A finger raised high. As Air Force One flies over New Orleans submerged by the waves, this is how a nurse greets George Bush Jr, forty-third President of the United States of America, comfortably seated in the official plane. Obviously, the scene is fictitious and nothing proves that the august major was thus drawn up for Junior. But the gesture sums up quite well the feeling that agitated the population of the city during the nine days (August 23 to 31, 2005) which saw it threatened and then devastated by hurricane Katrina.
It is this catastrophe and this feeling that “Five Days at Memorial” examines. Co-produced by Apple TV+ and ABC Signature, it does so through the prism of an unknown drama in our regions. Located four kilometers from the submerged dykes of Lake Pontchartrain, the Memorial Medical Center was heavily damaged by Katrina. At the time, deprived of electricity and victim of major floods, this hospital was only weakly helped by the rescuers of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) who evacuated its 2,000 patients and caregivers in dribs and drabs. On September 11, 45 dead bodies were recovered within its walls.
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Did the hospital management have to choose who to save and who to sacrifice? In July 2006, a judge ordered the arrest of Doctor Anna Pou and two nurses for “second degree murder” after a year-long investigation by the Louisiana Attorney General’s Office. A year later, a grand jury refuses to indict them and they are acquitted. From this material, journalist Sheri Fink has drawn a long article titled “Lethal choices of the Memorial” and awarded the Pulitzer Prize for investigative reporting. In particular, she asked the question: Where is the line between comfort care and mercy killing? »
Before reaching such a questioning, the fiction directed and written by Carlton Cuse (“Lost”, “Jack Ryan”) and John Ridley (“American Crime”) travels paths traditionally reserved for disaster films or medical dramas. From the first, it borrows the interlacing of individual stories intended to attach the spectator to the unfortunate potential victims: the cute old lady, the humanist diabetic, the girl at her mother’s bedside… Another borrowing, these distressing satellite images of cyclones that would not deny a “poet” like director Roland Emmerich (The day after, 2012). And those visuals of waves ravaging everything in their path that have been familiar to us since the Asian tsunami of 2004.
For medical dramas, “Five Days at Memorial” stings all the rest since the format chosen to treat this story is clearly the one that has made the success of “Central Hospital” or “Grey’s Anatomy” for ages: nurses in green medical uniforms, doctors in white coats and constant involvement in the lives of their patients. In this highly tearful category, the beautiful sad cocker spaniel eyes of Vera Farmiga (who plays Anna Pou) are beyond the reach of ordinary actors.
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All sarcasm aside, the series wins over by evoking, without missing a single one, all the American debates linked to this unique event which nevertheless killed 1,800 people. Is the nonchalance of the Bushian reaction linked to the fact that 40% of the population was black? Does Memorial Medical Center’s membership of a large private group concerned about its shareholders explain its lack of support? Was Katrina a harbinger of the climatic calamities currently befalling us? Between two creepy or tearful scenes, the script raises all these questions. And proves once again the talent that Americans have for incensing their own solidarity while blaming their incurable, racist and mercantile weaknesses.
“Five Days at Memorial”. Available on Apple TV+.