Chernobyl: Full series
May 7, 2019 10:04 AM - Season 1 (Full Season) - Subscribe

A five-part miniseries co-production from HBO and Sky, dramatizes the story of the 1986 nuclear accident, one of the worst man-made catastrophes in history — and of the sacrifices made to save Europe from unimaginable disaster.

On April 26, 1986, the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in Ukraine, Soviet Union suffered a massive explosion that released radioactive material across Belarus, Russia and Ukraine and as far as Scandinavia and western Europe.

Jared Harris portrays Valery Legasov, a leading Soviet nuclear physicist. As part of the response team, he was one of the first to grasp the scope of the unparalleled disaster that occurred. Stellan Skarsgård plays Soviet Deputy Prime Minister Boris Shcherbina, who is assigned by the Kremlin to lead the government commission on Chernobyl in the hours immediately following the accident. Emily Watson portrays Ulana Khomyuk, a Soviet nuclear physicist committed to solving the mystery of what led to the Chernobyl disaster.


HBO is also running a podcast with Peter Sagal interviewing series creator Craig Mazin, that will compare each episode to historical events and discuss any parts that were changed, and why. (Overcast.fm link, iTunes/Apple Podcasts link)

IndieWire: HBO Series Never Hides From History’s Physical and Psychological Horror

Daily Beast: HBO’s ‘Chernobyl’ Exposes the Horrifying Scope of Soviet Deception
posted by dnash (79 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
 
(I figured as a miniseries about historical events, thus not really "spoilery," this would be fine as a whole-series post.)

I thought the first episode was really well done. So many shudders and shocks of horror: the plant manager ignores the evidence in front of him; evidence from maxed out dosimeters is ignored; bystanders play in toxic ash falling like snow; firefighters and plant employees are sent in as if it's a simple accident; and the party line of hiding the truth is established early on.
posted by dnash at 10:15 AM on May 7 [4 favorites]


do you taste metal?
posted by capnsue at 9:11 PM on May 7 [6 favorites]


seriously the first 20 min of ep 1 were pretty much the most horrifying thing i've seen in a film like maybe ever. i watch a lot of horror movies but am rarely actually SCARED. i'm perhaps more pathologically afraid of radioactive shit than most people (due to a book i read about atoms at age 8 right before the chernobyl thing actually happened) so i don't know if EVERYONE would find this as scary.....actually f that. the first 20 min of this series constitutes one of the best horror set pieces ever in the history of anything.

(plus it's all real LIFE help)

it took me 2 days to watch the first 20 min because i was so scared the whole time
posted by capnsue at 9:16 PM on May 7 [12 favorites]


Watching the pilot now and it's visually lovely, and the difference between who realized how bad things were and who didn't - either in denial or lack of info - is absolutely devastating, especially how they choose to deal with things.

Can't tell if the costuming is accurate, but it feels so. Similar with the vehicles.

Can't tell if the characterization is accurate either; but sacrificing a large number of people (without their consent) to (only potentially, if they succeed superlatively) save an even larger number of people... jeez, the sangfroid (calling in construction crews to contain the failure, without telling the construction crews the risks).

The Cover-Your-Ass talk halfway through the pilot ... takeaway is that its the same the world over, and timeless? Anyone know how accurate this portrayal of the Chernobyl incident is - at least in the particulars and the plausibility of the reactions?

I'm also a huge fan of the S.T.A.L.K.E.R. PC games, and it's really cool seeing Pripyat again.

There was a switch between 'Russian' that started as a BBS message/ transcript(?) that segued into spoken Russian(?) that switched to English, where the audience knew they weren't speaking English. More traditional style of enacting that kind of paradigm shift, especially compared with Warrior's much more sophisticated approach.
posted by porpoise at 9:25 PM on May 7 [1 favorite]


Well, that was deeply upsetting. Watching their faces turn bright red almost immediately and the poor guy holding the door just rang start bleeding was...YEESH. And I wanted to punch everyone of those shitty men only thinking of how to cover up the accident WHILE IT'S STILL GOING ON.

Does exposure to radioactive material make you taste metal?
posted by Aquifer at 11:04 PM on May 7 [2 favorites]


Does exposure to radioactive material make you taste metal?

Correct, yeah. Outside of chemotherapy, "metal taste" was a very "You are extremely dead" thing.

MeFi previously, on the Liquidators
posted by CrystalDave at 11:59 PM on May 7 [5 favorites]


On the question of accuracy in details - have a listen to the podcast. Mazin says they went to great lengths to be accurate "down to the rivet" because he knew people who'd lived through this would see it, and he wanted them to know the show creators cared enough about the story to get it right.

Also the blue glow in the air isn't the "Effect" one of the men says it is - though that's what they did think at the time. It's actually the ionization of the air over the burning reactor - the radiation is ripping the air molecules apart, basically.
posted by dnash at 5:41 AM on May 8 [4 favorites]


I don't know about the actual plant but people's homes and clothing are not accurate at all. It was really bothering my spouse and me. Especially compared to the Americans where they really did Soviet right.
posted by k8t at 7:09 AM on May 8 [1 favorite]


Being honest, I am too scared to watch this. A child of the 80s, this is basically my nightmare come true (and it did come true!).
posted by praemunire at 9:02 AM on May 8 [3 favorites]


Watching their faces turn bright red almost immediately and the poor guy holding the door just rang start bleeding was...YEESH.

