Chernobyl: The Happiness of All Mankind
May 27, 2019 6:39 PM - Season 1, Episode 4 - Subscribe

Valery Legasov and Soviet Deputy Prime Minister Boris Shcherbina consider using lunar rovers to remove radioactive debris; Ulana Khomyuk faces government hurdles in determining the truth about the cause of the explosion.
posted by DirtyOldTown (36 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
 
The most harrowing yet, I think, even if you are not like me, who cannot stand to see a dog hurt. For any other show, I would have bowed out and possibly not come back, but this show has earned my respect; I knew this had happened, anyway. The interplay between the soldiers was some fiercely good character work, especially the sergeant with the nose—I can’t tell who he is on IMDB.

Ulana was a bit much of a foil, acting with unrealistic bravery, but I expect this was done to demonstrate to a US audience born after 1990 what Soviets would already have known about the state.

Shcherbina’s fit was a beautiful moment. I had to rewatch it with closed captions to understand it, though.
posted by Countess Elena at 7:19 PM on May 27, 2019 [1 favorite]


Man, I feel like the horror of the soldiers going around shooting pets could have been adequately conveyed without spending so much time on those scenes. I agree that the interplay between the soldiers was good, and the humanity of the one was touching, but in retrospect, I would have rather just skipped most of those scenes. Knowing what I know; understanding that particular horror of what happened, and having just watched the other soldier shoot the cow and force the elderly woman to leave. It was too much for me. It was really hard to watch.

That said, what an episode. What a show this is.
posted by triggerfinger at 8:27 PM on May 27, 2019 [1 favorite]


I actually thought that the time spent with the animal control team was good. The horror and dread just built and built, but was never gratuitous. It really conveyed that shooting the erstwhile pets was not just a one-off but unrelenting awfulness for the people with that role.
I am glad my Pipsqueak was curled on my hip the whole time, though, for sure.
posted by janell at 8:50 PM on May 27, 2019 [8 favorites]


I had read some articles before tonight. I knew how long Lyudmila’s daughter lived, but there was an additional detail in the episode that just ruined me. Jesus.
posted by FallibleHuman at 9:43 PM on May 27, 2019 [1 favorite]


This episode did a really good job of jumping the timeline forward multiple times. The three main stories were well paced, but Lyudmila's fate felt rushed and detached. I think the first scene, while good, could have been time better spent on her story.
posted by Brocktoon at 2:19 AM on May 28, 2019


i cannot sleep. that was so sad and stressful. this show is really good, but so hard to watch.
posted by lapolla at 3:42 AM on May 28, 2019


I had completely the opposite reaction to the animal content. Last episode, people were practically melting and couldn't even hope for euthanasia. I felt so strongly for Lyudmilla. It made me imagine what it would be like to need to make that decision between my own health and doing anything that I could to comfort the person I love as they were dying and helpless. It was heartrending. And in this episode, we had the terror of those 90 seconds for the liquidators. A guy trying to work up the nerve to shoot a dog felt like very low stakes in comparison. Maybe that was the point, that those animals had better deaths than the people who had the highest radiation exposure. I'm interested to hear others' opinions about why this part of history was included prominently, rather than being shared via dialogue for example.
posted by heatvision at 3:46 AM on May 28, 2019 [12 favorites]


I'm interested to hear others' opinions about why this part of history was included prominently,

You mean the animals? I think because of the scale of it. The exclusion zone is huge, (about 1000 square miles), and literally every animal in it had to be killed and buried.
posted by dnash at 7:58 AM on May 28, 2019 [4 favorites]


The biorobot scene was real time and so disorienting and upsetting. I was yelling at the two guys who were carrying the big chunk of graphite, "YOUR HAND IS WAY TOO CLOSE TO THAT GRAPHITE." And yeah, the instructions not to trip when you're stumbling over a rubble-covered roof, through a haze of a lifetime dose of radioactivity, in a mask where you can barely see? HA HA H NO.

The pet scenes were upsetting, but I was far more disturbed by last week's episode. I did like that despite how potentially violent and a little erratic the soldier (Bacho, I think?) ultimately kind to Pavel ("HE'S WITH ME. NOBODY FUCKS WITH HIM.") and cared about not letting the animals suffer.

Stellan Skarsgård's epic phone tantrum was pretty great. He finally cracked under the oppressive secrecy and mismanagement of the Soviet Union. It was impressive.

