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.

The Hot Zone (“Quarantine”)

Part 5 of 6
Date of airing: May 29, 2019 (National Geographic Channel)
Nielsen ratings information: 1.009 million viewers, 0.19 rating with Adults 18-49, 0.12 rating with Adults 18-34, 0.27 rating with Adults 25-54, 0.65 rating with Adults 50+

Hell yeah, this is what I wanted to see when I heard of this show for the first time! A quarantine thriller, in which every move could be your last, because you never know when your next move will be a mistake that might cost your life. Soldiers may be dropping to the floor, and monkeys may be too angry to get euthanized, so there was definitely a huge premise in this episode, and thankfully it was a well-executed premise. The scenes in the Hazleton research lab were wreaking of horror, which is what my heart desired. What a shame that this show is based on a true story, otherwise the writers would have made use of the premise by letting the monkey do some more damage.

This time around the 1976 Zaire story was almost forgettable again, and if it weren’t for a birth you might have pushed the story out of your memory banks entirely by the end of the episode. It does show that the 1976 story didn’t have a lot of strength to warrant being a narrative within a television show, and that maybe without it, THE HOT ZONE could have been the 4 or 5-hour show I imagined it to be without all the stories running on empty, which there were few of two episodes ago. I get that the first-ever Ebola outbreak needed to be part of the narrative, but there is a problem with that for two reasons: One, the show never tried to depict the potential horror of it from the point of view of the victims — it’s always either Carter or Rhodes who react to the latest images they see, and it’s always Carter who talks about the virus being a monster. Two, now that I have read up about the 1976 outbreak, I am actually surprised it looks this tiny in the television show. It’s almost like only one village is affected, and only a handful of people are dying from it. Was there not enough knowledge about the 1976 events, or were the writers just not interested in it, because the reason the show exists lies in the Ebola history of 1989?

Waiting is the hardest part.

But yeah, the building of the quarantine zone and the hot zone at the Hazleton lab was an exciting watch. The montage of the soldiers, Jerry and Carter catching the monkeys, sedating them, getting samples from them and then euthanizing them was a strong one, and I wouldn’t have minded to see an extra minute of it, even if it had been repetitive. Maybe with the extended montage, the characters dealing with the monkeys could have been put in the spotlight of the action, as they could have grown more exhausted with each money they caught, or with each incision they did. The soldiers looked pretty beat when they went for their dinner break, so maybe the story would have been more exciting if one or two of the soldiers would have found themselves bathing in their sweat inside those suits, but I guess seeing Jerry collapse under the pressure and without having had a break was the depiction of that storyline. And it added some fear in Nancy that she might lose her husband to Ebola – a good-enough premise for the finale of the show, and another emotional angle to tell the story from, even though I can already see how disappointed I am going to be when Nancy realizes Jerry only collapsed, because he worked too hard.

Carter has feelings for the nightmares of death.

The escape of one of the monkeys was a necessary plot device for this episode, as the hour without an escape would have been lame. It added some more tension to the episode, and I did love that the two guys on the roof were equally responsive for keeping the monkey inside the facility than all the guys inside the facility taking down the monkeys. It turns out that the soldiers really were working as a unit, and the crash course they were getting in quarantine procedure and monkey catching-and-sedating helped to get those men and women to task. You could almost say the Hazleton lab was indeed a war zone, albeit a different one the soldiers were expecting. In a way, this episode of THE HOT ZONE had a unique depiction of war, and since exhaustion could be an equally dangerous killer than bullets from the opponent on the other side of the trench could teach some lessons to the military.

Meanwhile, other stories push their way through this hour. The reporter from the Washington Post showed up and went back without a story (lucky military!), the factory workers waiting for their test results went through a long time of waiting (without going crazy while waiting, or asking too many questions for Rhodes to answer, which is also a miracle), and Ben and Peter were still self-quarantined, not doing a lot while waiting. Okay, Peter might have fallen asleep during the decontamination shower, but it’s not like that was anything exciting for the narrative — it was just a cheap way to showcase that U.S.A.M.R.I.I.D. and the soldiers in the facility were working under high pressure.

There’s no exit for this monkey on the roof.

