What is the cost of lies?
I never thought I’d be writing about a series like this. But now, I am and there’s lots to say.
I originally was not interested in watching Chernobyl but I had suddenly changed my mind and gave it a go. Not sure why at first, but maybe it was when I heard people calling it the greatest thing since Game of Thrones and I remembered in history class I had an interest in nuclear catastrophes.
Let me just say before I begin, this show is obviously based off of the real disaster at the Chernobyl power plant in Ukraine. If you don’t know much about it, this video provides a good summary of the incident except it doesn’t talk about the people involved.
Yeah it’s a very basic rundown, but there’s a lot to it so yeah. Anyway, I had to re-watch the series to review it here because reviewing TV series requires a lot more effort, absorption of what occurs, and time to write than reviews of games, movies, albums. At times, this show was difficult to watch because some parts really hit me hard; that’s all the dramatization of some events compared to what happened in real life but that was what made this series good in the end.
Some things that take place in the series are based off the real incident while others are fictional to make it more dramatic or easier to follow.
As usual, you’ve been warned, there are lots of spoilers ahead so don’t proceed if you haven’t seen it!
You’re still here? Alright here we go by each episode.
The first episode opened to me with lots of unanswered questions starting with why Valery Legasov was recording those tapes? Why did it appear he was being watched outside? Why did he hang himself at the exact same date and time Chernobyl’s fourth reactor exploded two years back?
Well I knew I wouldn’t get my answers until later cause once it began the actual incident did the show begin to shine.
Right after the reactor explodes, already the workers are scrambling to find out what happened. From there it seems like it’s two sides trying to analyze the situation. Dyatlov believes the reactor can’t explode and thinks it’s just the roof that’s on fire, thus he calls the fire department. The executives are also facing a similar debate it all comes down to dismissing the incident as a minor problem when in reality, it’s far worse. Like the moment when some of the workers find their colleagues already with radiation burns and when they finally go to the main chamber, they realize it’s exposed.
You notice the firefighters are not fully prepared and are wearing minimal protection for a nuclear fire. One of them even picks up some debris from the explosion and already gets a radiation burn on his hand.
But what really got me about this episode was the fact that everyone, especially civilians are completely oblivious to how serious the fire is. There’s a part where all these citizens are watching the fire from a bridge, admiring the scenery while the children play in the falling ashes. When Vasily and the other firefighters prepare to enter the power plant, we see a shot of his wife Lyudmilla back in the suburbs looking concerned before he does. And how does it play out in the end? It’s like the executives vote to cover everything up and prevent evacuation and life goes on as normal like nothing ever happened. EVERYTHING IS JUST FINE….when it really isn’t as you see the smoke from the fire which has got massive amounts of radiation and creeping towards the town. Right after this episode, I felt like this show needed an Emmy for its eerie and suspenseful score and episodes ending on a cliffhanger like that just cuts really deep.
2. Please Remain Calm
This episode takes place the following morning and we are introduced to Emily Watson’s character: Ulana Khomyuk. She is one of the few characters who is a fictional composite character to represent all the scientists involved in real life. I liked her right away for her persistence in seeking answers.
More meetings for Legasov and he has to convince everyone, especially Scherbina that the situation at Chernobyl is far more dangerous than anticipated: open core, radiation equivalent to two bombs on Hiroshima and it’s not until Khomyuk arrives, getting arrested in the process, does the committee begin to listen. That’s why I had to watch this series more than once to really take in the discussions.
The hardest part to watch was when Pripyat was finally being evacuated. All the citizens had to leave their belongings behind that weren’t essential and even one soldier forcefully took a girl’s dog from her, cause apparently pets were not allowed to be brought along either.
Not to mention the overflowing hospital really showed how the doctors and nurses were underestimating the damage radiation burns can do to those firefighters until one doctor intervenes and the clothes are kept in the basement. I’ve been told by a friend that they’re still piled down there today. All I was left at the end was another shock like are they gonna drain the basement successfully? No one knows until next the episode.
3. Open Wide O Earth
This episode was the hardest for me to watch, even more than once for the purpose of writing this review. It truly brings out the horror of what ARS and radiation burns can do to the human body. Like that conversation between Legasov and Scherbina where Legasov tells him what will happen to the firefighters and plant workers who had the most exposure. I found myself visualizing the effect even though I didn’t want to.
After the drainage, now comes stopping a nuclear meltdown with miners eventually doing the job naked cause it’s too hot down there. It seems around now, Legasov is trying to get everyone to see the big picture but often his words are dismissed by those of higher authorities or covered up by lies. No wonder he turns to Khomyuk to get answers from victims.
