Now that Game of Thrones has moved on from the world of water cooler discussion, what are you planning to watch this week? One acceptable option could be a new series from National Geographic called The Hot Zone. Starring Juliana Margulies (ER), this three-part miniseries (Monday-Wednesday this week) brings to mind an episode of NCIS with significantly more gore and blood—and that’s just within the first ten minutes of the opening episode. Based on the book of the same name by Richard Preston and with Ridley Scott (Aliens) helping out, The Hot Zone is a graphic reminder to be thankful for scientists that help to protect us from potentially fatal diseases–and that fear can be a good thing.
The opening of the first episode features a plane leaving Kenya in 1980 with a gentleman who’s contracted something very nasty. The doctor checking him out learns this the hard way—he gets a faceful of the guy’s bodily fluids (and later dies, it is implied). When a mysterious package arrives at USAMRIID headquarters (the Army’s institute for infectious diseases) nine years later, Lt. Col. Nancy Jaax (Margulies) takes a look and immediately sends it to the bowels of the lab, where some of the worst diseases in the world reside and access requires a hazmat suit. Jaax ironically states, “I work at one of the safest places in the world” moments before a cut opens in her suit, exposing her to the Ebola virus. She is okay, but later discovers a nearby research facility had a number of monkeys die as a result of Ebola. Since there have been no reported cases in the US, there’s massive concern of an epidemic outbreak due to multiple factors, none bigger than the fact that the research facility is 20 miles from Washington DC. It’s a race against time—one that cannot be solved in a single episode.
There’s a significant amount of tension to be found in The Hot Zone, most of it occurring in the form of sickness, isolation, and claustrophobia—especially those blue hazmat suits. There’s a lab component with Dr. Peter Jahrling (Topher Grace) and Ben Gellis (Paul James) offering a little bit of levity, but it is short-lived. The wild card in the situation is Wade Carter (Liam Cunningham), Jaax’s mentor, who seems to know more than one might think about infectious diseases.
One thing that is evident from the first episode of The Hot Zone is fear. I don’t think anyone who stands face to face with organisms that could kill the whole of humanity would feel otherwise. There is a sense of uncertainty when Jaax and crew are attempting to identify the virus, leading to increasing levels of trepidation. Despite what some people say, it is a good thing to have a little fear in one’s life. In fact, the Bible says that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom (see Proverbs 9:10). Having no fear before the Creator of all things (including deadly viruses) says something about a person—none of it good.
It seems like The Hot Zone is going to be an interesting ride, so be prepared when you sit down to watch this week. You may not want to touch your face with your hands for a while.