Best part of the episode: The look at the few soldiers taking a seat at the diner, with every other customer looking at them like they are aliens. This is probably where conspiracy theories start, but in this particular case it was just peace and quiet for the soldiers, who were going through the worst and had enough of a break to remember that they will continue to go through the worst.
Worst part of the episode: I really can’t believe no one from the group of workers being “detained” was going stir crazy over sitting on uncomfortable chairs, being unable to do anything about their predicament. The writers missed out on a story here.
Weirdest part of the episode: Why would Jerry work without a break, when he was in charge of the entire mission? Did he think he would be more of a hero in the eyes of the public when he goes through the monkey catch-and-sedate as quickly as he can? White men are stupid sometimes…
Player of the episode: That lone monkey really wanted to get the hell out of that place. It finally managed to break out, but then had to face a group of soldiers from every direction. It tried hard. It had the courage to fight.

The Hot Zone (“Expendable”)

Part 4 of 6
Date of airing: May 28, 2019 (National Geographic Channel)
Nielsen ratings information: 1.002 million viewers, 0.23 rating with Adults 18-49, 0.16 rating with Adults 18-34, 0.30 rating with Adults 25-54, 0.62 rating with Adults 50+

This episode was quite the positive surprise. Now that the virus has spilled over to humans, the threat level of the story is more palpable, and the narrative becomes more tense, as the doctors and scientist try to keep Ebola contained to the monkey research lab on two fronts. The first front would be looking at Domanski as patient zero and keeping him that way, although since the janitor of the monkey research lab has been infected with a virus (is it even clear that it’s Ebola? Maybe there was another killer roaming around those halls, which wasn’t as deadly as Ebola could have been), chances are some of the other staff members will be, too. Technically speaking, would they all be patient zero in this case, or will the monkey lab be declared “ground zero,” and there isn’t really a patient zero in the case of an outbreak? The second front would be the lab itself: The soldiers Nancy brought together to get into the lab and turn it into a hot zone is another way to keep the virus contained, and this happens to be the more intriguing story right now. A bunch of soldiers of the young age brought together to fight a virus, and each of them is going to stand against their own depiction of fear, which has already been manifesting in this episode, when one of the guys got claustrophobic in his suit, while the lights were off. I love it how there is a military mission which has absolutely nothing to do with invading a foreign country and try to kill some terrorists. I never even thought that the military could also be used for missions like these, and suddenly I am interested to know whether there have been more military-led missions like this in human history, and no one is telling us, because the end of the world was so damn close. Did a team of about a dozen soldiers stopped another potentially mass-killing virus in the last few years, because it showed up at someone’s front door? This could be a whole show by itself – I didn’t watch more than two or three episodes of CONTAINMENT, so I never knew if The CW show went into that direction, even if the virus already spilled over to the population over in that show.

Before self-exposed quarantine there is a talk in a very public and busy setting.

I also loved how Nancy was going against the entire top brass of U.S.A.M.R.I.I.D., wanting to lead the mission herself (because it’s what she knows she can do, besides it being her duty), but getting kicked out of the team because men once more won over women and decided they should rather stay home and cook meals for the kids instead of saving the world. It was never mentioned like that, but I can imagine that this might have been a conversation Nancy and Jerry may have had afterwards. The two definitely have the sweet life in military brass, being stationed at home and never having to fear to be sent to the frontlines with a weapon in their hands, but that also means when the lives of the Jaax family is suddenly threatened, because one of the parents is about to move to the frontlines (which in this case happened to be a monkey research lab only a few minutes away from home), chances are they will pull rank just to protect each other. That’s what I got out of Jerry pulling Nancy from this mission. And now I don’t know if I should blame him for not trusting his wife, or for keeping the family together, in case the shit will really hit the fan, when the virus not only spilled over to the janitor, but also to all the other Hazleton lab staff members.

Training for the level four newbies is gonna be brutal.

Anyway, the tension has been created, and it’s hopefully about to define the following two episodes. I am interested in the premise again, and how the group of soldiers are going to handle being in the hot zone among hostile monkeys starving to death and ill from Ebola. This better be the entire next episode, since that is a horror film premise on a television show, and after having watched the first two hours of CHERNOBYL not that long ago, I would love to see more real-life scripted horror depicted on television. Nothing supernatural, nothing paranormal, nothing written by Ryan Murphy (nothing against him, I just can’t get into his writing style sometimes). Just some real-life stuff with a danger you never knew you could face, because you don’t know a lot about the world.