Now, this is where I get into the disturbing parts. It clearly shows how naive Lyudmilla is believing Vasily is just burned and underestimates the damage radiation can do. At first Vasily seemed normal with a red bruise on his face, just playing cards with his buddies but over time he kept getting worse and assumed he was going to be fine even after his skin was melting away to a point that he no longer looked human.
Lyudmilla on the other hand, the first time I saw her disobey orders and touched him, and even thought that it was safe for her since she saw the nurses do it, my first reaction was “Lady, what the hell are you doing?! You are putting yourself and your unborn baby at risk!” after watching it again, I tried to see the other side of the coin and it made me think, ah the things we do for love, no matter the risks. I mean, I totally understand that she didn’t want him to die alone, but if it were me, I would have listened to the risks and if I saw how bad it was later, I would have just asked them to put him down.
So, when Khomyuk started to get answers from the other victims, did I see the incident coming together since the first episode doesn’t reveal much, and the way it ends and Lyudmilla finally comes to accept that her husband is gone when the concrete covers the last amount of his casket. Truly scarring, give an Emmy to the makeup designers please.
4. The Happiness of All Mankind
Now that the immediate threat is over, we’re now getting into the decontamination work to keep the radiation contained.
Let me just say this, if you don’t like seeing dead animals, this episode will put a hole in your heart. But, I had to remind myself that it was an act of mercy cause the radiation could have done the same thing to them as those firefighters.
There was even this one guy who found it difficult to shoot a litter of puppies with their mom. I’m not a dog person, and those are mainly the animals we see get shot so if you love dogs, then this might be even harder for you to watch.
There was also the matter of preparing to cover up the exposed core and from what we see is just the startup process. They could only clear debris every ninety seconds!
We’re starting to reach the conclusion here as Khomyuk finally gets some answers from Dyatlov and informs Legasov and Scherbina that there will be a hearing in Vienna with Dyatlov on trial. There still seems to be a lot of lies going on and we’re hopefully going to get the truth by the next episode. But that doesn’t mean we will, will we?
When it ended with Lyudmilla losing her baby not long after it was born, I almost wanted to say I told you so, but that’s a little heartless of me and that wasn’t a strong ending compared to the last three.
5. Vichnaya Pamyat
Well, this is where everything comes together. It goes back and forth between the trial and the events twelve hours and just before the reactor explodes.
It makes it feel like you’re watching a prequel to the start of the series, but I like this different approach how they left these flashbacks to the end instead of putting them at the beginning of the show. Scherbina, Khomyuk and Legasov all gave their testimony. I felt like Khomyuk’s was the easiest to follow since she covered the human issues: decision to delay the test, lack of knowledge of the test the night shift workers had, Dyatlov’s ignorance of safety protocol, etc. Dyatlov is such a prick, so unprofessional, and only seems to care about getting a big stamp of approval that the test was a success rather than having it conducted safely.
When Legasov explained his issue, he even gave a presentation about how the test eventually led to the explosion, moment by moment. From there, we finally got to see in flashbacks how it happened. I’m not an expert on nuclear science and how they work so I won’t go into the details, but from how it ended, Legasov was dismissed as a liar. He didn’t sound like he was lying to me, but the government and press covered it up as that because the authorities involved in working at Chernobyl don’t want to admit the flaws in their system that scientists like him have uncovered, in my opinion. Henceforth Legasov was detained to never work again, never speak of Chernobyl again, and no longer have contact with Scherbina and Khomyuk. I think this answers my question why he killed himself years later.
Once that ends, we get footage and a timeline of how the Chernobyl disaster happened in real life and a memory statement to all those who perished.
So, to sum things up, I think this miniseries helps bring awareness of this incident that occurred. Apparently I heard on the news that the power plant became some sort of tourist destination, thanks to the series, even if you can’t get close to it.
It also was nominated for tons of Emmys, and won ten of them. A few of them included awards for best music and sound-editing because I tell you this, some of the audio in this series was eerie and suspenseful.
Do I recommend this mini-series? Absolutely 100%, it covers complex situations and really shows you how catastrophic a nuclear disaster can be on those affected the most, the public, the scientists, and the government. I never thought I’d enjoy it, but I did. There were parts that really cut deep into my heart that made me aware of these types of tragedies and that’s why I’m giving it an A+.
Now, to just wait for the other series by HBO that I’m craving to watch.