The Hot Zone (“Hidden”)

Part 6 of 6
Date of airing: May 29, 2019 (National Geographic Channel)
Nielsen ratings information: 0.943 million viewers, 0.16 rating with Adults 18-49, 0.11 rating with Adults 18-34, 0.23 rating with Adults 25-54, 0.63 rating with Adults 50+

The final two acts were speaking about how there will be another outbreak, and how the United States will handle that outbreak, whether they are prepared for it or not. And all this time I was thinking about the 2014 outbreak in West Africa, let alone the 2018 outbreak in Congo, which I have read about, since the news media wasn’t talking about it much. I was thinking how the message of preparedness could be delivered to world government, if there were more scripted television shows or films about virus outbreaks, and if those products of imagination from writers could actually lead to change in laws and governing, let alone the fight against infectious diseases. So many stories have been told about world-ending diseases, so many fictional lives have been lost to different kind of viruses, but films like CONTAGION and OUTBREAK don’t seem to have moved the needle a lot — otherwise the outbreak of 2014 would not have happened the way it did, and maybe the ongoing outbreak of 2018 in Congo will still become the major problem everyone fears it will become, because no one has been listening to the people involved in previous outbreaks.

Winter is even harder when you deal with biohazards.

THE HOT ZONE turned into a story about how a virus could have decimated thousands of people or more, if it had been a virus that actually killed people. It sounded ironic that Nancy and her team were talking about how the bullet hit them and how they were caught with their pants down, while the government officials sitting in front of them were rather laughing about the notion that so much money is being wasted for a virus that wasn’t lethal to humans, that they actually were tasked to develop a plan which could prevent such an outbreak from occurring again. It’s funny in hindsight that the Reston outbreak only killed the monkeys and didn’t cause significant harm to any of the infected humans, but it makes the words of the men in that panel even more dangerous. The virus didn’t kill them, so why bothering talking about it? Turns out they weren’t seeing this panel meeting in the greater sense of virus outbreaks, and how any other virus could have killed just one human. If it had been AIDS that broke out in the Reston facility, the reaction to it would have been a lot different. Then again, the government wasn’t particularly interested in stopping AIDS at first either, thanks to the fact that it was an undiscovered virus, and it didn’t kill the “clean” kind of humans.

This episode was solid, although the tense pressure of darkness, exhaustion and horror was not as evident here as in the previous episode. The only time things were about to turn sour was when one of the monkeys woke up after sedation, and even then the situation looked more horrific than it actually was, since the monkey didn’t scratch that soldier’s suit at all (which seems like a miracle). Maybe Nancy should have led the mission in the Hazleton facility from the beginning, and all the previous dangerous shit would not have happened, including the breakout of one of the monkeys and its almost escape through the vents and from the roof.

Taking a deep breath after being attacked by a monkey.

Still, I’ve had a few problems with this hour of television, as some elements that could have levelled up the dramatic tension, let alone the emotional battlefield of some of the characters, weren’t used at all. Let’s just begin with the fact that the news media showed up at the facility and only needed to be talked out of entering the building by the supervisor — that was a story threat killed way too quickly, and suddenly I was more interested in seeing how reporters or journalists would have handled the story of an outbreak than the actual monkey catch-and-sedate scenes. Let’s continue with Ben and Peter still being self-quarantined in their office, which wasn’t even a dent in this episode’s story, but could have been used to showcase how Ben and Peter were handling the self-imposed confinement after all these weeks. Orman was locked in as well, and he got a “21 days free” cake at the end — what did Ben and Peter get, and was their relationship with their women fixed in the process? Let’s move on to Jerry’s fall and how it didn’t affect anyone in this episode. Nancy wasn’t shocked, because it turns out for her it was a plot device to get into the facility and run the mission, supervise her team of soldiers. Jerry wasn’t shocked, because he barely had screentime after his collapse. The Army wasn’t shocked, because the writers didn’t even include any of them as supporting characters throughout the show. And the Jaax kids weren’t shocked, since they didn’t have screentime in this episode either. The father collapses in the middle of a hot zone, and no one seems to give a damn…

The only way to destroy the virus is burning it to hell.

The 1976 Zaire story was better on the other hand, which was also a miracle, considering the way the story has been handled before this episode. This time around there was an emotional connection to one of the villagers who contracted the disease, and this time there was enough time to focus on what happens when a friend dies of Ebola. The scene between the faith healer and Carter was impressive and probably the only really good thing about this episode. But in hindsight I am asking myself again if the 1976 Zaire story would have been better if it had been stand-alone, the focus of its own narrative. The fluctuating amount of screentime it got throughout the show proved that the writers didn’t quite know how to handle the narrative and mix it together with the 1989 narrative, and because it was interrupted by the horrors at Reston every once in a while, the emotional impact of the Zaire story was eventually killed.

Best part of the episode: Nancy took over the Reston mission after all. Hooray for all the Generals who weren’t able to stop her, because she did so unplanned and without a second to lose. Maybe the Democrats should figure out a plan like this to get into the White House…
Worst part of the episode: Are you trying to tell me that the soldiers in the Reston facility had different batteries for their suits and they weren’t exchangeable between suits? I really hope this is one of the lessons the military has learned from the Reston outbreak, because this seemed rather stupid.
Weirdest part of the episode: For a miniseries about a certain premise that wasn’t carried by its characters, it certainly felt weird that all of the characters got series-closing moments to finish their story arcs, as if it was a necessity. Was it proof that THE HOT ZONE was all about the characters, and is that why the show wasn’t working that well all the time?
Player of the episode: Carter and Rhodes teamed up to solve the case of the missing monkey rather quickly. Now, if only all of the conflicts between any individuals can be solved this way to attack an even greater problem, then the planet will be fine.

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