Every new TV season brings a new medical drama on broadcast TV; it’s one of the only things we can depend on while living in the worst timeline. Joining mainstays Grey’s Anatomy (get that money, Ellen Pompeo!) on ABC and Chicago Med on NBC and Code Black on CBS are The Good Doctor, also on ABC, which premiered a few months ago and which my mother adores because Freddie Highmore is just so cute and his character is just so principled. But most recent of all is the much-hyped and much-advertised The Resident on FOX, starring onetime Yale graduate Logan Huntzberger and onetime Harvard alumni Cary Agos. Uh, Matt Czuchry. The show stars Matt Czuchry.
Is The Resident kind of trying to be like a millennial House M.D.? I think so! Czuchry’s character Conrad Hawkins has the facial scruff of an undergraduate freshman reveling in the laziness of living away from home and the stacked beaded bracelets of a guy convinced of his own enlightenment. He picks fights with hospital management; has a nemesis in Chief of Surgery Dr. Randolph Bell, played by Bruce Greenwood, the guy who made the mistake of his life by walking away from Joan on Mad Men; and indulges in an on-again, off-again thing with a nurse played by perennial TV favorite Emily VanCamp.
And it is during one of those steamy, illicit hookups in the premiere episode that aired this past weekend, when Nicolette is commanding Conrad to take off his clothes, that we see them: a few tattoos on Conrad’s body that make even more clear he’s not your typical doctor. I mean, character development doesn’t get more clunky than this Gothic-lettered, Sharpie-filled-in-looking monstrosity Czuchry had to sit through hours of makeup for:
WHAT IS THAT THING? THAT THING IS HIDEOUS.
The camera lingers on the “Death Before Dishonor” tattoo for several seconds as Czuchry kneels before VanCamp (admittedly, hot pose, good job), hammering home to us all the implications of that message on Conrad’s skin. Sitting through hours of pain for that underscores an overwhelming dedication to his job and his specific approach to healthcare, and, when coupled with his other ink (including a caduceus, the medical symbol of two snakes winding around a winged staff, on his forearm, and the Marine Corps eagle, globe, and anchor on his chest above his heart), an obvious suggestion of a military past. Are we supposed to respect Conrad more for these tattoos? I would argue yes; that “Death Before Dishonor” thing is practically fetishized by how long the show forces us to gaze upon it.
And yes, they’ve even hyped it up on their Instagram:
Tattoos have become shorthand for character development, for better and for worse, but in movies and TV, they certainly run the gamut from very bad to very good. I have tattoos myself; I delight in the absurdity of Ink Master; I follow an embarrassing amount of tattoo artists on Instagram; and every so often I see some faux-ink on TV or in film that is either so silly I laugh out loud or so good that I think to myself, “How long has it been since I’ve seen my tattoo artist? Could he see me tomorrow?”
Below, a list of tattoos I’ve liked and tattoos I’ve hated, inspired by that mess in The Resident:
+ The only way this list can start off is with Guy Pearce in Christopher Nolan’s Memento, as a man with memory loss who tattoos clues, notes, and reminders on his body as a way to piece together his life. The haphazard look of the tattoos is really key for this, and driving home Pearce’s character’s fractured mind.
+ In that same family of effective-full-body coverage, I’m going to add in Brad Pitt from Snatch and Ryan Gosling from The Place Beyond the Pines.
One is a bare-knuckle boxer whose griminess is matched by the mostly outlined, not really filled-in tattoos all over his body (I’m assuming because he doesn’t have the cash to get them finished), but whose devotion to his mother is mirrored in the Virgin Mary tattoo on his torso.
And then there’s Gosling, who supposedly told director Derek Cianfrance that he wanted “the most tattoos in movie history” for his role as traveling motorcycle stuntman Luke Glanton, and who gets pretty damn close with a menagerie of traditional and flash styles on his chest, back, arms, neck, hands, and yes, even his face. I’ve always loved the juxtaposition of the supremely tatted up, daredevil Luke with the desperate way he says of his son, “I’m still his father, I can give him stuff,” and I think that movie is profoundly underrated and doesn’t get nearly the acclaim and respect it deserves. That is all I will say about that.
(Aside: How much do the tattoos on Jaimie Alexander’s Jane Doe actually shape the narrative of the NBC show Blindspot? Because I do not watch it, and I didn’t know if the mystery ink was really just a gimmicky show device that they abandon after the first season or if they’ve kept up the questions about her body art. Inform me in the comments, please!)
