Dr. Death Just Delivered One of the Year’s Most Harrowing TV Episodes

With just a few days left in 2023, one episode from Dr. Death‘s second season is suddenly in the running for the year’s most emotionally devastating hour of television.

Season 2 of Peacock’s true-crime anthology dropped in full on Thursday, starring Édgar Ramírez as disgraced surgeon Paolo Macchiarini and Mandy Moore as Benita Alexander, a journalist who first reported on Paolo’s work, then got involved with him romantically until she eventually unearthed the many lies he’d told about his personal and professional life. Paolo’s chief con was his development of biosynthetic tracheas — that is, plastic tracheas that could be inserted into patients’ bodies and allegedly function the same way as an actual trachea, with an assist from stem cells. For those who haven’t yet finished the season, it spoils nothing to say that Paolo’s plastic tracheas were ultimately ineffective.

But Episode 5 — arguably the strongest installment from Dr. Death‘s sophomore outing — doesn’t feature Paolo or Benita much. Instead, it focuses on both Yesim Cetir, a real-life young woman who received a trachea transplant from Paolo, and Luke Kirby’s Nathan Gamelli, the (fictionalized) doctor who oversaw Yesim’s post-op care (and was notably skeptical of Paolo’s biosynthetic tracheas from the start).

Though Yesim’s stay at the Karolinska Institute is initially optimistic, her post-transplant life becomes bleaker and bleaker as the episode goes on. She develops a mucus plug in her airway, prompting Dr. Gamelli to clear her throat of fluid every few hours via a painful-looking procedure. Then, endless other complications arise, and she seems to need surgery to fix every one of them — a stunning total of 191 surgeries, all of them bringing Yesim more suffering afterward. She starts losing her hair. She goes blind. Multiple internal organs are removed. She yanks decayed teeth straight out of her own mouth. It’s all very tough to watch.

Like us, you may have been wondering if Yesim’s case actually happened — and it did, down to the number of surgeries that her real-life doctors say were performed to combat post-transplant complications. In both the series and real life, Yesim was eventually transferred to a U.S. hospital where she was to have Paolo’s non-functional plastic trachea removed in a lung-trachea transplant; the real Yesim passed away in March 2017 after that final transplant failed to save her.

In the show, Yesim’s passing doesn’t take place during Episode 5, but she has a heartbreaking confrontation with Dr. Gamelli before she’s transferred to the States. “Look at you,” Yesim tells him. “You stand there thinking you’re my savior. What did you save? What of me is left? I hate you. I can’t stand to look at you.” In response, Dr. Gamelli can only tell Yesim that he’s sorry.

Dr. Death viewers, did you find “191” to be as heartbreaking a watch as we did? If you’ve finished Season 2, grade it in our poll below, then drop a comment with your thoughts on the new episodes.

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