System failure and human nature

Five Days Memorial is a limited series with a heavy load. It is designed to dramatize and shed light on the devastating events that occurred at Memorial Medical Center in the days following Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Oscar winner John Ridley (American crime, Drop It: Los Angeles 1982-1992) and Emmy winner Carlton Cuse (Lost, Bates Motel) adapted the non-fiction novel by journalist Sheri Fink Five Days at Memorial: Life and Death in a Storm-Devastated Hospitalwhich tells a story steeped in ongoing tragedy, a complex mix of guilt and blame, and widespread systemic failures in US disaster relief.

Ridley’s talent for examining history through a critical lens and Cuse’s ability to build suspense through human experience both lend themselves naturally to this project, allowing the duo to craft a very unnerving story that explores a variety of conflicting viewpoints takes. What happened to the people of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina exposed the flaws in a system where functionality was only a front, as the measures designed to help with such an event collapsed at every level. The duo’s mission is to pay tribute to the people who experienced such a tragedy and bring it to television as a limited drama series in a way that honors those people and engages audiences.


By shuffling breaking news footage recorded at the time, Five Days Memorial plays a bit like a dramatized documentary as we jump back and forth between the days immediately following the hurricane and the months and years afterward as investigators try to figure out what led to the deaths of 45 people in the hospital’s care.

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While Five Days Memorial is largely an ensemble series, there are a handful of standout performances among the cast. vera Farmiga delivers an Emmy-worthy performance as Dr. ann poo, which effortlessly guides the physician through the full range of human emotions during and after the crisis. Farmigas Pou, arguably the person at the hospital primarily responsible for these deaths, is as compassionate as he is reprehensible. In the first five episodes, Farmiga depicts the slow breakdown of the soul that led Pou to make the terrifying decision to end the lives of patients the hospital believed could not be evacuated. She also expertly navigates the conflicting emotions of the aftermath of that decision and her personal privilege in the final three episodes.

cherry Jones knocks it out of the park when she takes on the role of Suzanne Mulderick, the hospital worker who was given the ill-fated cloak of being the incident coordinator during the disaster. Mulderick von Jones operates on a meager contingency plan with no workable solutions and absolutely zero support from the very systems designed to prevent loss of life in a crisis. While no one but the family members of Memorial’s victims can excuse the actions of the hospital staff, Five Days Memorial insists that audiences examine closely why Jones and Farmiga’s characters felt it was their only option.

Cuse and Ridley do an excellent job of revealing the upsetting circumstances in which Memorial’s hospital staff found themselves. From the complete lack of comprehensive disaster records to the federal government’s complete failure to act quickly enough to save its own people, blame for what happened at Memorial rests across layers of power and privilege. From the very first episode, viewers can feel both the hospital staff and the citizens of New Orleans laden with a sense of foreboding, as well as heartbreak at realizing that none of these people were remotely prepared for what happened to them imminent.

The series seeks to examine systemic failure through the lens of multiple concepts that are painfully relevant in today’s world. Five Days Memorial is steeped in themes of racial prejudice, sexism, fat phobia, morality, responsibility, consent, agency and accountability. Each episode is an intricate snapshot of humanity and all the intricacies of human existence. Moments of despair and desolation are skillfully interspersed with scenes that showcase the best of humanity. The triumph of saving a life is offset by the agony of seeing someone suffer, and the quiet intimacy of time spent with a loved one is in stark contrast to the fear and frustration of realizing no one is coming to save one.

It’s probably in our nature to get caught up in our own bubble and convince ourselves that your experiences are, at least to some extent, universal. However, Five Days Memorial is a prime example of how each person’s experience is uniquely shaped by an infinite variety of stimuli. When a person is pushed to the limits of their mind and body, the way we react is inherently unpredictable. The series posits that most people approach such events with, by and large, the best of intentions, and the discrepancies between one person’s morals and another often seem negligible – until they aren’t.

Five Days Memorial is an important but extremely frustrating clock, I suspect, inherently. The jumping around to different viewpoints — though necessary to give each perspective appropriate weight — creates a dissonance for the viewer that makes each person’s story feel a bit incomplete. Especially with Pou, we don’t take enough time for her point of view and her actions are more touched upon by other characters than shown directly. At the beginning of the series, certain plot points are established that lead nowhere. While these details likely reflect reality, when presented in a narrative, audiences expect solutions that never materialize.

This isn’t a feel-good series designed to offer a solution to a national tragedy, but rather a somber and harsh light on how the complete collapse of the US government and the systems within it did irreparable damage by putting money and public image above people. If these outside forces, which should provide support and shelter in such a crisis, have proven day after day that they are not helping, how do you determine what is humane based on what you know? And how are you going to survive when all the systems designed to help you fail? Where is the blame when almost everyone is responsible to varying degrees?

By the end of the series, you will be filled with open disappointment and anger at what happened during Hurricane Katrina. When those who have the power to influence the masses fail to use it for good, individuals are forced to do the impossible. Five Days Memorial asks you to put yourself in the shoes of the survivors and victims. And it requires that we review the systems designed to serve us in the crisis so that something like this never happens again.

Valuation: B+

Five Days Memorial will air three episodes on August 12, while the rest of the limited series rolls out weekly on Apple TV+.

About Cindy Johnson

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