The Resident on FOX. A Lesson in Exceptional Negative Character Construction

Building a negative character is always much more difficult than depicting the positive ones, those who fight for truth and justice. Those qualities come natural to us, and they are wonderfully enhanced by the gifted actors. On the contrary, giving coherence to a negative character is a complex endeavour.

I have great admiration for the recent series presented by the prestigious TV-channel FOX – The Resident: an extremely powerful and exciting story whose creators have chosen not to beautify reality, presenting hard truths, extremely difficult but plausible life situations and skilfully built cliffhangers. The entire production team and all the cast members deserve our most sincere congratulations.

I love The Resident. I had started watching because I love the hospital-centred dramas; the rush of adrenaline caused by the victims of a car accident being brought through the doors of a hospital is, for me, much more fulfilling than watching an alien-related movie. The difficult endeavour of life-saving in a hospital exerts a fascination upon everyone, I believe; we are all a bit in awe of the front-line, emergency-room doctors, those who get to actually stabilize the patients and clear the way for more in-depth treatments. Seeing how it’s done, how everything works, is very satisfying.

The Resident’s cast features some of the most talented actors of our days: Matt Czuchry as Dr. Conrad Hawkins, senior resident at Chastain Park Memorial Hospital – where everything takes place; Emily VanCamp as Nicolette Nevin, whom the colleagues call Nic – a devoted nurse, dedicated heart and soul to her patients, intelligent and with a passion for truth; Manish Dayalas Dr. Devon Pravesh, a first-year resident internist; Shaunette Renée Wilson as Dr. Mina Okafor, a surgeon of Nigerian origin; Bruce Greenwood as Dr. Randolph Bell, Chief of Surgery and later the CEO of the hospital; Merrin Dungey as Claire Thorpe, CEO of Chastain Hospital; Melina Kanakaredes as Dr. Lane Hunter, an oncologist. Special congratulations go to the team of directors and writers who have put together a story that keeps us on the edge of our seats.

The purpose of this study is to emphasise the exceptional way in which the negative characters are being built throughout the episodes, their coherent development and the remarkable hard work which the two actors – Bruce Greenwood and Melina Kanakaredes – have put into constructing the identities of the two doctors who would stop at nothing in order to achieve their personal and (most importantly) professional goals.

We see Dr. Randolph Bell, exceptionally portrayed by Bruce Greenwood, from the beginning of the first episode, Pilot, in several sequences. An appendectomy is ongoing; Dr. Bell’s hands are trembling, but he manages to temporarily conceal the fact, while his team is taking a selfie. He eventually cuts a major artery, the patient starts bleeding and dies on the table, before their shocked eyes. Dr. Bell is troubled – for a moment, he can barely stand. Bruce Greenwood builds an exceptional, purely Shakespearian moment here – anguish, despair, shame, revolt – this is the very moment in which he is actually seeing himself for who he is, during which he is fighting with his own consciousness. He loses the battle with himself a few instances later, as he drags his feet through the blood which has been spilled on the floor. He decides they will not disclose what actually happened – they will lie. They will all lie because he is the Chief of Surgery – as he makes this decision, shame and regret linger in his eyes for a while longer, as he organizes the cover-up.

A tense dialogue takes place between Dr. Bell and Conrad Hawkins sometime later during the day. Conrad, one of the few people who dare tell him the raw truth about who he actually is, attempts a confrontation – but we no longer see here any traces of a troubled heart – only sheer determination and self-control. Dr. Bell knows exactly what he is doing and how to counteract any attempts at blackmail – because him, too, has covered up for Conrad. Doctors should defend and protect one another, it is his direct message – despite the truth.

A third sequence displays Dr. Bell chatting with one of the VIP patients who has generously sponsored the hospital. He is to have a complicated robotic surgery the next day and the best surgeon was appointed to the job – Dr. Mina Okafor, the talented, genius young female surgeon from Nigeria. The patient refuses to be operated on by her and insists on having Bell at the helm. Our doctor refuses to disclose any of the real reasons for which he is unwilling to perform the surgery himself: he is not qualified to manipulate the delicate Titian machine. He shows no hesitation; if he is worried, nothing transpires, and he assures his patient that it will be done.

vlcsnap-2018-06-01-16h13m48s439Next, we see him in the ER, attending to a patient which abruptly goes into cardiac arrest. He quite obviously has no idea how to proceed in the critical situation – he has an excuse for that, as the patients he operates on are being brought into the operation theatre in a condition which is stable enough. This one patient is minutes away from death – he takes no action. Conrad intervenes by throwing a bucket of ice and water over the woman’s head. Within seconds, she regains her consciousness as her heart restarts. Dr. Bell pedagogically explains why the procedure was effective, adding that, of course, this would have been his next step. The hypocrisy is taken to higher levels; after Conrad leaves, the patient gets to thank Dr. Bell… for having saved her life.

The peak of his ruthlessness is seen in the last two sequences in which he features. He blackmails Mina Okafor, advising he would not be helping her with the letter of recommendation in order to prolong her Visa; next morning, he arranges that Mina manipulates the delicate Titian machine during the robotic surgery, while he pretends to do it, whilst giving ample explanation about what “he” is doing, using the most mesmerizing of his voice undertones. He is fascinating and evil, and we shall get to see just how far he goes, in the next episodes.

