TV Review: Chernobyl

Chernobyl Poster

What is the cost of lies? It’s not that we’ll mistake them for the truth. The real danger is that if we hear enough lies, then we no longer recognize the truth at all. — Valery Legasov, played by Jared Harris.

I honestly don’t remember when I first heard about the Chernobyl disaster, but I’m confident I was at an age too young to understand, being told by my dad who always told my brothers and I things we probably didn’t need to know.

Regardless, Chernobyl is a word, a place, and an event that shocked the world to its core (pun not intended) in 1986 Soviet Russia where its effects are just as important now as they were 33 years ago.

When HBO announced the 5-part miniseries about the disaster, I was intrigued to say the least, but watching it has blown me away. Chernobyl doesn’t pull any punches, granted, some liberties were taken, and the shows creator, Craig Mazin, admits this; though, he spent years researching the event, and references the Svetlana Alexievich novel, Voices from Chernobyl on many occasions.

Chernobyl Cabinet

Though, there are a few former Chernobyl workers that insist the majority of the show is just a fictional dramatization of the idea of Chernobyl, which gives me pause as to whether they are trying to save face for the Soviet Union, or if Mazin delivered a purely fictional historical thriller.

I don’t want to discredit anyone, but Chernobyl had also spoke of the secrecy, lies, and denial within the Soviet Government to keep the event under wraps. Plus, earlier this week, Russia announced a remake of the show where their telling blames the USA and CIA for the explosion — things just keep getting more interesting and intertwined, don’t they?

While watching the show, I also kept up to date with the accompanying podcast presented by HBO, where Mr. Mazin breaks everything down and explains more in-depth things that either were too difficult to convey on film or just didn’t have enough time to show. Listening to it only proved to me that he truly cared about what he was creating, which gave me comfort in the knowledge that Chernobyl relayed to me.

The show starts at the true beginning when the reactor explodes, and immediately hits the ground running. There’s no time for mushy love scenes, or unnecessary conflict — especially in the first episode, 1:23:45, where we are watching things unfold hour by hour.

As the series moves forward, the time gaps becoming bigger; whether it be days, weeks, or even months — it just goes to show how much time and effort went into investigating and containing the disaster.

I’ll say it plainly that the writing is phenomenal, a writer going from Hangover sequels to a strong mini-series about the worst Nuclear disaster the world has ever seen, shows range for Mazin, and I hope he continues down this path of nitty, gritty storytelling.

The ending of each episodes are gems of their own, with endings that deserve awards all on their own as they illicit strong reactions ranging from fear to disgust.

A moment that stuck into my mind, was in episode 4, The Happiness of All Mankind, where the liquidators were on the roof shovelling graphite. It is a full 90 second scene watching these men race against the clock to do as much as they can before being called back in and dismissed from duty. I held my breath and didn’t even realise it till it was over; if that’s not the definition of impactful, then I don’t know what is.

Jared Harris takes center stage as Valery Legasov, the Chemist responsible for leading the containment of the explosion, with Stellan Skarsgard as his powerful ‘comrade’ Boris Shcherbina, the deputy chairman of the Council of Ministries–these two bounce off each other so well, it was an amazing casting choice to have two of the best Character Actors working today.

Emily Watson, who plays Nuclear Physicist, Ulana Khomyuk, who joins Legasov and Shcherbina halfway through the series, stands on her own against the two heavy hitters; granted, her character is one of the few fictionalized characters in the show — she makes it her own while also representing and paying tribute to the many scientists who worked long and hard to find a solution to a impossible situation.

These three are the central point of the story, with smaller subplots involving a Pripyat widow who attempts in vain to not let her husband die alone, to the soldiers in charge of cleaning up the exclusion zone — they are all fleshed out and you cannot help but empathise as they manoeuver a harrowing time.

It is quite important to note that watching plant workers and emergency responders succumb to their rather untimely and horrific deaths brought on by the radiation that Reactor 4 exposed is an image that has been unable to leave my mind; haunting my dreams for weeks now.

Quite frankly, I would say that Chernobyl is a necessary watch for everyone. Its groundbreaking storytelling gives viewers a honest, yet gut wrenching, insight to one of the most horrifying man-made disasters that the world has ever seen.

Regardless of political allegiance, age, or location, Chernobyl is one of the few series on television that should be watched — multiple times. As someone who is re-watching it currently, it’s incredible how many things you pick up on after the fact.

By Elisabeth Joplin

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