The Hot Zone (“Cell H”)

Part 2 of 6
Date of airing: May 27, 2019 (National Geographic Channel)
Nielsen ratings information: 1.256 million viewers, 0.24 rating with Adults 18-49, 0.19 rating with Adults 18-34, 0.34 rating with Adults 25-54, 0.80 rating with Adults 50+

I can’t believe I’m writing this right now, but I am starting to doubt the show. When you decide to use flashbacks to add material to an episode that already has a thin storyline, then maybe there was no reason to add six episodes to the story and it looks like THE HOT ZONE might have been told in four episodes instead. But I don’t know anything about the history of various virus outbreaks checked and investigated by scientists, and it does look like that the series opening flashback, as well as the flashback story in this episode, had something to do with Ebola Zaire, and telling a narrative about the virus from its beginning to the first peak it experienced in the public eye is definitely not such a wrong idea at all. But at the end of the day, the flashbacks to 1976 were only here to add to the running time, while they also sort of developed Carter’s back story, establishing why he has such a distrust towards people in the present time, and why he thinks being paranoid about a particular virus outbreak is something he is definitely allowed to be. I do have to say though, the flashbacks put the focus on Carter as a character, which means THE HOT ZONE is not just about the events that unfolded in 1989, but also about the characters who lived through that experience. Even if some of the characters happened to be a bit idiotic about the decisions they made.

A moment of hotness in the wilderness.

Peter and Ben come to mind, who have decided to keep the possibility that they have the virus a secret. While I get that Peter started to freak out to be treated like an AIDS patient (with the virus being in its own peak during this time), which he wanted to prevent at all costs, I cannot imagine that a scientist like Peter, let alone like Ben, would decide to shut their mouths about the possibility that they might carry Ebola Zaire within themselves, especially after they have already made, ehm, “contact” with other people, which means if this were an OUTBREAK-style feature film, the virus would be expanding at this point and it would only take a few weeks for the rest of the nation to be infected. Ben and Peter happened to be shitty scientists in this episode, and one can only hope that the story here was only inspired by what could have happened for real in 1989, and that none of what has been depicted in this hour of television did in fact happen — otherwise this episode isn’t putting the two men in a great light, and I do know that Peter’s character is based on a real person (I have no idea if the same can be said about Ben’s character). Having the public see a scripted television drama that has you in it, and you come over like a scared little dick who doesn’t want the negative attention that you might need to save the world, is probably not a good thing. And honestly, I would have loved to see a story with Peter and Ben in quarantine, together with their family and date of the night. It would probably bring some more excitement and thrill into the narrative, as well as the factual danger of Ebola being a freaking killer virus in 1989.

Angry monkey is angry.

Nancy’s story barely moved forward in this episode. She confirmed that it’s Ebola Zaire and now that information is partially out in the open. For the rest of the hour, the only things Nancy was doing was welcoming Carter back to Virginia, create a conflict with her husband over the transport of potentially malicious fresh samples, and get a live monkey euthanized. Granted, there was that scene during the first act of the episode that had her bleach the highway because of dripping blood, but then I was wondering why it wasn’t possible to fill the entire trunk of her car with ice cubes from a random gas station, just to keep the cadavers frozen for a little longer. It might have made a bit of a watery mess at the end, but I would have said it would be more safer to transport the dead monkeys that way, instead of just two-bagging them and putting them in the trunk of your car. Especially since it was Nancy’s worry at the end of the previous episode that the monkeys would unfreeze and the blood would start to drip – I think it’s something you can prevent by putting more ice into it. Besides that, the story of euthanizing the last remaining living monkey infected with Ebola Zaire was something of a horror movie scene, because THE HOT ZONE probably needs some of those scenes to remind the audience that this is still a thriller show — and a depiction of the emergence of a virus on American soil isn’t really that of an exciting premise, especially when the only thing that is going to happen during that premise is the characters’ efforts to contain the virus. A noble premise, for sure, but I don’t think it could sustain a television show, and maybe there might be a problem or two to keep a miniseries alive with that premise, too.

Is a shower good enough to disinfect yourself from the deadliest virus ever?

Best part of the episode: During this hour it happened to be something historically interesting for me. During Carter and Rhodes’ trip in 1974, they came across a village that had burned itself to death to keep the virus contained. I would love to know if that is in fact historically accurate, and how African villagers even knew that whatever they had in their bodies was deadly enough to kill the entire world. Maybe I don’t know enough about African villagers, but I assume that some tribes, especially in Africa and South America, probably don’t know they are part of a larger world, with a civilization in the billions. They might think they are the only ones — so why would you make the decision to burn all living creatures? Is there a religious belief behind that decision? And how did past tribes in human history have handled problems like that? It’s an intriguing thing to think about, and maybe there is a film premise hiding in there somewhere, one that can be brought to live by time travel or the like.
Worst part of the episode: Ben and Peter were idiots in this episode, without a doubt. Ben more so than Peter, because his mind actually changed from “We have to report this” to “We have to keep it a secret,” while Peter probably thought the entire time to shut up about it.
Weirdest part of the episode: The scene on the highway gave me the narrative creeps. A highway cop on two wheels shows up, and suddenly Frank and Nancy were in a hurry to clean up their mess. But everything was peachy at the end, because Nancy was quick and she moved along already. What a fake-out thriller scene…
Player of the episode: Respect to the villagers who decided to sacrifice themselves for the greater good of the planet.

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