Warning: This article contains spoilers.
What is the cost of a lie?
HBO’s new miniseries, “Chernobyl,” gives a rather satisfying answer to this question. Set in April 1986 under the influence of the Ukrainian SSR, this miniseries documents one of the worst nuclear disasters in history. It proves to be more than a political metaphor to the beginning of the end for one era. Its opening, shockingly enough, kills its protagonist right off the bat. Average shows would most definitely keep such a twist until the very end of the story arc, but this is no average show. “Chernobyl” isn’t interested in answering why its own events happened but explores the moments leading to the infamous accident. What was the reaction of the engineers at the nuclear site when the reactor exploded? What was the correct responding protocol of the higher administration? All these questions have never before been answered in such a dramatic fashion.
The HBO miniseries has long been a controversial topic amongst professionals in the film business and critics. It fills the niche space between Hollywood three-act films and multi-hour-long television series. However, miniseries are often extremely costly to produce, even when you compare them to the biggest summer blockbuster films. Due to the limitation of topics that can be explored in this format, miniseries are unfortunately restrained to serious drama to keep viewers engaged. They attract a smaller demographic than films or regular TV shows. It’s rare and pleasant to see HBO green-light a miniseries based on a less popular subject, considering its other ventures. The shower creator and writer Craig Mazin, who gained much of his reputation as a co-writer of two films in “The Hangover” series, knew exactly the potential of the miniseries. Dramatizing events like the Chernobyl disaster requires the story to dig deep enough to unravel the sincere emotion behind each character while avoiding to stretch the arc too long, which can result in losing the narrative’s momentum. This is precisely how “Chernobyl” achieves its memorable storytelling.
The show follows Valery Legasov (Jared Harris), an inorganic chemist who leads the investigation of the disaster. As a dedicated scientist, Legasov finds himself stuck in the middle of a political game — a game which proves to be vilely dangerous to the world. Luckily, he is not alone. Boris Shcherbina (Stellan Skarsgård), the deputy chairman of the Council Ministers, is often his protection and only friend in the show. Ulana Khomyuk (Emily Watson), a fictional character created to resemble the countless scientists who worked tirelessly to resolve the situation, serves as a point of reflection for Legasov to further his study. This chemistry between the main characters is amplified under the stress of their environment.
To Binge or Not To Binge?
“Chernobyl” is easily one of the best shows of 2019, especially after the catastrophic ending of HBO’s “Game of Thrones.” The show is not only for history buffs — even people with no interest in this particular period whatsoever will be entertained because the narrative itself is so damn good. It records, minute by minute, how the real Chernobyl accident happened, rendering a horrifying image of radiation never seen before on screen. This is the scariest part of the series — radiation is invisible and untouchable, meaning that the sense of danger it portrays is so easily conveyed to the audience. Its nuance is the biggest triumph of the show because it evokes true empathy in viewers for every character throughout the show.
The cinematography is superb even compared to iconic miniseries like “Band of Brothers.” The show’s cold, blue color scheme really solidifies the gravity of its situations. The music is especially of high production quality. Composer Hildur Guðnadóttir nails the tone of the worst nuclear power plant accident in history.
With this miniseries, HBO proves once again that it is still one of the best TV production powerhouses in the industry.
The best episode is the pilot: Season 1, Episode 1, “1:23:45.”
“Band of Brothers,” “Pacific War,” “The Terror,” “Tut,” “Madiba” and “The Spanish Princess”
Occasional nudity, swearing and graphic depictions of radiation illness within and on human bodies.
5 out of 5 stars
Available to stream on HBO GO
5 episodes, 300 minutes