On his search, Shaun finds himself trapped in an unstable basement as he desperately tries to save a life — and it's not looking good. Describing the situation as "challenging," Highmore says, "We get to see Shaun at his best, coming up with unconventional solutions and thinking in ways that other people wouldn't." Whether or not the skilled surgeon can MacGyver his way out, he faces tough choices as conditions deteriorate.

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Plus, the star shares hopes for Carly's future storylines.

Shaun isn't the only doctor being tested. Self-described platonic pals Claire and Melendez (who suffers an injury during the quake) will finally "come to an understanding on how they feel about each other," Gunn teases. And back at the overwhelmed hospital, Dr. Morgan Reznick (Fiona Gubelmann), who's been hiding her disabling rheumatoid arthritis, takes on an unexpected responsibility that pushes her to make a huge decision about her surgical life.

"[These episodes were] a chance for us to push each character into a new emotional place and watch how they rise or fall," Gunn says. "There will be both tragedy and surprises."

In fact, Spara hints that the quake could work in Lea and Shaun's favor: "I think with any disaster, it makes two people question what actually matters to them."

Lea Shaun The Good Doctor Season 3 Paige Spara Freddie Highmore

(ABC/Kailey Schwerman)

Here's one guarantee: These two episodes present "serious repercussions" moving into Season 4, according to Highmore. "The earthquake helps us understand the true characters of the doctors," the actor says. "That will change the show itself and the direction it goes in." Sounds like a real shake-up!

The Good Doctor, Mondays, 10/9c, ABC