I’ll be honest with you. I didn’t know a distaster of this magnitude even took place in history. When a friend of mine told me to watch this miniseries on Hotstar, I immediately subscribed to the OTT platform and began what I call my fastest yet slowest journey through a series. Chernobyl is not a documentary. It’s a re-telling of the events that took place in 1986, one night when things went horribly wrong at a nuclear power plant, it’s a show about ‘the cost of lies and the danger of narrative’
Chernobyl is a 5-episode drama created and written by Craig Mazin and directed by Johan Renck. It’s co-produced by HBO and Sky UK depicting the Chernobyl nuclear disaster of April 1986 and also showcases the events that followed, in trying to clean up the mess that was caused. The series deep dives into the then Soviet Union and the series of lies and stories told from one level of authority to the other to save the face of a nation, and yet results in almost killing an entire continent of people. The irony in this one is strong and gives you a fair idea of what politics meant back in the day for a country that would not let allow themselves to be humiliated at any cost, even the cost of lives.
Unlike other HBO series, this one came with absolutely no fanfare, no oversized sets and no high-profile showrunners. It became a sensation overnight, quietly, and disruptively, at the same pace that the disaster crept into the homes of the families in Chernobyl, that fateful night in April 1986. The show begins with a suicide, unlike other series that would have probably kept it for later in the show. This is indicative of the no-nonsense tone of the show that carries through. The timelines of events, though chronological, are also depicted centrifugal at some points, for dramatic storytelling.
This one’s not for the faint at heart. The creators of the show did not hold back in showing you the gruesome state of living in the times of the disaster and what it did to humans, animals, plants and children.
While so many characters represent real personalities from the incident, some characters are created to represent a group of people such as doctors, politicians etc. These characters stand for what these groups stood for, and play the role of their contribution to the incident.
There is no romance, lovey-dovey scenes or even humour. There is irony and a hint of satire, but nothing that will make you go hahahaha. It’s everything that will make you go hmmmm. However, there is the story of one local couple from the city whose characters are used to depict the lives of many others.
Dr. Valery Legasov (Atomic energy expert), played by Jared Harris, is summoned by Soviet Central Committee member Boris Scherbina (Stellan Skarsgård). He is called upon to investigate the incident and coordinate the local response. Soon, he is partnered with Dr Ulana Khomyuk (Emily Watson) who is the only fictional character of the main cast, that’s created to represent the scientists who helped Legasov in salvaging the situation. She keeps his conscience in check; pushing him to put an end to the sea of lies created by the authorities. Even if it means risking his own life and career.
The narrative on ‘lies’ is a theme that is constant and will keep showing up through the 5 episodes. You will come across so many instances, where you’ll be hoping someone told the truth and that the disaster would end right there. But the shock of it all is the fact that the biggest lie was told years before the actual disaster took place, even though smaller lies were the immediate trigger.
The creators of the show don’t hold back with allowing you to feel the tension and the frustration. My favourite scene is that of ‘bio-robots’ aka humans moving in groups of 4-5 to push the rubble of graphite off the roof of tower 4 of the plant. The camera work here is made to give you the feeling of actually being present there, in that life or death situation. It’s where even a small mistake could decide your fate. The background score by composer Hildur Gudnadottir is not overpowering at any point. Rather, it allows you to feel, it supports the storytelling and does exactly what it’s there to do, take you on a journey.
In summarizing the show, I think it received a lot less hype than it should have received. It’s a bit slow and that’s probably why it didn’t catch on to the masses. But given the nature of the incident, every step of the way, you were faced with a challenge that had you making decisions of death. Almost as if you had to play God, sacrificing the few for the many. The series heavily allows you into the world of Chernobyl in 1986. And after the incident too, how lies lead to more lies and cost people for years to come. It’s not so much about politics than it is about individual morals, given up for that of the state.
There’s also a podcast that you might like to listen to. It’s a 6-episode podcast between creator Craig Mazin and host, Peter Sagal. It’s available on apps like Spotify, Apple Music, Soundcloud, youtube, HBO Go and HBO now. It discusses how much of the series is true to the nature of events and how much differs, while it explores other topics as well.
Leaving you with my favourite quote from the series:
“Every lie we tell incurs a debt to the truth. Sooner later, that debt is paid”
Bingewagon Rating : 4.5/5
Featured Image: IMDb
Cover Image: HBO.com
An avid binge-reader and an occasional binge-watcher, Marilyn D'Cruz is a copywriter by profession but a storyteller by heart.