Apple TV+ thriller Five Days at Memorial enters its tragic endgame this week, with the Coast Guard forcing everyone out of the hospital. That means some patients will be left alone to die by themselves after Hurricane Katrina’s onslaught. Extraordinary measures must be taken — some ethical, some not.
The show’s cast all do their best work this week, and writer/director/producer John Ridley holds their hand every step of the way, doing right by this amazing assortment of talent.
Five Days at Memorial recap: ‘Day Five’
Season 1, episode 5: In the episode, entitled simply “Day Five,” hospital incident commander Susan Mulderick (played by Cherry Jones) is at her wit’s end. The rescue efforts have stopped — no one is coming to help them. Some of the staffers who brought pets to the hospital to ride out the storm ask for permission to get drugs to put them down if an evacuation means they can’t take the animals with them.
This, of course, gets everyone thinking about the patients who won’t be getting out in time. Should there be some discussion of humanely dealing with them as well?
Mark LeBlanc (JD Evermore) finally makes it to the hospital and finds his mother, Vera (Dawn Greenhalgh), at death’s door. He carries her out of the hospital himself, and gets her on a boat out of town. As they go, one of the hospital security guards (Ryan Allen) jumps aboard, abandoning everyone. He flees to the sound of Rene Goux (Stephen Bogaert) calling him a coward.
A doctor on a mission
Dr. Bryant King (Cornelius Smith Jr.) tells his staffers to keep up their rounds even though the order from on high is to stop administering care. He reasons that A.) Having something to do will keep people from despairing, and B.) They’re still doctors.
Susan goes to Dr. Ewing Cook (W. Earl Brown) to ask about how to put the doctor’s pets down in the event they have to leave them behind. He says it’s a simple enough thing — a shot of pentothal — but he’s obviously torn. He certainly doesn’t want to kill his own dog, but things are looking increasingly dire.
Cook winds up having to be the one to euthanize all the dogs, in a scene Ridley shoots with a firm grip on the absurd enormity of the tragedy. It’s too sad to make sense of. And the shot of W. Earl Brown surrounded by dead dogs just shoots right past your defenses. It’s insane, and it actually happened.
All hope is not lost, however, Staffers continue sleeping on the roof of the hospital in case helicopters fly by. When a few of them start landing, Diane Robichaux (Julie Ann Emery) decides she’s tired of listening to hospital’s orders. She moves her Care Life patients out to the helipad.
They run into trouble right away, though, because the hospital doesn’t want patients near death (denoted by their black wristbands) taking precedence over healthier ones. It just so happens that Dr. Anna Pou (Vera Farmiga) hears this and decides to take matters into her own hands. She euthanizes a woman who can’t breathe without external aid. She tells Susan, who doesn’t put up any kind of a fight.
“You should talk to Dr. Cook about that,” Susan says before walking away.
Here comes the Coast Guard
The Coast Guard arrives, informing people that boats will show up soon — and that everyone must leave the building by 5 by order of the state. Susan gets her mom out, Dr. Cook gets out, and a lot of the head physicians leave.
When King sees the heads of surgery and administration jumping ship before the patients, and when he sees Ann administering lethal injections, he storms out, his faith in this operation dissolved once and for all.
Ann goes to Diane for permission to help her patients die because the likelihood of them getting to safety is slim to none. She reluctantly agrees, having completely lost hope. The only trouble is, she has to say goodbye to her favorite patient, Emmett (Damon Standifer), the man she promised was going to leave above all of her other patients.
This is a tough scene, but both Standifer and Emery are beyond excellent. Diane tries to go back at the last second, but Rene stops her, knowing full well she’ll see the euthanizations and present a legal risk. Karen Wynn (Adepero Oduye) finds out Ann is killing patients, and redoubles her efforts to get everyone out of the hospital under her care.
A fantastic vision of a horrible reality
Director John Ridley has been executing some beautifully unpretentious long takes of action throughout Five Days at Memorial, but maybe his best one is this week’s zoom out on the stairs leading to the helipad. We see doctors helping patients clad only in their ratty hospital gowns, and two men moving a wheelchair-bound man one step at a time. It’s a quick but gruelling image to highlight that every step toward hope was on a rusty staircase in the high-noon sun.
Ridley gets another of the show’s best images when the Coast Guard comes to forcibly evict Angela McManus (Raven Dauda). They won’t take her sick mother, Wilda (Diane Johnstone). And when they try to force Angela out of the room, she puts up a fight, stopping inches before the camera as she convinces them to let her say goodbye to her mom.
Dauda sits in front of the camera for probably 15 seconds, and you feel every one of them. Powerful, yet unshowy, stuff. The angle was a traveling medium, so the blocking that puts her in uncomfortable close-up comes as a surprise. That’s how you do it.
The whole episode is devastating, and Ridley handles it beautifully. A final scene of a group of nurses helping a clinically obese man onto a helicopter is just heartbreaking. We know he was minutes from being euthanized because of the hysterical recklessness of the Coast Guard. And we also know that, as tragic as that is, it wasn’t the worst thing that could have happened to him. This is a good director giving himself good material.
Watch Five Days at Memorial on Apple TV+
New episodes of Five Days at Memorial arrive on Apple TV+ every Friday.
Watch on: Apple TV+
Scout Tafoya is a film and TV critic, director and creator of the long-running video essay series The Unloved for RogerEbert.com. He has written for The Village Voice, Film Comment, The Los Angeles Review of Books and Nylon Magazine. He is the author of Cinemaphagy: On the Psychedelic Classical Form of Tobe Hooper, the director of 25 feature films, and the director and editor of more than 300 video essays, which can be found at Patreon.com/honorszombie.