Monday, July 15, 2024

Lauren Bloom and Finding Balance In Romance

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New Amsterdam recently wrapped its third season. Despite being the shortest season yet, it marked huge changes for all its characters. We lost Dr. Vijay Kapoor (Anupam Kher) when he was forced to retire after a fight with the coronavirus left his body too weak to continue working. Iggy (Tyler Labine) finally put himself first over his compulsive need to help others when faced with a patient who made himself impossible to help. Dr. Reynolds (Jocko Sims) returned after previously exiting in season two. His engagement broke off and he began exploring a new kind of romantic relationship with a colleague. Dr. Helen Sharpe (Freema Agyeman), after the sudden death of her brother, found herself caring for her niece and exploring the Islamic faith. And, her seasons-long slow burn with Max Goodwin (Ryan Eggold) finally boiled over, also marking a step forward for Max letting go of the guilt he’s carried after his wife passed.

Yet, one of the biggest changes has been for the resident head of the emergency department, Dr. Lauren Bloom (Janet Montgomery). She began dating someone. That statement by itself might pale in comparison to some of the aforementioned life-altering changes. A romance hardly seems like breaking new ground, especially if you consider Lauren had two dalliances prior to this. But once you understand Lauren Bloom as a character it becomes clear just how significant this relationship is for her. The fact that her partner is a woman is only one layer to everything that made her arc wonderful to witness.

In Lauren’s relationship, New Amsterdam introduced a new character, Leyla Shinwari (Shiva Kalaiselvan), who is hopefully here to stay for a while. It gave Lauren a lighter arc after the previous seasons, which focused on her addiction and subsequent recovery. Yet the most interesting aspect of this romance has been watching it develop and watching Lauren grow with it. Every progression in their relationship has felt like a natural step in Lauren’s arc that’s been set up since day one.

A Doctor in the Trenches

If you had to sum up Lauren Bloom in one phrase, ‘hot mess’ is an apt one to choose ‘Unadulterated badass’ and ‘hard-ass with a hidden heart of gold’ both work equally as well. She lives for her job and she’s damn good at it too. Everything Lauren wants to do with her life is help people and for her, she does that by being a doctor. The ‘hot mess’ aspects come in once you realize that Lauren is an emergency department doctor because she thrives in chaos. When the going gets rough, Dr. Bloom gets going.

These are the core elements of the Lauren Bloom we meet from the very beginning of New Amsterdam. But that also comes at Lauren’s detriment, thinking she can only be her best down in the trenches, where the chaos is. She’d rather pull double shifts at different hospitals than return home. All those extra shifts are just a distraction. At the end of the day, after the rush of the ED, after saving lives, after giving her all being one of the best doctors around, Lauren is, ultimately, lonely. She’ll say she picked up extra shifts at other hospitals for fun, because yes, a fun night for Lauren Bloom is being in the thick of a triage unit. But really she’d rather be in the rush of a hospital than alone with herself in her empty apartment.

It’s the reason she runs at a relationship with Floyd Reynolds. It’s also the reason she gives up on it so quickly.  The romance between Lauren and Floyd was over before it began. In the very first episode they’d already hooked up previously and Floyd had already decided that despite their chemistry Lauren didn’t fit in with the plan he wanted for his future.

At first, she seemed willing to pursue Floyd despite what he said. Yet when she’s given advice to ‘run towards love’ she introduced Floyd to her friend Evie instead, someone much more in line with the plan he had in mind. Maybe she was respecting his wishes as his friend. And maybe she realized that on some level with Floyd, the thing she’d be running towards wasn’t love. She wanted a relationship because she didn’t want to be alone.

It’s no coincidence that shortly after this, she begins picking up more shifts at another hospital. This marks the beginning of her self-destructive blaze. There are two more things to note about Lauren at this point. The first is that she has ADHD, which she’s managed with Adderall since childhood. The second is that she grew up with an alcoholic mother. Those facts become unfortunately linked.

Addiction to Chaos

When those extra shifts begin taking a toll she takes an extra Adderall to get her through the day. One more turns into a few more. That turns into dependency. When her friends try to confront her addiction she pushes back. She doesn’t need their help because she’s always the one helping, not the other way around. She took care of her alcoholic mother as a child. She took care of her little sister. And she can take care of this problem herself.

Of course, addiction doesn’t work like that. When her denial puts her patients at risk, she has no other choice to accept help if she wants to continue being a doctor. Her road to recovery is a difficult one. Even when she’s crossed the first hurdles, her sobriety is placed on the razor’s edge when she has to take pain medication as part of her post-op care for leg surgery (the injury requiring the surgery coming from season one’s finale).

