Chernobyl is everything they say it is. Watch it now
Quietly, without preamble or marketing blitz, HBO’s miniseries Chernobyl became the highest-rated show on IMDB last week. It crept past Breaking Bad, The Walking Dead and Band of Brothers. It took over everyone’s favourite, Game of Thrones. And the show had, at the time, aired only four of its five hour-long episodes.
The finale is now out. But you won’t need five hours to figure out why the show has topped the charts. HBO’s dramatised retelling of present-day Ukraine’s 1986 nuclear disaster, its immediate gory aftermath and the terrible decisions that compounded the calamity, is devastating viewing.
It shows its best card early – an underling reports to the control room that Chernobyl’s nuclear reactor’s core has exploded. It’s too outrageous to believe, of course. But it means, for everyone watching, that every subsequent minute brings mounting anger as the lies, blame-shifting and public misinformation cascade.
The scenes switch between ground zero and hospitals unprepared for the horror; from the obliviousness within the blast radius to Moscow’s sanitised and impervious corridors of power. There are the heroes, the efforts to contain the carnage, but no clear villain.
Chernobyl stands apart from bucolic documentaries about the exclusion zone today. The period drama isn’t overshadowed by period detail (though you’ll wonder how they shot the reactor scenes). None of the principal cast is Russian; the accents are mostly British. But don’t miss the wood for the trees. Chernobyl isn’t a story of a nuclear core bursting open. It’s about the rupturing of a social and political system while everyone, you included, can only watch in despair.