That scene was based on actual events, Aleksandr Yuvchenko was the engineer holding the door open. The men who entered the reactor room on orders to manually lower the control rods but instead saw the wrecked reactor were the first to die of radiation poisoning. That whole scene was terrifying.

I don't know anything about Soviet era clothing or houses, but I was impressed by the lengths they went through in building realistic sets for the plant scenes.

There's a very good video tour of Chernobyl's decommissioned reactor 2 filmed and narrated by an American nuclear engineer. It gives an idea about some of the physical spaces recreated in the film such as the control room, the reactor hall, the the concrete shielding maze leading to the reactor and the view of the reactor from the refueling operator's platform (from the scene that had Yuvchenko propping the door open), and the "golden corridor". Also his tour of pump room 3 shows the space that would be similar to the room shown destroyed in the scene with the engineer with the melted face. He also has a blog, relevant parts are inside Unit 2, parts 1 and 2, and inside the Unit 4 control room with pictures.
posted by peeedro at 10:57 AM on May 8 [13 favorites]


I thought this was fantastic, let me just excise my minor beefs here:

* the Very British Accents were distracting
* the scene of ash falling portentously on the spectators seemed to drag on to the point where I was waiting for some flashing red "GET IT? THE ASH IS RADIOACTIVE" text to appear on the screen
posted by prize bull octorok at 11:04 AM on May 8 [5 favorites]


first episode was HARROWING. i mean, Chernobyl is horrifying enough - i'm old enough to remember when it happened. but putting a human face on it really brings the horror to another level. and much of that horror stems from the banal, brutal reactions of those in power.

oh and, i agree with you prize bull octorok -- not just the accents; even the faces: so many of those men look SO British. not simply in their features, but in the way they walk, hold their bodies, and their expressions. it was a bit distracting.
posted by lapolla at 11:34 AM on May 8 [3 favorites]


Also the blue glow in the air isn't the "Effect" one of the men says it is - though that's what they did think at the time.

I'll have to rewatch more closely, but isn't the blue glow Cherenkov radiation? Experimentally detected in 1934, predicted since the 1880s.
posted by porpoise at 11:53 AM on May 8


I don't know about the actual plant but people's homes and clothing are not accurate at all.

Interesting, on the podcast the creator said they worked hard to get the clothing correct. Perhaps it was more so for the workers (uniforms and such) versus regular people's outfits.

One other interesting note, in the opening scene when the character feeds his cat they originally had him put out cat food. The woman who was advising them said nope, nobody had pet food. They gave their pets leftovers.

oh and, i agree with you prize bull octorok -- not just the accents; even the faces: so many of those men look SO British. not simply in their features, but in the way they walk, hold their bodies, and their expressions. it was a bit distracting.

Again to the podcast, the creator said they originally had actors audition with slight Russian accents, but they found that they weren't acting so much as putting on a voice. So they let people use their own accents, but perhaps toned down a bit. And no American accents, because that would indeed be distracting.

In summary, the podcast is worth a listen!
posted by schoolgirl report at 12:10 PM on May 8 [6 favorites]


I'll have to rewatch more closely, but isn't the blue glow Cherenkov radiation?

It was ionized air-glow, it's something you'd also see when nuclear weapons are detonated at night time. The radioactive core was emitting so much energy into the air that the atmospheric nitrogen and oxygen were becoming excited and emitting photons.

A quote from Yuvchenko: "From where I stood, I could see a huge beam of projected light flooding up into infinity from the reactor. It was like a laser light, caused by the ionisation of the air. It was light bluish, and it was very beautiful."
posted by peeedro at 12:23 PM on May 8 [4 favorites]


Anyway, I think the point about the Cherenkov radiation in the show was that any nuclear engineer who saw the blue beam of light would know the accident was very, very bad- that the reactor had exploded and the containment roof failed. But Dyatlov didn't believe or want to believe a reactor explosion was possible. He believed that there was a hydrogen explosion in the turbine room, that contaminated water from broken pipes was the source of reports of any blue glow, that the reactor and containment were still intact, that this was only a minor incident. He orders people to look but doesn't believe what they report back. He filters information from subordinates through dogma and his CYA filter (because the explosion happened during a poorly designed experiment he was overseeing) then dismisses the obvious danger as a relatively harmless phenomenon. Just like the pegged dosimeter readings, the plant supervisors were lying to themselves, passing false information to civil authorities, and mismanaging the emergency. The Cherenkov radiation explanation Dyatlov gives to the assembly was self-justification and an excuse for inaction.

> "GET IT? THE ASH IS RADIOACTIVE"

Yeah maybe too much, but I thought it was setting up the fact that [are we doing spoilers?] the people gathered on the bridge to observe the fire were exposed to a lethal dose of radiation. Because of secrecy surrounding the accident, those people covered in radioactive ash were never told to wash their hair or throw out their clothes, let alone stay indoors for safety. Those shots are a setup for the horror moving from the power plant to the town.
posted by peeedro at 4:48 PM on May 8 [9 favorites]


"GET IT? THE ASH IS RADIOACTIVE"

I didn't feel that was too much. I can understand feeling that, though. But for me, I was thinking not just of the dramatic irony of me knowing something those kids don't know, but it also got me thinking about the generations of people younger than me, who did not live through the news of this... It does occur to me that there truly are potential viewers of this who don't (yet) fully grasp what they just saw. Because this is something never seen before or since.

