'The Hot Zone' episodes 5 and 6 personify Ebola as the real villain amid crisis striking Dr Jaax from every corner
Even though many questions about the virus and its origins remain unanswered as the show signs off, it leaves us clinging on to the hope that there are always survivors. Life does find a way.
This article contains spoilers for episodes 5 and 6.
The fifth episode of Geographic's latest and ongoing thriller, 'The Hot Zone,' makes a clear deviation from one of the classic tropes the show has relied on for the previous episodes. In that, it not only opts out of the regular flashbacks that the first four episodes kicked off with, but also shows Colonel Jerry Jaax (Noah Emmerich) taking the lead and establishing authority, as opposed to his wife - Dr. Nancy Jaax (Julianna Margulies) - who played that role at the beginning of almost every episode so far.
The jump, however, doesn't seem out of place, given the premise of the episode. The recruits are on their way to euthanize the Ebola-infected monkeys contained in a facility, while a Washington Post reporter is on the prowl to catch hold of whatever scoop she can find on the topic.
But worry not, the show's patent flashback scenes make their way just six minutes into the fifth episode. This time, however, rather than elaborating on why Agent Wade Carter's (Liam Cunningham) relationship with his former partner Trevor Rhodes (James D’Arcy) had turned sour, the flashback serves more of an educational filler about how a virus like Ebola springs up out of the blue.
At this point, the show establishes that its central villain is not a bad guy with medals and badges trying to override the hero's good intent; instead, the main villain is the disease Ebola itself. Agent Carter calls it a "monster" and this extinguishes any doubt about anyone or anything more horrifying to appear later on in the show.
It is quite commendable how National Geographic chose to approach this as a horror, recounting a true incident based on Richard Preston's eponymous book. What better way to induce fear than to show a terrifying rendition of something that has already taken place in real life, right? The sheer personification of the disease is a brilliant element in the episode.
The other interesting highlight of the fifth episode is how the general public helps Dr. Jaax realize that those requesting her to keep the matter hushed, aren't entirely wrong. So far, we have seen Dr. Jaax try to speed up the quarantine and euthanization processes as much as she can because her motive is the greater good; she wants to nip the virus' spread in the bud and save humanity. But her drive and conviction has blinded her to the prospect of how quickly panic sets in and how intense the negative impacts of fear can be.
As she begins testing people for the virus, they start questioning if they are about to die. We have known how terrifying Ebola can be, but as this revelation dawns on Dr. Jaax, both she and the viewers realize they are dealing with more than just a virus. One one hand we have two more people showing the symptoms of the virus, while on the other, the euthanizing mission at the Reston facility goes wrong with an escaped monkey managing to injure one of the recruits.
Things don't get any easier in the final and sixth episode. It kicks off with the euthanizing mission getting compromised from almost every direction, and the situation is the holy trinity of crisis. Colonel Jaax succumbs to exhaustion after working at the facility for over 12 hours, while local reporters flock around the vicinity to figure out what the Army is up to in there. The latent irony of circumstances brims when Dr. Jaax has to replace her husband to spearhead the mission properly, which comes just a day after her husband decided he was more fit for the job in an attempt to "protect" his wife.
As Dr. Jaax and Agent Carter soon realize, there's one monkey missing from the facility, meaning it is somewhere out in the city, carrying a deadly, potent, mutating virus. Hope arrives in the form of yet another flashback. The flashback takes us back to 1976 again, letting us in on a conversation between Agent Carter and the chief of a village where the virus had broken out at the time.
Despite people dying all around them, the chief insists that "Someone always survives." Fast forward to the current timeline of the show, and suddenly the tone of panic, that has been paced out for the five and a half episodes, is mingled with an air of hope. A motherly Dr. Jaax managing to keep the neighboring kids away from the facility is all that her recruits needed to see to realize that they aren't entirety doomed. Their knight in shining armor is here and with their sighs of relief, it is not difficult for viewers to deduce that maybe there is a cure to the epidemic.
The finale opts for yet another classic trope with two past partners, Agent Carter and Rhodes, finally deciding to bury the hatchet and coming together as a team, thus showcasing the true power of panic and fear on human relationships. In a blast from the past, the two once again team up to stop a recently discovered new shipment of monkeys from the Philippines, as they could be possibly infected too.
Just like the first time around, Agent Carter decides to work without protocol, but this time, Rhodes doesn't oppose his instincts. The two receive their closure, even though the many questions about the virus and its origins remain unanswered as the show signs off, leaving us clinging on to the hope that there are always survivors. Life does find a way.
'The Hot Zone' episodes 5 and 6 aired Wednesday, May 29, at 9 p.m. and 10 p.m., respectively, only on National Geographic.
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