A good many people will watch the final episode of NBC’s long-running drama series ER tonight, given the show’s popularity over the years. I, however, will be watching something else: the season-ending episode of the CBS-TV mystery-drama series Eleventh Hour. I recommend that you do likewise, and that you catch the show when CBS reruns it in the coming months or watch them online at the show’s website.
Based on a smug, scientistic, and politically left BBC series of recent vintage, the CBS version of Eleventh Hour is a rather interesting program from the standpoint of the ideas it presents, and, wonder of wonders, is usually fair to both sides of the scientific controversies dealt with in the story lines.
The show manages to avoid the temptation to adopt facile attitudes that make for easy answers to complex problems, and its producers also refuse to indulge in the too-easy presentation of science as good and religion as a dangerous force impeding the unalloyed benefits of science. They recognize that science doesn’t have all the answers and that religion has a valid place in human life. In that regard the show is far superior to its BBC predecessor.
Also appealing is the program’s willingness to be realistic about which people, institutions, and motivations tend to cause problems in this world. Businesses are sometimes the source of the problems in the show, as is true in real life, but typically the troubles are caused mainly by people’s desires for more than what nature and common sense allow.
For example, the pursuit of youth and beauty led to a horrific disease outbreak in a recent episode set among upper-upper-middle-class suburbanites, and sexual desires led directly to an outbreak of a different disease condition in an installment involving college students a few weeks earlier. This approach goes strongly against the assumption that efforts toward personal fulfillment are always entirely laudable, which has dominated the American culture since the end of World War II.
In episode 12, “Eternal” (originally broadcast on January 29 of this year), FBI science advisor Jacob Hood and his minder/bodyguard/co-investigator Rachel Young looked into the problems caused by a doctor who is stealing people’s stem cells in order to use them as youth treatments for wealthy people who want to look and feel younger.
The use of simple human vanity as a motive for activities that ultimately prove harmful not only to the self but also to others is a good moral point and true to life. These things do happen.
The science of the story seems even more far-fetched than is usual for the show, but one aspect of the story stands out as impressively bold and true. Dr. Hood explains to Rachel about the difference between embryonic stem cells and adult stem cells (which simply means non-embryonic stem cells and can include even umbilical cord blood). Hood explicitly notes that adult and umbilical stem cells are harvested without any loss of life, whereas embryonic stem cells involve killing a fetus. He also points out that over eighty conditions are already being successfully treated through the use of non-embryonic stem cells.
That brief dialogue exchange makes an important point that opponents of government funding of activities that kill human embryos to harvest stem cells have been making but haven’t been able to get the mainstream news outlets to acknowledge: that there is no need at all to use embryonic stem cells when adult stem cells actually work (embryonic cells don’t) and don’t involve any loss of life.
Thus this fictional drama did more to educate viewers about the truth behind the stem cell controversy than the network news programs have ever done.
Also somewhat unusual is the fact that government is not always the solution and is sometimes the problem in Eleventh Hour, even though the protagonists work for a government agency, the FBI.
A recent episode, “Minamata,” went against the grain in that way and added a further politically incorrect element: the villain in the episode–a man who has caused the deaths of several people–is a radical environmentalist in the government’s department of fish and wildlife. He has dumped mercury into a lake in hope of having businesses blamed for it and thereby force political action that would put strong regulations on them to prevent further such outbreaks.
Of course, there is no actual danger from the businesses that will be blamed, according to the facts of the story, and such regulation is thus entirely unnecessary and would instead be solely a product of the radical environmentalist’s puritanical and impossible desire for humans to have no impact at all on the environment.
In essence he is an environmental terrorist.
What’s quite impressive about the episode is the observation that the presumed purity of the man’s motive does not in any way justify his actions, and the producers’ willingness to recognize that even the best-intended of actions can have horrible unintended consequences. In addition, the episode shows a woman who risks her life in order not to jeopardize that of her unborn child–and presents her choice as quite laudable.
In portraying a left-wing environmental activist as a villain and presenting as heroic a mother who believes in the sanctity of an unborn child’s life, the “Minimata” episode of Eleventh Hour was fresh, realistic, and insightful. The series as a whole is well worth watching.