What happens next? We get to see that Dr. Bell also has qualities – we get the chance to see some of them in the second episode, where we are also introduced to Dr. Lane hunter, our second villain, whose last name is a metaphor for what she will actually prove to be – the person hunting for success and removing everything, everyone which may stand in her way. After a hunting accident takes place and two of their acquaintances are hurt, we get a glimpse of pure worry and compassion in their eyes. It is just a suggestion, for it is quickly counteracted with a more materialistic kind of worry – that of bad publicity for the hospital, as a VIP got wounded and may die on their watch.

Bell’s actions are despicable as well as in need of praise in this episode. He makes sure that the heart which was meant for another patient is rerouted towards his hunting friend, also in need of a transplant. When Conrad confronts him, Bell resorts to the lowest arguments: Chief of Surgery” – he says, pointing towards himself – “Resident,” he adds, pointing towards Conrad. Abuse of power and position, pure and simple. Conrad does not even blink as he registers the information, but his own actions, in order to solve the dilemma, are not honourable either, as he switches blood samples to make it look as if the heart was incompatible with Bell’s patient. They both know they are playing a dirty, dangerous game – but they do not point at each other. But later on, Conrad will approach him with a solution. There is a brain-dead girl in ICU and Bell could convince her family to accept donating her organs, in order to save the congressman’s life as well. Initially, he refuses – it would have felt humiliating. But then, Conrad points out: “No one’s better at communicating than you!” The implications are clear: Dr. Bell possesses the ability to persuade, the proper argumentation, the authority and the beautiful voice which wraps up all this pack of qualities. Indeed, he does not fail, and – in the end – another life is saved. Our villain? Perhaps not so much of a villain.

We also do not see him that way in the third episode, dealing with Louisa Rodriguez, he undocumented immigrant and her complex surgery. He is offering the perspective of a realistic, successful businessman when confronted by the same Conrad – the only one who has the courage of speaking up his mind in front of the chief of surgery. “I fell in love with cutting,” he tells Conrad. “I fell in love with the OR. I love it. Still. But the money has to come from somewhere. I don’t like the idea of putting a price-tag on a life any more than you do – but the system doesn’t run on air.” Conrad does not have a reply to that, because there isn’t one. Still, Dr. Bell does try to help – trying to get her transferred to another hospital and even coming to see her after the surgery – even though it is mostly in order to see if Louisa’s rehabilitation process is going to take six months or an entire year. Despite the poor outcome, he still smiles at her and tells her what any doctor should tell their patients: “It’s okay. You’ll be fine.” Our villain’s good side shines through.

Also, Lane Hunter has several appearances – also trying to help with Louisa and trying to comfort Conrad, saying that “We cannot save everyone.”

vlcsnap-2018-06-01-16h41m49s723Furthermore, we spot him on the golf field. A friend challenges him, quite sure Bell will miss. However, he does not miss – and the camera exceptionally illustrates the delicate movements of his fingers gripping the gulf cross. “I’m back,” he murmurs to himself – a sign that the tremor medication is working. Over-confident, later, and partly consumed by it as well as by his own personal demon – pride – he refuses Mina’s help – something which, in other situations, he sought desperately. Miraculously enough, the difficult gall-bladder surgery goes well, his hands are steady, and his sharp intelligence serves him well. The scene depicting him actually going inside the OR is downright exceptional, not rushed, showing the doctor’s confidence and suggesting, at a very deep level, his fear. He manages to convince himself that there is no reason to worry as he puts on the surgical scrubs and gloves. “I’m certainly happy we had you today, Dr. Bell,” Lane Hunter tells him.

Jumping ahead, because it is not my purpose to narrate what happens in every episode, but rather to point out how the character grows – we witness the shadows grow around him. Upon being informed that recording devices have been installed in every OR, he feels cornered; his emotions, the inner turmoil grow exponentially. He feels suffocated and it is as if his hands tremble even harder – at a deeply subconscious level, because the pills still work. The inner tremor reflects in the way he conducts himself. He is tense, he barely conceals anger and frustration – but, as usual, he manages to turn every situation into an advantage. When, in episode 9, Game of Nerds, Conrad asks him not to operate on the woman he once loved because, in all honesty, he does not trust his ability as a surgeon – he plays a very dangerous game. He is, apparently, offended and upset by Conrad’s demand to step out of the operating room; deep within himself, he is relieved and takes a deep breath once he walks away – not before mentioning Conrad that “he owes him”.

vlcsnap-2018-06-01-16h47m15s748His emotional involvement with Lane Hunter starts to take shape from episode 10 (Haunted), ever since they start to plot together against Claire Thorpe, the Hospital’s CEO. In a moment of sincerity, he confesses that whilst he is good at a lot of things, “money isn’t one of them.” Lane praises his abilities, since she is very well aware of them and realizes their usefulness for herself as well. An allegiance with Dr. Bell and pushing him towards a leading position, drinks and a kiss – it all comes together quite naturally, and our team of “villains” is growing strong. Having shown their vulnerable side on more than one occasion, we are reluctant in seeing them as actual villains. We see in them that category of people who conceal deep weakness and confusion under a mask of strength and determination: actors who perform a role. People who replace who they really are for who the others expect to see.