And oh, poor Ludmyilla. I'm honestly glad they didn't show more of her story. They reference it on the show, but in her section of "Voices From Chernobyl," she talks about how her baby absorbed all the radiation and saved her and it is so heartwrenching. I had to put the book down for awhile and just sit with that. Her bereft, empty stare at the end was all I could take.
posted by Aquifer at 9:11 AM on May 28, 2019 [10 favorites]


It's awesome just getting to see Stellan Skarsgard on TV every week. I'm gonna be sorry when this miniseries is over.
posted by heatvision at 9:30 AM on May 28, 2019 [14 favorites]


I was yelling at the two guys who were carrying the big chunk of graphite, "YOUR HAND IS WAY TOO CLOSE TO THAT GRAPHITE."

Also, "The guy said DON'T LOOK OVER THE EDGE!"
posted by dnash at 10:18 AM on May 28, 2019 [5 favorites]


It's so chilling how the reactor (and the Elephant's foot) is like a modern day Medusa. Look at it for too long, or at all, really, and you'll die.
posted by Aquifer at 11:24 AM on May 28, 2019 [11 favorites]


Slava Malamud has been doing episode recaps with a lot of insight and memories. Last night, they* talked about how they'd asked their stepfather if he wanted to watch it, and he said no, because he'd been there, cleaning it up, and he'd never mentioned it. ("Soviet men.")

* I can't tell if Slava is a woman's name or not
posted by Countess Elena at 11:33 AM on May 28, 2019 [8 favorites]


It's so chilling how the reactor (and the Elephant's foot) is like a modern day Medusa. Look at it for too long, or at all, really, and you'll die.

The (in)famous Chernobyl Motorcyclist woman drew biblical parallels on a page of one of her photoessays. A salient quote:

"Another interesting detail, the alternate meaning of "wormwood" for the word "Chernobyl" has now mysteriously disappeared from our dictionaries. Such is the policy of our government. In order to suppress apocalyptic moods and to build more reactors, they have removed this word from dictionaries."
posted by Fukiyama at 12:04 PM on May 28, 2019 [3 favorites]


The minute they started talking about eliminating the animals in the exclusion zone, I instantly knew there would be puppies at some point. Animal deaths are usually a trigger for me, but I couldn't stop watching, it's that good.
posted by ElleElle at 12:34 PM on May 28, 2019


This episode was extremely raw, and I'm not sure I'm in a place to tease out all the parallels.

You must limit your exposure. The longer you spend in the invisible poison of radiation, the more it turns your body to corruption. The longer you spend in a brutalizing system, the more it erodes your soul - or forces you to gird up the most vulnerable parts of yourself in lead armour. Shcherbina and Bacho having moments of caring too much. Pavel, who cried, becoming resigned to the liquidation; Legasov, who could barely lie to workers, suggesting the use of - biorobots. Euphemisms. Bury the soft, bloodied parts of you in concrete.

Children paying for the mistakes of their parents, and innocents dying for the mistakes of their masters.

And don't ever get too close to the centre of it. Don't ever look directly into the core.

This episode shook me way more than I was expecting it too, and now I need to go hug my cat.
posted by jurymast at 12:47 PM on May 28, 2019 [20 favorites]


especially the sergeant with the nose

That's the awesome Fares Fares, who speaks all the languages.

This episode was really grueling. I liked how they were as humane as possible about killing the pets. The mass grave of instantly recognizable domestic dogs and cats was viscerally upsetting and the final shot of Lyudmila in that maternity ward listening to babies cry next to her dead child's empty cot....jesus.
posted by biscotti at 4:43 PM on May 28, 2019 [12 favorites]


Things that struck me from the HBO podcast:

The scenes with the animal shooters seem to all come from the "Voices of Chernobyl" book. There's an even heavier one following the litter of puppies scene, that they filmed, but cut. Consider yourself lucky they cut it. (The podcast describes it fairly briefly - not a lot of gory detail - but for sure enough to know if you're an animal lover you wouldn't want to see this.)