Like the point about the Cherenkov radiation - it was only listening to the podcast that I learned this is the incorrect explanation for the blue glow, but I think the point of the inclusion of the term is to highlight the things these people were so sure they knew but were wrong about, because nothing like this had ever happened (outside of an actual nuclear bomb).
posted by dnash at 5:14 PM on May 8 [5 favorites]


Well that was horrifying. I asked my husband if he wanted to watch this with me and he was like, "Uh, wtf no. I know what happened." In many ways, he's much smarter than I am.
posted by soren_lorensen at 6:51 PM on May 8 [3 favorites]


The Guardian had an interesting interview with Jared Harris about his roles, including this one. I had no idea his father was Richard Harris!

I remember falling down a YouTube hole several years ago, looking for footage from this. One of them, it almost looks like you can see directly into the reactor, which is... um... bad?

Speaking of bad, the pictures of the "elephant's foot" creep me out every time.
posted by fifteen schnitzengruben is my limit at 7:04 PM on May 8 [2 favorites]


I briefly mentioned this show to coworkers today (one used to be a nuclear safety engineer from Ukraine - but he was in diapers when Chernobyl happened) and our 30 yo office manager had never heard of the Chernobyl disaster. The 37 yo GM was aware, but didn't know any of the particulars
posted by porpoise at 8:50 PM on May 8 [1 favorite]


The suits on this show are way too nice in terms of fabric and tailoring. It is distracting!

The apartments are so big.

The apartment buildings are way nicer than they really are.

Grr. Maybe my husband and I should do a podcast.
posted by k8t at 10:44 PM on May 8 [2 favorites]


They showed the plants under the fallout cloud turning brown. Surely that didn't happen that quickly?
posted by Catblack at 1:31 AM on May 9


He orders people to look but doesn't believe what they report back. He filters information from subordinates through dogma and his CYA filter (because the explosion happened during a poorly designed experiment he was overseeing) then dismisses the obvious danger as a relatively harmless phenomenon.

I also felt like maybe he was in denial because he could tell that he had radiation sickness and didn't want to admit it? He held it together in his unhelpful way for hours, but after he vomited, there were shots of him outside looking at the graphite and the sick firefighters. I felt like they were trying to say that he couldn't deny what occurred anymore, now that he was being carried out and was sick himself.

The effects on this show are good--from the gore to the destroyed building. The images of the burning core and the beam above the reactor were very scary.

This was like a horror movie in that I wanted to yell at the TV to tell the characters how to defend themselves. "No! Don't go in there!" "Say no! Tell them what the other men said!"

In the news today, Science Alert: Drone flyovers of Chernobyl reveal radioactive hotspots
posted by heatvision at 4:32 AM on May 9 [1 favorite]


I also felt like maybe he was in denial because he could tell that he had radiation sickness and didn't want to admit it?

This dude got sick in the meeting, but I would have bet if he were well enough, he would have taken a look at the blown up reactor himself, and then still reported back it was just a hydrogen explosion.

As someone who has been in room where the situation being discussed was rated **EXTREMELY FUCKED!**, although obviously not at this scale, there are certain people whose brains just somewhat "turn off". It's not CYA, its not even really denial, its like things are soo bad that their lower level brain functions short circuit and a completely new reality is put into place. It's as if your mind is "protecting" you by filtering out obviously false data, because a situation so fucked is impossible.

This dude really reminded me of those managers that I shared those experiences with. Total disregard of the reality staring at them in the face, dismissing anyone with a conflicting view as hysterical, even when those with those with conflicting views had seen/experienced the bad situation directly themselves. I'm talking people who would have responded to a 20 foot sinkhole appeared in front of them by "proving" it wasn't actual there by walking into it and falling to their deaths.

Of course my personal examples didn't include actual sinkholes, but the equivalent business situation happened, to the point where in one case I'm sure the dude wished he had just walked into a sinkhole instead, to be honest.

My point is: People act like that in real terrible situations sometimes, no radiation poisoning nor CYA attitude required.
posted by sideshow at 1:30 PM on May 9 [16 favorites]


I just couldn't figure out why all of these assholes were like, "Hey you, redshirt, go look!" And then the redshirt would go look, come back and report EVERYTHING IS FUCKED FOREVER and the assholes would then... pick another redshirt to go do the same thing and not believe them either? If everything is so extremely safe and fine, why don't you go look, if you refuse to believe anyone else?
posted by soren_lorensen at 1:43 PM on May 9 [5 favorites]


Episode one was so stressful to watch that I felt like I was trying to dig through the back of my chair with my own shoulderblades.

I felt like they maybe could have done a better job of explaining the Nuclear Reactors for Dummies stuff - I had something of a hard time following what they thought had happened vs. what had actually happened vs. what they were doing vs. what they should have been doing vs. etc. etc. There were moments when a character would say something, uh... nuclear-y, and other characters would fall nervously, sweatily silent as they exchanged looks, and I would just be like, "Well, clearly this is supposed to be Very Important in some way, but I don't really understand the significance!". Characters have to go in and turn some levers for... reasons, and I'm not sure if I'm supposed to find their inevitable deaths heroic-but-necessary, or tragically futile. Characters argue about the state of the whatsit, and I'm there thinking: isn't the clearly exploded state of the complete and entire whatsit plainly visible just from a glance from a safe distance? It certainly looks that way! And so on.

