Starring: Jared Harris, Stellan Skarsgård, Emily Watson, Paul Ritter, Jessie Buckley, Adrian Rawlins, Con O’Neill, Barry Keoghan
Directed by: Johan Renck
Written by: Craig Mazin
I don’t think I’ve ever watched the first episode of a show that made me straight-up cry. It usually takes until the second or third episode to pull me in. The fourth to make a tear roll down my face. Chernobyl is different.
The minute the opening monologue with Jared Harris’s character hits, it’s so effective, and I was instantly hooked. The storytelling feels raw, the cinematography pulls you in, and the acting punches you in the gut. Chernobyl tells the haunting tale of a tragedy in a slow, moving, and touching way that not only pulls you in, but you’ll be shell-shocked until the final credits roll.
Chernobyl tells the story of the 1986 nuclear accident of Chernobyl – which will go down in history as one of the most catastrophic events to happen. On April 26, 1986, nuclear reactor No. 4 exploded, leaving a VERY high amount of radioactivity to spread throughout Chernobyl. The first episode entitled “1:23:45” details the beginning and those surrounding the tragedy. We explore the beginning of the disaster. In this first episode, we also witness the fallout of the catastrophe as well as the politicians trying to cover it up. We also see the rescue workers and workers of the plant putting their lives at risk to make things better.
For right now, we’re going to look at the first episode, then we’ll do a comprehensive overall review of the series when it wraps (I’m too emotional to try to cover all of it right now). Chernobyl has a massive undertaking with this miniseries. Craig Mazin and Johan Renck have to express the emotional and physical turmoil that this event had and is still felt by millions. It’s an incredible amount of information that they have to give to the audience. Within the first episode, you’re so confident that they could do that, because they put the people first and the event surrounds them.
Let me explain what I mean. Chernobyl (the event) happens in an instant, but it takes the people around them to figure out what to do. They need to step into place and pull into action, whether that’s for the good, bad, or corruptible. In “1:23:45,” we get the biggest scope of people who are and will be affected by this event, and that’s a BIG DEAL. Most shows will only focus on the tragedy of it all. They will give you the event as it happened with no mention or intense dive into the people. The emotional and physical weight of the tragedy is felt through every single person in this episode. From the workers, the politicians, the rescue workers, and the people from Chernobyl, all of them are given some sight and voice.
I don’t think you could get a better cast to do this show. Jared Harris (Mad Men, The Terror) leads the pack. Not only does he give me Mad Men PTSD, but he’s also such a good and dynamic presence on the screen. He commands the attention even if he appears to be meek and under-aggressive. You don’t want anything bad to happen to him, but (slight spoilers) you don’t get that in the first 20 minutes. Harris stands on equal footing with such an incredible cast that it’s impossible for you to hate this show. Emily Watson (Synecdoche, New York, Gosford Park), in her brief appearance in the first episode, makes a solid introduction. Stellan Skarsgård (Thor, Mamma Mia) brings a commanding and looming presence as Boris Shcherbina.
However, it was everyone else that just nailed it for me. The rest of the cast (too many to mention here) made this feel like you were in the thick of it with them. They were powerful and carried so much emotion even if they were on the side of good or bad. Jessie Buckley (War and Peace, Beast) as Lyudmilla Ignatenko is someone that I held onto first the first episode. She’s a young woman whose husband, Vasily Ignatenko (Adam Nagaitis), goes to help with the first response of the disaster. It’s heartbreaking to watch her, because you know it’s not going to be okay. You know nothing great is going to come from this situation, but you hope even though there is none. That’s what a great story, cast, and crew can do for a show.
If you haven’t already watched this series, I can’t recommend it enough. It’s already had two excellent episodes under its belt with just three more to go in this mini-series. It’s unlike any other miniseries that you’ll watch from HBO, and you’ve got to give this show a try.
Chernobyl currently airs on HBO on Mondays at 9 PM EST.