Behind Enemy Lines (Documentary Series Review: “Pandemic”)

An eerily timed but critically relevant look at the global face of contagion today.

SnapShot Plot

A new Netflix documentary series that gives ‘ripped from the headlines’ a whole new sense of urgency is Pandemic, a globe-trotting production which wrapped just as the current deadly Coronavirus was about to rear its ugly head in China. To date, the virus has sickened more than 31,500 people in China and 24 other countries, and at least 638 people have died, with all but two victims in mainland China alone.

But let’s take a step back from this medical disaster du jour and examine the docuseries’ approach to telling such a vast, widespread story in a way that connects us all. In six episodes, each of which is divided into mini-chapters, the filmmakers have isolated the most dangerous contagions the world has ever known, namely the Influenza virus and all its deadly cousins, along with a detour to that other (initially) Flu-like nightmare, the Ebola virus. We also learn how, for the most part, Flu viruses originate among bird populations, although pigs and livestock carry with them their own viral dangers which have resulted in Swine Flu and other horrors. And because so much of the myriad of Influenza starts with birds, the risk of pandemic (meaning to spread globally) is exponentially greater given the migratory flight patterns of all sorts of bird species.

In each episode, we follow the same group of dedicated doctors, scientists and researchers, both in the laboratories and out in the field, as well as the tireless and selfless health workers who are often taking their own lives in their hands to reach people in the communities in which they live. In some cases, especially when it comes to Ebola outbreaks among certain African regions, the case workers must also contend with a dangerous, and often violent suspicion among the communities they’re trying to save, who are convinced that they are actually being sent there by their enemies to infect them rather than cure them.

The production crosses the planet, with a concurrent focus in: China; Viet Nam; Cairo, Egypt; Guatemala; and some rural communities in the U.S. in Oklahoma and Oregon (where the recent “vaccine hesitancy” movement has been Ground Zero for the resurgence of the Measles virus last year). But one country seems to emerge among the rest when it comes to deadly Flu viruses. Among the several individuals featured in Pandemic is Dr. David Carroll, Director of the U.S. Agency for International Development’s Emerging Threats Unit (USAID) who stated categorically, “While we can’t predict where the next influenza pandemic will take place. . . there are certain places where you want to pay particular attention to, and China is one of those.”

Parting Shot

Filmed as equal parts Science/Research/History/& Policy, Pandemic takes a sober, all encompassing look at the various sources and threats to Mankind which have been around for centuries but continue to loom over our very survival in new and horrifying ways. To some, the politics discussion may feel a bit heavy-handed, while to others it might not go far enough. What the series makes abundantly clear, though, is how inexorably linked are the realities of Disease, Death, Poverty, Ignorance and Fear within the paradigm of Policy, Government and Public Health systems. If nothing else, the series illustrates how mission critical a collaborative, global effort can be in not only combating the next pandemic, but in effect to predict and prevent one from happening. Ironically, that scenario was percolating in China in the final weeks before the series dropped on Netflix.

Here’s a sobering statistic from the end of Pandemic: “The World Health Organization estimates there are 1 Billion seasonal Flu cases worldwide and up to 650,000 deaths each year, and a Flu pandemic would likely kill hundreds of millions of people. Most countries remain under-prepared and under-invested in measures to deal with this threat.”

I for one am very thankful for the health administrators and scientist warriors featured in this series, who somehow – against all odds – face each sobering day with enthusiasm, passion, and above all, optimism.

Pandemic is presently streaming on Netflix.

Norma’s Streaming Picks is proud to partner on a fantastic site for Baby Boomers, Midcentury/Modern as well as right here at home. I invite you to go there for more great content!

YouTube Trailer:

Leave a Reply