“The Happiness of All Mankind” sounds like a line from a feel-good story, but we all know this is no happy story. Yet, that is the title of this week’s episode of Chernobyl. There is no happiness as the episode begins with a short film. I don’t think it was meant to be seen that way, but it felt like the shorts before Pixar films. It set the tone for the the episode in a beautiful, dark, brutal way. This episode was by far the hardest one to watch. The cleanup of Chernobyl and the wider exclusion zone has begun.
In this episode we are introduced to the liquidators charged with cleaning up the exclusion zones as well as the Chernobyl plant itself, but most importantly the roof. For the exclusion zones clean up we are introduced to civilian draftee Pavel (Barry Keoghan) and Bacho (Fares Fares). We see the clean up through Pavel’s point of view. They oversee animal control, meaning, they kill all the animals who have been exposed to radiation. Bacho has two rules for Pavel, 1. Never point the gun at him and 2. Do not let the animals suffer, of he will kill Pavel himself. He makes that last point abundantly clear, letting Pavel know he has killed a lot of men. This all leads up to the hardest part to watch, because most of the animals to be put down are pets. We never see them shoot them on camera, but we hear everything. That made it awkward sitting on the couch next to my dog Oliver. All you hear is dogs barking/whining and gun shots. As a huge dog lover, it was hard to stomach. However, you get the logic behind it. Kudos to Craig Mazin and Johan Renck for handling it in a way that got the point across without going overboard.
Besides shooting radioactive pets and animals, the crux of the cleanup efforts is the roof. There are three levels of the roof that need to be cleared before they can seal up the plant for good. I must say, they get creative with this one. They use moon rovers to clean up two levels of the roof. Shout out to them for not using men at this stage. Key phrase, “at this stage”. For the third level, which is over 12,000 Ronkin, they had to do something that I was shocked by. The State asked the West for help. They got a West German police robot, which they are sure is ready to do all the heavy lifting and get them over the finish line. (Can you guys feel a “but” coming on?) HOWEVER, the robot almost instantly stops working after trying to go backwards one meter. This leads to a very heated conversation with Shcherbina and his superiors, who only told the West Germans that the highest detected level of radiation is 2000 Ronkin. Now they are forced to use men, 3828 to be exact. They all have 90 seconds to clear as much graphite as possible. This leads to another thrilling, terrifying scene.
This wouldn’t be Chernobyl without bureaucratic nonsense. Khomyuk is sent to the State archives to investigate any other incidents or other plants that could be a potential risk. She confronts Dyatlov, but he knows the State isn’t interested in the truth and that he is already as good as dead. She then meets with Shcherbina and Legasov away from KGB surveillance. They are all have to testify at the trial of Dyatlov, Bryukhanov, and Fomin, and Legasov has to address the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency). You need to watch the final moments of the episode yourself for the best dialogue of the entire miniseries.
With one episode left, the truth must come out. I think it will happen at the trial, but we know from the first episode that the truth doesn’t come out until Legasov’s suicide. I’m guessing the KGB does some good ole suppressing of the truth. Once again, the episode was incredibly directed and was beautiful to watch. I’m not ready to for the series to be over from an artistic perspective, but I know all great things have to end. Next week we’ll get to the finale and see what debts the truth has to pay after all these lies.