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July 29, 2022 / AppleTV+

Starring: Vera Farmiga, Cherry Jones, Cornelius Smith Jr.

Executive producers: John Ridley; Carlton Cuse

Doctors and nurses at the intensive care unit of a New Orleans hospital struggle with treating patients during Hurricane Katrina when the facility is without power for 5 days.

Written By Darren

Rating 4.5 out of 5

Five Days at Memorial is a harrowing and fascinating look at health care workers in the days following Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans and the challenges they faced thanks to outstanding performances from Vera Farmiga and Cherry Jones and sensational writing.

Hurricane Katrina is still considered the worst natural disaster in the history of the United States, and this miniseries puts you right in the devastation and untenable conditions faced by healthcare workers at Memorial Hospital in the days following Hurricane Katrina as they waited for help to arrive. It’s nothing short of horrifying seeing the conditions faced by the hospital and how they were left to fend for themselves with no aid from the United States government for five days, forcing the medical staff to make unthinkable decisions while caring for their patients. At the same time, the series highlights the truly heroic acts of those same health care workers in the lengths they went to save every single life at Memorial Hospital. Much like we have seen over the past two years during the pandemic, the health care workers portrayed in this series are truly exemplary and deserve so much praise for everything they did.

And that is the focus of the first five episodes of the miniseries, while the final three episodes of the miniseries move beyond Hurricane Katrina itself and follow the aftermath of the disaster. It becomes a medical ethics and legal analysis of the situation, which is absolutely fascinating and delivers both riveting and nerve wracking television. The writers take a clear stance on the situation that is being discussed, and given the events of the show, it’s not surprising the position the show takes. But, it doesn’t fully shut out the opposing argument, highlighting those views as well to ensure that the entire ethical dilemma is explored.

At the same time, the show is critical of privatized health care and their attitude of profits at any cost, even if the cost is loss of human life, and the government’s reaction to saving hospital patients during Hurricane Katrina. Throughout both stages of the show, the writers create an emotional experience that will break you on so many levels, especially during the fifth episode. Even though it is a dramatization of the events faced by these health care workers, the writers never over embellish for the sake of spectacle, instead delivering a raw and honest experience from start to finish.

Leading the cast is Vera Farmiga as Dr. Anna Pou, giving what is easily one of the best performances of her career. Farmiga has been one of the most talented actresses working in recent years, with magnificent performances in Bates Motel and The Conjuring films, but she is given one of best roles of her career to date in this miniseries. As Dr. Anna Pou, Farmiga goes through the ringer as a doctor not resting for almost five days to care for her patients under the worst circumstances imaginable. Farmia is harrowing in the first five episodes of the miniseries, giving a dedicated performance that taps into the heroics of health care workers. But as the true focus of the narrative of the miniseries is revealed in the second half, Farmiga strips back all the layers of her performance and bears it all as her character faces an unprecedented decision that challenges everything she stands for. Farmiga is raw and powerful as she stands behind Dr. Pou’s beliefs as she is villainized for the decisions she made at the same time she is recognized for doing the compassionate action in the darkest of times and helped change the future for health care workers facing similar events. 

The other standout performance is from Cherry Jones as Susan Mulderick, the hospital staff member put in charge of the emergency response during Hurricane Katrina, who quickly finds that she has no support or emergency preparedness from her employer in the most unlikely circumstances imaginable. Jones is always great, and she brings her calm demeanor and passion to this role. As the days being stranded at Memorial Hospital increase, Jones finds an undeniable strength and owns the screen while her character has the camera focused on her. As for the supporting cast, all of them are great and give commendable performances as the tireless health care workers, though none of their characters are given the focus of Farmiga and Jones’s characters. 

It should come as no surprise that with this miniseries coming from writer Carlton Cuse who has been behind such hit television series such as Lost, Bates Motel and Jack Ryan, but Apple TV+ has yet another hit on their hands that could become a heavy awards contender if voting members remember it next time this year. Absolutely captivating thanks to outstanding writing that is both a tribute to the heroics of health care workers and raises excellent debate over medical ethics and Vera Farmiga delivering a career best performance, Five Days at Memorial is yet another phenomenal miniseries from Apple TV+ that needs to be the next show on your watchlist! 

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