In what might be one of TV's more distressing and heartwrenching series to come out of 2022, Apple TV+'s newest offering Five Days at Memorial is a powerful series chronicling the impact of Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath on one local New Orleans hospital in 2005. As the floodwaters rose, the power failed and heat soared, fatigued and overworked caregivers were forced to make decisions that would follow them for years to come.
Based on actual events and adapted from the book by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Sheri Fink, the gripping medical thriller from producing pair Carlton Cuse and John Ridley might serve as an engrossing indictment of government and inaction but series stars Vera Farmiga and Cherry Jones tell PopCulture.com exclusively it also acts as "teaching and learning tool" when it comes to this kind of ethical dilemma — something numerous doctors and nurses faced during the pandemic 15 years after Katrina.
"This is a powerful teaching and learning tool for us. Not only is it an amazing disaster movie, action-packed and thrilling and gripping, but it's actually really good for us," Farmiga told PopCulture. "We've got to have the willingness to look at the past to address the future. We have to have the willingness to look at the way we operate, look at our plans and what's not working, and how best to fix it."
Farmiga, who plays the highly respectful surgeon and conscientious Dr. Anna Pou, volunteered to stay at Memorial to help take care of patients and ride out the hurricane. But as conditions worsened, Pou became concerned about the fate of these patients, and whether they were going to be rescued or if it was her responsibility to provide a final comfort for them. With the series exploring the decision-making process and consequences of that decision, Farmiga says it was an "incredibly complex and nuanced" role she was attracted to because of how it was filled with "strength and vulnerability."
Farmiga's co-star Jones, who plays Susan Mulderick — the Director of Nursing at Memorial Hospital and the head of the Emergency Disaster Committee — admits taking on the role of the real-life administrator turned Incident Commander for Katrina was something she felt was a tremendous responsibility as an artist. "I think as actors, so often the conflict is so deeply personal and therefore smaller and this was so massive. Both these characters [Susan and Anna are] trying to preserve a community of people, so the stakes are so beyond yourself," she told PopCulture. "We rarely have the opportunity to tackle that kind of character that kind of crushing, crushing responsibility, so that drew me to it immediately."
With the show no doubt tugging at the heartstrings of audiences, Farmiga hopes watchers will take away how situations like this point to a need for compassion. "These are our heroes — the doctors and nurses and caretakers — there our heroes," she said. "It's about compassion, they are ordained, they got to do it. They can't help themselves, but fix people and help people and put others, uplift others. And I think that in a way [the series] honors them... it's a tribute to them."
Farmiga admits she "self-reflects" when she watches it back, asking herself the crucial questions: "'How can I have more compassion? What can I do more on a daily basis? How can I shift the energy? How can I spread light in the darkness, in this present darkness?' Simple as that."
The first three episodes of Five Days at Memorial will debut on Friday, Aug. 12, followed by one new episode weekly, every Friday through Sept. 16. For more on Five Days at Memorial, its cast and all your Apple TV+ programming, keep it locked to PopCulture.com for the latest.