Thursday, July 15, 2021

REVIEW: 'Dr. Death' - Henderson and Kirby Confront the Systems That Have Long Protected Duntsch in 'Dock Ellis'

Peacock's Dr. Death - Episode 1.03 "Dock Ellis"

Duntsch meets his mentor. Henderson and Kirby explore the medical system.

In 2020, the television industry aired 493 scripted shows across numerous outlets. The way people consume content now is different than it used to be. It happens according to one's own schedule. As such, it's less necessary to provide ample coverage of each episode in any given season from a show. Moreover, it is simply impossible to watch everything. As such, this site provides shorter episodic reviews in order to cover as many shows as possible. With all of that being said, here are my thoughts on the next episode of Peacock's Dr. Death.

"Dock Ellis" was written by Evan Wright and directed by Jennifer Morrison

At this point, it's more fascinating to examine the systems that propped up and protected Dr. Christopher Duntsch than spending time examining his psyche. Trying to explain his behavior is potentially a fool's errand. It plays as a typical story of addictive behavior resulting in tragic outcomes because of such destructive behavior. It's true to the case. These events really happened in life. The overarching details though can feel familiar to people who have long viewed plenty of series across the medium. As such, it was incumbent on the creative team to depict this story in a way that was true while also bringing a new, specific understanding to it. And yes, that is apparent when it comes to the bureaucracy that allowed Duntsch to go from hospital to hospital with no repercussions whatsoever. Henderson and Kirby see the urgency to keep him out of the operating room. They know that every single surgery he does ends with someone being significantly maimed or dying. That's the truth. That can't be denied or ignored. The hospital administrations want to protect their liability though. They preserve themselves instead of trying to prevent these mistakes from happening elsewhere. The people in charge know how to elide enough information to make them seem like they couldn't have done anything else. They must protect the interests of their business and careers first. The medical profession has a duty to do what's best for the patients though. Duntsch causes harm wherever he goes. It's the pattern of his life. He has been encouraged to get this far because people have been willing to ignore some troubling warning signs in his behavior. He is given all of these incredible opportunities to excel in his chosen field. He boasts of his credentials as a neurosurgeon. That is meant to be impressive and allow him to do whatever he wants. People have to fundamentally trust his skills though. He has to be able to perform these surgeries. Otherwise, his background is completely meaningless. And yet, people still want to proclaim that none of these problems could have been discovered before Henderson and Kirby started interacting with Duntsch. The show itself details Duntsch's past. People covered for him because of the hope that his brilliance could change the world. His stem cell research did actually come to fruition in the recent past. It's not something he is currently working on. That too sets the stage for disaster. But the ingenuity he displays in that medical innovation overshadows any shortcomings he has in the field. He can't operate. He doesn't know where to go in the body and how to properly treat patients. His mentor literally has to guide his hand into the field during surgery. That doctor is no help to Henderson and Kirby when they come demanding answers. Nor is the CEO at Baylor who believes the hospital took all the appropriate steps to discipline Duntsch. In reality, the system is skirting up against the limits of the law. They do enough to offer the suggestion that these mistakes were admonished without having to follow the demands of the law in practice. The system should have been alerted to Duntsch's actions. It never should have built to numerous victims. It's haunting and grueling for Kirby and Henderson. They have to deal with the patients in the aftermath. Sure, this episode also explains how most patients don't actually go under the knife with Duntsch. All it takes is a person desperate enough to buy what Duntsch is selling. That then allows this cycle to go rolling once more. Henderson and Kirby believe that public shaming may be the only way to bring about change. That's the action they are willing to take at the close of this episode. They intend to confront Duntsch face-to-face. That allows the facets of this story to come together more cohesively. But again, the show is only examining the situation at its surface. Yes, Henderson and Kirby know to dig deeper for the root causes. The show must do the same to shine a light on how the system is broken. It does that to an extent. It also just comes across as very calculated. It's meant to showcase the damage in this specific case without really highlighting the abuse that could potentially play out from so many players as a result as well. Of course, the show is still compelling to watch. It's easy to go from one episode to the next. It doesn't seem to provoke much thought beyond what is physically part of the text. That's mostly a missed opportunity.