But I got the general gist of it ('radiation bad', 'things are badder than they may appear in the rear-view mirror'), so I guess it served its purpose well enough. ANYWAY that gripe aside, this was simultaneously an excellent episode of television and supremely uncomfortable viewing. I will be tuning into the next episode for sure.
posted by jurymast at 2:30 PM on May 9 [3 favorites]


The suits on this show are way too nice in terms of fabric and tailoring. It is distracting!

The apartments are so big.

The apartment buildings are way nicer than they really are.


Perhaps the show is reflecting that almost all the characters on the show either are members of Soviet elites or live in a highly privileged elite community (Pripyat - even the cleaning guy is living in one of the best-resourced towns in the USSR) or both?

(though the nice tailoring could just be HBO wardrobe going overboard...)
posted by Bwithh at 4:46 PM on May 9 [1 favorite]


I felt like they maybe could have done a better job of explaining the Nuclear Reactors for Dummies stuff - I had something of a hard time following what they thought had happened vs. what had actually happened vs. what they were doing vs. what they should have been doing vs. etc. etc.

Oh this so much.
posted by k8t at 5:44 PM on May 9


I was grateful there wasn’t a ton of unnatural exposition about how nuclear power plants work. I assume we will learn more about what happened in futur episodes.
posted by snofoam at 5:56 PM on May 9 [9 favorites]


The three main characters will spend a good part of the rest of the series explaining what happened, I'm guessing.
posted by Brocktoon at 7:12 PM on May 9 [3 favorites]


Yeah, I was kind of shocked at how the series basically started after the actual explosion (even excluding the Jared Harris framing device). I wanted a lot more of the run-up. In particular, I still feel lost about the layout of the plant and what the building around the reactor is supposed to look like. It wasn't particularly meaningful when they would open a door and see chaos since I didn't know what I was comparing it to.
posted by Rock Steady at 9:37 AM on May 10 [2 favorites]


Wow, episode 1 was completely horrifying and really well-made.
posted by mediareport at 5:43 AM on May 11 [1 favorite]


I wonder if maybe the sense of disorientation and confusion was intentional, to impart to the audience the helplessness of being in a situation where almost nobody really knew wtf was going on. But for me, the occasional, "Wait, huh? Is that significant?" had the effect of undermining the tension slightly, at points.
posted by jurymast at 6:21 AM on May 11 [3 favorites]


Very excited about this. Two big thoughts:

1. This is not a show about Chernobyl. This is a show about the beginning of the implosion and total collapse of the Soviet Bloc and the bizarre chaos and terror of uncertainty that it would bring down upon it's people. The point here is that the state fell under the internal forces of incompetence and ideology trumping logic. And on a yet deeper level it's about humans playing God and being punished for it.

2. What's so terrifying about radioactivity here as it is portrayed is that it is almost like 'staring into the abyss' - because it is simultaneously unimaginable and deadly, seeing it means certain death. Science bleeds into the magical realm which is far more terrifying than almost anything else.
posted by mit5urugi at 8:28 AM on May 12 [24 favorites]


'ello guvnah, the reactahs exploded.

I beg your pahdon old chap?

I said the reactahs exploded.

Dear me, the old boy's gone quite flimmy flammy whumpsy mumpsy. Someone do run and fetch the smelling salts, what.
posted by starfishprime at 8:07 AM on May 13 [6 favorites]


They showed the plants under the fallout cloud turning brown. Surely that didn't happen that quickly?

Here's a Wikipedia article about the forest
posted by starfishprime at 9:11 AM on May 13 [1 favorite]


I'm really appreciating the hell out of this. "Enjoying" seems like the wrong word, though I want to use it. It's plumbing the depths of dread on film. The end of this second episode made it seem as if there was a living entity down there.

(And the POOR DOGS. But then, I was expecting a reference to that.)

I remember a high school friend who had lived in Europe as a kid telling us that she couldn't eat fruit and vegetables for a while after Chernobyl. She wasn't in the USSR, but the crops were considered tainted. I wonder how widespread that was.
posted by Countess Elena at 7:20 PM on May 13 [3 favorites]


FFFUUUUUUU

This show is so well done. I'm vacillating between going online and reading everything I can about Chernobyl and just letting the show unfold and tell me the story.

And hey, we got our Nuclear Reactors For Dummies at least.
posted by soren_lorensen at 7:25 PM on May 13 [5 favorites]


OMG, that final scene. Like one of the most tense horror films.

There was a nice bit of acting from Jared Harris (I love him and think he's wonderful overall) when he's reading the report of the "accident." He goes from, "Yeah, great, I'll read this" to "Shit. Shit. SHIT. Shitshitshit" in about five seconds. His hands start shaking. It's alarming and great.

Those firefighters' clothes are still in a heap in the basement of the hospital, and they are still HUGELY radioactive.

