Versione italiana qui.
So it happened. It’s over. Chernobyl has come to an end and I don’t know what to do with my life. After one month and one week together, every Tuesday, an appointment respected religiously and now … Just kidding of course. Sometimes I wish I didn’t know what to do with my life. I hear people around me saying “Oh I was so bored yesterday” or “this weekend” or when the hell it was. Were you? WERE YOU?! OH REALLY? OH NOES. THAT MUST’VE BEEN TERRIBLE, I TELL YOU. Just like Chernobyl, I’m being a bit overdramatic but yeah, I wish I knew what “bored” means. I remember I used to feel like that sometime, in a remote past, but then I gradually became more and more myself and unfortunately “myself” is a Stakhanovite motherfucker who just cannot rest one second. Even when I’m resting, I’m doing something I consider interesting or entertaining or useful. I don’t know bored. I’m soviet like that.
Anyhow, the finale was great. I loved it, really. It was very scientifically accurate, maybe together with the first the most accurate of the season apart from a teeny-weeney-tiny thing at the end that they had to insert even if it had no meaning for the episode, it didn’t serve to raise the tension and it would’ve taken two seconds to check it’s not true because, well, I guess they just couldn’t help themselves, just like I can’t help myself from loving this series despite its imperfections. It’s Chernobyl. I must love it. I have no control over this. Damn it, I sound just like one of those little sexist men: they just have to be predatory towards women, men just cannot control themselves. Well, you know what, if boys will be boys then aliens will be aliens, in other words if somebody can be an asshole just because of “nature” then everybody can be anything just because of “nature”. And then ask yourself if you like where this is going.
As of right now, this is going to the fact that I have a fetish for Chernobyl and I’m not even ashamed anymore.
But are we going to speak about this episode or not?
THERE’S GOING TO BE PLENTY OF SPOILERS. PROCEED AT YOUR OWN RISK.
Yes we are. Episode 5 is all about the explosion. Kaboom kaboom. I like kaboom. I like kaboom a lot. I like shiny and blue too.
Sorry, this degenerated quickly. I’ll try to write sensible things for two seconds. The expedient to show us the kaboom kab- *ahem* the explosion, is the process to Jordan Peterson with a perm (Bryukhanov who by the way probably wasn’t the asshole we see in the series but this is for another post), Dyatlov and Fomin. Shcherbina, Khomyuk and Legasov are called to give their testimony, and guided by their words we retrace all the events, from the afternoon of the 25th of April 1986 to the fireworks.
The process didn’t actually go how it’s showed, by the way, at least not that I know of: Legasov didn’t decide to do the hero and reveal the truth about the faults of RBMK reactors, not in that way, not in that moment. Never mind. We’ve already seen many times that the character of Legasov was manipulated a lot, same goes for Shcherbina and Khomyuk didn’t exist, she was meant to represent a collection of people, namely, the scientists. Personally I think that in the end it worked really well for the series, and what I care about the most is that they don’t mess up the physics, the health effects, the timeline. As for the people, mess them up as much as you like!
The beginning put even my Chernobylian cynicism to the test. The very first sequence shows us the normal lives of the people in Pripjat, of some of the workers who would find themselves in the middle of the disaster, of Lyudmila and Vasily Ignatenko *sniff. Do you remember the blond guy with a kid on his shoulders? He was the one holding open the reactor hall’s door in the first episode. Well, he’s still alive (well he was in 2004)! I don’t know what that man is made of, but something very sturdy apparently. Also, note: there was an inaccuracy about this in the first episode, because he didn’t get the burns immediately, on his hip and shoulder. He got them afterwards.
The scenes of the control room show a very tense environment, with Dyatlov bullying everybody and pushing them to do something they don’t think is safe. As I also said in the review of episode 1, whether this happened is actually unclear, or, as Dyatlov himself puts it in episode 3, «there is no truth». I did read many accounts that describe such a situation; in the episode, they maintain Toptunov said he was threatened with losing his job before dying, and I do have a vague memory of reading this somewhere, but on the other hand Stolyarchuk, who also was in the control room and is still alive – another guy made of some tough stuff – never seems to have told such a story. I found this Reddit thread here, where this is discussed. Now, I know online discussion are not a good source, but in that thread there are some links that could be very interesting if I understood something of what they say. There’s a link to Dyatlov’s book, in Russian, which I’ll have to read, which takes issues with Medvedev’s book, which I’ll have to re-read, and also a link to a supposed interview with Stolyarchuk which I don’t know how legit it is and which I’ll have to watch in an unspecified future. Because this is one of the many problems with Chernobyl: a lot of stuff has not been translated yet. Do you think that’s going to stop me? Forget it. As you have maybe understood, I’ve taken up Russian to read more about Chernobyl; I’m not kidding. This is called dedication, people.
