Regenesis (Season 1, Episodes 1 & 2): Baby Bomb & Spare Parts

David Sandstrom: “Poxes look like bricks, hemorrhagics look like worms. Do these bricks look like worms to you?”

Carlos Serrano: “No, but they’re acting like worms.”

Hira Khan: “But ebola and camel pox together?”

Carlos: “Maybe… a genetic hybrid.”

David: “No, camel pox is made of DNA, ebola is made of RNA. The two split and went their separate ways over two billion years ago.”

Carlos: “Well maybe they’ve kissed and made up.”

It’s hard to imagine a worse viral combo. Ebola, one of the deadliest viruses on Earth, but doesn’t spread easily. Camel pox, spreads easily, but can be fought with a drug. What if the two connected, and the ebola got a free ride on the camel pox? You’d get a supervirus that spreads fast and kills faster, with no vaccine or drug to fall back on.

That’s the nightmare facing the NorBAC team in the double-bill premiere of Regenesis. People in the Toronto region are suddenly dropping like flies, bleeding inside their skin, and dead within hours. It looks like ebola, but it’s spreading and killing too rapidly. The NorBAC team scrambles to locate patient zero and contain the outbreak as best they can, while working to identify the virus that strangely resists identification.

The problem is that they can’t find a single trace of ebola in the virus. What they find is camel pox, which human beings normally don’t get sick from; DNA-wise, there’s no genetic information indicating the ebola gene is anywhere in this camel pox genome. The reason for this, they finally realize, is because the virus is a chemically synthesized gene — man-made, apparently for purposes of bio-terrorism.

That it’s man-made explains the mystery. The DNA recipe for ebola isn’t in the supervirus, because the same amino acids that make up ebola have been coded by an engineer with different DNA. As David Sandstrom illustrates to his boss in layman’s terms (I made a youtube clip of this little bit here):

“Whoever made this knew that we’d be looking for this:

‘Great oral sex’

So they wrote it like this:

‘Grate aural sects’

Now we know what we’re looking for.”

Of course, that puts an uglier spin on an already disastrous situation. Imagine if Covid-19 was an act of bioterrorism. To be clear, it isn’t. That conspiracy theory was easily debunked. But the coronavirus has made us realize how woefully unprepared the U.S. would be for a biological attack. As we approach the peak of the Covid-19 pandemic, the scenarios presented in Regenesis don’t seem like science fiction.

Baby Bomb

Patient zero turns out to be a baby (Miranda) who has been on a road travel with her mother (Daisy). They are both quarantined with a bus load of passengers when the woman sitting next to Daisy starts bleeding from her mouth. Miranda has what appears to be a sore throat, but nothing beyond that, and Daisy is perfectly fine. When tests are run on Miranda, the results are startling. The baby’s throat cultures are filled with RNA, causing the NorBAC scientists to wonder what it’s doing in the middle of her DNA.

David figures out the RNA in the baby’s throat is siRNA — “small interfering RNA” — which is RNA that kills viruses in plants, though it’s in people too. Somehow the siRNA has been engineered in Miranda’s throat to make her immune to the supervirus that she’s been given. In other words, she has the virus but can’t get the disease. Her mother Daisy is also immune, because of a procedure she was given while Miranda was still in her womb, which exposed her to the virus.

Daisy is wholly ignorant of this, having no idea that Miranda was engineered to be a bio-weapon, and she certainly can’t believe that her finance (now in England) is anything other than he claims to be. When Caroline and David present the truth to her, it’s a bit hard to watch. Regenesis isn’t a show of happy endings. Miranda has to be quarantined for the rest of her life, and Daisy will never see her baby again. And the quarantine will go on for quite a long time in Hazmat City.

Kid Clone

Around the terrifying plot of the Miranda Virus is the sidebar of Mick Sloane, a 15-year old kid who is dying and thinks he’s a clone. Played wonderfully by a young Mark Rendall, Mick has read David Sandstrom’s science articles and worships him as a hero, and begs him to save him from dying. David (in his usual asshole way) shits all over Mick, dismisses the kid as a mental case, and tells him that clones are impossible.

Having no luck with his hero, Mick starts stalking his daughter, played by a young Ellen Page. At first she tells Mick to get lost (and like her father, to get psychiatric help), but eventually the two become friends. She starts to believe there may be something to his claim about being a clone, because he has the birth certificates to prove that he and his brother Cal were born two years apart (and thus, he says, they can’t be identical twins), and that his mother died before he was born (and thus that he must be a clone who was born in a lab).

And if there’s anyone who could have created a clone in the year 1990, it would have been Mick’s father — the brilliant scientist Shelby Sloane, who has butt heads with David Sandstrom in the past. Dr. Sloane apparently created Mick in order to save Cal, who was dying of bone cancer. Cal ended up dying anyway, and Mick (whose bone marrow was given to Cal) ended up with all sorts of medical complications (on top of being a clone, if that is true) that makes his own death imminent. He doesn’t have long to live, and that conclusion will play out long before the final episodes of season 1.

Verdict

When I first saw Baby Bomb and Spare Parts, I thought they were a thrilling premiere to a cerebral TV series. They still are, but they’re more than that in the time of Covid-19. They’re quite educational — about viruses, genetics, biochemistry — and frightening. Regenesis was billed as a scientifically realistic series, and that realism gains added resonance as we quarantine at home and wear masks when we go outside.

Original air date: October 24, 2004 (for both episodes)

Rating: 5 stars out of 5

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