What is the cost of lies? It’s not that we’ll mistake them for the truth. The real danger is that if we hear enough lies, then we no longer recognize the truth at all.Valery Legasov
These are the very opening lines of the HBO mini-series. Without needing to guess further, I knew that this miniseries is going to be worth watching. The most talked-about HBO miniseries was something I never expected. I was dreading another documentary feeding me with the facts and figures of this 1986 nuclear disaster – I can do that on YouTube myself and in fact, here are some supplementary videos to watch if you are interested in the science and mechanisms behind the RMBK-type nuclear reactor.
So what makes this show great is its depiction of the social causes and social cost of the whole affairs. (And yes, I realised Jared Harris plays the lead here and I was impressed by his performance as Lane Pryce in Mad Men and so, I decided to give this show a shot.)
I would not comment on the historical accuracy nor the scientific details explained by the nuclear physicists purely because my knowledge of physics and chemistry is stuck at ‘O’L levels standards.
Anyways, the series – as its name already suggests – is about the 1986 tragic nuclear disaster specifically how it started and the subsequent legal trials. We see the events through the eyes of many stakeholders – the soldiers, the family, the science community, the plant workers and firefighters and of course, the politicians – and the conflicts within them. Should Lyudmilla have obeyed the nurse and distance herself from her husband, Vasily Ignatenko who was one of the heroic first responders of the explosion? What about Pavel? He was young and drafted to kill animals – an experience which might tramatise him for life. The truth is none of them deserves and none of them should suffer these consequences but they did and so did their children.
The men in power all wanted to protect the Soviet pride, their offices in Moscow and local government and their images. To bow down and seek help from the States would be seen as a humiliating defeat to Communist Soviets and Gorbachev – who just assumed office in 1985 – would not want that. The government knew about the design flaw but they did not want the truth and made up their own version of lies.
I was expecting the Chernobyl to be dry and boring. I am afraid this miniseries would just be another documentary recount of this tragic nuclear events but turns out, the five-episodes historical drama is indeed worth watching. It looks at the aftermath not from a scientific point of view, but instead the accumulation of the failures of humans – human errors, human ego and human greed. Because of these, generations of people have to suffer the horrific consequences of the nuclear radiation lurking in the air. It is the kind of show that really makes you wonder what is scarier – knowing the truth or sugarcoating the lies.