There’s something foreboding about The Promise as things spiral out of control on every front. From an intense military drill, to the reappearance of an enhanced Miranda virus, to the threat of an even worse bio-weapon, to a priorty-1 alert of a SARS-like outbreak in Denver — it’s clear that the pen-penultimate episode is setting us up for a mighty slam. And loads of misery besides.
Regenesis never pretended to be optimistic, as how can it be when it deals in viruses, disease, and high body counts? Nature is uncaring as science itself; the best we can hope for is to put off the inevitable day when microscopic lifeforms wipe us out. One way of doing that is anticipating the worst, and practicing accordingly. Thus the opening scene of The Promise.
Those first five minutes are a brilliant piece of misdirection. The NorBAC scientists are chasing tails around the lab, yelling and tripping over each other, frantically making phone calls, punching keyboards, trying to gather data on a smallpox outbreak. David goes from room to room barking orders, demanding this and that, throwing people out of their chairs. He wants to know why the Windsor Detroit tunnel isn’t sealed; he gets a report that national guardsmen are sick, even though they were inoculated; a flight to China is being diverted to Guam for fear of smallpox carriers; the Canada-U.S. border has been closed. The lab is crawling with military personnel — like martial law. All of this is filmed in a long tracking shot that captures an ordered chaos. When Jill finally gets David’s attention with a report confirming “hemorragics”, David gets a poleaxed “oh shit” look on his face; then he knows why the smallpox is so deadly. He tells Caroline… and the game is over.
For that’s what it was all along: a drill run by U.S. Joint Forces Command, to test NorBAC’s response time to a bio-catastrophe. The team did very well, solving the problem in 2 days with only 22,000 people dead. (A lab in Atlanta took 5 days and paid for it with 600,000 deaths; and a lab in Mexico took 4 days with close to a million dead.) David, gloatingly, explains to an audience of scientists and military how he figured it out: In the game the military rushed in to fight what seemed to be a clear-cut smallpox outbreak, but there was something else inside the smallpox. The very inoculation that warded against the smallpox triggered a release of green monkey disease — AKA Marburg fever — that was hidden inside the pox.
But if this is a game, it sounds distressingly familiar: pox and hemorragics, synthesized to make a supervirus. That’s what happened in the first two episodes, where a terrorist engineered camel pox and ebola, and put it in a baby to spread through the Toronto area. The terrorist remained at large, and now, six months later, what? — the military is suddenly having labs in Canada, the U.S., and Mexico play war games involving another pox-hemorragic chimera?
Ties to the Miranda Virus
David is no dummy, and neither is Caroline, and they both suspect that the North American governments are worried that whoever manufactured the Miranda Virus may possess another, and even more lethal, biological weapon, that’s ready to be let loose. Caroline’s intelligence sources reveal developments confirming this.
For one, the terrorist William Zanzinger (who engineered the baby Miranda) is in fact no longer at large; he recently committed suicide in Cape Town, but intelligence officials don’t think it was suicide. Zanzinger was a mercenary, and he must have had help from someone smarter in creating the Miranda Virus; he was probably killed as a loose end by that someone. Cape Town rings a bell with David; he remembers a state-of-the-art DNA sequencer in a lab there, and asks Mayko to research it. She finds a Bethke Labs in Cape Town, but it was destroyed in a fire only a month ago — supposedly an industrial accident — and the facility has been sealed. That’s enough for David, who asks Caroline to have her British spy buddy to obtain all the bio-hazard samples he can from Bethke Labs.
When the bio-hazard samples arrive, Carlos and Bob run tests on them and PCRs, and to their horror the Miranda Virus is among the samples. And something worse than Miranda too — a Marburg virus, sure enough, that, as Jill says, “if you put on a plane from L.A. to New York, everyone would be digested from the inside out over roughly Trapdoor, Missouri”.
So on the one hand, Bethke Labs turns up Miranda and Marburg together, and on the other, a bunch of generals have the NorBAC team running around playing war games based on the Miranda scenario but using a Marburg chimera instead. The conclusion presses: whoever created the Miranda (ebola-camelpox) virus is getting ready to throw an even-worse chimera (marburg-?) virus at the world, and intelligence agencies are acutely aware of it.
Russian Hero: Vassili Borov
David goes to see a friend of his, Vassili Borov, who used to be a Soviet agent and worked on Marburg back in the mid-’80s. Vassili had defected and came west after the Berlin Wall fell, and assisted the Canadian and American governments in stopping various terrorist plots. Now he paints all day in his room, attended by nude models. He has quite the life.
At David’s request, Vassili examines the DNA images from the Marburg samples found in Cape Town, and tells David that it’s been weaponized: from the sequencing it looks to Vassili like whoever made it increased the incubation period. So someone could be walking around for weeks and not realize they had it — “a 10 megaton bomb in a hand grenade”. In the time between ’85 and the collapse of the Soviet Empire in ’91, there wasn’t time for the Soviets to weaponize the Marburg, so whoever did this, says Vassili, probably wasn’t Soviet.
Back at the lab, Caroline tells David that the chief scientist of Bethke Labs is an Ivan Havlac, but he disappeared about six months ago (which would be shortly before the time the Miranda Virus was let loose). No one can find Havlac, or his resume for that matter, and neither British nor South African intelligence can figure out who he is. It’s a safe bet that this Havlac is the creator of the Miranda Virus, and the one who killed William Zanzinger, and now has plans to unleash an enhanced weaponized Marburg virus.
From his sequencing work, Carlos believes the Marburg samples must be American, which would mean they were taken from Fort Egan. An appalled Caroline makes a trip to Fort Egan, and learns from one of her contacts that indeed Fort Egan had been experimenting with Marburg decades ago, and was committed to destroying all their samples in the early ’70s — but not all of those samples were in fact destroyed.
David goes back to see Vassili again, who confirms that Marburg was stolen from Fort Egan sometime in the ’80s. The Marburg ended up in the hands of his boss, Ivan Chiernegin — the head of germ warfare for the Soviets. David believes that the elusive scientist of Cape Town who can’t be found, “Ivan Havlac”, is probably Vassili’s old boss Ivan Chiernegin. Chiernegin has likely continued to work on germ warfare as a terrorist in hiding, long after the fall of the Soviet Union in ’91. The terrorist appears to be Soviet after all, with a serious grudge.
Last-second bomb shell
As Caroline plans to get Chiernegan’s name on the radar of every intelligence agency, she and David are intercepted by Wes, who drops a bombshell: NorBAC has received a Priority 1 Alert for a SARS-like case that has broken out in Denver, Colorado. The local doctors and public health officials can’t identify the virus, but it’s nasty, and quarantines are already in place. David looks at Caroline and says, “I don’t want to sound paranoid, but let’s hope to God this isn’t coming from the same guy who gave us Miranda.”
David has a shitload more to be worried about than Miranda and Marburg, horrible as those threats are. The SARS-like virus in Colorado — as the final two episodes will reveal mercilessly — is nothing less than the Spanish Flu, resurrected unwittingly by David Sandstrom himself.
The Promise is a first-rate episode that simmers with shady plots and imminent terrors, and damned if it doesn’t make me fear the finale.
Original air date: January 9, 2005
Rating: 5 stars out of 5