Chernobyl (“Open Wide, O Earth”)

Part 3 of 5
Date of airing: May 20, 2019 (HBO)
Nielsen ratings information: 1.063 million viewers, 0.32 rating with Adults 18-49, 0.15 rating with Adults 18-34, 0.39 rating with Adults 25-54, 0.55 rating with Adults 50+

This episode was less tense than the previous one, but the horror was still present, although this time around in the form of Soviet bureaucracy, as well as the KGB. Of course the story of Chernobyl had to be filled partially with what the KGB has been doing to Soviet comrades in the government, and how the Kremlin probably wasn’t trusting anyone, or at least just keeping tabs on everyone, so that no one will spill any secrets, which are still being buried even after the explosion of the reactor core. The Kremlin is still keeping secrets, even though hundreds of thousands of people will have to try to fix the problem created by the accident, and tens of thousands of people will continue to die over the next few years. The Kremlin will still have its KGB agents follow people — probably even those who are to die, because for the KGB, people revealing why they are dying might be a secret too dangerous to share with the world.

The coverage of a news event in 1986 looked like this.

With the rising amount of bureaucracy though, the show became a little less interesting. The Ignatenko story has been the most impressive one, thanks to the fact that Lyudmilla had a lot more screentime, and her emotions were shared with the viewers. Sitting in a hospital, in which your husband is slowly dying of radiation poisoning, must be traumatic for the wife, which is probably why she decided not to bother to listen to the staff there, when they tell you not to touch your husband and always stay outside the plastic tent. For Lyudmilla, her life might have ended when she saw her husband dying, and while I have no idea whether she has contracted some of the radiation poisoning from Vasily or may have given birth defects to her unborn child, there was a sense of a finale in her life, and that nothing which comes after the cold, steel and concrete funeral of the firemen who responded first will bring Lyudmilla hope or love again. For her, her life ended here and who knows how long she will still be alive. Maybe she is lucky and she’s not sick of radiation poisoning. Maybe she is lucky and her unborn child will be born into this world healthy. But she will die over the course of the next few decades like the miners will die over the next few years after they have finished doing what they were hired to do. Like Boris and Legasov will die over the next few years, because they have always been getting a low but steady radiation poisoning while trying to fix all of this. Lyudmilla’s story was dramatic, and I would have wished for some of that being part of the previous episode, while I also hope it will define the next two episodes. Because now I kind of can’t image what is following now. A few weeks have passed since the explosion, the miners are at work, and Legasov introduced the next action plan. All they fear now is that the core will melt down quicker than anyone would have thought, but it’s essentially the only imminent threat at the moment.

Only a few things help against protection from a radioactive man.

And in the meantime, the remainder of the disaster aftermath lies in bureaucracy and preventing more deaths from happening all over Europe or in the immediate vicinity of Chernobyl. But does that really need depiction, now that Legasov has established what is to be done now? Granted, I would love to see the work of hundreds of thousands of men rebury the earth miles in and miles out, but I’m not quite sure what all of that hard work would mean for the story, except telling us over and over that all those men will be catching the radiation from the air and will eventually die. Going to work and knowing that work will kill you in a few years — there is a story there, but I don’t think for more than one episode.

Which means some of the remainder of the story has to lie in Ulana’s work finding out what happened that night and how the reactor core exploded. Maybe the remainder of the story will lie in preventing accidents like that to happen in the future, which means nuclear power plants have to be reformed, maybe even rebuilt, simply because one freak-nature accident caused all this chaos and fear and death. It would definitely help in bringing home the morale of the story that carries danger when being around a nuclear power plant: If you don’t know how to handle it or what danger it could bring when something is wrong, maybe you shouldn’t be playing with one. It’s basically the only morale left in the show, except of course the next two episodes will go knee-deep into the thousand-mile radius of Chernobyl and showcase how much trouble radiation really can bring, and how much of an effect the disaster really had. We only know of Pripyat and we have seen the abandoned town in photographs, and maybe in Transformers and Die Hard movies, but that town cannot be the only area heavily affected by the radiation.

You don’t care about your figure when it’s 120 degrees.

Best part of the episode: It was soft gore, but it was still gore, but the way Vasily’s outer skin layer was decaying almost looked like a nightmare in itself. The pilot of FRINGE had a similar effect on someone’s outer skin, but over there it was the skin becoming translucent, and it looked more like a special effect than anything else. Here it looked like prosthetics and make-up done well, putting an extra layer of fear and horror into the show.
Worst part of the episode: The worst part is that most of the horrific tension of the previous episodes is gone now. Nothing to mouth ‘holy fuck’ to again, or to be scared about what is going to happen now, and what the characters will get to see around the corner.
Weirdest part of the episode: Hospital staff just let a stranger through like it’s nobody’s business. Bribing and persuading someone to let you through to visit someone who is sick seems pretty easy and a daily occurrence in the Soviet Union. And this after the KGB was portrayed as being ever-present No wonder the country fell apart four years later.
Player of the episode: All those naked miners deserve respect for not giving a damn about their looks while kind of indirectly saving millions of people. No homophobia found here.

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