Review: The End of the World (2013)

The End of the World, is a 2013 drama television […]

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Climate State

Date Posted:

May 10, 2019

The End of the World, is a 2013 drama television show produced in South Korea, and directed by Ahn Pan-seok, based on the 2010 novel “Infectious Disease” by Bae Young-Ik. The plot centers around Kang Joo-Heon (Yoon Je-Moon) chief epidemiologist at the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, who’s skills in deductive reasoning and logic make for a refreshing sound investigation drama, as he is confronted with the problem of a mysterious disease.

Soon in the story it becomes clear that a novel virus is affecting people in South Korea, evidence linking the occurrence of this new pathogen to the shrinking Arctic ice masses, due to climate change. This in itself is quiet remarkable for a television drama, which usually evolve around reckless experiments, and or breach of containments and often include a zombie apocalypse when it comes to pandemic viral infections.

A conceivable future threat from revived pathogens

Indeed, a constant stream of news from the Arctic in recent years hints at the possibility for known or unknown agents to make a comeback, may it be good or bad. For example:

About the discovery of the largest found virus to-date, the Pithovirus, still infectious after thousands of years, Science wrote:

Larger than some bacteria, this virus — seen in a cross-section under a transmission electron microscope — was still able to infect amoebae despite having spent 30 millennia in a frozen state. Julia Bartoli & Chantal Abergel; Information Génomique et Structurale, CNRS-AMU

Science: In what seems like a plot straight out of a low-budget science-fiction film, scientists have revived a giant virus that was buried in Siberian ice for 30,000 years — and it is still infectious. Its targets, fortunately, are amoebae, but the researchers suggest that as Earth’s ice melts, this could trigger the return of other ancient viruses, with potential risks for human health.

The authors of the study are concerned that global warming, deglaciation, along with mining and drilling operations in the Arctic, could release more ancient viruses that are still infectious, and would conceivably pose a threat to human health. A strain of bacteria, Paenibacillus, was found in a New Mexico cave, sealed for 4 million years. While harmless to humans, the ancient bacteria was resistant to most clinical antibiotics, including most of the newest and most aggressive. That discovery suggested that bacteria can also survive the most exotic and remote environments.

Soviet microbiology lab revived bacteria from the permafrost in the 1980s. With climate warming, getting at the minerals and petroleum deposits throughout the Arctic, will require moving a lot of permafrost—an amount properly measured in millions of tons. “At once, you are going to excavate 16 million tons of permafrost that has not been moved or perturbed in a million years of time.” Rotting permafrost stacked up next to mining cabins, their contents open to the sun and air and summer rain. “We are really reaching places where, if there are microbes infectious to humans or human ancestors, we are going to get them.”

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Known agents already pose a threat

However, even though the prospect of ancient long dormant pathogens suddenly are freed and attacking human cells is terrifying, we already have serious very real scenarios, it is believed that a 2016 heat wave thawed a reindeer carcass infected with anthrax, subsequently killing a boy. Banned toxic chemicals, including pesticides such as DDT, are melting out of glaciers in Alaska and elsewhere in the Arctic as they retreat. Permafrost may release largest Mercury source on Earth.

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It is unclear how novel author Bae Young-Ik exactly was inspired for this very real threat for human health in light of climate change, since many of the discoveries related to his plot scenario were made after his publication. But as his main protagonist, is using logic, deductive reasoning, to solve the many puzzles and problems, he may as well has the same skill-set when writing about such an important yet to unfold super climate-unknown.

Robinson Meyer: Such emergencies—those that overwhelm our understanding of “known knowns”—are among the most unsettling portents of climate change. Whether the emergencies of the coming century arrive in the form of fires, or floods, or plagues that rise invisibly from the ground, they’re likely to become more and more extreme and less and less familiar—a fantastical parade of crises we will be shocked to find ourselves battling. Even in its quietest places, the world will become newly hostile.

The End of the World is binge-worthy, almost masterpiece

Good film productions have one thing in common a great and consistent story, great actors, and often good camera, sound, music, and scenery setup. Ahn Pan-seok’s actors present a diverse spectrum of characters, and most of them perform authentic and skillful, with refreshing Korean accents for a American or European audience. It is great to see an apocalyptic drama television show picking up on a potential future threat scenario, as the ice continues to melt, reminding us what we may possibly could unleash, besides all the other bad stuff we already noticed.

If you like tv shows such as Stranger Things episode 1, epics such as The Human Condition, or The Hidden Fortress, or interesting story developments such as with Fargo, or True Detectives season 1, and are not shy to compromise with reading English subtitles, you are in for a mostly great realism based film experience. The drama also highlights disaster management limitations, and possibilities, leaving one with the notion that you really don’t want to provoke this beast. Climate State rating for The End of the World (2013), episodes 1-6 is 8.5 out of 10 rating.

However, starting with episode seven the drama changes substantially, likely due to a tighter schedule after the original planned 20 episodes were cut to 12. If you read the comments at this missing Korean review you even can deduce that the film was influenced from the outside, apparently in a very negative way. The last seven episodes get a rating of 6.5, though there are some good moments, but it feels lengthly, and the plot is often loose, inconsistent, and not so dramatic anymore.

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