On its surface The Resident, a show set in the fictional Chastain Park Memorial Hospital, is a typical medical drama where the staff is made up of heroic doctors, nurses, and administrators. But, there’s more to the hospital than meets the eye. What the patients cannot see is just how horrifying the place they go to for help really is.
The selling point of Fox medical drama The Resident is to show viewers what actually happens, both good and bad, in hospitals across the United States. In the pilot, nurse Nic says medical error is the third-leading cause of the death in the country after cancer and heart disease, which is true according to CNBC. It’s not the patients who are too far gone to be saved or accidents that make the show scary, it’s what it shows viewers about the inner workings of the hospital. Whether the details come from fact or fiction, at its core, The Resident is an actual American horror story.
Spoilers for The Resident ahead.
The opening sequence is a prime example of the terror below the surface of the series. A patient dies when the hospital’s star-surgeon nicks an artery during a procedure. It’s a scary accident, but the true horror comes when the staff place the blame on the dead patient. What follows is a discovery that not only does the hospital’s most popular surgeon have a hand tremor, but it’s an open secret in the hospital. His nickname is H.O.D.A.D, which stands for Hands of Death and Destruction, for fuck’s sake. The characters play a version Russian Roulette of a few early episodes as they try to get their very unaware patients from H.O.D.A.D.
The terror comes from the show’s promise of honest because there’s no coven of witches to scare you, it’s a fictional character fulfilling a role in society we all need at some point. There is a hospital administrator who tries to auction off patient’s recovery to other hospitals in exchange for Medicaid patients and cash bonuses. Higher-ups at Chastain go as far as calling ICE on an undocumented employee who needs treatment. Whatever your worst fears about walking into a hospital are all possible at Chastian, it’s truly something out of our nightmares.
Whether or not the real medical world is as messed-up as The Resident makes it out to be has been debated since the drama premiered in January. Amy Holden Jones, co-creator of the series, told The Hollywood Reporter that she has been trying to make a version of this show for some time because she was tired of the similarities in medical dramas on television. “Virtually none of them address what any of us will find if we actually fall into the medical system. This show does that. It’s about the idealism of the young doctors as they come in. How do you become a doctor without losing your ideals? Because it’s a very corrupted system,” she said.
On the other side of the argument are doctors who take exception with details of the show and believe its harmful to the perception of the medical industry. Esther Choo writes that The Resident’s aim seems to be to get viewers to not trust those practicing medicine. “Among the many medical shows on TV, this one has distinguished itself with its absolute commitment to turn negative headlines into stark storylines, with no depth or nuance, in a way that feels at once ill-willed, destructive and clueless.” she writes.
The truth about how accurate the Resident really is assuredly lies somewhere in-between. Of course, since this is a TV show, some liberties have taken to make things more entertaining or for the sake of the story, but for The Resident this debate is important because the horror lies in the degree of realism in the drama. The more real this is, the greater its ability to terrify. Exaggeration in fiction, particularly in horror, makes the point and can reveal truths. Choo, despite not being a fan of the show, aptly explains this idea of exaggeration:
Are hospitals forced to balance indigent care with insured care? Yes. But this is actualized by showrunners in the most over-the-top, bombastic way — with hospital administrators dumping uninsured patients by bartering over them via video conference. There is also an extended plotline about profits from chemotherapy mills, and I’m already cringing over what no doubt will be a climax involving big bags of money, mustache-twirling pharmaceutical representatives, and ostentatious physician vanity plates.
Choo’s mention of turning negative headlines into storylines means some of what happens on The Resident comes from somewhere, which is what could put real fear in those watching twirling mustaches notwithstanding. An exaggeration means that there’s an event that actually occurred to, an albeit possible immensely, a lesser degree that sparked the idea. When it comes to putting our lives in the hands of medical professionals that’s straight up terrifying.
If The Resident’s aim is to terrify by pulling behind the curtain to expose the dark side of medicine, then it’s working. Maybe enough to scare people the next time they walk into any U.S. hospital.
The Resident airs Mondays at 9 p.m. Eastern on Fox.