Well, there is one thing I’m 99% sure about though: that there was a worker, Perevozchenko, who was above the reactor when it was almost about to explode and that he saw the rods’ caps jumping up from the lid. He then ran off to the control room to report about what was happening, and also to get out of there, I suppose. I’ve always felt a great admiration, one of those that come from deep within your heart, for that man. Had I been there and seen something like that, I would’ve fainted, face-down flattened on the floor; I would’ve fallen like a plumb bob and I would’ve been blown up together with the reactor and bye bye. Or maybe I would’ve run to the control room and fainted there, Quirrell style, gracefully flopping onto the floor.
So yeah, kudos to the guy for not losing it completely.
Bullying true or not, the scenes of the moments preceding the explosion were really cool, but what makes it all even cooler is that they make Legasov explain to the jury, and therefore to us, the inner workings of an RBMK reactor and how its characteristics led to its explosion. It’s awesome. The explanation is very clear, it is also very right as far as I know so for once I didn’t get heart attacks, and I think it is very understandable also for people with no knowledge on the subject, something that they maybe haven’t been very good at before. But this is explained in very simple terms, very clear and very correct. Since I am non-binary, I will from now on go by the pronoun xe, like Xenon (I JUST CAN’T HELP MYSELF, CAN I?).
Xenon was the little bastard that pulled down the reactivity and induced the operators to take up almost all the control rods, so that’s why I like it so much. A noble gas for an ignoble mess. I should print it on T-shirts. Hang on, I could actually get one of those custom made ones, it’s too good to go wasted XD I am a bad person. I’ve been saying this a lot lately.
I love it. I just do, despite its imperfections.
At the end, they give some further information about the characters, about what happened, about the real people the series talked about. Although in general I liked it a lot, they just had to put some bullshit in it, just like when somebody’s baking a very good dessert and then taken by some fit they throw raisins in it instead of chocolate chips. Such bullshit is the Bridge of Death (particularly. There was something else that was cheap or partially untrue, but not so glaringly). Look, it’s just not true that everybody on that bridge died. How is that possible? Not even all the people who were around the power plant for hours died. Sure, standing on a bridge watching an open burning reactor isn’t like drinking the elixir of long life, MAYBE some of them experienced radiation induced health problems in the years to come. But they didn’t all die, bloody hell, probably most or all of them didn’t even suffer acute symptoms. And did you notice how they mention it? They write “it has been reported”. So you cannot say that they say that it happened, because they will only say that they say that it’s been said that it happened, so ha-ha, fuck you, you cannot tell them anything. But they did write in such a way that the fact it’s been reported (by who? By a rando on the Internet?), but not confirmed, is going to go mostly unnoticed, a bit like when Jordan Peterson says “well I didn’t say that!” after he’s been saying multiple difference variations of “that” or has alluded in countless creative manners to “that”, but yes, he didn’t exactly say “that” with those words. So damn you producers for using such Petersonian tricks. I’d just rather you lie blatantly, I think there’s more honour in that.
I cannot really come up with something very funny in this episode, nothing made me really laugh out loud. There was a very ironic moment though that I liked a lot, towards the end, when the KGB’s head, leaving Legasov after he’s threatened to not be compliant, turns around and asks:
«Why worry about something that isn’t going to happen?»
Legasov: «“Why worry about something that isn’t going to happen?” Oh that’s perfect. They should put that on our money.»
As a person who worries about everything, I am convinced they should put it on a lot of people’s money.
Series’ overall judgement
Well, since this one was the last, I thought it would be nice to write a couple of words about the series as a whole (not many ‘cause I’ve written fucking epics about these episodes). Just from a cinematographic point of view, I liked it a lot: the flow is very good, the characters are well made, the dialogues are captivating and often funny, the tension is always kept rather high so the series results gripping. It’s entertaining, and often interesting. There’s a lot of irony and dark humour.
It’s not a documentary though. Absolutely not. While they often (but not always) get the physics right, they exaggerate the health effects in many cases. Generally, they give a more catastrophic representation than what actually happened, and I’d have liked it better if they had been a bit more accurate. The characters are not what they were in real life in almost all cases, but that’s not something that bothers me personally.
Just as a series though, it’s great. People should watch it, but they should not treat it as a source of information about Chernobyl, not beyond a smattering; there are better documents for that. But, well, I loved it. I’m partial. They showed me Chernobyl, more than any documentary or dramatization has ever done before, and I love it.
As Legasov says: «This is the invisible dance that powers entire cities without smoke or flame. And it is beautiful.»
Oh yes. It is.