The Hot Zone (“Charlie Foxtrot”)

Part 3 of 6
Date of airing: May 28, 2019 (National Geographic Channel)
Nielsen ratings information: 1.110 million viewers, 0.25 rating with Adults 18-49, 0.16 rating with Adults 18-34, 0.33 rating with Adults 25-54, 0.67 rating with Adults 50+

Now I know what it’s like to watch a television show about an event which in hindsight wasn’t as crazy as it might have sounded on paper, and maybe I am also right when I said during the previous episode that THE HOT ZONE might have been a better show if told in less than six episodes — maybe four. There was a lot of story running on empty in this episode, and while I appreciated that the show is generally focusing on the characters within the story, it’s not like the characters happened to be super interesting. Carter is the old man with a hard core who went through something difficult and terrifying in Zaire during 1974 and is now all paranoid over the potential of a repeat of that experience. A paranoid man doesn’t make for an interesting character, especially since Carter could be both right and wrong about his fears, and being wrong has a higher possibility rate than him being right. Meanwhile, Nancy is being stopped investigating the appearance of Ebola Zaire, because she happened to deal with white men behind every corner, and that makes her story difficult to get excited for as well, since she isn’t going through a lot and can only wait until she gets access to actually do something. And then there are Peter and Ben, who are now in the office all day and all night, having to deal with the fear of being infected, and continuing to keep quiet over a potential disaster that could not only kill them, but millions of others. THE HOT ZONE has turned into a show running its story with an empty tank of gas, and it makes itself look like it’s speeding like a bus that has a bomb on board, and as soon as it drives slower than 50 miles per hour it’ll explode.

One more sick worker for the show’s characters to deal with.

In a way, false expectations might ruin my experience with the show just a little bit. I wasn’t expecting an OUTBREAK-kinda show, or maybe the National Geographic version of The CW show CONTAINMENT, but maybe actual history is killing the fun of the show, as the book this show is based on turned out not to have such an exciting story after all. Only a handful of people believe that Ebola Zaire is in the monkey house, and everyone else in America won’t listen and blows off the scientists and the one Colonel pressing for the truth, because paperwork and power and hiding the truth and all that stuff (kind of ironic that the Washington Post was included in the story during this episode). After three episodes it’s kind of a lame premise, especially when there are only three episodes left and the only new premise the writers have established was the leak of the story to the Post, and the potential that the fear of an outbreak of another virus as deadly, or even deadlier, as AIDS might take over the country. By itself that sounds like a good-enough premise for the next episode, but then what? Is Nancy continuing to get blocked by the men above her in the food chain, as well as the CDC? Will the 1974 flashback story with Carter and Rhodes continue to tease the depiction of the absolute virus nightmare, just to wait until the absolute end to come with that depiction? After all, you can’t just come with Ebola in 1974 in the middle of the story — it’s something the narrative has to wait for until close to the end, since the Zaire story is the origin story of Ebola. But showcasing what the virus could do and how it turns people into fodder for the virus, or for fire, or for bullets from weapons of young soldiers under the guard of the General is kind of boring, when you show that in more than two episodes.

When you’re in the Africa of the 1970s, you will see some dark stuff.

In fact, I couldn’t connect with the Zaire story at all. There was something impressive about Carter and Rhodes having faced an entire village burned to the ground by its people, and there was the notion that they knew what happened here and that they have to warn the world now. But they still stuck around in Yambuku, they talked to a nurse who then walked into her death, and the two men discussed whether or not to send samples home for analysis or be the last line of defense before the virus spreads past the border of the country. There wasn’t a lot of story here in this episode, making most of the 1974 flashback rather boring. Plus, it didn’t go at all into why Carter and Rhodes were so distanced during their 1989 reunion. I guess we’ll have to wait for the next episode.

In the meantime, Peter and Rob are biding their time, and it’s an uninteresting story as well. Seeing them in quarantine and having to deal with their mistake is a better premise, but unused in this episode. There could have been a moment of great character drama between Peter and his girlfriend, but because he decided not to tell her the truth, that potential was running into a wall as well. Besides that, the two don’t seem to be especially worried about the notion that they might have indeed contracted the virus. Granted, that might just be because the two don’t have enough screentime in the show, but there is a difference between a character fearing they will die of a deadly virus and a character not caring they will die of a deadly virus, and tHE HOT ZONE makes use of the latter.

Nancy presents the chances of danger for the public.

Which means the only way the show could stay interesting is through Nancy and her push to contain Ebola Zaire as quickly as possible, even if it means to leak the story to the public. An interesting story for sure, but only teased upon in this episode – I can only hope that the next hour is going to get deeper into it, but then again I have been disappointed with the previous two episodes of THE HOT ZONE, so chances are I will get disappointed during the next three episodes.

Best part of the episode: Grace Gummer guest-starred in this episode, and she brightened up my day just a little bit. Unfortunately her character looked pretty uninteresting.
Worst part of the episode: Even after Ben and Peter feared for a second that the virus might have transferred over to humans, after Hazleton called and Nancy was on her way to pick up the janitor, the two guys still weren’t worried, and showed up at a meeting later, as if they might not have contracted the virus at all. Those guys really are ridiculous. In addition, they were telling each other they would keep each other in check via blood tests and all — and none of it has been depicted on screen yet.
Weirdest part of the episode: Hazleton is in the center of the story, but the writers haven’t established what exactly their research topic is, let alone where they get their monkeys from. Yes, they obviously get them from Africa, but Hazleton is only a company in the titular hot zone within the narrative, and not a company that exists for a reason – something the show hasn’t gotten into it at all. Besides that, Hazleton looks too dirty and rundown to be taken seriously as a research station.
Player of the episode: Grace Gummer guest-starred in this episode, and she brightened up my day just a little bit, which is reason enough to put her name here.

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