What’s Killing People in Day 5? (spoilers through Episode 5)
I don’t think it was the TV signal. Partially because that would leave the finale to be mostly denouement (and there needs to be something else), but mostly because the TV signal explanation doesn’t really line up with the observed effects.
Here’s what I have inferred so far:
1. People are dying once they reach slow-wave sleep, in which brain activity is predominated by delta waves, which are brain-wide oscillations that range in frequency from .1 to 4 Hz. This is the stage of sleep you reach shortly after you doze off, and you generally pass through a cycle of going into and then back out of this stage before you begin dreaming (REM).
This conclusion is supported by the fact that people beginning to doze off don’t die (they can be awakened just fine), people experiencing microsleeps or waking dreams don’t die (see Jake in just about every episode), and people who are thrown directly into REM (dreaming) sleep don’t die. It’s also supported by the fact that birds and mammals have died (both experience slow-wave sleep) but sharks (which do not experience slow-wave sleep) have not.
It may also be supported by the fact that Lex mentioned brains needing to reach a certain “frequency” in order to be killed by the phenomenon, because that suggests that a certain pattern of brain oscillations is what’s being interfered with.
2. There is a safe (or relatively safe) zone near the antipodes of the general area of Texas. The man at the broadcast station in Dallas mentioned that there were rumors of “safe sleep zones” in places like Malaysia and Australia. These landmasses are about as close as one can get to being on the opposite side of the world from Texas (the actual antipodes of which lie in the Indian Ocean). It appears that whatever is being transmitted from Texas and killing people is weakened enough by going all the way around or through the Earth that it has a lower chance of killing people in these areas.
3. People don’t appear to have been saved by bad TV reception. I’d expect that in some apocalyptic scenario, there’d be at least a fraction of government personnel and homespun crackpots who’d have fallout-hardened bunkers to hide in. And yet, we haven’t heard from any people who napped safely behind six feet of concrete. We also haven’t seen any locals who were protected from a majority of the signal by terrain features that block TV reception, like the various mountain ranges and “uplifts” dotted across Texas.
So, what I expect here is that it’s not the TV signal that was killing people. If it were, then people would be surviving in places with bad TV reception (even if it’s being bounced to every TV tower in the world, there are always spots) and not just at the antipodes of Texas. Furthermore, I think it’s unlikely that a signal in the MHz frequency range (as TV signals are) would interfere with a brain phenomenon on the order of single-digit Hz.
I do think it’s suspicious that the warning broadcast began around the time the phenomenon did, but I think that could be explained by the fact that someone out there, whom we haven’t met yet, knew this phenomenon was about to occur and called Jen Brown’s character to wake her up. That alone makes me suspect that whatever happened here was the result of a secret project, potentially one with unintended side effects—like killing people.
This also means that Ellis’s group is under the mistaken impression that it’s safe to go to sleep, which is bad. I’ll get back to that later, though.
I hear a hypothetical person asking, “But what do you think has been killing people then, if not the TV broadcast?”
I’m glad you asked, hypothetical person. My idea is below the cut for length.