Analogies to Covid-19 fill the first season of Regenesis, but especially the last two episodes. Here we get quarantines; attempts to seal off traffic; health workers in respirator masks; and everyone is calling it a coronavirus. Which isn’t a bad guess. This virus gets in the lungs and life is over in a snap.
David and Jill arrive in Denver to start picking the virus apart. They get samples from all patients, half-expecting a Marburg chimera to show up, but there are no signs of poxes or internal hemorrhaging. Nothing about the virus looks man-made; it seems perfectly natural and not a bio-weapon. The terrorist threat that was set up in the previous episode recedes for the moment.
The tests run in Denver are only so useful, and David and Jill forward the samples to the NorBAC lab for proper PCR runs. But even the limited tests tell David enough. This is his lifelong obsession and something he dug up four months ago. The Spanish Fucking Flu. Appalled — knowing it’s true but can’t be — he bails on Jill, leaving her in Denver while he flies back to NorBAC to run the sequencing himself. When he sees the proof, the world falls on his head.
It’s at this point that the series brings us to the scene foreshadowed in the prologue of the first episode: an emotionally distraught David Sandstrom, walking the streets of Toronto in a daze, realizing that he royally fucked up, but clueless as to how. He calls his daughter Lilith and tells her he loves her; he musters the courage to go back to the lab and come clean to his co-workers; then he walks straight into the path of an oncoming car. He goes into a coma and is hospitalized.
The Return of the Spanish Lady
With David out of the picture (for now), it’s Jill who learns the truth when she returns from Denver, and reads the sequencing reports done by Carlos and Bob. Like David, she recognizes the Spanish Flu at once, since she did the sequencing for his sample four months earlier. The entire NorBAC team is stunned. How the Spanish Flu get out at all, let alone way down in Colorado? Caroline contacts WHO and other health departments to put out priority alerts, and then calls her associate Congresswoman Shuler. The politics of the phone call sound familiar in the era of Covid-19:
Caroline: “The Spanish Flu is extremely contagious. If not contained, it could turn into a pandemic overnight.”
Shuler: “Can you contain it?”
Caroline: “Right now there are 28 reported cases, all confined to the Denver area.”
Shuler: “That’s good.”
Caroline: “I think we should shut down all access to the Denver area — airport, highway.”
Shuler: “No, no. That’s politically impossible. And Caroline, do we have to use the term ‘Spanish Flu’?”
Keep in mind this is the same congresswoman who blocked Caroline and David’s attempt to shut down all the chicken farms in the Prion case. As I write this review (on April 9), the following eight states have still not issued statewide stay-at-home orders for the Covid-19 pandemic: Arkansas, Iowa, Nebraska, Oklahoma, North Dakota, South Dakota, Utah, and Wyoming. The governors of these states, like Shuler, have their priorities.
Mission to Nunavut
Jill goes through David’s notes to find out where he got the Spanish Flu sample. She finds the Nunavut connection, and the name of Joe Okalik, but is puzzled that she can’t find any dig records or permits. Meanwhile the situation in Denver is getting exponentially worse:
Wes: “The CDC is widening the quarantine area.”
Caroline: “It’s doubled in just the last two hours.”
Wes: “They’re turning the old stables and airport into a quarantine center. Denver proper is reporting 10 confirmed deaths, 204 people in quarantine. Lakewood has 5 reported cases; Aurora 7.”
Jill: [Entering the room] “Here’s what I got. These are David’s notes, from what I can tell was the beginning when he first had a line on the 1918 flu victim. He was working with a guy named Joe Okalik in Nunavut, which makes sense, because the sample we worked on clearly came out of the permafrost.”
Caroline: “How did a flu in Nunavut end up in Denver, Colorado?”
Jill: “I don’t know. But more important than that right now is we need to find the body he exhumed and make sure that it’s contained. But I can’t find any dig records or permits anywhere.”
Caroline: “Okay then, go home, pack your long johns and catch the next flight up there. Jesus, fuck.”
Jill: “What’s wrong?”
Caroline: “I don’t know what’s worse. Thinking that some terrorist released the Spanish Flu or that the head scientist of NorBAC did.”