I love Emily Watson's character. She is super-great.
posted by Aquifer at 6:31 AM on May 14 [3 favorites]


It's still harrowing but I'm glad that with ep2 we're getting to the "Look at the helpers" parts of the story
posted by GCU Sweet and Full of Grace at 4:50 PM on May 14


This show is pretty amazing. Looking for reviews, I also discovered that Reactor 4 is the top attraction in Chernobyl on TripAdvisor.
posted by snofoam at 8:09 PM on May 14


I was really, really struck by the late scene in ep 2 where Harris's character starts by saying "we need three men to do this, and we'll give you a little money." Then a worker says "bullshit, that's going to kill us and you're not being honest." Then Skarsgard's character steps up and basically says "yes, either someone does this, or millions die." And suddenly they have three volunteers.

When you lie to people, even humble folks who aren't nuclear physicists, they know you're lying, and they respond to your lies with mistrust and reluctance to participate. When you lay the true stakes on the line, and say that millions will die unless this happens, money be damned, they step the hell up.

I think that's essentially true about us humans. And I also think it's a fascinating counterpoint to the beginnings of the relationship between those two characters, where Skarsgard's ignorance of how reactors work painted him as a boorish villain. Turns out maybe you need both the brains and the politics to make a difference?
posted by dnash at 9:08 PM on May 14 [23 favorites]


The images/stories are haunting enough in the series, but then you see the real thing and it's almost a little TOO real. Because if you haven't made yourself familiar with the Chernobyl aftermath... it was very far-reaching:
Politicians took to the airwaves to assure people that they were safe and the risks only minor. Geiger counters were confiscated from schools and universities. Safe radiation levels for food were quietly revised upwards, and produce grown in areas with high chemical exposure deemed good to eat.

A year after Chernobyl, my parents resumed mushroom foraging in the woods. Two summers later, the children in my town started losing their hair. (emphasis mine)

As cases of alopecia became more common in Chernivitz, health officials told residents to stay indoors as much as possible, boil water before drinking or using it to wash food, and avoid mushroom foraging, leaf collecting and burning wood found in the forest.
And then, there's this radioactive Norwegian reindeer in 2013.

This series is gripping. I'm only sorry I have to wait a week between episodes. And watching those helicopters circling the ionization above the meltdown... OMG the tension was freaking killing me. But the best part was Shcherbina's face when he realized his presence at that proximity to Reactor 4 would render him dead within 5 years. WOW.

Working for the Party certainly had its perks... and its perils.
posted by Unicorn on the cob at 9:14 PM on May 14 [2 favorites]


I'm only sorry I have to wait a week between episodes.

And I was just telling a friend elsewhere online that saving up and "binge watching" this was probably a bad idea because it's so frightening that at least a few days breather in between episodes is good!
posted by dnash at 9:20 PM on May 14 [3 favorites]


Dnash, I don't disagree. Most people don't have the constitution for terrifying stuff like this in large quantities. (Being a scifi and horror fan, I may be more prepared to handle this type of content than some others.)

I felt similarly about The Terror, which also featured Jared Harris and Adam Nagaitis in its fantastic ensemble cast. It's disturbing stuff, but the historical nature of it makes it terribly compelling to watch.

After all, if we don't all learn from this, we're doomed to repeat it.
posted by Unicorn on the cob at 10:18 PM on May 14 [1 favorite]


So far this series is well-made enough that I'd be glued to the screen in horror even without Harris, Watson, and Skarsgard - but their performances are doing an incredible job of selling the sheer, awful magnitude of the situation. At least once each, in episode two, we see the bottom silently drop out of their respective stomachs, and it's absolutely terrifying.

Watching that first chopper just... disintegrate in the plume from the reactor was shattering. And everyone's reactions. "...Tell the next one to approach from the west." And it did. Because what the fuck else can you do?

I noticed in the scene recruiting volunteers to open the sluices: the man that called out Legasov's hedging was older, middle-aged. Most of the faces in the room looked that way, to me. But when Scherbina laid it out bluntly, that millions would die without this sacrifice, all three of the volunteers were young men.

I do find myself wishing for the next episode as soon as one ends, because it's hard to look away from a disaster like this, and because the tension is so high and so constant that being dropped back into the cozy safety of my bedroom afterwards is abruptly draining and disorienting. But actually binge-watching this show would probably be a terrible idea.

And yes, I am very glad we got our periodic Nuclear Reactors for Dummies lessons. It made it much easier to grasp the stakes, and to understand why a particular thing was happening/what the goal was/why it was going horribly awry.
posted by jurymast at 5:19 AM on May 15 [2 favorites]


Just saw the second episode last night, and just as a data point...the 400 rubles the three volunteers were offered comes out to just under US $950 in today's money.
posted by Mr. Bad Example at 5:28 AM on May 15 [4 favorites]


the best part was Shcherbina's face when he realized his presence at that proximity to Reactor 4 would render him dead within 5 years

It's one of the most compelling things about this series - the invisible but awesome (in the literal sense of the word) power of the accident combined with the fact that some people (the scientists) know exactly how deadly it all is while others (the politicians and the public) have absolutely no idea. Even when the scientists explain the danger, it is so incomprehensible that the politicians/administrators can't really grasp what they are saying unless they see it with their own eyes or it is laid out very carefully.

