Chernobyl (“Vichnaya Pamyat”)

Part 5 of 5
Date of airing: June 3, 2019 (HBO)
Nielsen ratings information: 1.089 million viewers, 0.30 rating with Adults 18-49, 0.16 rating with Adults 18-34, 0.41 rating with Adults 25-54, 0.61 rating with Adults 50+

The only great news that came out of the final moments of the miniseries, out of the blocks of text accompanying the summary of the Chernobyl accident and what happened after the timeline of the year after the explosion, was that Lyudmilla was still alive and that she was healthy enough to bear another child. Of all the things that happened, of all the tragic and trauma she went through, I really would have thought she was getting some of the radiation as well. But as it turns out, and like I said during the previous episode, her unborn daughter caught all the radiation, protecting her mother. One life was paid to save another life. I’m almost more interested in hearing Lyudmilla’s account of what happened after the explosion and during the following years than listening to the points of view from all the other people. Lyudmilla’s account is the most personal one, and probably the most surprising one, both emotionally and medically. Thanks to the knowledge I got from watching ER, I knew that fetuses were able to function as a sort of sarcophagus for illnesses that the mother might have caught during the pregnancy. You get poisoned? Maybe the fetus will absorb all the poison and die, while you get to survive? You get loaded with radiation during pregnancy? Lyudmilla’s story showed that the fetus caught all that radiation and protected you. That life within you functions as a sponge — how do you feel after you come to learn that truth, and what will you think of life when you come to realize that your unborn child sacrificed itself for you?

The court introduces the expert witnesses.

This was an excellent finale to the miniseries, and it almost brought the entire thing full circle. The miniseries began with the explosion, and it ended with what happened before that explosion. In a way, you could simply watch the premiere episode again, now that you know what really happened. Now that you know what conspired in the hours before the accident, it makes it easier to understand what happened immediately after it. I love that full-circle narrative, and I would wish for more scripted programming to try to get there. The computer game “Lost: Via Domus” kind of went that direction, and while it might have been an obvious way to either end the game or the entire series of LOST that way, it was still a cool way to show that there is never an ending, and that the viewers can trap themselves in a loop. TWELVE MONKEYS ended that way, and maybe even TERMINATOR: THE SARAH CONNOR CHRONICLES ended that way, essentially building a bridge to the prologue of the first film with its unintended series-ending cliffhanger. Yes, CHERNOBYL didn’t really end that way, but it gave a depiction of the explosion which wasn’t seen in the first episode. What I found a bit problematic during the premiere, because I didn’t get to know what happened immediately before the explosion, was explained away by the decision to depict the hours and minutes before the explosion in the finale. Life is a full circle after all. We were created, we are born, we live, we die, we get created again. Stars are born and end their life with a supernova, with the following stardust creating other stars.

The court introduces itself.

I was a bit worried at first about what the final episode of the show might entail. Consider me happy that it focused almost entirely on the court drama, as well as Boris, Ulana and Legasov’s explanation of what happened and why it happened — just in case there were still people who did not understand what happened. Legasov’s explanation of how the events unfolded was excellent and reminded me of how he explained to Boris how a nuclear reactor was working. When he started off with the red and blue cards, I was thinking that I would stop understanding the science behind it, but as it turned out those cards were just a visual representation of how the core inside reactor 4 worked, and what needed to happen and be removed from the circle of chemical life inside a core to make it explode. And besides that, even I had to shake my head when he mentioned that the graphite tips of the fuel rods only existed because it made the reactor cheaper to build — the mumbling in the court audience resembled real-life astonishing and bewilderment in cases that just delivered a huge twist of what happened. I could have watched Legasov explain what happened in the minutes and seconds before the explosion for an hour or two, because it was fascinating. While I still don’t understand the chemical science behind it, it does make the whole business of nuclear reactors seem like they are all waiting to explode, and they are all a nuclear bomb. You can bring as much safety into it as possible, but you will never know what is going to happen in the worst of circumstances. How did the episode end? “Why worry about something that isn’t going to happen?”

It’s the second before the explosion — where the world was still alright.

Best part of the episode: The text captions at the end, telling the viewers what happened after and how the world perceived Legasov’s memoirs, almost made me cry. Not just because of how important Legasov’s words were, after he was told that his legacy will be the legacy of other people who decide to live under the rules and laws of the Soviet Union, but also because of Lyudmilla. Everyone has heard about the Chernobyl disaster, but who really has known about Valery Legasov? The man turned out to be a hero, whose legacy was threatened by the Soviets, so he decided to create his own legacy in the aftermath of the disaster. Would someone other than Legasov hired by the Soviets to investigate the explosion and create a disaster protocol have been equally led by the disaster to tell the truth at the end? Would any other scientist have followed Soviet rule instead?
Worst part of the episode: There was nothing bad about it. Maybe that it was an hour shorter than it could have been. The whole trial could have deserved its own little miniseries, in the style of the Nuremberg process, in which Alec Baldwin starred.
Weirdest part of the episode: Can it be that Anatoly Dylatov was depicted a little too much like the villain in the room when he decided to stop Legasov from testifying? I didn’t really like that moment, although I guess every Soviet story need a villain like that.
Player of the episode: To all the people who saved Europe from radioactive destruction in 1986 – thank you. I never knew about you before I watched this miniseries, but now I do. And you have my gratitude. As someone who grew up under communist rule created by the Soviets in the GDR, it’s almost a miracle that none of the lies and deception has defined my family and I came to be the most liberal progressive I ever thought I could be.

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