We need to talk about Dominic Burgess, and the true-horror series ‘Dr. Death’
Welcome to the Weekend Binge. Every week, we’ll suggest a binge-able title designed to keep you from getting too stir crazy. Check back throughout the weekend for even more gloriously queer entertainment.
The Horror Show: Dr. Death
A reader tipped us off to this new, Peacock limited series thanks to the excellent work of openly gay actor Dominic Burgess, hereto best known for his standout work as Victor Buono in Feud. The recommendation piqued our interest enough to check out Burgess’ latest outing in Dr. Death. In short, we were not prepared.
Dr. Death tells the true story of Christoper Duntsch (Joshua Jackson, yes, from Dawson’s Creek), a Texas-based neurosurgeon whose patients had a nasty history of surgical complications. Another pair of surgeons, the brooding Robert Henderson (Alec Baldwin) and eccentric Randall Kirby (Christian Slater) notice Duntsch’s patients end up paralyzed, in chronic pain, or dead, and come to question his credentials. The more malpractice the pair uncover, the more they begin to wonder: is Duntsch actually hurting his patients on purpose?
Dr. Death toys with that question over the course of its eight episodes to the point it becomes a taut, suspense-thriller. We’re never sure if Duntsch is a psychopath, a drugged-out nutjob, a con man, or all of the above. The show also indicts the Texas medical system for stripping patients of their rights, and for capping medical malpractice suits. Former Gov. Rick Perry’s name comes up more than once, which is ironic, given his own history of spinal injury.
Of course, it also helps that Dr. Death showcases actors at their finest, beginning with Joshua Jackson. Jackson, in short, has never been better. He plays Duntsch as a man awash in self-delusion and unable to understand the concept of responsibility…at least where his own responsibilities are concerned (parallels to a certain former President are also ever-present, though the series doesn’t comment on them). Slater excels here as well, giving an energized performance as a character both noble-minded and maddeningly arrogant.
Yet the most pivotal performance falls to Burgess, as Duntsch’s longtime bestie Jerry. Burgess has arguably the most difficult role in the series, in that Jerry needs to believe in Duntsch as a kind of medical superhero, despite being close enough to see all of his nasty behavior. If Burgess had been any less emphatic or convincing, the plot twists in Dr. Death would be almost impossible to swallow. Jackson makes Duntsch into a monster; Burgess’ Jerry makes him real, particularly in the show’s finale. He’s absolutely heartbreaking.
Part true-crime chronicle, part horror movie, Dr. Death left us horrified, infuriated, and mesmerized. We chalk that up to compelling subject matter, and to the outstanding performances of its cast. This is not a story for the faint of heart.
Streams on Peacock.