A tale of four quarantines

I recently caught four entirely different shows, but each shares a core component: quarantine. It is something of recurring theme these days (or again these days as it was common a few decades back and has cycled to the fore again with zombies, etc). It is an idea that isn’t always used well as it tends to come with assumptions and baggage when simply used as a trope.

Quarantine, as an action, is typically seen as a great government conspiracy. After this last year’s fight with Ebola will attest, however, it is also sometimes necessary. Still, in entertainment, the wont is to use it as an indicator of corruption rather than as a backdrop and crucible for action. Even Under the Dome, which examines the result, is using it as a forced test-tube by unknown entities.

So with those ideas in mind, here are four series and their relative values.

Cordon

Definitely the best of the offerings listed. It posits a infectious outbreak in the heart of Antwerp which forces the creation of a quarantine zone. The show takes its time putting things in place, which allows each step to feel more real than is typically the case. Certainly there is still political self-interest and fear in play, but the pace of decisions isn’t so compressed that you don’t understand them, even if you aren’t sure if they are the right ones. In fact, even the characters aren’t sure of that. The cast isn’t well known internationally, though Baetens (Broken Circle Breakdown) was recognizable. This is a taut political  and medical thriller that never loses track of the personal element. It raises a lot of important questions and realities in a world that is getting more crowded and inter-connected. And while it plays on many of the common themes of “at what point does humanity and society break down” it does so in a measured and believable way.

Residue

Really more horror than science fiction, and an incomplete piece at that. This 3-parter is more of an extended pilot for a series. If I’d had a bit more in the way of answers and a bit less in the way of twirling mustaches, I’d be more excited about seeing new episodes (if they are ever made). In this show, the quarantine is the typical political symbol of nefarious schemes and control at the expense of the common man. It is a macguffin, not a driving force or examination of effect. It is there simply to hide things. There are interesting goings ons and very nice production values, as well as a mystery of the X-Files variety to keep it all moving. The cast is also quite solid. Tena (Falcón), Rheon (Viscious), and Draven (Billy Elliot) lead the cast well, along with some other recognizable faces such as Goodman-Hill (The Thirteenth Tale) and Webb. Even the writer and director Harrison and Lopez have some interesting cred for this effort. But it is incomplete and without quite enough to make you feel you got anywhere with the story before it cuts off after 3 episodes.

Wayward Pines

A phenomena as a book series, this adaptation does nothing to strengthen some of the sillier aspects of the assumptions and broken logic of the original story. I won’t spoil it here, but don’t think too hard or the cracks start showing in this shaky piece of sf. Quarantine here is of a different sort and more built into the plot and purpose. The reasoning and approach, as I’ve stated, are absurd and wrong and, well, offend my intelligence. That said, there is an attempt to make it work and the talent in and around the event-series are fairly solid, which keeps it from being a total disaster… but only just barely. At least the story is attempting to ask some of the same questions as Cordon, though from a very different starting point and to different ends. I could recommend it more highly if it weren’t so many episodes. However, as an opportunity to see a writer adapt their own tale and get to reinvent it not only for a different media, but also to fix issues, is interesting. If you have read the books, and you can let go of them enough to see the creator rewrite it before your eyes, it may hold additional interest.

Ascension

Absolutely the worst of the shows mentioned in this post. It posits a society that was branched off from America in the early 60s, but somehow never quite matures. The writing is awful and plotting thick with cliche and absurdity. It relies on surprise to drive it forward, but refuses to allow logic to influence its decisions. Also, just some hideously stupid characters. If you are going to subject yourself to this one (if you haven’t already) watch the first two pieces (parts 1 and 2) together and get past the first big hump. The rest is up to you. Honestly, you could miss this and never lose a wink of sleep despite some of the good talent in and behind it. What is a shame is that the base idea is really intriguing; it is the execution that is bloody awful.

   

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