On July 15, 2020, the streaming service, Peacock, made 12 episodes of Cleopatra in Space, an animated show, available to all U.S. residents, after making five episodes available to Xfinity subscribers a few months before. Whether by error, laziness, or purposeful action, the show’s sixth episode was not listed, meaning that only episodes 1-5 and 7-13 were available to anyone who subscribed to Peacock Premium. Mike Maihack, creator of the graphic novel series which this animated series was based on, lamented this development. He described the “missing” episode as focusing on a “zombie-like flu,” with Cleo having to face the consequences of avoiding quarantine, and said it is an episode that the “entire world should be able to see right now.” He also called the release of only 12 episodes “disappointing,” referring to the fact that 26 episodes were part of the show’s first season, many of which premiered on the Dreamworks channel, available to subscribers in Southeast Asia. A fan of the show later asked Peacock about this episode and they described it as “temporarily unavailable” and said that there is no news on the release “at the moment.” As of the time of this article’s publication, the episode has still not been added to Peacock, with an official Peacock account explaining that the episode was “not actively” on the platform, but not explaining why this was the case. This article will summarize the “missing” episode, reportedly with the name “Quarantine,” as listed on the website of Rotten Tomatoes,  and note how it relates to the COVID-19 pandemic.
This was originally written in October 2020, but never published for some reason. It was since named and fixed up in December 2022, so some of the information in it may be outdated. It will be published on my History Hermann WordPress blog on Feb. 23, 2022. The episode was finally released on Peacock on June 25, 2021.
This episode is not the first time that a show has focused on a quarantine. The Simpsons Movie in 2007 was about the town of Springfield trapped under a glass dome by a power-hungry EPA administrator. Some have argued noted other Simpsons episodes, like one where the “Osaka Flu” spread across Springfield, although such a comparison is faulty due to the unscientific way that the flu spread across the town itself. On the other hand, the August 2011 episode of Futurama, “Cold Warriors,” had the arrogant space commander, Zapp Brannigan, attempt to bring the quarantined city of New New York into the Sun after the common cold virus accidentally spread across the city from Fry to the rest of those in the city. Luckily, the cold is controlled once everyone receives a vaccine, the quarantine is lifted, and the city returned to its rightful location. In a similar vein, Edgar Allan Poe, in his short story “The Masque of the Red Death,” focuses on a prince who gathers his rich friends within a castle while a plague known as the “Red Death” spreads across the country, killing all who are exposed. Ultimately, they are exposed to the virus and end up dying as a result, showing no one is safe from the disease.
Cleo and the zombie flu
This episode is different from the previously mentioned examples. Cleopatra “Cleo,” (voiced by Lilimar Herandez) is adjusting herself to the future, almost getting killed by a robot assassin, a robotic monster, nearly captured by scavengers, and liberating a planet from the control of the Xerxs, the footsoldiers of the tyrannical Octavian, in previous episodes. She begins the episode by going on her first solo mission to retrieve a book from a planet named Buflong whose inhabitants look like butterflies and “speak a musical language,” boasting she can deal with a “bunch of butterflies.” She figures out how to deal with the burping butterflies, first zapping them with her quaser (a type of laser pistol), throwing her bracelets to the creatures, and speaking a burp language with the queen butterfly creature.
Cleo returns to Mayet confidently and when her mentor, Khensu (voiced by Sendhil Ramamurthy), tells her to quarantine because of a flu outbreak on the planet she came from. In her typical style, she decides to not take him seriously, declaring she has no idea what quarantine is, and says she is fine because she “doesn’t even have a sniffle.” She touches as many people as she can when she arrives at Pyramid, an academy which is a cross-between a college and high school, with no social distancing whatsoever. Although she thinks that everything will be “totally fine,” the next day she sees all the students at the campus sick with the zombie flu. She does not understand how she got everyone sick, with Khensu informing her she is a carrier of the flu. She is shocked by how the sickness is developing among her classmates, such as temporary tentacle growth (in the case of Zaid), hallucinations (in the case of Brian), and projectile crying (in the case of Akila). Khensu tells her that the flu “affects every species differently” in the first stage of the virus. Although cats only have a mild cold, the second stage is the same for everyone: “extreme aggression.” Basically, everyone turns into “rage zombies” who are prone to fight others. Yikes!
Cleo defends her actions, saying that she doesn’t know “weird future stuff” and shows she has no knowledge of quarantine, guessing it is a mineral, a dance, or “some kind of pastry.”
