Netflix’s Coronavirus, Explained captures uncertainty and hope in first episode

Netflix and Vox’s Coronavirus, Explained gives all the facts and information about COVID-19 amidst the uncertainty, and gives hope to help us continue to pull through.

Vox’s Coronavirus, Explained is a mini-docuseries that delivers all the facts about COVID-19, as well as its effects on the world as we know it. Coronavirus, Explained is the next installment of Vox’s mini-docuseries, following on the heels of Sex, Explained  and The Mind, Explained.  There’s also the two seasons long docuseries, titled Explained, which covers a different topic each episode.

Two more episodes of Coronavirus, Explained are planned for the summer: one episode specifically on vaccine development and the other on how people can cope with the stress from this current situation.

The first episode, “This Pandemic,” covers the science behind viruses and how they spread,  background on similar viruses of the past,  and what the scientific community is doing or looking into to prevent the spread of COVID-19. What’s interesting is that many of the interviews were conducted last year in April. These interviews were for the season 2 episode of Explained, titled  “The Next Pandemic.”

Interviewees like Bill Gates, Dr. Peter Daszak (President of EcoHealth Alliance), and Joel Montgomery (Chief of Viral Special Pathogens Branch, CDC) predicted that a huge pandemic was on its way. This is explained toward the start of the episode, and the episode’s beginning is probably the most stress-inducing part of it. There are graphics of worrying data, images of crowds of people wearing masks, and images of crowded hospitals with haunting music in the background. Toward the end of the episode, the music becomes lighter. The tone shifts when the narrator, J.K. Simmons, states:

“If viruses were capable of thinking, they should’ve also learned their lesson. If their goal is to replicate, they shouldn’t start killing us. Because once a virus becomes a pandemic, all of human ingenuity will be brought to bear to bring them down.”

Simmons then states that, although we should have been more prepared, we are in the best position to beat COVID-19 because of the technology, science, and different types of communication we have access to. Footage of a news segment is shown, where the news anchor says scientists are flocking to labs to create a vaccine.

Simmons also mentions that we have beaten viruses before and suggests we will do it again. The episode ends with a collage of people entertaining and uplifting one another. Bringing in hope at the end allows the viewer to comfortably digest the information just shown to them.  It could also inspire someone to have more faith or to go about their day with purpose.

Of course, uncertainty does play a large role in “This Pandemic.” There are some questions that couldn’t be answered, like how deadly or contagious is  COVID-19, really? How long will self-isolation last? With so much data and varying descriptions from interviewees, it’s hard to answer these questions, but the episode does a good job of laying out what’s fact and what’s speculation.

In an article about the series from The Hollywood Reporter, Vox founder Ezra Klein says:

“One of the hardest things to do as a reporter ever is to communicate uncertainty … something we talk about internally is what we’re often doing is explaining the state of knowledge on something. Sometimes the explanation that you can give people that helps them understand why, say, public health authorities or politicians are doing what they’re doing is to show them that this is where the knowledge stops, and after this it becomes guesswork.”

Because of the uncertainty they have to navigate, Vox’s newsroom has been working overtime to provide day-to-day news, which is difficult because news on the virus is changing constantly.  The goal is to be honest and report the facts when they can.

Vox has a page on its website dedicated to everything COVID-19; add it to your list of resources to turn to for updates. Look to Coronavirus, Explained to tell the story of our lives during this pandemic, and to give us the information we need to know, untangled from all the uncertainty.

For more information about COVID-19, visit the CDC’s website or the website for your state’s Department of Health.