In the meantime, the 1976 storyline was solid again. This time around it wasn’t running on empty like during the previous episode, because this time around Carter, Rhodes and Melanie were actually facing the true enemy for a change. Having to treat the pregnant woman, and knowing they can’t do anything to help her, made sense in the story, and I would have wished the writers had chosen to speed the Zaire story up a little, and maybe would not have begun the show with the scene in 1980, instead going straight to the 1976 Zaire story and how Carter and Rhodes were dealing with the first known outbreak of the virus. It would have helped to keep the show’s pace, and it still might have been a good idea to just do four, maybe five episodes of the show, as I think that the previous episode was close to being a filler as it could have been. Besides that, more Grace Gummer is always great, and this time she had a major role within the story, although maybe there was a bit fo a cliche in her character arc that she ended up getting married to Rhodes. I guess the extreme circumstances of their trip to Zaire brought them closer together?

Truth stands in front of a brick wall.

Best part of the episode: THE HOT ZONE comes away better than CHERNOBYL, when it comes to the characters of the story. CHERNOBYL hasn’t shown me much when it comes to that, but this episode of the Ebola virus show depicted Nancy’s emotional distress when she learned that her father might be gone before she has a chance to properly say goodbye. That was a powerful scene, as well as a reminder that THE HOT ZONE isn’t just about its exciting and deadly premise, but that it’s also about the characters in that premise.
Worst part of the episode: Military brass doesn’t give Nancy the opportunity to lead the mission herself. Shame on the military!
Weirdest part of the episode: Damn, Peter and Ben confining themselves to the lab after their ruse for the past few episodes was kind of eaten for breakfast in this episode. Nancy (or the guys, for that matter) could have dealt with the outcome of Peter and Ben keeping their bout with Ebola Zaire a secret, but no, two scenes about that and the story has finished. That truly is weird.
Player of the episode: Ben wins this award for telling the truth and nothing but the truth to Nancy. Although that doesn’t mean he is suddenly a wonderful guy.

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.

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.

The Hot Zone (“Arrival”)

Part 1 of 6
Date of airing: May 27, 2019 (National Geographic Channel)
Nielsen ratings information: 1.384 million viewers, 0.28rating with Adults 18-49,  0.19 rating with Adults 18-34, 0.40 rating with Adults 25-54, 0.87 rating with Adults 50+

I was two episodes into HBO’s terrifying real-life horror show CHERNOBYL, when National Geographic premiered THE HOT ZONE, and this show was on my radar more than CHERNOBYL ever was, due to the fact that I like virus outbreaks more as a premise in television or film, and I adore the heck out of Julianna Margulies, who I could watch act any day of the week. Even CANTERBURY’S LAW was an entertaining legal drama because of her, and that show didn’t really have a reason to exist in the first place. So, here basically is the companion television miniseries to CHERNOBYL – two real-life horror shows about the potential end of the world needing to be prevented by scientist of sound mind and judgment, and who have to go against men who don’t want to listen and figure that the end of the world is a one-in-a-million chance that can never happen here. And the weird thing is, both shows were airing at the same time, which could be coincidence, but could also not be.

Compared to CHERNOBYL’s opening hour, THE HOT ZONE was a little better, due to the focus on the characters in the story. At the end of the day though, both shows can’t be compared, as one deals with the horrible aftermath of an accident, and the other deals with the threat of a disease killing millions and billions. Hell, even the premises of both shows can’t be compared, as one only threatened parts of Europe, if the thermal explosion had happened, while the other could pretty much kill the entire world within weeks. Still, both shows have something in common, and that’s death from a very unlikely source you didn’t even think could ever hit you. Turned into a scripted television show, both premises have shown that they can be built into a narrative much differently, with CHERNOBYL going for the disaster horror thriller in its first hour, while THE HOT ZONE basically just teased the existence of the Ebola virus on American soil and didn’t even scientifically prove it to be a fact by the end of the episode. I have to say I know absolutely nothing of the late 1980s/early 1990s Ebola story on American soil (this show is literally giving me a history lesson now, and because it airs on NatGeo, I hope it’s as historically accurate as possible), so I won’t know what is about to happen, but I do question now how long it took for U.S.A.M.R.I.I.D. to figure out they were dealing with Ebola, and how much of a premise it can actually be for a scripted television program. In all honesty, there wasn’t a lot of horror or thrill in this premiere episode, due to the fact that Nancy was following her hunch for most of the time, yet was unable to follow up on that hunch. Besides that, the episode didn’t end with confirmation of the Ebola virus, but instead decided to end way before that and have a somewhat crude scenes about two dead monkeys double-bagged in garbage bags exchanging car trunks. Is the real-life story not worthy enough of an exciting and thrilling TV drama?