The speeches by the man giving directions to the men charged with cleaning the roof are real quotes. Because every man in that effort could only go up there once (that 90 seconds was a lifetime dose of radiation), he had to give those directions countless times. And there's film of it - so the lines there are quotes of the actual speech he gave over and over.
posted by dnash at 5:26 PM on May 28, 2019 [5 favorites]


This thing is so good. I watched it last night but my husband started doing something really distracting in the same room about halfway through, so tonight I went back and watched it again to be sure I didn't miss anything. I skipped over the shooting animals bits though. I got my lifetime dose of that the first time around.

My virulently anti-socialist parents are also watching it and boy howdy are they taking some different messages away than I am.
posted by soren_lorensen at 6:02 PM on May 28, 2019 [3 favorites]


It's so chilling how the reactor (and the Elephant's foot) is like a modern day Medusa. Look at it for too long, or at all, really, and you'll die.

One of the interesting feelings I'm having about this show is how it scratches that itch of really wanting to see some of these exotic and horrible, unknowable things. Like, what does it feel like to be decapitated? How long is your head alive? Lots of people have wondered that and even arranged eye-blink codes with the condemned to try to find out. But really, you can't. Once you know your ability to walk back to your old life is gone. Huh, now that I type it it's like theories of the afterlife, or the Fall.

So yeah: what would standing next to an open, burning reactor core look like, feel like, smell like? This is the closest anyone'd want to get to knowing.
posted by traveler_ at 8:50 PM on May 28, 2019 [5 favorites]


I thought that the heavy raindrops when Legasov, Shcherbina, and the military dude were in the tent to be a nice beat mirroring the ticking of a gieger counter.

Another nice touch was when Legasoc and Shcherbina were talking to Khomyuk there's a mural in the background where the lady holding a child is missing her mouth (damage to mural).

The rooftop speechgiving guy - he's got to be absorbing so many rads, even if he's (just) outside of the kill zone. That concrete wall isn't providing much shielding, if any.

So the biorobots each got a 800 rubles for taking a lifetime's "allowable" exposure, whereas the animal control guys got 1000 (a day? or a one-time thing? I know that the vodka's free).

I hope that part of the bonus was that they'd rotate out of the area immediately and get assigned some cushy sinecure positions.

1000 rubles, through online exchange calculators, was trading at about 30 USD back in '86 (not counting localized buying power) which is about 70 USD now. Round up to $100 and that why I thought the 1000 rubles were a daily stipend.
posted by porpoise at 9:01 PM on May 28, 2019 [2 favorites]


The elephant's foot has lost a lot of its lethality over time: it's hard to find current numbers, but articles claim that in 1996 (that is, after ten years) it had dropped to 1/10th of its original radioactivity, but still enough to produce radiation sickness in ten minutes and kill you in an hour. If it were to have continued that decay rate (1/10th every decade), then today, after over three decades, it would be down to less than 1/1000th the original level, which would still be very radioactive, but not "see it in person and die" radioactive.
posted by Pyry at 10:42 PM on May 28, 2019


I was a little surprised there were cats in the mass pet grave. You know they would only be able to get one and the others would hide. Sometimes I can't find my cat and I know all his hiding places already!

(I have to make jokes because otherwise it so bleak)

Really loving this series. For alot of shows, I'm usually doing something else while they running in the background. Not this one though. Its got my full attention for every episode.

The rooftop scene was so intense. I want to know what happened to the people who did that work. And they sent people up to plant a flag!
posted by LizBoBiz at 12:02 AM on May 29, 2019 [3 favorites]




My ex partner of six years got her doctorate in political sciences based on Cold War nuclear policy and has a working collection of Geiger counters and dosimeters (I can't eat bananas or Brazil nuts anymore). Her favorite movie is Threads (1984).

I'll say that again. Her favorite movie is Threads.

She's waiting anxiously for all five episodes so she can watch everything in one sitting and I've had to send her the timecodes of the dog detail scenes so she can skip them. Melting humans, not going to be an issue, but off-screen shooting a puppy? Her view is that we, as a species, fucked up, but the dogs didn't do anything to deserve that fate.
posted by Molesome at 3:30 AM on May 30, 2019 [3 favorites]


the dogs didn't do anything to deserve that fate.

As I understand it, the choices for the animals' fate were either this, or slower more painful deaths from the radiation illnesses they were almost certainly going to get. Also they risked carrying radiation with them outside the exclusion zone.

