'Five Days at Memorial' recap: Grappling with hurricane's horrible aftermath

Five Days at Memorial grapples with Hurricane Katrina’s horrible aftermath [Apple TV+ recap]

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Five Days at Memorial recap Apple TV+: For Dr. Bryant King (played by Cornelius Smith Jr.), the horror is inescapable.★★★★☆
For Dr. Bryant King (played by Cornelius Smith Jr.), the horror is inescapable.
Photo: Apple TV+

Apple TV+ drama Five Days at Memorial, about the terrifying conditions inside a hospital after Hurricane Katrina, furthers its investigation into the actions taken by medical professionals in the wake of the disaster.

Investigators Rider and Schafer finally get inside Memorial Medical Center to survey the horrors waiting for them. And beleaguered doctor Anna Pou strengthens her defenses in preparation for a landslide. Bryant and Kristy get to tell their sides of the story, and the cuffs finally come out.

It’s a very fine episode of this miniseries as the show winds down.

Five Days at Memorial recap: ‘Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen’

Season 1, episode 7: In the episode, entitled “Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen,” Arthur “Butch” Schafer (played by Michael Gaston) and Virginia Rider (Molly Hager) are speaking to Emmett Everett’s (Damon Standifer) widow, Carrie (Lanette Ware). She’s furious. She knows Emmett would never just give up. She wants justice for her husband, and she knows that a lot of powerful people want the case to just go away.

The two investigators get a warrant to go inside Memorial and show up with a team of police officers. The hospital looks like something out of a horror film. They find all the evidence of Dr. Anna Pou (Vera Farmiga) filling out prescriptions for, and then administering, lethal injections. Butch doesn’t want to believe it. Why would these doctors, who stayed in the darkest hour of their lives to help people, suddenly decide to do this?

They go to see the county coroner (John Diehl), but he’s in lockdown mode, as every medical official for miles is going to be. Butch and Rider are, after all, trying to come down hard on a fellow doctor. The only lead from inside Memorial they have is Dr. Bryant King (Cornelius Smith Jr.).

A Black doctor’s perspective

King was outraged by what he saw during the disaster, and even more so by what he felt as a new Black doctor at a hospital with an all-white administrative staff. He saw Black people being turned away from the hospital every day and felt like he couldn’t speak up about the injustice of it. He texted people about it, so there’s a record of what he saw, as he saw it. Plus, he told Karen Wynn (Adepero Oduye) he was leaving.

King then goes on TV to tell his story. Anna suddenly knows she’s in the crosshairs of the investigation, to say nothing of public opinion. She winds up removed from surgery detail at her new job. And her lawyer, Richard Simmons (Jeffrey Nordling), tells her she should go back to Memorial so they can establish a timeline (and he can say with certainty what happened).

When they take Simmons through the route the hospital staffers had to take to get patients from their beds to the helipad, it blows his mind. They happen to be there on the same day that Butch and Rider are there doing their own walk-through. Nothing happens, but they’re shocked by the coincidence.

Kristy Johnson (Katie Boland) comes forward once again to talk about Emmett Everett. She can confirm she saw people administering lethal injections with her own eyes. That’s all Butch and Rider need to hear. They get warrants, and they come to arrest Anna Pou. The arrest is tense and humiliating for Anna. She had just convinced her boss (Tom Irwin) to let her resume performing surgeries. Now this.

Everlasting goodness and light

Five Days at Memorial recap: Arthur "Butch" Schafer (played by Michael Gaston, left) and Virginia Rider (Molly Hager) try to sort out what happened at the hospital.
Arthur “Butch” Schafer (played by Michael Gaston, left) and Virginia Rider (Molly Hager) try to sort out what happened at the hospital.
Photo: Apple TV+

This is a very good episode of Five Days at Memorial. High-quality TV like this tends to just fly by, and I felt like I just sat down to watch this episode, and when I next looked at the time it was over.

Actors Farmiga, Gaston and Hager stand out as the main events here. However, they’re helped enormously by great work from Cornelius Smith Jr. and Katie Boland, among others. Smith stood out in the hospital trenches scenes earlier in the miniseries, and his anger in the hurricane’s aftermath is just incredible to witness.

He reminds me of a young Courtney B. Vance, holding it all together because he knows he’ll be judged for expressing himself at a thoroughly corrupt and broken system. His character’s arc has been one of the more satisfying ones in Five Days at Memorial. His reaction at being asked to pray over patients as they’re being killed is stunning. They’re supposed to be doctors. How can they be content to pray?

Old-time religion

I like the way the show treats the religious convictions of the various characters. The one throughline about Anna Pou and her husband, Vince (Jonathan Cake), is that they share a kind of prayer almost as part of their intimacy. The final scene of this week’s episode, with Anna in the back of a police cruiser, has her remembering Vince whispering a prayer in her ear as they go to bed one night.

He did the same thing the first night of the storm on the phone with Anna before the worst of it hit. It’s been this nagging kind of mantra for her — her husband’s prayers in her ears as all around her falls to pieces. She’s engulfed in chaos and doubt, and the only counterpoint is her husband saying the Lord’s Prayer. How many other people prayed just the same and didn’t make it out of the storm?

Writer John Ridley and director Wendy Stanzler (and of course this very solid cast) imbue a tale of the everyday darkness of living in this country with real weight. I’m excited to see the last episode of Five Days at Memorial next week, but I’m also bummed it’s over so soon.

★★★★☆

Watch Five Days at Memorial on Apple TV+

New episodes of Five Days at Memorial arrive on Apple TV+ every Friday.

Rated: TV-MA

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.