A Limited Look: Chernobyl
We have arrived at the last installment in this particular blog series that has been exploring some particularly good limited series from the past few years. Hopefully you all have not grown tired of our fondness for limited series and their ability to dive deeply into character development and plot. So far we have covered several series from HBO, and last week we ventured into a well-written series from FX that was based on true events This week we are looking at a series that is also based on true events that happened to recently air on HBO.
So, with that being said, let’s look at a recently released limited series widely acclaimed by critics, Chernobyl.
The series covers the Chernobyl nuclear disaster of April 1986 and the aftermath of the incident. It primarily focuses on the aftermath of the event, and the investigation into what went awry on that night and the hours preceding it. It also covers the horrors medically for those present for the incident and the cleanup, and it tracks what steps the government had to take to contain the problem. While detailing what happened scientifically, it does not shy away from the cost of human lives.
The Main Characters
-Valery Legasov- Portrayed by Jared Harris, Legasov was the Deputy Director of the Kurchatov Institute of Atomic Energy. After the explosion at Chernobyl, he is brought in to aid the cleanup efforts and contain any further potential disasters. Legasov works closely with Shcherbina in the aftermath of the incident, and he struggles personally with the decisions that are made throughout the course of the cleanup and investigation.
-Boris Shcherbina- Portrayed by Stellan Skarsgard, Shcherbina was a chairman of the Council of Ministers. He was tasked with supervising the Soviet crisis management of the incident, and he worked closely with Legasov in the process. Shcherbina seems to always be caught in the middle between what should be done and what the government prefers to be done.
-Ulana Khomyuk- Portrayed by Emily Watson, Khomyuk is a nuclear physicist from Minsk in the series. She takes the investigation into what caused the reactor to explode quite seriously, and she tasks herself with speaking to all involved without care of how the government will respond. While Khomyuk was not a real scientist involved in the disaster, her character represents all the scientists who put themselves in danger to help solve the situation.
-Anatoly Dyatlov- Portrayed by Paul Ritter, Dyatlov was the assistant chief engineer at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant. He was in charge of the safety test that went awry the night of the explosion, and his role in the incident is explored heavily in the show.
-Vasily Ignatenko- Portrayed by Adam Nagaitis, Ignatenko was a firefighter in Pripyet and one of the first to respond to the Chernobyl disaster. Ignatenko is one of the responders followed throughout the series as he both helps contain the fire and is later hospitalized.
-Viktor Bryukhanov- Portrayed by Con O’Neill, Bryukhanov was the plant manager of Chernobyl. Bryukhanov initially operated under the assumption that the radiation levels were far lower and much less dangerous than they actually were, and this is the information he initially passes on to the government.
-Nikolai Fomin- Portrayed by Adrian Rawlins, Fomin was the Chief Engineer at Chernobyl. Fomin pressed the staff to continually feed water to the reactor and refused to believe the reactor was actually destroyed.
-Leonid Toptunov- Portrayed by Robert Emms, Toptunov was the senior engineer at Chernobyl. He was in the control room at the time of the explosion but received a fatal dose of radiation while trying to restart the feedwater flow to the reactor.
-Aleksandr Akimov- Portrayed by Sam Troughton, Akimov was the night shift supervisor at Chernobyl. Akimov initially wanted to abort the safety test due to concerning drops in reactor power but was overruled. He also received a fatal dose of radiation while trying to restart the feedwater flow to the reactor.
-Lyudmilla Ignatenko- Portrayed by Jessie Buckley, she is the wife of firefighter Vasily Ignatenko. Her husband receives a fatal dose of radiation due to his work at Chernobyl, and it is through her eyes that we see the devastation of the event on several individuals involved.
Where It Excels
The Institutional Issues
One of the aspects of the Chernobyl disaster that the show does not shy away from is the reactions and decisions of government officials. The series covers the events that caused the meltdown, but it does so through the eyes of those investigating the problem. Through Legasov and Shcherbina, it is revealed on multiple occasions that they are pressured by the government to conceal facts and present a better face to their own people and even the world. They push back against the evacuation of Pripyet, and they often downplay the actual radiation levels and the subsequent dangers of it. It also covers important information that was concealed that could have helped avoid this kind of disaster in general. The episodes are all well-written by the talented Craig Mazin, and the show does not hesitate to highlight the lies told and missteps made by those holding important positions.
Exploring The Cost
It is easy to look at the explosion alone and discuss the impact it had on those present and first responders; however, the show goes beyond that. It explores some of the lasting effects of such an explosion, and it goes in depth as to the other problems that occurred because of it. It covers the dangers of trying to extinguish the fire with boron and sand. It covers the mission to drain water in order to avoid a steam explosion. It follows the clearing of the roof, and the efforts taken to avoid the contamination of groundwater. It even highlights the disposal of animals contaminated by the radiation. The series never shies away from the many costs of this incident.
Highlighting The Participants
One of the aspects of the show that is celebrated is the details it gives about every person involved. It captures some of the human stories that tend to get swallowed in such a massive disaster. It follows the fates of everyone working in the control room on that fateful night. It highlights Ignatenko and some of the other first responders that initial night. It follows the ones chosen by the government to handle the problem. It follows the miners that are called upon by their government to help stop the contamination of groundwater. Every aspect of the event is highlighted in this series, and it helps keep the human lives in the forefront the entire time.
Honoring The Losses
One of the things that the series does is honor the ones who lost their lives in light of the Chernobyl explosion. A lot of this is covered in the final episode of the series where an epilogue honors the actions of many; however, the whole show really does honor those who attempted to avoid the disaster or helped in the aftermath.
In conclusion, Chernobyl is a gripping and haunting dramatization of the events of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster. It highlights the ordinary yet brave individuals who were involved, and it gives audiences a lot to think about in terms of truth, authority, and censorship.
So, have you watched Chernobyl? What did you think about this limited series?
Comment and let us know! And in the meantime, look out for next week as we venture into a new series for the blog.
Mollie is a film enthusiast, aspiring writer/screenwriter, and a lover of all things Harry Potter, Star Wars, and Doctor Who. She is the co-founder of The Digital Shore (@thedigitalshore) and Above The Line (@atl_movies). You can follow her many adventures through Twitter and Instagram at @mcbeach.