+ The “Damaged” tattoo on the Joker’s face in Suicide Squad is one of the worst things I’ve ever seen, and I still remain offended that such a garbage-fire movie has an Oscar. AN OSCAR. Cinematographer Roger Deakins doesn’t have an Oscar after being nominated 14 times (fingers crossed he finally wins this year for Blade Runner 2049, and if he loses, he can only lose to Mudbound’s Rachel Morrison, dammit!), and yet here we are. The Joker’s tattoos sucked.
+ Counterpoint: Jason Momoa’s tattoos in Justice League were really good! I think it helps that Momoa already has tattoos and that the Polynesian-inspired artwork they added linked thematically both with Momoa’s own pieces and with the character’s ethnic identity.
The tattoo imagery is heavy with scales, spearheads, and armor, and it helped transform popular perception of Aquaman from a dude who gabs with fish to a badass who, you know, downs whiskey while waves crash around him and the White Stripes play in the background. (One of the stupidest, best scenes in film last year.)
+ There’s a similar building-on-the-present vibe with Angelina Jolie’s tattoos in Wanted, in which various new pieces were added to the dozen or so she already had at the time. Of course, the tattoos sexualize Jolie’s assassin character—think of her disrobing and showing off her back—but they’re detailed as hell and placed well on her body. Apparently a few were inspired by Winston Churchill, including his “blood, toil, tears, and sweat” speech from 1940, which is kind of weird at first consideration but ultimately makes sense for a character who has given those very things to a secret society.
+ The first tattoo I thought of when Conrad’s back piece is revealed in The Resident was the gigantic recreation of the Sons of Anarchy logo on Jax Teller’s back in the FX show—there was no blunter way to tell the audience “Look at how devoted to his motorcycle club he is!” On the one hand, kind of lazy character building. On the other hand, whenever the show wanted to remind us where Jax’s loyalties were, Charlie Hunnam would need to take off his clothes and flash that tattoo, and I am thirsty enough to be satisfied by this.
+ Matthew McConaughey has the lovely distinction of being on this list twice, for one bad thing and one good thing.
The former is for the truly awful tribal tattoos he sports in Reign of Fire, and perhaps it’s foolish to want more from a movie in which humans are fighting dragons that have destroyed the world, but then I guess I’m a fool.
In contrast, take the elegance and creepiness of McConaughey’s bird skeleton tattoo in the first season of True Detective. Whenever that thing peeks out from under a shirt sleeve or when seen fully when he’s wearing a tank top, I always wanted to see more. The forearm placement is perfect and the design itself is graceful, and I liked the tattoo as one of the few personal things Rust Cohle—wound so tightly, with so much self-hatred—ever displays about himself.
+ It seemed like David Fincher’s adaptation of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo from a few years ago had a lot of hype and then just sort of … disappeared, right? Still, I thought Rooney Mara was a nicely icy Lisbeth Salander, and I thought the design they put together for the eponymous tattoo was excellent. (Of course, it is fucked up that the best shot of it we see in the film is right after Lisbeth’s horrific assault. Nevertheless, I hope they reuse that exact design for the sequel in which Claire Foy will replace Mara, but I agree with Kayleigh that Zoe Kravitz would have been an amazing choice.)
+ James Franco’s tattoos in Spring Breakers are supposed to be gimmicky as hell, right? Because he’s playing a barely modified version of gimmicky rapper Riff Raff? Let’s go with that.
+ I know it turns out to be a fake tattoo, but when Eliza Dushku flips off the Toros after her audition in Bring It On? Chef’s kiss! Cinematic perfection!
+ And finally, what I truly think is the best of the best example of tattoos in film: the tattoos Viggo Mortensen sports as the Russian gangster Nikolai in David Cronenberg’s Eastern Promises. As Cronenberg said in a behind-the-scenes clip from the film, in Russian prisons, “You don’t exist if you don’t have tattoos. Your whole life story is written on your body.” The ink on Nikolai is an explanation of his whole life, but how he subverts those expectations—how his actions go against what you would “read” from his hands and his torso and his back and his arms and legs—make for an exceptional performance and what I consider to be Cronenberg’s best film.
Quickly, some other tattoos that I think are meaningful and effective but I didn’t feel like devoting whole blurbs to: Edward Norton’s gigantic swastika over his heart in American History X; the animal print back piece on Cameron Diaz as she fucks Javier Bardem’s car in The Counselor; the “Veritas” and “Aequitas” tattoos on the hands of the brothers in The Boondock Saints; the terrifyingly intricate back tattoo Ralph Fiennes sports as serial killer Francis Dolarhyde in Red Dragon.
Your thoughts? Any tattoos from TV or film that particularly stick out to you? If you are watching The Resident, did you smirk as much as I did when “Death Before Dishonor” was revealed? Would Logan really still be screwing around with Rory Gilmore a decade after graduation? So many questions! Discuss in the comments!