The Chernobyl disaster was a shocking, harrowing moment in human history. If there’s one company you can trust to do a story like this justice, it’s HBO. After their fantastic work with Band Of Brothers, they deliver another historical gem here with Chernobyl.
In a dimly lit room, the first episode begins with a man sitting at a kitchen table talking about the effects of Chernobyl, recording it all down on a tape player. After smoking a cigarette outside, he heads in and commits suicide.
We then jump back 2 years and 1 minute, minutes before the explosion in Ukraine that started this chain of events. An ominous orange glow in the distance signals the reactor core blowing and is followed by a shockwave of roaring danger as the men and women in the City of Pripyat brace themselves.
Meanwhile, the men at the nuclear plant struggle to work out what’s happened whilst vomiting blood. The core has been completely destroyed but Gorbachenko Nikolai demands the workers bring in the day shift to help pour water through the core even though it’s been completely destroyed.
While the firefighters arrive on scene and try desperately to put the fire out, a hospital nurse in the distance asks whether they stock Iodine. They don’t. This ominous bit of foreshadowing may well prove to be important in the coming episodes.
Back at the plant, one of the firefighters nurses a burnt hand after handling a broken piece of graphite. The rest of the firefighters head inside to try and contain the fire while the day workers arrive and discuss what might be happening.
Meanwhile, underground in a bunker, the executives and directors discuss the blast and try to cover up the severity of what’s happened. General Pikalov downplays any notion of evacuating the city, while another one of the Directors calls for the military to arrive and close off the city.
With the lockdown in full swing, we cut to the next day as the Ukranians continue with their day like normal. The final shot, and it’s something that’ll haunt me for a while, pans across a pavement with laughing children skipping to school while a bird falls to the ground and dies from radiation poisoning.
Chernobyl is shocking, harrowing, sickening television. It’s a harsh reminder of just how bad this disaster was and does the history justice with its use of time stamps and well-shot imagery. The long shots, the ominous score and incredibly well paced story combine to make Chernobyl one of the best opening episodes of 2019 and a strong contender, even this early on, for one of the best shows of 2019.