It’s hard to shake the terrorist threat in the air from the last episode, but Chiernegin’s MO is pox-hemorrhagic combos, not influenza. And it can hardly be a coincidence that the 87-year old Spanish Flu has re-emerged only months after David dug up an intact sample. The disaster has David Sandstrom’s name all over it.
Back to David. His coma is his just deserts — a season’s worth of assholeries coming back to bite him. He has near-death visions of various people who died on account of his “failures”: Hira Khan, shot by the bullet meant for him (episode 3); Danny Dexter, who swallowed pills after David told him to stop playing hockey if he wanted to stay alive (episode 5); Mick Sloane, who thought he was a clone and begged David to save him (episode 7). David wants to join them, but they won’t have him. Each in turn tells him to get off his sorry ass and fix his mess. The vision of Mick is particularly nice: the kid overturns the hospital bed, throwing David to the floor.
Meanwhile, in the real-world hospital room, Mayko sits by David’s side, and in the final frame of Resurrection he comes out of his coma. But the penultimate’s title isn’t about David; it’s about the resurrection of the goddamn Spanish Flu. David confesses everything to Mayko in self-indictment: that he’s responsible for bringing back the flu; that the sample Jill sequenced wasn’t sent to him, but stolen; that he took it from the body of a miner he dug out of the permafrost in Nunavut, without governmental permission. But neither Mayko nor David see how any of this could impact Denver so far away.
Caroline and Jill rip David a new one
Only hours out of his coma and barely able to walk, David takes his lashings back at NorBAC with considerable grace. Prepared to confess to Caroline, she beats him to it, having already found his records of payment to the Indian Joe Okalik for their grave robbing mission. Also, from Nunavut, Jill has forwarded Joe’s emails to Caroline, which reveal the details of David and Joe’s past communications. (Strangely, Joe Okalik was dead in his home when Jill arrived, having fallen in the shower drunk.) Caroline tears David a new one for breaking the law and scientific protocols — and for making NorBAC look worse than an organization run by Donald Trump. She vows that from now on she will be micromanaging the hell out of him.
At that moment, Jill calls from Nunavut, and Caroline puts her on speaker phone. Jill has tracked down and located the grave of the miner. The grave has been dug up again; there are polar bear tracks everywhere; most of the body is gone, and the remains are a mess.
David, feeling an abyss beneath him, insists to Caroline that he was careful as hell; he had put the body back, burying it exactly as he found it. But apparently disturbing a grave for even a few minutes can fire off a scent to a starving polar bear. Once again, Caroline welcomes David to a new era of micromanagement — where he is henceforth obligated to share with her every scrap of his research — and she orders him to immediately release all of his and Jill’s data on the Spanish Flu to the five top vaccine labs in the world.
When Jill returns from Nunavut, she too is furious — pissed that David lied about how he obtained the Spanish Flu sample, and even more furious that he rejected her advice (in episode 7) to send their data to the World Health Organization. Had he done so, the world would be a lot closer to a vaccine now.
None of this explains how the flu got from a polar bear in Nunavut to victims down in Denver. Redeeming himself as best he can, David (who still belongs in the hospital) sets out to solving that puzzle with his team.
From Nunavut to Denver: Natural born carriers
They find that Patient 0 was a bird-tagger in Colorado who was out camping. David surmises that the flu outbreak started with a migrating bird that fed on the remains of what the polar bear left in Nunavut; the bird must have scratched or bit the bird-tagger. According to a report, the tagger was replacing batteries in GPS bird collars. David examines the last ten birds that she collared, and finds that one of them, sure enough, was a red-tailed hawk — a species that ranges from Nunavut to the western United States. The tagger was somehow infected by the hawk as she was collaring it, and she later infected some Denver locals. Thus is born a pandemic.
NorBAC immediately puts out alerts that the hawk needs to be found and captured (by using the software used to track birds with GPS collars) as a #1 international health priority. And who knows how many other birds feasted on the miner’s remains?
The elusive Ivan Chiernegin
So what about Ivan Chiernegin and the Marburg threat that was set up in episode 11? It seems that the terrorist plot was dropped in favor of natural disaster owing to David’s recklessness. The twist comes that the two plots are tied together, and that the elusive Soviet terrorist Ivan Chiernegin is none other than David’s friend Vassili Borov. I have mixed feelings about this; the logistics are handled okay, but it feels a bit contrived.
