The premiere of Containment, The CW’s adaptation of Belgian miniseries Cordon, had everything we’d heard about: a dangerous outbreak, swift and mysterious government action, and loved ones separated by an attempt to contain a deadly pathogen. The big problem was that it didn’t have any panache.
The characters, the outbreak, and the circumstances were all as advertised, but things fell decidedly flat as the first episode blew through plot points in order to get everyone on the proper side of the “cordon sanitaire,” or the quarantine zone.
Among those inside the quarantine zone are Jake Riley (Chris Wood), an Atlanta police officer; Katie Frank (Kristen Gutoskie), an elementary school teacher; Katie’s class, including her son Quentin (Zachary Unger); Teresa Keaton (Hanna Mangan Lawrence), a pregnant 17 year-old girl; Dr. Cannerts (George Young), a CDC researcher; and Jana Mayfield (Christina Marie Moses), a data recovery specialist.
All find themselves in the containment zone for different reasons, and all of them have connections to those outside the zone. Most notably, Lex Carnahan (David Gyasi), a police officer charged with keeping the peace around the cordon — and he’s also Jana’s boyfriend.
As the virus spreads and the conditions of the affected worsen, we discover that Patient Zero is a young Syrian man who came to the United States in the cargo hold of a plane. Dr. Cannerts works out that the virus is H7N2 — a strain of avian flu modified to be transmitted to humans through contact with bodily fluids.
Predictably, tensions rise as quarantines are enforced and people’s lives are profoundly interrupted, culminating in a scene outside of the cordon in which Lex attempts to calm the nerves of a crowd of angry and confused people put out by the quarantine. When Xander arrives, Lex explains to him that this is for everyone’s safety, that he can’t let Xander on the other side of the gate. Unbeknownst to him, though, a local news crew is filming the exchange.
In a lot of ways, the premiere of Containment felt like CBS’s Under the Dome, but not necessarily in a good way. The premise itself is plenty intriguing, but the execution needs to be gripping in order to work; and we’re just not there yet.
The first episode moved through things very quickly, as first episodes are wont to do. There was a lot to establish and a lot to introduce, but what made the whole affair seem lackluster was the amount of development and setup behind the characters.
Their introductions put forth what will likely be vital information, but with the possible exception of Lex and Jana, gave us no real reason to root for, or become invested, in them. Beyond that, the dialogue was pretty flat, emotional beats were a bit undersold and the whole affair felt, frankly, very predictable.
It’s not necessarily that the characters don’t show promise — these seem like people we should want to support — it’s largely that they didn’t benefit from the heroic or protagonist setups that make us feel connected to them. Scenes weren’t quite as evocative as they should be for a show that’s taking us into a dangerous quarantine that’s going to tear people apart. Maybe that’s still coming, but in a limited-run series, time is of the essence and we’re already just under 20 percent of the way through this story.
Containment shows promise, but needs to put its characters and time to better use if it’s going to keep viewers coming back to watch things unfold, inside and outside of the cordon.