I'm also struck by the competence of some of the politicians once they do have an understanding of the situation. Shcherbina in particular - the way he uses that quick lesson he got on the helicopter to demonstrate to Fomin (a great acting job) and the other little weaselly guy that he knows what the fuck is up and they aren't going to snow him is exactly the right way to make use of your advisers in order to step in and take command of a bad situation.
posted by Rock Steady at 5:47 AM on May 15 [13 favorites]


My town in northern Italy has for decades fostered kids from the affected zones in Belarus for the summer, in the hopes of lowering their lifetime radiation exposure. I was only 1 when the disaster happened but I still remember the varying levels of panic in Europe over the years as the breadth of the disaster was revealed. It's been a looming cloud of terror for 30 years.

Radiation terrifies me like nothing else. I was shaking while watching this and I've read many many books about the accident previously. I can't even imagine watching this show while knowing very little about the accident, the tension would be unbearable for me. What an awesome (in the true sense of the word) production.
posted by lydhre at 6:19 AM on May 15 [4 favorites]


Oh god the existential dread in the second episode. The first one was terrifying for what we didn't know, the second one for what we did know and did the terrible thing anyway.

Did the first chopper crash because the pilot got an instantaneously fatal dose or various EM-related flight faults in the airframe? I wasn't clear on that. Not that it matters, really.

I've been trying my hardest to avoid "spoiling" myself on the accident so I can be surprised anew when it's in the show, although I did have to dig into the numbers a bit and it's still sort of amazing how (relatively) low the official immediate death toll was, considering what the first responders walked in to. I was 11 at the time, but I was on the other side of the planet, so while I absorbed some of the Peter Jennings news reports on milk and crop issues, it was so very distant.
posted by Kyol at 6:34 AM on May 15


Did the first chopper crash because the pilot got an instantaneously fatal dose or various EM-related flight faults in the airframe?

Its rotor disc hit a crane or cable from the crane; "just" the pilot cutting it too close to try to get the job done. Real crash here with a shot of (presumably) the memorial to the crew if you can read Cyrillic.
posted by GCU Sweet and Full of Grace at 6:45 AM on May 15 [6 favorites]


I poked around the internet to see whether Shcherbina did in fact die within five years, and I couldn't find out. Does anyone know?

The volunteers did not die from what they did, at least as of 2015, not that that makes them any less heroic.
posted by Countess Elena at 6:51 AM on May 15 [3 favorites]


There is an AskMe question about Chernobyl book recommendations that y'all might be interested in (or be able to help answer).
posted by Rock Steady at 7:19 AM on May 15 [4 favorites]


Shcherbina did die, four years later, in 1990. But that was literally all I could find out about him, just his birth and death dates. (EDIT: I read an interview with Stellan Skarsgård where he said there is very little information available about him.)

I was SHOCKED that the three volunteers didn't die. I was really glad they named them in the miniseries. Those were their real names.

I mentioned this above, but that last sequence was SO TERRIFYING. I kept expecting a monster to pop out of the water and eat them. But of course the monster was all around them. Radiation is so terrifying.
posted by Aquifer at 7:58 AM on May 15 [2 favorites]


From the podcast that's following along - this detail gave me chills this morning for some reason: the scene with the firemen in the hospital, where they take the radioactive clothes and pile them in the basement is true. The pile of clothes is still there today.
posted by dnash at 8:00 AM on May 15 [4 favorites]


The volunteers did not die from what they did, at least as of 2015, not that that makes them any less heroic.

The divers were among those honored by Ukraine's President Poroshenko at a 2018 remembrance day ceremony. Google translate is dodgy but Ananenko was present, Bespalov was unable to attend because of health reasons, and Baranov was awarded posthumously.
posted by peeedro at 8:37 AM on May 15


The podcast stated that the accent choices were made so as not to distract, and that nothing would be more distracting than hearing American accents.

I can't disagree strongly enough. Everyone speaking with different, non-Russian accents was so distracting to me that I'm on the fence about watching episode 2. It was driving me crazy from the beginning.
posted by fiercecupcake at 7:27 AM on May 16 [1 favorite]


The suits on this show are way too nice in terms of fabric and tailoring. It is distracting!

The apartments are so big.

The apartment buildings are way nicer than they really are.

Grr. Maybe my husband and I should do a podcast.


I can't speak to the suit fabric, but housing in Pripyat was nicer than other Soviet towns. Built for a population of 78,000, at the time of the accident the population was 59,000. It was a fairly new town, started in 1970 and meant to be a model city with all the best amenities, more fully stocked stores, new experiments in Soviet planning and architecture, and a city architect, Maria Protsenko who "worked frugally with small supplies of hardwood, ceramic tiles, or granite to decorate the interiors of Pripyat’s public buildings, designing parquet flooring and wrought-iron screens in a botanical pattern for the restaurant, or inlaying small sections of marble in the walls of the Palace of Culture." (from here) So while I'm certain that some license has been taken with regard to apartment size (New York film apartments are always ludicrously large), I think there has been an effort to show that Pripyat was not a typical Soviet town but one where standards of living were higher and qualifying to live there was competitive.
posted by oneirodynia at 12:56 PM on May 16 [13 favorites]


That first episode gave me actual for-real nightmares.

Running themes: the graphite on the ground and the roof: one of the very first things we see after the accident in episode 1. The maxed-out-at-3.6 dosimeters. The "I don't believe it, go and look" denial.