We know who he has been voting for.

As a scripted program, it was still a good opener though. Seeing Nancy in her field of work made me like her immediately, as well as understand how she works and how she might pressure for the truth in later episodes, let alone trying to warn the world. This hour did a great job in establishing not only Nancy’s job, but also how the procedure works and what a pathologist always has to go through just to get into the thick of things and make some answers. Seeing Nancy and Captain Orman go from level zero to level four was exciting to me, and I almost cursed the episode for letting Nancy have that cut on her arm (which I can’t understand why she didn’t notice it herself, since it went through two layers of protection), because she had to interrupt the search for her answer, which means the technical and scientific procedure of establishing a specific virus in the sample she had was of high interest to me. Those technical depictions of things I know nothing about, because I don’t have the knowledge nor the language skills to understand everything, are always fascinating to me, which is why a show like ER (with all its technical and medical talks that give me a deep dive into the language of the medical field) or a film like APOLLO 13 (with all its technical and space talks that give me a deep dive into the language of NASA space programs, let alone operating a spaceship) are considered all-time favorites with me. And besides all that, the episode worked for me, because it focused on Nancy Jaax. It’s her show, it’s her story (probably), and the Ebola crisis is depicted from her point of view. That makes things a little more personal and emotional, and it gives the viewers an opportunity to connect with the premise through one of its characters, which wasn’t quite possible during the first hour of CHERNOBYL.

A hot body about to enter the hot zone.

In the meantime though, let’s never listen to men again. Jahrling sometimes behaved like he was running the show, and it became very obvious that he wasn’t interested in following Nancy’s hunch, which kind of makes him a dick. I don’t know what’s more important in places like U.S.A.M.R.I.I.D. – whether to work through your experience or work with your hunch — but this episode definitely made the impression that Nancy’s field of work is run by men and that no one cares about the opinion or experience of a woman. But even a show like THE HOT ZONE needs its villain, even if one of them has already been established as a deadly virus. With Jahrling being a dickish person, the show has found its human villain, and its character for Nancy to get through before she is able to warn the world. It’s just a shame that Jahrling happened to be a bit of a cliched character (which makes me think it’s anything but a depiction of a real-life person). At least Captain Orman was listening, right after he made a fool of himself only seeing an escort in Nancy. This guy learned quickly that women can be above him in the food chain, so he should better behave. Then again, maybe he was just nervous stepping into level four.

Trapped inside a machine trying to save your life.

Best part of the episode: Nancy was mentioning the claustrophobic feeling you could feel after you get into the second layer. Later, when she was making her crash exit, there were w few second of her face inside the suit helmet, showcasing how claustrophobic it can be. Although maybe the helmet was a little too enlarged for this specific shot, making things a little less claustrophobic than they should have been.
Worst part of the episode: Yeah great, let’s just pack two dead monkeys into garbage bags and leave it with the pathologist. Hazleton doesn’t have procedure on how to handle live or dead specimens? I know, this is the late 1980s, but goddamn, this was almost deliberately evil by Frank.
Weirdest part of the episode: Did random people really drop off packages like that to a scientific and medical lab to check whether something interesting is within the package’s content? When that styrofoam box was delivered, my paranoid mind was thinking “bomb”, and when Nancy opened it right in the office, my second bout of paranoia was thinking “poison gas”. I’m actually impressed that the package’s content wasn’t analyzed in a more secure and locked room, just in case. Because really, who knows what’s in those packages…
Player of the episode: Julianna Margulies is one of the two reasons I decided to pick up the show, with the other reason being non-human, so naturally she wins over everything here.