Let’s go through it from the start. At the beginning of Resurrection, as David and Jill are working in Denver, Caroline is following up on the Marburg threat in Washington DC, where she learns that after the fall of the Soviet Union, Chiernegin worked for the CIA in Iraq. When relations between America and Iraq went sour, Saddam Hussein offered Chiernegin a palace on the Tigress River and all the money Chiernegin wanted to work for him. The U.S. — not taking kindly to this betrayal — promptly took out the palace with a cruise missile, killing (presumably) Chiernegin and his wife and child. But years later in 1997, Chiernegin reportedly resurfaced in North Korea, and two years after that in Pakistan, leaving behind bio-warfare programs in each country. Then he dropped off the radar again in 2000, just around the time “Ivan Havlac” emerged in Cape Town to start working on the Miranda Virus at Bethke Labs.
So Chiernegin is still at large, but who knows where, and who knows when he ever plans on using his Marburg concoction. At the end of The Longest Night comes the dramatic reveal, when Daisy, the mother of baby-bomb Miranda (from the season premiere), comes to David’s home. She heard that he was injured, and remembers his kindness to her when he tried to stop her from mercy-killing her baby. When she sees his friend Vassili Borov getting into a taxi, she goes completely ape-shit — screaming that he’s the man who operated on her in Africa. David, stunned that Vassili (of all people) could be Chiernegin, calls Caroline and has her put out an APB; Vassili is taken by the police.
When David visits Vassili in jail, the terrorist and natural-disaster plots bleed into one. Vassili explains that Chiernegin (who was Vassili’s boss from the ’80s, recall) ended up marrying his (Vassili’s) daughter and having a boy. Those two — Vassili’s daughter and grandson — were killed in the American missile strike on the Iraq palace. Chiernegin was killed too, contrary to what the intelligence agencies believed. Vassili assumed Chiernegin’s identity, going from North Korea to Pakistan, arming them with the bio-weapons programs, and then settling in Cape Town as “Ivan Havlac” to begin synthesizing poxes and hemorrhagics. “Acts of justice” against the west, he says to David. Miranda he put into action (in the season premiere), but he ditched his plans for using the Marburg chimera when a much better opportunity presented itself. On a night they got drunk together, David told Vassili about his illegal Nunavut adventure and how he acquired an intact genome of the Spanish flu. At that moment, Vassili seized his golden opportunity:
Vassili: “You thought the nights of vodka and conversation were about friendship? You think we were comrades? You talk very freely when you drink, David.”
David: [Aghast] “Jesus, it was you. You went and dug up the body, didn’t you?”
Vassili: “And I left it exposed. How sloppy of me. I let Mother Nature do the rest. The bears and birds were my delivery system, they spread it all over. And who knows? Denver may not be the only outbreak. We freed the Spanish Flu, David — you and I — and I thank you for it.”
And this explains the strange coincidence of the Indian Joe Okalik being found dead in his shower when Jill flew up to Nunavut. Vassili left no loose ends. That he, as David’s buddy, turned out to be the big-bad smacks slightly of lazy plotting, though it does make sense as to why Vassili cultivated David’s friendship to begin with.
Nature spread the Spanish Flu, but not because of David’s carelessness. He had reburied the body properly, exactly as he thought. It was Vassili who went up to Nunavut, dug up the body, and left it blatantly exposed. That sort of gets David off the hook — though he doesn’t cut himself any slack. When Caroline insists that the Colorado deaths are Vassili’s fault and not his, he replies: “You can’t split the atom and blame the crew that drops the bomb, Caroline.”
And with that, David Sandstrom resigns from NorBAC. He’ll be back in season 2, but not before a self-imposed exile takes him to China, where he can work off his guilt and get into more trouble. As for season 1, it remains some of the best TV drama I’ve seen. These final episodes pay off the narrative debts with a merciless blow from nature, and make me pray that the Spanish Flu never comes back. Covid-19 is bad enough.
Original air dates: January 16 & 23, 2005
Rating: 4 ½ stars out of 5