The little bit in this week's episode when Legasov asks for an upturned glass was chilling; a fussy denial of the exposure he's already received just by being at the accident site, and soon after inverted by the "we'll both be dead in five years" conversation with Shcherbina.

The podcast is really good; a mixture of production information -- how and why they did things -- and background information, most of which is "yes, that really happened" and "actually it may have been even weirder".

The Emily Watson character is an invention: a composite to represent the hundreds of scientists who assisted. I don't think I particularly like this choice. It feels to me that it misrepresents the scientific community by instead making it seem very individualistic. It also feels odd to be collapsing the scientific side so much after spending so much effort on depicting the Party leaderships many, many members and layers; although I guess Shcherbina is going to be our proxy for the Party going forward?

We did get the basic here's-how-a-reactor-works exposition this week. The podcast suggests that later episodes will dig more into the causes of the accident, and I do wonder how they're going to handle explaining the technical side of that; the details leading up to it get very involved.
posted by We had a deal, Kyle at 6:51 AM on May 17 [1 favorite]


Yeah, I snuck a look into that because I remembered it being a science experiment, but it was really actually a quite reasonable engineering experiment except there was no handoff between shifts and all _kinds_ of things went wrong to make it happen.

I mean, the history of nuclear accidents is covered with all kinds of discoveries about how the atom really works (i.e. the Windscale fire), but Chernobyl was at its core sort of a process failure.
posted by Kyol at 9:44 AM on May 17


Plenty of Russian-speaking actors available, what a shame.
posted by mlis at 5:33 PM on May 17 [4 favorites]


Well, after watching episode 3 I may never sleep again.
posted by lydhre at 7:18 PM on May 20 [2 favorites]


Those hospital transformations were so difficult to look at. In a haunted house, you might not pay attention to them, but when you see how this happened to people ... And it's an effects achievement, too. It's hard to see how they transformed a presumably healthy actor into the Eraserhead baby.

The chief miner was amazing. This was not a series in which I expected full frontal, but sure as a by-God, there it was.
posted by Countess Elena at 7:21 PM on May 20 [5 favorites]


I'm super glad we elected to eat salami sandwiches during Legends of Tomorrow and not this tonight. Cheese and crackers!

Naked miner guys are my new heroes.

Felt my stomach drop out when Lyudmilla walked through that plastic sheeting and we saw how unkind her husband's passing looked. Last week I told a friend of mine who's maybe 26? That Chernobyl was going to be his generation's Threads, maybe.

Except this nuclear horror story is real, and actually happened to people within living memory. As awful as it is, we need that gut-punch visual to drive home the implications of what this radiation is doing to these people, and why limiting the damage is so urgent.

It's really stressful imagining trying to cope with an invisible threat of this magnitude without the Soviet people behind it. Working to get the situation resolved by any means necessary.

I cannot imagine how Americans would handle this situation. It boggles my mind.
posted by Unicorn on the cob at 8:54 PM on May 20 [2 favorites]


I humbly propose splitting this discussion into episodes since it's reasonably active but hard to find? This way it goes to the front of the FanFare site.

ep3: https://fanfare.metafilter.com/13859/Chernobyl-Open-Wide-O-Earth
posted by sylvanshine at 8:54 PM on May 20 [5 favorites]


I humbly propose splitting this discussion into episodes since it's reasonably active but hard to find? This way it goes to the front of the FanFare site.

I agree, actually. When I made this thread I didn't expect this amount of discussion - I wasn't sure that many people would be watching, so I feared episode threads would have little in them.
posted by dnash at 8:23 AM on May 21


BTW, the two to four megaton estimate for a corium steam explosion in the basement water tanks is completely wrong and absurd. It's an overestimate by at least two orders of magnitude.

It still could have been pretty bad with regard to damage to the other reactors and a large increase in fallout. But a megaton (or kiloton) range explosion is nonsense. The screenwriter got this from only one source and was himself skeptical (but nevertheless included it with a modest reduction).

I also didn't notice the crane cables in the helicopter crash scene because the dialogue sure made it sound as of the crash resulted from passing directly over the core. I was all WTF? and paused and googled, read what actually happened, then rewound and saw that, indeed, they show the helicopter blades hitting the cables. But you have to look closely, and that's on a large TV screen.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 10:37 AM on May 21 [1 favorite]


I cannot imagine how Americans would handle this situation. It boggles my mind.

While watching this show I keep thinking about global warming as a counterpoint. What if the professor hadn't spoken up at the very last minute at the meeting with Gorbachev about his suspicion that the black rocks were pieces of broken reactor core? Or if Gorbachev hadn't listened and followed it up? Or if they hadn't figured out the tanks were full?
posted by xammerboy at 10:48 PM on May 25 [2 favorites]


I cannot imagine how Americans would handle this situation. It boggles my mind.

I thought the same thing - and not even from a cynical point of view. Creator Craig Maizin addresses this in the podcast - he's sure that Americans would have evacuated the area, cordoned it off and left it, because they wouldn't have consciously sent Americans to their deaths to try to fix the problem.
posted by crossoverman at 10:29 PM on May 26 [1 favorite]


I’m also old enough to remember the event and watching the first episode brought back all kinds of memories. The show is a particularly slow moving kind of horror, because in retrospect you know how it ends and what went wrong, so you want to reach out and stop people.
posted by Dip Flash at 8:33 PM on May 28


he's sure that Americans would have evacuated the area, cordoned it off and left it, because they wouldn't have consciously sent Americans to their deaths to try to fix the problem.