Within the next episodes, their “team” grows even stronger. Lane Hunter continues to support him emotionally since he is more prone to such outbursts when things go astray in surgery. The anxiety is always expressed by him. When a fire bursts in the OR and he comes out of it, he covers his face with his palms in pure despair, barely holding it together and despite knowing that it was not his fault – something which Mina would also confirm when questioned by the CEO – he states that the truth is relative and that it looks as if it were his fault. Lane Hunter soothes him. She is the cold-blooded one; he is just worrying, obsessing over events and feeling severely overwhelmed by everything. It looks as if Lane Hunter is the actual strong partner of their relationship.

“He will stop at nothing to destroy you,” Mina warns Claire Thorpe when she asks questions about Bell’s competences as a surgeon. She suggests something which we are already aware of: that under that layer of confidence there exists a layer of anxiety and fear, which covers the deepest layer of his consciousness – despair – the despair of a man who indeed will stop at nothing to acquire and keep what he thinks to be rightfully his.

vlcsnap-2018-06-01-16h51m53s672.pngEpisode 12 (Rude Awakenings and the Raptor) has another purely Shakespearian moment, matching the one we witnessed in episode one. When Bradley collapses onto his conference table through the ceiling, Dr. Bell tries his best to assist, even though he is very much overwhelmed by the situation. There is blood on his hands. He looks at them, barely breathing. Then he looks… up, towards the broken ceiling, or perhaps towards the unforgiving sky. Later on, he catalogues the event as a suicide attempt. We do not see him directly at first; we only see his reflection on the hospital window, an exceptional visual sequence with deep metaphorical implications. Transparency should exist, yet it does not; people should be able to look themselves in the mirror; some of them can, yet some of them cannot.

vlcsnap-2018-06-01-17h03m53s646The final episode of the Series leads us to long-awaited conclusions. Dr. Lane Hunter diagnoses healthy people with cancer, in order to commit insurance fraud. She managed to pull some miraculous cures because some patients were never sick to begin with. A remarkable lesson of acting is given by Bruce Greenwood in the scene in which Nic, Conrad and Devon inform him, of their discoveries, also mentioning that they already called FBI. He should remove all her patients from her care, in order to protect them. This is the moment in which he switches sides. With his back towards the righteous trio, looking out the window in panic and outrage, for a brief second, we can perceive his anguish. He feels cornered. The woman he is with has committed unspeakable crimes. He will fall with her – altogether. Unless he does something.

Everything is reflected in his eyes: the rage, the moment of panic – the decision – all in less than a minute. When he decides what is to be done, a faint smile of satisfaction flutters on his lips. He will do what it takes – to land on his feet again, as Nic would later describe the situation. Lane Hunter is arrested by the FBI at her clinic, whilst attempting to destroy incriminating files. Randolph Bell himself had advised the investigators that she would be there, doing just that. “Anyone with a conscience would have done the same” he later tells the journalists. Anyone with a conscience and with a good self-defense mechanism, we would add.

There is a feeling which persists, at the end of the series. Lane Hunter was the truly despicable villain, exceptionally embodied by Melina Kanakaredes. We cannot feel compassionate towards her; she is a cold-blooded murdered, as Bell himself describes her as well. Her actions were not mistakes; they were calculated acts of cruelty. But Randolph Bell is different. He is not the compassionate, resilient and impetuous like Conrad; nor warm, loving and kind as Devon. He is lucid, careful, fully aware of his own limitations as a person and as a physician. He sees his own mistakes; he refuses to acknowledge him in front of others. He masks his weaknesses with charisma; his trembling hands, with formidable managerial abilities; his mistakes with carefully built logical arguments – which always point out that it was not his fault. He is not perfect, but he strives to be – not through attempting to be a better version of himself, every day, like Devon; nor through constantly challenging his own brilliance, like Conrad. He does so by polishing reputation and name instead of skills and character. And yet, he is not the despicable villain. With his qualities and faults, with his ability to frown, to despair and to de shocked to the very core of his being – like in the final seconds of the episode, when he learns that his new boss is actually Conrad’s father – Randolph Bell is very much… human.

I am looking forward to seeing the character grow and evolve and eventually find true, solid redemption – or who knows? Perhaps the show’s creators reserve us quite a few surprises.

Watching this first series of The Resident was a remarkable experience. The entire cast and crew have put together a very solid, coherent work of art, deeply anchored into our everyday reality – and by this I am not referring to the fact that we should all be sceptical and wary whenever we go to the hospital, because someone might misdiagnose us or even treat us for diseases which are not even there – I am referring to the fact that raw, crude emotions, feelings, states of mind are depicted through the eyes of people we can relate to; the characters are consistent, they are being built without hurry, with care to detail, they grow before our eyes and they are not sketchy; the playing is convincing, profound, with exceptional highlights. All in all, peak performance. Congratulations to the entire team!

Veronica Anghelescu

 

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