We’ve all fantasized about starting our lives over. When we meet Bashir Hamed (Hamza Haq), he’s doing it for real – only for him, it’s hardly a fantasy.
He’s working away in the kitchen of his uncle’s restaurant in Toronto, paying attention to everyone around him while no-one’s paying attention to him. He even goes up to a customer and asks him if he remembers him (which yes, seems a little odd). Unsurprisingly, the customer gives him the cold shoulder. We’re only a few minutes in and already the stage has been set for a drama about a man struggling to find a place for himself in a new society, one where whatever skills he has – and already it’s clear he’s more on the ball than your average kitchen hand – aren’t valued simply because of who he is.
Then something happens that will change his life forever: a truck crashes into the restaurant.
In the carnage that follows, Hamed is everywhere, performing the kind of emergency procedures only an expert can. He restarts one woman’s heart by skilfully pounding on her chest; he saves the sight of an injured man by cutting his eye to relieve the pressure. He even drills a hole in the head of the customer who didn’t recognise him (don’t worry, it’s an actual medical procedure), which proves to be the smartest thing he’s done all day.
It also proves to be fairly gory. One of Transplant’s many pleasures is that it’s a series that knows part of the fun of medical procedures is the gross-out element. It doesn’t go over-the-top with the head-drilling and eye-slicing, but there’s just enough of an eww factor to make them memorable.
Hamed’s rude customer turns out to be Doctor Jed Bishop (John Hannah). He’s the chief at the emergency department at York Memorial Hospital, which is where all the injured (and Hamed, though he’s only slightly hurt) are taken. Dr Bishop’s co-workers – which include Dr. Magalie “Mags” LeBlanc (Laurence Leboeuf), Dr. June Curtis (Ayisha Issa), Dr. Theo Hunter (Jim Watson) and head nurse Claire Malone (Torri Higginson) are faced with a stream of people coming in with crude but life-saving procedures. Dr Bishop seems like the only one on the scene who could have operated… but if he did it, who drilled the hole in his head? Is Bishop really so good a surgeon he could operate on his own brain?
While they’re trying to figure it out, Hamed is trying to check in with the people he worked on. It makes sense to him, but for the people watching an injured man constantly turning up where he shouldn’t be? Not so much. He‘s a Middle Eastern man acting slightly suspiciously in a Canadian hospital; again, just when the police arrive and it seems obvious where all this is heading, Transplant pulls out another twist that sends things off in a new direction.
Hamed is a breath of fresh air in what could have easily just been another medical drama where handsome doctors cure medical mysteries each week. Transplant’s first episode (and the series as a whole) never tries to turn him into just another skilled medico with a dark past. He might be a Syrian refugee, but he’s in the country legally; the numerous moments where it looks like something shady is going on turn out to be more about those around him jumping to the wrong conclusions.
His past doesn’t fade from sight once he becomes established at York Memorial either (c’mon, you didn’t really think Doctor Bishop was going to cast him aside after he saved his life with a household drill?). His being a semi-observant Muslim plays a role in the series, as does his younger sister Amira (Sirena Gulamgaus). And his experiences as a doctor in a war-torn country (which we see in flashback) still haunt him.
That history is a two-edged sword. His experiences have given him the skills he needs to make life-saving decisions those around him might struggle with, but having to work fast on his own isn’t exactly a useful trait if you’re part of a team in a major western hospital where your patients have friends and relatives standing by. And while the doctor’s he’s working alongside are a crack team in their own right, there’s always going to be times where he has to trust his gut.
Throughout the show’s twists and turns Hamed stays grounded, thanks to a layered performance from Haq. He’s knowledgeable without being smug, with a frazzled edge that underlines just how many balls he’s juggling in his life when we first meet him. For the people around him, he’s the kind of doctor you’d trust; for audiences, he’s the kind of nuanced character who always keeps things interesting.
You might want to keep him away from the power drills though.
Transplant is now streaming at SBS On Demand.
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