But she does it because being a doctor is everything to her. It’s the crux of her commitment to staying sober. To use her own words, ‘I want to get better so I can help. Otherwise, what’s the point? Who am I getting better for?’. In her mind, there is one else in her life her sobriety benefits other than her patients.

But the thing is, Lauren never loses her need to go into the trenches. Even in sobriety she still exists as her best self in the chaos of the ED. The only difference now is she understands she needs to leave those trenches occasionally to stay healthy enough to keep diving back in. When the pandemic hit, as awful as it was, Lauren was in her element. So much so that when life began returning to normal, or normal for New Amsterdam at least, she was listless.

Lauren Bloom at New Amsterdam
She looks this smug AFTER seeing eight patients simultaneously. And she only had one good leg.

A New Relationship

Enter Leyla Shinwari. She’s a DriveTime driver who brings a patient into the ED. She then performs a needle decompression when no one else is available. The actual legality of the medical procedure notwithstanding, it saved the patient’s life. At first, Bloom isn’t thrilled by this random stranger coming into her ED, doing shotgun procedures, and diagnosing her patients.

Lauren has diagnosed patients Helen and Floyd couldn’t. She once helped Kapoor out-diagnose an A.I. built specifically to help with diagnostics. It’s not just anyone who can come into her ED and out-diagnose her. Yet Leyla does. When Leyla’s diagnosis proves right and saves the patient again, Lauren, slightly humbled, seeks her out to apologize.

By this point, Lauren’s already figured out Leyla is a doctor, a fact that Leyla confirms. She was a physician in Pakistan. When Lauren realizes Leyla is living out of her car she offers help. Her initial offer of a hotel room or a place in a shelter is turned down but Leyla does ask for a shower. Lauren lets her use the showers at New Amsterdam and that eventually becomes sneaking Leyla into the closet with a cot Lauren uses for naps while on double shifts.

As their friendship grows the change in Lauren is subtle but it’s there. Around Leyla, Lauren is more open to casual conversation, she smiles a bit more. Outside of the people she’s been friends with for years, this kind of interaction is none existent for her. Even when interacting with those friends she can still be fraught at times. For the first time, we see Lauren being the one trying to meet someone else halfway. She’s the one broaching conversation, trying to get Leyla to open up, which Leyla eventually does.

Lauren and Leyla
You couldn’t tell from this image who was the irritable one. (Its both of them.)

But sleeping in a hospital closet could have only lasted so long. Leyla is eventually caught, leaving her on the streets again. Lauren invites Leyla to live with her. It’s not long before living together becomes something more. It starts with Lauren inviting Leyla to make a place for herself in her home. Leyla returns the favor by trying to make the apartment feel lived in; like it’s more than the place Lauren rests her head in between shifts.

Then one morning, Leyla learns she passed the medical boards, something she couldn’t prepare for if Lauren hadn’t given her somewhere safe to stay. Overcome with excitement Leyla kisses Lauren. Lauren freaks out at first, but, refreshingly it’s not because Leyla is a woman. Intimacy is something Lauren struggles with in general so her response when Leyla kissed her caught her off guard.

“I was just surprised, okay.”

“What that I like you?”

“No. I’m just surprised that it felt normal.”

This small interaction is a huge step for Bloom. Leyla poses the question is Lauren surprised by her attraction. There was a time when Lauren’s answer to this would have been an automatic yes. That’s a statement I can say with absolute certainty because Lauren has said the words ‘people do not care about me…people are glad when I leave a room’ and meant it. Yet, here, only one season later when posed with the question, is she surprised someone finds her likable, her answer is no. That wasn’t the surprising part.

It marks huge self-growth for her, both in her understanding of her self-worth and her relationships with those around her. Leyla wasn’t the only factor that got Bloom to this point. The support of friends, her own commitment to sobriety as well rebuilding her relationship with her mother, who’s also working on sobriety. Those were all important steps to getting here. A love interest didn’t enter Lauren’s life and things magically got better.

But Leyla was a factor. It’s one thing for Lauren to accept that friends who have been in her life for years genuinely care for her. Leyla is someone new in her life. More importantly, the majority of Leyla’s interactions with Lauren have existed outside of the ED. Lauren placed so much of her self-worth in her ability to be a doctor, yet Leyla rarely interacted with that side of her and she still came to like her. Leyla wasn’t a patient or another doctor at New Amsterdam who could see firsthand Lauren’s skill as a doctor. That had no influence on her feelings. Leyla came to like her because of everything else Lauren has to offer. For Lauren, Leyla’s affection is the biggest proof that her worth can and does exist outside of being a physician.

