“The Meltdown has begun”. Those are words that should send shivers down anyone’s spine. However, in this week’s episode titled “Open Wide, O Earth”, that is exactly what has happened. Following last week’s terrifying conclusion, the basement is successfully drained but the hard part is just beginning. Now they must worry about the meltdown contaminating the groundwater, no biggie, right? Sarcasm aside, this leads to the miners. They are charged with digging a tunnel so that a heat exchange can be placed under the plant. There is male nudity, the Minister of Coal getting a coal bath, terrible conditions, and no promises that they will be taken care of after the job is complete, oh yeah, and the radiation. Yet, they dig on, knowing how dire this could be for the entire country. They are heroes, they deserved to be recognized as such.
We talked about in my episode one review about radiation being the monster in this story. We get to see the devastating effects that it has on the human body. Dyatlov, Toptunov, and Akimov are all the verge of dying at this point. Toptunov already looks like a corpse that is rotting, and according to Khomyuk, Akimov didn’t have a face. But the worse we see is Vasily. At the beginning he seems like he’s getting better, but the next we know he’s screaming in pain and his body is covered in boils and sores. His body is literally being eaten alive. By the end of it, his body is all black and he can’t even move. At least he dies with one last comfort, his wife Lyudmilla is pregnant. We’ll get to that catastrophic mistake in a second.
Finally, in this episode we are introduced to the infamous KGB. After a confrontational with Gorbachev, Shcherbina takes Legasov on a walk to show him the agents following him. He also tells him that their rooms are bugged, and they have always been watched, but now the KGB want them to know. Khomyuk is sent to question the Dyatlov, Toptunov, and Akimov about the night of the explosion. While there, she sees Lyudmilla (who lied about being pregnant so she could see her husband) in the protective plastic quarantine with Vasily’s hand on her stomach. Khomyuk runs in and grabs her, then starts yelling at a nurse about Lyudmilla being pregnant while saying the whole world will know about this and everything that has been going. Then steps in her KGB agent, she is arrested. We are now starting to see that this whole thing is going to be covered up and blamed on Toptunov and Akimov, even though they did exactly what they were supposed to do. Khomyuk is released on the insistence of Legasov who will take responsibility for her actions. The episode ends with the burial of the firefighters and some plant personnel, with a shaken Lyudmilla watching on.
I just want to end on a shout out to writer Craig Mazin. His dialogue, which can be long, is always on point and gripping. Jared Harris delivers the performance but Mazin gives him life. The more I watch of this miniseries, the more I appreciate the behind the scenes people. Johan Renck is of course brilliant. This episode, in my opinion, was the best shot one of the whole series. Which say a lot, because every episode has been beautifully shot. This series should go down as important, but also as a work of art. A work of art that has Mazin’s and Renck’s brush strokes all over it.