It's happier news for the stray dogs that live there now - there are even programs helping get them adopted to homes.
posted by dnash at 8:23 AM on May 30, 2019 [2 favorites]


So you know how I said that my parents are wildly very much missing the point of the show?

I just checked in on @clmazin and this seems to very much be A Thing, and he is clapping back at every opportunity. I love it.
posted by soren_lorensen at 8:30 AM on May 30, 2019 [7 favorites]


In a recent interview, composer Hildur Guðnadóttir, who composed the score for the HBO miniseries ‘Chernobyl’, revealed how the score came together. Namely: every sound in the score is recorded from sounds from inside a nuclear power plant.
OK, this needs to be a FPP. For real.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 10:40 AM on May 30, 2019 [5 favorites]


So you know how I said that my parents are wildly very much missing the point of the show?

Well, that's only because the show is leaving out lots and lots of the Soviet bureaucratic fuckups that both caused the disaster, and also made it worse than it needed to be.

We'll see how things land in rest of the series, but so far a lot of the bad shit is just missing from the narrative.
posted by sideshow at 2:27 PM on May 30, 2019 [1 favorite]


FWIW, the writer, Craig Mazin, was Ted Cruz's roommate in college.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 6:02 AM on May 31, 2019 [7 favorites]


Oh for real? He's that guy?! I am delighted!
posted by soren_lorensen at 6:35 AM on May 31, 2019 [4 favorites]


Atlas Obscura threw up this article on the Elephant's Foot the other day: The Famous Photo of Chernobyl’s Most Dangerous Radioactive Material Was a Selfie . It is terrifying and amazing.

I really want to watch this show but reading the FanFare threads gave me a horrific nightmare so I think I might be too chicken.

The nightmare was that Chernobyl happened. It's really quite something to have a an existential crisis about something that happened when I was four.
posted by kalimac at 10:41 AM on May 31, 2019 [2 favorites]


Lots of lingering on ash trays..

I'm loving this show, though in this episode the three main characters felt a bit clunky. They've never really been humanized, they're always just a little too important all the time. So to me Skarsgard's outburst felt fake, and the AZ-5 revelation in particular just didn't seem to land well.
posted by fleacircus at 5:46 AM on June 1, 2019




Atlas Obscura threw up this article on the Elephant's Foot the other day: The Famous Photo of Chernobyl’s Most Dangerous Radioactive Material Was a Selfie . It is terrifying and amazing.

The ending of that article is quite something:
Korneyev’s sense of humor remained intact, though. He seemed to have no regrets about his life’s work. “Soviet radiation,” he joked, “is the best radiation in the world.”
posted by Dip Flash at 6:25 PM on June 9, 2019 [1 favorite]


I watched the whole series over two nights this week.

The biorobot scene was real time and so disorienting and upsetting. I was yelling at the two guys who were carrying the big chunk of graphite, "YOUR HAND IS WAY TOO CLOSE TO THAT GRAPHITE." And yeah, the instructions not to trip when you're stumbling over a rubble-covered roof, through a haze of a lifetime dose of radioactivity, in a mask where you can barely see? HA HA H NO.

Yeah, it was definitely disorienting and upsetting, in part owing to its total accuracy.

There is existing footage that they were able to base that scene on. Valdimir Shevchenko, who exposed himself to fatal doses of radiation to film the footage that would appear in The Chronicle of the Severe Days/Chernobyl - Chronicle of Difficult Weeks captured the real-life bio-robots at work. This meant he was up on the roof with them. He also shot footage from directly above Reactor 4.

He was shooting in colour, but the radiation levels rendered the film black and white, and Shevchenko himself would die less than a year later:

Three days after the explosion and meltdown of Chernobyl’s Nuclear Reactor Unit 4 on April 26 1986, Ukrainian filmmaker Vladimir Shevchenko was granted permission to fly over the site in order to document decontamination efforts being carried out by liquidators or bio-bots (biological robots) as they were sometimes called. The 30-square km radius of the Exclusion Zone marks the limits of a radioactive territory that is still considered too dangerous to support prolonged exposure. When Shevchenko’s 35-mm film footage was later developed, he noticed that a portion of the film was heavily pockmarked and carried extraneous static interference and noise. Thinking initially that the film stock used had been defective, Shevchenko finally realised that what he had captured on film was the image and sound of radioactivity itself.
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 5:36 PM on October 4, 2019 [5 favorites]


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