Thursday, 28 April 2016

Review - 'Containment', Episode 1 - 'Pilot'

Based on the Belgian series, Cordon, the clear goal of Containment, from its opening moments, is clearly to present as grounded and as realistic a take on what a viral out-break in a major American city might look like as possible. The city chosen as the location for such a grim story is Atlanta, home of the CDC – a location which, perhaps, simply felt thematically appropriate.

This first episode doesn't waste any time in establishing the tone of the series, either – jumping ahead to the thirteenth day of a rapidly spreading viral outbreak in order to give us a glimpse of the seemingly inevitable chaos to come. It's definitely an effective way to start things off – with the streets of this hastily quarantined section of Atlanta already clearly descending into complete anarchy, as desperate survivors try to force their way out. It's a short sequence which does a very impressive job of giving everything that follows a sense of tragic inevitability – and, it manages to add a layer of genuine tension that might not have existed, otherwise.

Obviously, there is not meant to be any question of whether the unknown virus at the heart of this series is going to spread. Instead, Containment is clearly intent on showing us the tragic chain of events that lead to that end-point.

From there, attention is turned back to the early moments of the outbreak – to a point where it all still seems manageable. Here, we are introduced to the varied cast of characters who we will be following throughout the series. But, of course, it's also here that the series almost immediately begins to encounter problems. The fact of the matter is that there are, perhaps, just a few too many characters introduced in this first episode – and, as a result, few of them are able to make any sort of strong impression.

There are exceptions, obviously. Lex Carnahan (David Gyasi), the police officer ultimately becomes the public face of efforts to contain the spread of this unknown virus, manages to stand out as a compelling potential lead for the series – especially by the episode's end. Dr. Sabine Lommers (Claudia Black), meanwhile, already seems set to become the voice of cold pragmatism on the series – and, as a result, she is likely the most intriguing of the characters that we meet in this first episode. Katie Frank (Kristen Gutoskie), a teacher and single mother who finds herself caught up in early containment efforts, manages to display a convincing mix of strength and vulnerability in her few scenes which may make her the most sympathetic character – other than, of course, the group of young children under her care.

It feels as though other characters will simply need more screen-time in which to properly establish themselves, however – though, all the necessary pieces are in place for some compelling stories. Theresa and Xander (Hannah Mangan Lawrence and Demetrius Bridges), a teenage couple struggling to cope with accidental pregnancy, have a potentially compelling arc set in motion when they find themselves separated by a hastily constructed containment wall. While Jake Riley (Chris Wood), Lex's close friend and fellow police officer, may find himself cast in the role of 'reluctent hero' when he, too, finds himself caught up in the containment efforts.

In the end, I think that this is the major issue that Containment will need to try to resolve as it goes forward. While this episode does a very admirable job of establishing its central premise, particularly with regard to how high the stakes truly are, it has done so at the cost of establishing much of its cast. Whenever the episode deals directly with the gradual outbreak of this unknown virus (particularly, in the sequence in which Jake is sent to recover the young Syrian man who had been identified as 'Patiant Zero'), Containment proves to be a genuinely compelling and tense series with a great deal of potential (the make-up effects used to portray the later stages of the virus deserves some clear credit, too).

But, on the other hand, I don't think I've ever cared less about a romantic sub-plot than I have about the one we are introduced to, here, between Lex and his girlfriend, Jana Mayfield (Christina Moses). Their first scene together was one of the most unconvincing portrayals of two people in love that I think I've ever seen – so, if I am truly supposed to feel emotionally invested in them, then there is still a fair bit of work that needs to be done. Also, some of the cast of characters we meet, here, have already begun to display a worrying tendency toward overly expositional dialogue – which hasn't helped with their characterisation.

So, this first episode of Containment wasn't able to get things off to an entirely successful start – but, there is still enough clear potential in its basic premise, and in (at least) some of its cast of characters, to make it seem worthwhile. I will just have to hope that it can continue to build on what it has already established, here, over the course of the rest of the season.

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