“Five Days at Memorial” plays out like a post-apocalyptic horror movie – but, sadly, it’s an all-too-true story of the human and physical devastation wrought by Hurricane Katrina over New Orleans in late summer 2005.
The eight-episode series, which will premiere August 12 on AppleTV+is based on the book of the same name by Pulitzer Prize-winning Sheri Fink, chronicling the hellish five-day period at Memorial Medical Center in New Orleans as Katrina ravaged the city, breached levees, submerged most of the underwater and forced the hospital and LifeCare — a private healthcare facility on the 7th floor — to evacuate its patients with deadly consequences that no one could have foreseen…or, perhaps even avoided.
The series opens on September 11, 2005, 13 days after Katrina first made landfall, when 45 bodies were discovered in the chapel of the abandoned hospital, with no explanation as to what happened to them or where. how they got there.
It is the wire around which Carlton Cuse and John Ridley build their narrative, jumping back to August 29, as Katrina storms the city and unleashes her fury for what everyone at the hospital assumed were bad days — but nothing they hadn’t experienced before. Right. The main actors include Susan Mulderick (Cherry Jones“Estate”), the director of nursing and “incident commander” who discovers, to her astonishment and horror, that the hospital has no official instructions on how to evacuate in case of flooding; Dr. Anna Pou (Vera Farmiga, “Bates Motel”), which wrongly pledged to help where it is needed; Dr. Horace Baltz (Robert Pine); Diane Robichaux (Julie Ann Emery, “Better Call Saul”), a deputy administrator of LifeCare repeatedly sidelined; and Dr. Bryant King (Cornelius Smith Jr.“Scandal”), a young doctor who is committed to caring for his patients in the midst of the hell unleashed around him.
But that’s just the tip of the iceberg; “Five Days at Memorial” also includes the stories of hospital patients and family members cut off from all contact with loved ones – unable to know what is happening while watching it all unfold live on television – and those, including including premature babies, whose lives are in danger when the hospital’s electricity is cut off. Memorial’s parent company, Dallas-based Tenet, is also under scrutiny, all but ignoring pleas from regional manager Michael Arvin (Joe Carroll) to help evacuate patients and staff from hospitals.
At first, everyone is relieved to have bypassed the worst of Katrina as it drifts off course…then the levees break, the flooding begins, the temperatures inside the hospital soar. arrow without air conditioning, the National Guard is called in, there is internal fighting at Memorial over patient care and ultimately it leads to these 45 abandoned bodies left in the hospital chapel and suspected euthanasia.
What I really love about “Five Days at Memorial” is that it almost feels like you’re in the eye of the hurricane, both literally and figuratively. The top-notch special effects are alarmingly and chillingly realistic, especially when the 17th Street Canal Levee Violations and when Katrina tears through the roof of the Superdome, where in the days following the hurricane thousands decamped after their homes were destroyed in search of refuge – only to find a new hell awaiting them. Authentic period reports fill in the gaps about what is happening outside the hospital: looting, Katrina destroying everything in her path (houses, cars, building, etc.), people crouching on rooftops begging for help. being rescued, abandoned neighborhoods, politics, unsaveable pets…
“Five Days at Memorial” was originally slated for an episode of FX’s “American Crime Story.” It has found a worthy home on Apple TV+.