On Fox’s The Mob Doctor, Jordana Spiro plays Grace Devlin, a brilliant young doctor forced to work off her dumbass brother’s mafia debt due in exchange for the mob not killing her brother. The gig hasn't been anything Grace can't tolerate, with the occasional lunch break dedicated to removing an ice pick from some bumbling underling’s skull. That is, until mobster Paul Moretti demands that she straight-up murder a would-be witness for the FBI on the operating table. Naturally, she drew the line because she had principles. Or something.
The Mob Doctor tries very hard to make Dr. Grace into the sort of troubled protagonist that television seems to love these days, a complicated hero with a dark side and her own custom-built moral code, someone who always does the right thing in the end... even when it doesn’t look like it. That’s all well and good, except Grace Devlin habitually applies her moral code to everyone she interacts with and judges them quite harshly when they don’t meet her expectations. That’s the sort of character quirk that can get really old really fast. As in, end-of-the-pilot fast.
In an introductory voiceover, Grace explained that she saw her first dead body as a child and unlike most children, she wasn’t afraid of the body or grossed out, but fascinated by it. Supposedly, the big reveal in the conclusion, that the body was her alcoholic father’s and she was glad to know that he was dead—and therefore unable to hurt her family any more than he already had—was meant to startle us and make us fear the power that the mob doctor wields, as well as, to an extent, help us understand the complicated history that makes her tick. Unfortunately, once we realized that Grace’s father wasn’t in the picture, the identity of the dead drunk became an obvious one and the idea that a child might not mourn the death of a monstrously abusive parent doesn’t speak to the darkness in Grace’s psyche that I think we’re meant to peek at here.
If anything, the revelation that mobster Constantine Alexander may have had a hand in her father’s murder and, when armed with that knowledge and given the opportunity to walk away from her mafia obligations, Grace stayed anyway, might say more about her complicated morality than her childhood fascination with dead things. And for as complicated as her morals are supposed to be, it’s her inability to understand how complicated the morals of others can be that makes her truly irritating to behold.
When her boyfriend, played by Friday Night Lights’ Zach Gilford, ended up treating a teenage friend of the family who, despite never actually having penetrative sex, found herself pregnant due to an abnormality in her hymen, Grace encouraged him to lie about the nature of the teen’s medical treatment to save her from losing a scholarship at a private high school. Was it the right decision? Yes and no. It would have been unfortunate for the girl to lose her scholarship due to the unplanned pregnancy, and yes, her father would have been irate, but there’s something unsettling in the idea of a doctor lying to a parent about his child’s medical care, not to mention the problem of medical liability. Grace was incapable of understanding where Dr. Brett was coming from, failed to see the gray area in his own little moral struggle, and could only entertain the idea of her side being the “right” side.
Grace faced a similar problem with fellow doctor Olivia Wilcox (Jaime Lee Kirchner), who was reluctant to report their attending physician for overriding her treatment of an 8-year-old gunshot victim, a decision that led to the boy’s death. Olivia’s stance was harder to justify since the attending’s ego trip was truly motivated by exactly that and resulted in tragedy for an undeserving family, but she had her reasons to keep quiet and they were understandable. The daughter of a hospital board member, she carried the unjust reputation as a rat and a suck-up who didn’t really deserve her position, from the very beginning of her time at the hospital. It’s a flimsy excuse, considering a human being died due to her willingness to look the other way, but if you put yourself in her place, it’s not completely out of left field. Grace condemned her, then went around her to report the attending physician herself.
Grace, of course, faced her own conflict with the same sort of moral tunnel-vision that she expects of everyone around her (including her mobster peers, as illustrated by her voicing a sort of childlike disbelief when the supposedly reformed Constantine gleefully revealed his plans to return to the head of the Chicago outfit) and refused to kill the FBI witness laid out on her table. When Moretti took Grace's mother hostage in retaliation for her insubordination, Grace retaliated and the sort of car chase you don’t usually see on a medical drama ensued. Grace led Moretti all the way to Constantine’s doorstep, where he promptly wasted his snotty successor and reclaimed his rightful place as King of the Mob.
The mob show/medical drama fusion idea probably looked great on paper and in truth, could have been (and still can be) good in practice. I understand that it’s essential for Grace to have a high moral code in the face of her decision to keep working with the mob, and that the juxtaposition of conflicting cultures, medicine vs. mafia, has a lot of exploration potential. But Grace comes off as a rather unlikeable hypocrite, while the characters surrounding her fall somewhere between incompetent and dull. William Forsythe as mob boss Constantine is a delightful badass, but I don’t think that’s what I’m supposed to be tuning in for.
Did you catch the premiere of The Mob Doctor? What did you think? Will you keep watching?