Khensu and Cleo leave in the nick of time, as they have to find a cure before everyone in the academy dies from the flu, killing each other in their uncontrollable rage. They travel to an uninhabited ice planet to meet Dr. Queed (voiced by Paul Rugg), former head of biosciences for P.Y.R.A.M.I.D., who was forced out because of his eccentric nature. While Khensu and Cleo are sparring, their ship crash-lands on the planet, and they barely escape being killed by lightning which strikes anything above 20 feet. Thanks to Cleo’s quick thinking, charging her quaser with the lightning’s energy, as soon as the virus fully takes hold of Khensu, making him a “rage zombie,” the giant ice spider, which blocks their way, is killed by a blast from the quaser. Afterward, Cleo and Khensu enter Dr. Queed’s lab, and learn the unsettling news that the monster Cleo killed was one of his creations! As Cleo pleads with him to help those at the academy, he remains skeptical of offering his “uncanny scientific brilliance.” Using his over-confidence, hubris, and ego against him, Cleo manipulates Queed into helping them, as Queed claims he can cure “any sickness.” Khensu, overtaken by the flu, almost kills Queed, until he sticks the untested vaccine into his arm, which ends up being successful. Later, Cleo goads Queed, saying he can’t cure everyone, leading him to declare he will prove his scientific abilities by making a big batch of vaccines.
On their return to Mayet, Queed, Cleo, and Khensu wear special helmets equipped to shoot vaccine darts at people. When they return to the academy, it has turned into utter mayhem, with each of them spreading out to cover more ground, firing darts filled with the vaccine at every student they can find. In the end, Brian is the only holdout, remaining infected because the darts can’t penetrate his cyborg body. Cleo has to activate her super pink power and is trapped by Brian, allowing her to suck out the power from Brian’s body. With everything returning to normal, Cleo says the spread of the illness is all her fault, a conclusion which is mostly correct. Khensu admits that he shouldn’t have assumed she knew of the “importance of quarantine.” Ironically, she later enters quarantine after showing symptoms of a presumed common cold. In the last scene of the episode, she remarks, “quarantine stinks!” a sentiment a lot of us would agree with at this point in time, and asks for a charger.
Cleo declares that “quarantine stinks!”
Relevance to the pandemic
The episode is extremely relevant to the present, even though the flu which is portrayed in the animated series is nothing like COVID-19. When Cleo unknowingly brings the disease back to Mayet as an asymptomatic carrier, and becomes the superspreader. A close watching of the episode shows Cleo gets close to at least five people, including fist-bumping with two, and hugging two more people while walking through an area bustling with students. Since the area was crowded with people, at least 18 students in the area nearby, by my count, she undoubtedly spread the virus to them. As such, the simple action of walking near the gathered students is a super-spreader event. When it comes to COVID-19, densely packed areas where people are talking or singing is risky as it leads to super-spreader events,  with the same applying here. In the same episode, Professor Jurval is shown teaching a class with at least seven students, although more are likely there and not shown on the screen. This is another presumed super-spreader event as she coughs toward the students, leading them to spread the cough between each other. Similar to the virus shown in the episode, COVID-19 has various stages and symptoms and does not affect everyone the same way.
Jurval’s possible superspreader event
There are few lessons and takeaways from this episode, tempered by the current time and place we live in. The first is that you should quarantine yourself when you are sick and don’t think you are above it. The latter attitude is how people have died or become seriously ill with COVID-19. In fact, Cleo spreading the virus almost caused her friends and classmates to die as their rage came to a melting point. She barely saved the day, only thanks to a medical doctor, although one that was seen as a quack, his vaccines of sorts, and her mentor, Khensu. Another takeaway from this episode is that you should listen to medical advice, not ignore it, as Cleo does at the end of the episode when she develops a cold of some type, perhaps as a side effect of the virus she spread or something else entirely.
The episode as a whole can be interpreted, in our current time and place, as emphasizing the importance of social distancing, coupled with mask-wearing. If Cleo had social distanced from her fellow classmates, wore a mask, and gone to quarantine, the outbreak of the flu could have been completely avoided. But, that wouldn’t have made a “good” story, right? More fundamentally, the episode is about trusting others and not being as self-centered (or arrogant), especially when you don’t know something or others will be harmed by your actions. This is especially relevant considering the current infection of the U.S. President with COVID-19 and those around him,  after not following the proper safety precautions, whether not social distancing or not wearing a mask. Clearly, no one is immune from the virus, no matter their stature in U.S. society, and no one can escape its wrath or effects.
