In chaos, people cast off who they are

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Five Days at Memorial is the brand-new Apple TV+ original series that is centred around the doctors and nurses at the intensive care unit of New Orleans’ hospital. Memorial Hospital and Life Care are two hospitals that operate within the same building and though the main part of the story happens at the Memorial side, Life Care is still a pivotal part of the series.

Based on the non-fiction book of the same name, written by Sheri Fink, the book is divided into two parts: “Deadly Choices” as part one and “Reckoning” as part two. The show adopts a similar style, though expertly builds up the tension during the five days, shown over the first five episodes. Just like the book, the latter part of the season focuses on the political and legal ramifications of Memorial’s response to Hurricane Katrina and the aftermath of that disaster. While the book focuses on Dr Anna Pou (Vera Farmiga)  and two intensive care nurses Cheri Landry (Sharron Matthews) and Lori Budo (Sarah Allen), the show’s focus is Dr Anna Pou and her rationalisation and her decision making.

Vera Farmiga in “Five Days at Memorial,” premiering globally August 12, 2022 on Apple TV+.

The series opens with a team arriving in the aftermath of Kartina, using a boat to access Memorial hospital as they go through the eerily flooded, deserted town of New Orleans. They explore the hospital with hazmat suits, seeing the aftermath of the devastation in real time. Right off the bat, it’s revealed that 45 bodies have been found both in the chapel and in the hallways.

When the show goes back to day one, the lack of preparedness is highlighted throughout the first day. First, Dr Anna Pou only brings enough supplies for herself for three days. Susan Mulderick (Cherry Jones) is the incident commander but complications arise early on as Dianne Robichaux, the (Julie Ann Emery)  Life Care assistant administrator , who seeks Mulderick’s help but Mulderick was unaware she had to help Life Care. Early on, the writers treat their audience with respect. They don’t have to spoon feed information or tell the viewers of the impending ramifications of Katerina. Instead, they brilliantly show it through various things from the rise of the water level outside, slowly reading the critical level of 4ft to the issues with communication to the outside either by phone or by email.

The stakes are gradually raised through each episode as viewers witness the decline of conditions within Memorial but more so, the dangers of gossip that spreads within the hospital. From rumours of assaults to looters, you can feel the tension as Memorial Hospital turns into a powder keg, waiting for the slightest spark to the destruction off. Not a minute it wasted throughout the series. From the “Deadly Choices’ ‘ to the “Reckoning,” it was hard to find any fault within the show.  

Cherry Jones and Cornelius Smith Jr. in “Five Days at Memorial,” premiering globally on August 12 on Apple TV+.

The show tackles the themes of the political, ethical and legal ramifications to decisions made within a chaotic five-day period. Instead of simply showing Dr Anna Pou as a villain, they treat her as one can given her actions. They show her rationalising and deny the homicides. What the writers and directors execute perfectly, is perspective. From the first episode, you are rooting for the hospital staff, including the notorious Dr Pou and her associates, but as the days go on and food, water and medications are at a critical shortage, things start to turn. Dr. Horace Baltz (Robert Pine) is the perfect example. Whilst he was not witness to anything, it is almost as if Dr Baltz embodies the audience. He tries to rationalise the decisions of the medical professionals while somehow condemning them at the same time. He puts it perfectly. “True heroism would have been to remember why we are doctors. No matter how bad the circumstances are, to adhere to our oath ‘Do. No. Harm.’” It is a powerful, heart-breaking statement that embodies the theme of the show perfectly.

From the first four episodes, as the medical staff are in the midst of exhaustion and chaos, viewers see the harsh reality of the conditions of Memorial over their five days. At the start of the aftermath, viewers see nurses and doctors give up sleep, water and basics as they attempt to care for their patients but things start to turn. As families are turned away, doctors are arming themselves with guns, a standout performance comes from Cornelius Smith Jr as Dr. Bryant King. Dr. King is one of the few doctors at Memorial who does not give up, who does not consider to stop caring for patients. It is a stand out performance from Smith Jr, who perfectly portrays Dr. King’s breaking point, amplified in the events after the storm as he explains, in detail, all of the risks to his own life, mostly from those who have sworn to do no harm.

Robert Pine in “Five Days at Memorial,” premiering globally on August 12 on Apple TV+.

Perspective is a key aspect in Five Days at Memorial. As viewers, we start to see the disaster and after effects from the doctors and nurses, but as the episode goes on, it subtly shifts to the patients. The show starts focusing on Dr. Anna Pou with her slowly unravelling with the rest of the staff as they are left without power or any government help. As you watch, you are rooting for the doctors to overcome their exhaustion, hunger and loss of hope. As you watch them survive, you are rooting for them but all of that changes when the triage bracelets come out and Dr Pou and her nurses decide to play god. A scene in which an alert, over 300 pound patient can’t be moved because his weight is an inconvenience is paired with him begging for the doctors to evacuate him, to not leave him behind. It all comes to a head as we hear someone walk into the room, close the door behind them and the credits roll. It is one thing to follow the wishes of a DNR (do not resuscitate), but to actively end the lives of those who are an inconvenience to move is a disgusting choice that should never have been made.

Overall, the series is a fantastic drama from the top down. Every actor within the show brings their A-Game with not a minute of storytelling wasted. Five Days at Memorial is an incredible watch. When the disaster ends, the drama does not let up as it shifts focus to Arthur ‘Butch’ Schafer (Michael Gaston) and Virginia Rider’s (Molly Hager) investigation. The team up of Schafer and Rider as they investigate the aftermath of Memorial is a perfect combination of Schafer’s realistic world view complimented by Rider’s pragmatic approach.

Five Days at Memorial casts a harsh spotlight on the value of human life and how some can rationalise euthanizing patients without their consent and if saving a life, no matter how difficult the rescue or attempt to evacuate is worth the effort. It is a harrowing tale, made even more sickening to know that the real Dr Anna Pou is not only still practising medicine, but she has the audacity to lecture on the topic of ethics in disasters and has helped pass three bills that protection medical professionals from most legal action during things that can transpire during a disaster.

‘Five Days at Memorial ” arrives on Apple TV+ on August 12th.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

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