Unspeakable Preview: Emergence

Without a Trace and Cold Case were two procedurals that I watched while I could until the heartbreaking, recurring aspect of each case falling back on one or more people who did nothing, or an inciting event that went unchecked finally started to haunt me. Unspeakable is going to be a series like that, but it’s a harrowing chapter in the history of AIDS that needed telling, most especially because many current blood safety protocols exist because this happened.

[Warning: General spoilers ahead.]

Unspeakable recounts the effect of the rise of AIDS on the blood products used in Canada’s medical community. It pivots off the stories of two families dealing with haemophilia — Vancouver reporter Ben Landry (Shawn Doyle), his wife, Alice (Camille Sullivan), and their haemophiliac son, Peter (Jared Ager-Foster) and Toronto public health official Will Sanders (Michael Shanks), his wife, Margaret (Sarah Wayne Callies), and their haemophiliac son, Ryan (Ricardo Ortiz).

Unspeakable on CBC

Set in 1982, the first episode follows both sets of parents as they take note of the growing AIDS outbreak in the United States. They become increasingly alarmed when Canadian health officials and doctors dig in and refuse to revert to the old school sourcing of clotting agents that would minimize potential viral contamination.

Alongside the family stories, the series also shifts focus to those officials and doctors who kept quiet, reluctant to vilify sectors of the population or start a panic. In so doing, they open the flood gates for AIDS to enter Canada through the blood products industry.

Unspeakable on CBC

It’s a hard watch, almost 40 years on from the AIDS outbreak, to see the decisions that created a death sentence for so many.

At the outset of the first episode, there’s a moment where we’re reminded that 1982 was pre-Internet and cell phones and there was no effective avenue for real-time information sharing. A select few controlled the narrative, which amplified an already exceedingly dangerous situation.

Created by Robert C. Cooper, who executive produces and writes, the series will span four decades. It’s based on Andre Picard’s Gift of Death: Confronting Canada’s Tainted Blood Tragedy, Vic Parson’s Bad Blood: The Tragedy of the Canadian Tainted Blood Scandal, and The Royal Commission of Inquiry into the Canadian Blood Tragedy, led by Justice Horace Krever.

Unspeakable on CBC

In addition to the above-named cast, just the first episode has a who’s who of familiar Canadian faces, including Caroline Cave, David Lewis, Kimberley Sustad, and Brian Markinson. I’m particularly glad to see Doyle and Sullivan, who were so great individually in Bellevue and The Disappearance, paired up here.

Unspeakable begins its eight-episode first season Wednesday night at 9pm ET/9:30 NT on CBC. Here’s a sneak peek, and a radio interview with Cooper, who is a haemophiliac.

Photos and Video Courtesy of CBC

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