Unlike COVID-19, where someone can feel “well in their battle against it one hour can easily take a turn the next,” as noted by TIME magazine’s Senior Editor, the virus shown in the episode only has two stages. Even so, there are many parallels to the current pandemic. The event last Saturday at the Rose Garden to announce Judge Amy Coney Barrett as a nominee for the Supreme Court, has been considered a superspreader event.  Similarly, Cleo walking through a crowded area at school, and Jurval sneezing on her class, are similarly superspreader events. At the same time, the way the virus was transmitted in the episode itself is similar to COVID-19 because it spreads in tiny aerosol droplets, something which the CDC recently admitted COVID-19 does as well, after initially denying it.  The agency’s official website currently states that “some infections can be spread by exposure to [the] virus in small droplets and particles that can linger in the air for minutes to hours,” making clear that social distancing and mask-wearing alone will not limit the virus, but rather that it is about the time of exposure.
The episode itself also highlights the importance of proper medical care and science. If Queed had never created the vaccine and inadvertently made Khensu into a test subject, then everyone at the academy would have killed each other. Admittedly, this vaccine did not go through all the stages that those vaccines for the flu, measles, smallpox, and many other diseases, must go through before being given to the general public. In that way, it was a big gamble to even make the vaccines for everyone because they only had one test subject (Khensu). What if the effects on the students had been different? Imagine that instead of removing the flu particles within each of them, it killed or made them sicker? This is where the show falls down. Since it is reportedly geared toward those aged 6-11, according to showrunner Doug Langdale, such serious discussions are often sidetracked. As such, shows like Futurama do a much better job of highlighting the medical issues and risks in infection than Cleopatra in Space, with critics praising it for highlighting “what happens when an epidemic breaks loose in the future.” Even so, the Cleopatra in Space episode still has its merits, as it does not have flashbacks and neither is everyone put in quarantine. Similar to the Futurama episode, a vaccine is created, but the plotline is more straightforward and focuses on fewer characters, as Cleo’s usual team of herself, Brian, and Akila, is not possible, as Brian and Akila have the flu.
The parallels to the current COVID-19 pandemic could why the episode is still not listed on Peacock. However, the episode has aired on the DreamWorks channel, Showmax in South Africa, Viaplay in Scandinavia, and ABC Me in Australia, to give a few examples. Perhaps the executives, whether at DreamWorks, Universal Pictures (parent of DreamWorks), NBCUniversal (parent of Universal Pictures), or Comcast (parent of NBC Universal), did not want the episode to be interpreted as a commentary on COVID-19, with a protagonist who violates quarantine rules and is gleeful about it (before releasing her error). If that is the case, it is completely absurd. Since the show is relatively complex, in terms of the fact it has 26 episodes, coming in a total of over 570 minutes of animated content, it undoubtedly took a long time to produce, as compared to shorter productions. The show has been in production since at least January 2018, when the request to develop the music for the show was put out,  and when DreamWorks registered the trademark for Cleopatra in Space itself. Looking into those in the show’s crew, depending on the person, they worked on the show any time between April 2018 and August 2019, far before COVID-19 was on anyone’s mind.
Hopefully, this episode will soon be made available and that other animations in the coming year make parallels to the current COVID-19 pandemic in a way that is respectful and recognizes the gravity of the virus. In the end, there are various lessons and takeaways that viewers can glean from this episode, and the animated series as a whole, which will have relevance to this current time and place, and into the foreseeable future.
© 2020-2023 Burkely Hermann. All rights reserved.
 This episode seems to be named “The Flu,” when the Korean title of the episode, when it aired on the DreamWorks channel on December 2, 2019, was translated. It also aired on Teletoon+ in Poland on February 24 of this year, and on ABC Me, an Australian broadcasting service, this summer.
 Brown, N. (2020, May 15). What is a coronavirus “super-spreading” event? Retrieved October 4, 2020, from https://www.cbsnews.com/news/super-spreader-coronavirus/.
 Over 19 people have been infected as noted by Norah O’Donnell in the CBS News special report on late night television on October 5, 2020 about the return of the U.S. President from Walter Reed to the White House, a number that increases every day.
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 Lofty, C. (2019, November 25). Cleopatra comin’ atcha! – the music of Cleo in Space. Retrieved October 4, 2020, from https://futurevega.com/blog/cleopatra-in-space.