‘Five Days at Memorial’ review: Apple TV+ limited series is a grim look at Hurricane Katrina’s tragic toll

Indeed, despite the title, “Five Days” (which dedicates each of the opening episodes to a different day) actually comprises eight parts, a metaphor for how streaming series deal with time if there is any. never had.

Here, however, the additional chapters necessarily deal with the fallout of what happened, moving from doctors – forced to choose to leave patients behind and, horribly, euthanize them – to those investigating what happened. past (played by Michael Gaston and Molly Hager), where blame lies and the related politics surrounding it.

Based on the nonfiction book by Pulitzer Prize-winning Sheri Fink, and adapted by Carlton Cuse (“Lost”) and John Ridley (“12 Years a Slave,” “American Crime”), the series makes it clear that the hospital staff was largely left to their own devices. devices. The rosy predictions turned to helplessness — and air-conditioning-free desperation so thick you practically sweat with them — when the levees gave way.

After optimistic predictions of being there “a few days at most”, doctors grapple with dead-end alternatives to evacuating a hospital that had no plan for such an event. “There are no options,” says hospital incident manager Susan Mulderick (Cherry Jones).

What to do? The sickest patients could not be easily moved, but authorities were reluctant to leave anyone behind. As the implications of discussions about not allowing people to suffer or die alone emerged, staff reactions ranged from horror to resignation, providing a moral test as well as a medical test.

Generously using actual newsreel footage from the storm, the producers deftly convey those moments, like when doctors and nurses realize the colorful armbands dictated who would live or die. This is a classic real-world demonstration of sociological experiments that asked how ordinary people in times of crisis can find themselves engaging in behavior that would otherwise be unthinkable.

“Five Days” therefore resonates as more than just a disaster movie stretched out as a series, but more like a stunt case “What would you do?” and “How far would you go?” questions in the worst circumstances. As one doctor (“Scandal’s” Cornelius Smith Jr.) put it when speaking to investigators later, “It only took five days for the whole thing to fall apart.”

In addition to the aforementioned actors, the ensemble cast includes Vera Farmiga as Dr. Anna Pou, a brilliant surgeon whose actions have drawn particular scrutiny after the rescue, Robert Pine, Julie Ann Emery, Adepero Oduye, W. Earl Brown and Jeffrey Nordling.

Very early on, a technician foreshadowed the danger to come by saying about the rising waters and the hospital’s operating capacity: “It would take about four feet to put us out of business”.

“Five Days at Memorial” is the opposite of a feel-good story; on the contrary, it vividly illustrates how the dividing line between principle and ruthless pragmatism, between fighting to save every life and viewing people as expendables, lies somewhere along the precarious edge of these four legs.

“Five Days at Memorial” premieres August 12 on Apple TV+. Disclosure: My wife works for a unit of Apple.