Chernobyl returns this week for its penultimate episode before next week’s finale, and a humbling, harrowing look at the human cost of the disaster. We return to Ukraine 4 months after the explosion. The core is still exposed and radiation continues to be a danger to all those around the area.
We begin with the clean-up operation in full swing. Trees are bulldozed to the ground, pets rounded up and killed and at the heart of it, a teenager arrives to help out while Legasov discusses the best way to deal with the core. While the team are busy working, Ulena goes searching for answers and, more importantly, to find out just what happened when the core exploded.
The episode then splits its focus, with separate storylines following our main cast and the teenager from before, Pavel. The harrowing cost of the explosion is felt here, as Pavel is tasked with going door to door and shooting the irradiated pets. After shooting a dog, he takes a moment to gather his thoughts before continuing on with the mission he’s been given.
This reaches its climax later on in the episode when he comes across a litter of puppies. After some deliberation, he refuses to kill them and leaves the house while his comrade takes over. The sound of gunshots ricochet across the barren landscape as Pavel tries to digest the gravity of the situation.
We then cut forward to September 1986 where Legasov and the others discuss the best way of dealing with the core – settling on using robots to try and clear the graphite from the roof. Unfortunately they fail, leading Boris to take his anger out on a phone.
With things looking bleak, they call on the help of a team of people to clear the graphite instead. With minimal time and forced to move quickly, this incredibly tense segment sees the men taking it in shifts to clear the graphite with shovels, scrambling across the debris and working together to complete the mission at hand.
After catching our breaths, we cut forward to December 1986 in Pripyat, with Ignatenko starting to feel the effects of the radiation. Clutching her stomatch in pain, she doubles over in the snow and is rushed to hospital. It turns out the radiation was absorbed by the baby and not her, consequently killing the unborn child, with the final shot of her this episode staring blankly into the distance.
The episode then ends with Legasov, Boris and Ulana joining forces and determined to tell the truth in Vienna at a commission that’s been actioned.
Once again Chernobyl delivers a very well written and tense episode. If I’m honest, this one was as tough to watch as the first. Seeing Pavel and the others going door to door and killing animals was an incredibly tough watch and contrasted beautifully with the heart-pounding segment on the roof.
The abundance of long shots and the ominous musical score really underline the seriousness and bleak reality of the situation. With the recent news that Chernobyl is currently the highest rated show on IMDB, this HBO mini-series reacts suitably with a harrowing and bleak episode. One that’s certainly a contender for best episode of the year and a reminder of the very real human cost to this crisis.