Chernobyl (“Please Remain Calm”)

Part 2 of 5
Date of airing: May 13, 2019 (HBO)
Nielsen ratings information: 1.004 million viewers, 0.31 rating with Adults 18-49, 0.16 rating with Adults 18-34, 0.41 rating with Adults 25-54, 0.51 rating with Adults 50+

I didn’t appreciate the missing characters of the first part, as the first 60 minutes focused entirely on the immediate aftermath of the explosion and burning reactor building. Characters I don’t know were dealing with the accident, and those who looked like they were part of the story throughout the miniseries were introduced in a rather limited fashion. But I freaking loved the tension and end-of-the-world feeling while the plant workers were finding their way through the plant to check out the reactor building and the core. What the second part delivered was the fix to the problem I’ve had with the first part, as well as a continuation to the tense premise of the show I loved during the opening episode. In a way, the second part is double the “fun,” which means twice as good as the opener. And that is going to say a lot about CHERNOBYL, because now that the immediate aftermath of the accident has been dealt with, and all the incidental victims have been pretty much killed off, the remainder of the miniseries can focus on the central characters, of which I counted four: Valery Legasov, who really tried his best to warn everyone of the catastrophe that is about to come; Boris Shcherbina, who was a non-believer at first, but as soon as he heard from Legasov that he will be dead in five years or less, he believed; Ulana Khomytuk, who was introduced in this episode as the female representation of saving the world; and Lyudmilla Ignatenko, who represents the civilian point of view of the premise, as she will most likely be on her way to Moscow to find her fireman husband, one of the first people on the scene of the radioactive mess and probably dying as quickly as all the other firemen who were the first responders.

To survive this apocalypse, take one pill a day.

Turning the show from a disaster movie into a frustrating thriller with four central characters about saving the world, in which the word “frustrating” stems on the fact that not a single one of the authority figures have been listening to the people who have knowledge when talking about nuclear energy, exposed reactor cores and radioactive contamination, was a wonderful idea for this episode, and with that little change I suddenly know what is actually going on in this show. Maybe the chaotic and sometimes hectic immediate aftermath of the accident, depicted through multiple point of views, was necessary, because it was the immediate aftermath, and no physicist would have even noticed something is happening within the first six or seven hours of the accident — stuff needs to “cool down” first for the real problems to emerge, as evident in this episode when Ulana came to Pripyat to tell the men that they don’t have a month to get their shit together. They don’t even have 72 hours. I don’t have a lot of knowledge about the Chernobyl disaster, and while I flew through the Wikipedia page, I definitely did not come across the potential of the remaining reactor cores exploding, because the tanks of the first reactor core were unexpectedly filled to the topand could lead to a thermal super explosion. I mean, that pretty much sounds like true end-of-the-world stuff, and I really don’t want to know how close Europe really was in 1986 to be mostly uninhabited, how many people would have died, and how fucked up the world would have been if the thermal explosion really had happened, and blown off the roof of the remaining reactor cores.

This is what vomit of a nuclear core looks like.

There was even more tension in this episode because of all the potential horror that could have happened. Some of it did happen, as the authorities did not listen. Would Deputy Secretary Garanin, whom Ulana was trying to convince something went terribly wrong at Chernobyl, have listened and reacted, if a man had told him the same information Ulana did? That’s unlikely, since no one was listen to the plant workers of the previous episode, let alone Legasov, but that scene alone riled me up so much that I was repeatedly mouthing ‘holy fuck’ throughout the scene. And not just that scene — also during the chopper flight above the reactor building, Boris mentioning that he is in charge about whether to evacuate Pripyat or not, and having been told not to, and finally the fact that Legasov was lying himself when he told the people at the bar they shouldn’t worry, followed by him not mentioning to the potential volunteers at the end that they will die when they go back into Chernobyl and flush the water out of the tanks. Frustrating stuff that comes close to being comparable to what is happening when it comes to global warming, which I saw was one of the parables viewers came out with while watching CHERNOBYL. Because none of the authority figures and politicians are listening, when experts and civilians ring the alarm, danger comes raining down and killing people. It happened in 1986, will it happen again, only in a much more global scale, and with radiation replaced by floods and fire and storms?

Are you ready for evacuation?

And the horror really began when the episode ended with the three volunteers on their way to empty the tanks. That moment they stepped close to the exposed core and their Roentgen devices were going mad, while their flashlights were turning off… I never knew how terrifying real life can be, and how other horror movies with supernatural monsters and ghosts or serial killers are tame in comparison to the final minutes of this episode.

Best part of the episode: Legasov’s explanation of how a nuclear power plant works was fantastic. It was explained for the mind of a child, like Donald Trump’s, and not unlike Boris, I now know how a nuclear power plant works. I love it when highly technical storytelling gets simplified for the general audience for a hot minute, making the greater narrative more understandable for the viewers.
Worst part of the episode: No subtitles during the Pripyat evacuation scene? I would have loved what the loudspeakers were telling its citizens.
Weirdest part of the episode: This much I knew about the Chernobyl disaster: Pripyat was evacuated within the first two days of the accident. This episode made it seem like the order to evacuate was not given until 36 hours in, which means an entire town was evacuated within the afternoon. I don’t quite believe that.
Player of the episode: Ananenko, Bezpalov and Baranov for the most obvious reason of sacrificing their own lives to save millions.

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