‘Dr. Death’ Season 1: Ending, Explained – Why did Duntsch botch his patients?


A patient visits a doctor in the hope of getting a cure. One has high hopes from the man standing tall, in front, almost shining like a holy entity. They hand over their trust and their lives to the doctor who later operates them. Now, standing over you with a scalpel in their hand, a doctor can either save you or destroy you forever. With that kind of power at their disposal, having a God complex is almost inevitable. While some can refine it, others fall prey to malignant narcissism. Dr. Death chronicles a sinister surgeon who leaves his patient on the verge of death.

Dr. Death Season 1 is based on real events that chronicle the real-life events of Texas-based neurosurgeon Christopher Duntsch. Patrick Macmanus created the 8 part mini-series for Peacock (streaming platform). It is based on the podcast series of the same name produced by Wondery that highlights shocking medical malpractice cases. Duntsch’s story is, undoubtedly, one of them.

‘Dr. Death’ Season 1: Plot Summary

On July 25, 2015, Dr. Christopher Duntsch operated on a 65-year old teacher, Madeline Beyer (Maryann Plunkett). She has been struggling with back pain for years that radiated to the end of her foot. Madeline’s pain management team suggested visiting Dr. Duntsch for Spinal fusion surgery.

After the surgery, she experienced immense pain. Three days later, Dr. Robert Henderson (Alec Baldwin) performed a revision surgery. He found out that Duntsch improperly placed the fusion, pressing against a nerve root causes of Madeline’s pain. However, post-surgery, her pain ceased a little, but she couldn’t move her left foot. Duntsch’s negligence handicapped Madeline for life.

Dr. Henderson later asks a fellow doctor, Randall Kirby (Christian Slater), whether Duntsch’s sloppiness is a mistake or he did it intentionally. The two investigate further and discover that Duntsch is a butcher. A borderline monster responsible for the death and disability of almost all his patients. Dr. Henderson concludes that Duntsch needs to be stopped at any cost.

Why did Christopher Duntsch botch his patients?

Dr. Death didn’t directly establish Duntsch’s intent for the monstrous mess, but it did point out his malignant narcissism.

According to Duntsch’s college girlfriend, Kayla, he was an excellent researcher but had no talent in surgery. Duntsch’s head of fellowship at Tennessee Med School, Dr. Geoffrey Skadden, was tempted by his start-up (Discgenics) for revolutionary spine surgery and thus became an investor for financial gains. Under Skadden’s supervision, Duntsch participated in less than 100 surgeries (generally, neurosurgeons participate in over 1,000 surgeries during their residency). Hence, Christopher Duntsch wasn’t adequately trained. Yet, Skadden wrote him a letter of recommendation trusting his research skills and his Discgenics.

Most Doctors feel remorse after a botched surgery. Dr. Henderson shared his own experience with Woodland Arp, who died after a revision fusion surgery. Henderson was never able to forget the guilt. But in Duntsch’s case, even after killing two patients, he never felt repentance. Instead, he blamed his staff, hospital, and other people for his mess. It was a clear sign of narcissism and neuropsychiatric disorder. In simple words, Duntsch had God Complex and lacked emotions. Thus, even after slaughtering his patients, he never accepted his inaccuracy as a surgeon. He was arrogantly attached to his pride and legacy till the end.

At last, before the sentence, Chris tried convincing his father, Don, that he would leave surgery forever and focus on research if he saved him. Don narrated an incident from Chris’ childhood that underlined his obsessive behavior. His father subtly indicated that if Chris was released, he would continue operating patients and butchering them in some other part of the world. Hence, the jail was the best place to contain this monster.

‘Dr. Death’ Season 1 Ending Explained

Assistant DA Michelle Shughart (AnnaSophia Robb) framed a case against Christopher Duntsch. She pressed charges for causing an injury to an older adult, i.e., Madeline Beyer (65). In those charges, there was no limit to the scope of the complaint, and thus she introduced all the victims of Duntsch’s wrath. Michelle wanted to prove Duntsch’s intent to cause harm and appealed for a life sentence in prison. It was all Dr. Kirby and Dr. Henderson were looking to stop Duntsch from performing surgeries.

In the court, all the patients and their relatives testified against Christopher Duntsch. Dr. Henderson openly discussed how Duntsch disgraced the tenets of the Hippocratic Oath. In his arrogant behavior, he never respected his fellow physicians nor accepted their help for his patient’s well-being. He misconducted 33 surgeries and yet allowed himself to step into the operating room, which suggested he had no sentiments for humanity.

On February 20, 2017, Christopher Duntsch was found guilty and sentenced to life in prison. Dr. Kirby and Dr. Henderson continue their practices vigorously, advocating for patient care and safety.

The Texas Department of State Health Services rescinded the proposed fine on Baylor Regional Medical Center, where Duntsch performed his significant surgeries. A clear sign of a corrupt and flawed medical system. After Cancer and heart diseases, medical errors are a leading cause of death in the U.S.

‘Dr. Death’ Season 2

The ending of Dr. Death suggests that what happened in Dallas will happen again. Hence, it points out a possible Dr. Death Season 2 with another brute at the center of the investigation.

Season 2 of Dr. Death (podcast) followed the medical malpractice of a hematologist and oncologist, Farid Fata. He prescribed chemotherapy to patients who did not have Cancer. Upcoming Season 2 will scrutinize his sins.

Dr. Death is a 2021 Drama Thriller Television Mini-Series created by Patrick Macmanus. Season 1 follows the real-life events of Neurosurgeon Christopher Duntsch, convicted of medical malpractices.

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Shikhar Agrawal
Shikhar Agrawal
I am an Onstage Dramatist and a Screenwriter. I have been working in the Indian Film Industry for the past 12 years, writing dialogues for various films and television shows.

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