... thus condemning millions of people and millions of acres of land to a radioactive nightmare for generations, if not until the ends of human civilization.

Frightening to contemplate.
posted by porpoise at 10:45 AM on May 29 [1 favorite]


Yeah, I was thinking about that during the last episode, and I'm pretty sure if the US Government cordoned off a chunk of the US for whatever legitimate "you will glow in the dark" or "you will die a painful death because of the poisons" reasons, I can't help but think there'd be a chunk of jackasses going on about how they ought to be permitted to live on their ancestral homeland and blah blah blah and... Man, I dunno.

On the other hand, I sort of felt for the old lady in the opening segment. She's old enough that the increased lifetime risk of cancer is really sort of immaterial, if she dies a couple of years early in the bed that she has slept in her entire life, is that any worse than being ripped away from her only home so she can live a few years longer among strangers?
posted by Kyol at 12:35 PM on May 29 [3 favorites]


I could not finish the first episode. I did not find it distressing from a psychological point of view... I just thought it was the largest cast of idiots I've ever seen in a single show.

"The core is gone!"

"Impossible! Go look!"

*comes back and projectile vomits* "The core is gone."

"Nonsense! You: get this man to the infirmary. You: go look at the core."

*comes back with face melting off* "The core is gone."

"Nonsense..."

And on and on. I gave up.

That, combined with the British accents, terrible editing, and overuse of slow-mo make it pretty unbearable to me.
posted by dobbs at 6:42 PM on June 12


That all actually happened (mostly).
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 1:38 AM on June 13 [4 favorites]


"Nonsense! You: get this man to the infirmary. You: go look at the core."

Yeah, that really did happen.

Here's a passage from Grigori Medvedev's The Truth About Chernobyl, he had served as deputy chief engineer at the No 1 reactor unit and his account based on his observations and interviews is the basis for most of our minute-to-minute understanding of the Chernobyl accident. In the miniseries, Emily Watson's character compiles this information. This is the account of what happened at the end of the first episode after Dyatlov falls ill, then Formin and Bryukhanov order Sitnikov to "climb up on the roof of Unit C and look from above":
Sitnikov went out to meet his death. He toured the entire reactor unit, he made a stop at the central hall. Even there, he realized that the reactor had been destroyed. But he did not feel this was sufficient. He climbed onto the roof of Unit C (specialized chemical unit) and from there he looked at the reactor as might a bird in flight. The scene of unimaginable devastation was open to his gaze. The explosion had torn away the cast-in-place roof of the central hall, and the pathetic remains of the caved-in concrete walls with shapeless tentacles of reinforcing steel protruding in every direction were reminiscent of a gigantic sea anemone waiting in concealment for the next living creature to come close to it, whereupon it would plunge into its hellish nuclear belly. Sitnikov drove away the obtrusive image, and feeling the hot radioactive tentacles licking at his face and hands, scorching and burning his brain and his very soul, his insides, he began to examine fixedly what remained of the central hall. The reactor had clearly exploded. The slab of the upper biological shield, with stumps of pipes and bundles of signal wires sticking out in every direction seemed to have been hurled up by the explosion, and when it crashed down, it lodged in a slanting position on the shaft of the reactor. The fire was howling an intolerable heat and stink. Sitnikov's entire body, especially his head, was being directly irradiated by neutrons and gamma rays. He was breathing the thick radionuclide gas, more and more he was feeling an intolerable burning in his chest, as though someone was tearing apart his skeleton from within. The fire continued to burn and to burn….

He received at least some 1,500 roentgens to the head. The central nervous system was affected by the irradiation. In the Moscow clinic, they did not inject bone marrow into him, and he died in spite of all the steps that were taken.

At 1000 hours, Sitnikov reported to Formin and Bryukhanov that the reactor was in his opinion destroyed. But the report by Anatoliy Andreyevich Sitnikov caused irritation and was not honored. The feeding of the water into the reactor continued.
It touches on a couple of the things that have been mentioned in this thread; how the plant managers ignored bad news and mismanaged the response to the accident, how easy it was for them to order people into situations that would cost lives, and the similarities between the Chernobyl accident and an HP Lovecraft horror story.
posted by peeedro at 8:35 AM on June 13 [2 favorites]


Co-worker: Chernobyl was so good. Do you think they will make a second season?
Me: GOOD GAWD, I HOPE NOT.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 6:43 AM on June 19 [9 favorites]


You can read scripts for Chernobyl from John August, if you're into that sort of thing.

I haven't seen Chernobyl yet, so going back to plugging ears and eyes on this one. Lalalallalalalalalalala
posted by slipthought at 2:02 PM on June 21


THEY SMOKE SO MUCH!

THEY DRINK SO MUCH!
posted by adept256 at 6:42 AM on June 26


Yeah, there was a part of me going "wait, that's vodka, right? If I drank it like that I'd be on the floor and yet there they are..."
posted by Kyol at 2:36 PM on June 26 [1 favorite]


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