Five Days at Memorial review – this extraordinary post-Katrina drama is utterly brutal and utterly compelling | Television

RYan Murphy tried for years to make a series of his American Crime Story anthology series from Sheri Fink’s best-selling and meticulous book Five Days at Memorial about how the terrible aftermath of Hurricane Katrina unfolded. took place at a medical center in New Orleans. You can see why he defeated him. The story of how man-made disaster overlaid natural disaster, increasing the suffering of countless people – and almost certainly leading to the death of at least 45 of them – is simply too dark for its sensitivity.

John Ridley (the screenwriter of 12 Years a Slave) and Lost showrunner Carlton Cuse took it instead, for Apple TV+, and ended up creating something extraordinary. Set almost entirely within the increasingly fetid and hopeless confines of Memorial Hospital – with each of the first five episodes devoted to just one of the fateful five days in 2005 that unfolded after the landfall of Hurricane Katrina – it’s utterly brutal and utterly compelling. This comes at a slight cost for character delineation and development. Every performance (especially Vera Farmiga as Dr. Anna Pou, Julie Ann Emery as nurse Diane Robichaux, and Raven Dauda as the girl finally forced to abandon her dying mother) is quietly brilliant, but their situations are so terrible. that they inevitably become slightly emblematic rather than individualized numbers.

In the first episode, we watch local residents join patients and hospital staff to take shelter there as they always have. This is the natural, sensible and traditional place to go. Katrina blasts the windows and puts the fear of God in everyone, but moves on with the people unscathed. There is a brief moment of relief before the levees break.

The power is cut, the air conditioning stops. The hospital’s nursing administrator and incident commander, Susan Mulderick (Cherry Jones), discovers that there is no protocol for evacuating the hospital in the event of a flood. A memo had been sent out alerting the powers that be to the need for one after a previous near miss, but nothing had been done. It is the first small droplet of what will become a deluge of failed corporations, states and governments that will engulf them as unstoppably and devastatingly as floodwaters.

As food, fresh water, medicine and supplies dwindle, staff do their best to save their patients. The elevators don’t work, so they carry every patient (and whatever equipment they depend on) up endless stairs to the barely stable helipad where occasional lifeboats can be persuaded to land.

When some form of authority finally arrives, they are given five hours to get everyone out instead of the required 24. Among some of the nurses and doctors, in particular the devout Christian Anna Pou and the old school patriarch Ewing Cook, there is an understanding that no one who cannot be moved should have to endure a painful and lonely death after the staff leave. . “No living patient left behind,” is how Mulderick puts it.

The latest episodes focus on the investigation into the possible euthanasia of 45 patients that occurred. They ask what true compassion looks like — and what a doctor’s duty of care encompasses in desperate times. Yet it was the stubbornness and failure of George W Bush, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and all others who had the power to intervene on the scale and with the force necessary in the aftermath of the hurricane that linger the most in the mind. It is portrayed as the most incredible dereliction of duty – as it surely was. They should still drown in shame.