Learning Balance

Now, being in a relationship doesn’t mean a person’s going to change overnight. Lauren gives her everything when she starts something. Be it professionally or in her personal life. She gives 100% of herself. This is what she does when she and Leyla start dating, she gives 100%. She takes a week off just to be with her. Lauren Bloom taking any kind of time off, willingly, is a monumental moment. Let alone a whole week.

When she returns to work, she’s lost her edge. Her no-nonsense attitude that keeps the ED running smoothly has been softened by the euphoria of a new romance. Lauren reaches the conclusion that she can’t be in a relationship and do her job so naturally, she needs to break up with Leyla. Never mind that it had been a particularly chaotic day in the ED or that she’d only been back for one shift. Because she’s only operated by giving her all at all times, she couldn’t see how she could give her all to Leyla and New Amsterdam at the same time.

Thankfully, Leyla’s heard of the concept of a work/life balance. She laughs, which was the best response she could have to Lauren’s suggestion to break up. She lets Lauren know she can be both the doctor New Amsterdam needs and the partner Leyla wants. She just needs to find the balance between them.

Leyla Shinwari
Only Lauren Bloom could come home to a cooked meal and her girlfriend looking like this and think ‘This is too good, I need to break up’.

The moment is a crystallization of the best parts of their romance. Lauren’s arc over the previous seasons of New Amsterdam has been about getting her to the place where she can be her best self, her healthiest self. At the beginning of season three, she learnt she needs to step away from the trenches sometimes. But now, she has a reason to want to step away. That empty apartment she was once running away from isn’t so empty anymore. Lauren is finally learning balance.

The New Doctor At New Amsterdam

This romance may have unfolded as a natural extension in Lauren’s arc but that doesn’t mean Leyla was passive a piece to Lauren’s story. While not deeply developed she had her own arc over the season that saw her working towards getting her medical license in the US. By the end of the season, she’s been given a residency spot in New Amsterdam’s ED with the promise of more of her in season four.

There is a catch with her residency, because New Amsterdam couldn’t be a medical drama without the drama. Initially Leyla wasn’t picked by New Amsterdam’s residency director. But she did get a spot all the way in Washington state. This freaks Lauren out, more than just a little and not just because Washington is on the other side of the country from New York. Washington is where Lauren went to med school, a choice she very deliberately made to get away from her mother’s alcoholism, which was at its worst at the time. It was a decision that Lauren made to save herself at the time, but it also left burdened with the guilt of abandoning her mother and sister.

While the situations are completely different, it was no doubt something going through Lauren’s head. Leyla is the first genuinely good thing to enter Lauren’s life since her sobriety. She doesn’t want to lose that. So she does something. While it’s not shown explicitly, it’s strongly hinted that she gives a bribe to get Leyla a spot at New Amsterdam.

New Amsterdam has pulled the bait and switch with its cliffhangers before but Lauren did something to keep Leyla close. There may be more to it than just a bribe but it would be a naïve hope to think this doesn’t come back to haunt her. It will surely come up again and there will be some kind of fallout. One of the aspects of Leyla’s personality that was reinforced several times is her pride. She doesn’t want to be anyone’s charity case. So if she learns Lauren gave a bribe to get her a spot, that won’t go over well.

Yet, despite the impending angst, I can’t help but look forward to what season four has for Lauren and Leyla. Their journey thus has been wonderful to behold, but it’s been truncated by the limits of Leyla not being fully integrated at New Amsterdam. While the fact we got scenes in Lauren’s apartment only emphasizes the aforementioned development in Lauren’s arc by the nature of medical procedurals, those scenes mostly came at the beginning and end of episodes.

With Leyla working at the hospital, there’s the opportunity for more scenes between her and Lauren. It’s will be interesting to see how Lauren adapts her newfound balance while working with Leyla. This also opens the possibility of Leyla interacting with others characters and having her own stories that exist outside of Lauren. Personally, I’m hoping Leyla and Helen have an abundance of scenes together. They have a lot in common, not to mention the fact they’re dating the doctors with the biggest self-sacrificial tendencies in New Amsterdam. One way or another, season four is going to be interesting for Lauren and Leyla.

Images courtesy of NBC

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