Monday, May 6, 2019

REVIEW: 'Chernobyl' - A Dangerous Explosion at a Nuclear Power Plant Leads to Devastating Injuries in '1:23:45'

HBO's Chernobyl - Episode 1.01 "1:23:45"

April 26, 1986, Ukrainian SSR. Plant workers and firefighters put their lives on the line to control a catastrophic explosion at a Soviet nuclear power plant.

In 2018, there were 495 scripted shows airing amongst the linear channels and streaming services. The way people are consuming content now is so different than it used to be. It happens according to one's own schedule. As such, there is less necessity to provide ample coverage of each specific episode in any given season from a show. Moreover, it is simply impossible to watch everything. As such, this site is making the move to shorter episodic reviews in order to cover as many shows as possible. With all of that being said, here are my thoughts on the series premiere of HBO's Chernobyl.

"1:23:45" was written by Craig Mazin and directed by Johan Renck

There is an impending sense of doom and dread hanging over every single action depicted in this premiere. The audience goes into this new HBO miniseries with the understanding of just how dangerous and tragic the Chernobyl accident actually turned out to be. And yet, the story should serve as a vital reminder of just how dangerous and lethal a breakdown of nuclear power could be - especially in a world that is still fighting over which countries have the technology to harness such energy. There are so many power issues at play throughout this story. There is the sheer bafflement that an explosion could even take place in the core reactor. The nuclear scientists believe that it's impossible. It's not until they see the devastation with their own eyes that they realize what is happening at this site. If a person doesn't behold that sight, then they are in complete denial. That's what fuels so much of the initial actions taken here. The explosion in the middle of the night is perceived as nothing but a fire on the roof. It's a reaction to a new safety protocol that was being tested. It just had the unfortunate consequence of nearly destroying the entire program. Everyone is fighting for survival though. Some do so with the urgency and awareness of exactly what's going on. People are descending through this facility to turn on the pipelines to feed water to the core. Others are reaching out and showing their humanity even in the face of death. This is such a bleak story that is only going to get darker and more disturbing with its central visuals. Right now, everything is ominous because the disaster extends further than just the clear and present harm that comes from the fire. That disaster is immediately felt. It is seen by the local community. They look out at the horizon and see the dazzling colors of a landscape that isn't natural to them. It's something to behold even though members of the community are also rushing to the site to contain the fire. There is a lack of understanding over what actually takes place in this facility as well. Moreover, there is the attempted cover-up in order to avoid a pandemic. There is the fear that the explosion was the result of a bomb that was detonated by a foreign adversary. That's not what happened though. But it's absolutely chilling to watch as everyone normalizes just how high an acceptable amount of radiation exposure is to the surrounding community. Anatoly Dyatlov is the head of the crew onsite. He gets the reading that the exposure level is at a 3.6. He immediately sees that as manageable. No one should be too concerned about effects stemming out to the community. That's the position the Soviet government takes as well. They don't want people making this into a much bigger deal than it is. It's not until the end of the premiere when Valery Legasov is brought in as a consultant and knows that these levels are dangerous and should be just cause for an evacuation. He has that rational response. And yet, it comes too late. The community has already been consumed with ash and radiation fallout. They have no idea what is going on but the audience is unnerved by these brutal visuals of families playing in the ash and the firefighters continue to forge ahead despite the burns on their bodies. The human cost of this story needs to be a priority. Instead, it was fundamentally about the government officials who thought they were safe in their underground bunker to craft the narrative of what happened. Even then, they weren't safe from the fallout. It's a startling image but one that seems unlikely to deter any actions to best contain the situation either. That too is tragic in many ways. The show will more than likely continue to highlight the injustices that took place in the aftermath of this great tragedy moving forward.