Five Days at Memorial looks back at the events of horrifying devastation wrought by Hurricane Katrina in this week’s episode.
The Apple TV+ show about the terrible deaths of patients left behind after a hospital’s evacuation finally turns its sights on the investigation and trial that followed. As investigators try to work through the impossible situation that lead to the deaths of 45 patients, the show slackens its lead a little now that the “worst” is over. But of course, the ordeal of Memorial is nowhere near finished.
Five Days at Memorial recap: ’45 Dead’
Season 1, episode 6: The whole time we’ve been witnessing the events of five terrible days during which the staff at Memorial had to survive with no power, no help, and no hope, we’ve been hearing them as testimonies delivered to two prosecutors, Virginia Rider (Molly Hager) and assistant attorney general Arthur “Butch” Schafer (Michael Gaston). But until this week’s episode, entitled “45 Dead,” we haven’t seen their faces.
Schafer is a regular sort of a Southern politician, a plain-spoken guy just trying to do the public’s idea of a good job. He’s mourning a dead daughter with his wife (Beth Malone), the result of overprescription of medication, and he’s heading up the state’s Medicare fraud unit. So he takes medical malpractice seriously indeed.
Things are fishy from the jump when Schafer is asked to look into the deaths at Memorial. The administrators he talks to insist overmuch on the heroism of the staff. And LifeCare already said that Dr. Anna Pou (Vera Farmiga) administered morphine to the patients being left behind.
She’s already trying to get another job so she can get back to work and put this behind her, but she’s not going to get very far. When Rider and Schafer go down to take a look, Tenet Healthcare — the insurance and hospital company that owned Memorial — has posted guards outside the facility. The investigators won’t be getting past them without a warrant.
Corporate health care at its most noble
Tenet still hasn’t called the families of the deceased. They call in some hospital staff, including Susan Mulderick (Cherry Jones) and Karen Wynn (Adepero Oduye), to make the phone calls. The women have a script to follow, and they know what happened was the only possible course of action. Still, none of that makes the calls any easier.
Susan also calls Anna to tell her they’re investigating the incident. Anna calls Dr. Ewing Cook (W. Earl Brown) for advice; he says talk to Tenet, don’t talk to the press.
“Hide,” Cook says. “That’s my advice. Hide.”
Later, Anna gets a call from Tenet asking her to explain what happened. She realizes a little too late that the corporation does not mean to represent her. Instead, Tenet plans to use her as a scapegoat. So she gets an attorney (Jeffrey Nordling) of her own.
Meanwhile, Schafer and Rider talk to Diane Robichaux (Julie Ann Emery), Therese Mendez (Deborah Hay) and Kristy Johnson (Katie Boland), who worked at LifeCare. They tell the investigators that they’re pretty sure Anna killed those patients deliberately, even though some of them were alive and had a chance of surviving.
The story of Emmett Everett (Damon Standifer) is still the most wrenching. The decision to kill him was just out of their hands, even though there wasn’t all that much wrong with him. It just seemed unlikely that they’d save him, and he’d wind up alone in the hospital for days without help, food or water.
The hurricane’s over, but the aftermath is awful, too
Though this episode of Five Days at Memorial was necessarily going to miss the visceral and awful nature of previous scenes at the hospital, director Wendy Stanzler (who got her start editing and producing political documentaries) handles the procedural elements with panache.
Michael Gaston does such a great job playing Butch Schafer that there isn’t an appreciable difference in the emotional content of this comparatively laid-back episode. When Therese Mendez describes the Memorial incident as being like “the fall of Saigon,” we believe her. We already saw how miserable things became. Mostly what we get to bask in now are the performances — and this show doesn’t have a bad player in the ensemble.
Actors like W. Earl Brown, Cherry Jones and Vera Farmiga are already established heavy hitters, but the show nevertheless asks a lot of them. And they bring it.
Jones in particular has been a dynamo, giving Susan the flagging confidence of someone who really and truly thought she knew how the world worked. Then, suddenly, all of that was gone.
Farmiga is back on familiar ground playing the shaken and scared Anna as she goes on the defensive, but her work in the first three episodes of Five Days at Memorial is some of her best. Actors doing this kind of work is like an athlete in the final quarter of a championship game. You see them “under pressure,” so to speak, having to keep up their performance while covered in sweat, in darkness, performing the decision-making process for the kind of actions most of us can’t dream of having to consider.
A strong cast, from top to bottom
But then, every utility player keeps pace with them. Their performances give fullness to the characters in a way that feels authentic and gives the show depth. Katie Boland I’ve loved since seeing her role in Bruce LaBruce’s 2013 film Gerontophilia. And yet I didn’t know I was looking at her until this episode. That’s a job well done, I think.
JD Evermore, Stephen Bogaert, Julie Ann Emery, Adepero Oduye, Ted Atherton — they all do great work in parts designed to be just faces. They bring to life the kind of people you meet at a hospital and forget the next day. Except, of course, now they’re being pushed to the brink.
Imagine if you never, ever forget those benign faces because they weren’t simply present for a shift, but for the most harrowing day of your life? Emery is so affecting as Diane Robichaux, knowing that as a pregnant woman and a nurse she was giving up her life’s mission and meaning by allowing Anna to kill Emmett Everett. And yet she also knows she had no credible defense to offer under the circumstances.
Heavy, awful things, performed with care and grace.
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.