You are dealing with something that has never occurred
on this planet before.
— Valery Legasov
As a Moments subpage, all spoilers are unmarked as per policy. You Have Been Warned.
Open Wide, O Earth
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- The trailer makes extensive use of a truck broadcasting "Vnimanie, vnimanie..." ("Attention, attention...") to signal the evacuation of Pripyat.
- Whats more disturbing? Many witnesses to the real tragedy have said, upon seeing the series, that the events shown were completely accurate to what happened.
- The announcement itself has a calm, detached tone to the speaker's voice, as though making an announcement that the cafeteria will be serving carrots instead of peas for dinner. Granted, it's being done to keep the citizens from panicking, but the severity of the disaster makes the voice seem... inhuman, like a vocal Uncanny Valley.
- The trailer won the 2019 Golden Trailer award for "best horror/thriller", even though Chernobyl is technically neither a horror series nor a thriller.
- At 1:23am, Lyudmilla is making tea in her apartment, oblivious to the bright light coming from Chernobyl in the background. Then the light gets brighter, signaling an explosion has taken place, and she doesn't notice until the shockwave hits seconds later.
- When the camera pans back to the power plant after the explosion, there is a brilliant blue light shining straight up from the location of the explosion, like a spotlight. It's not a spotlight. What you are looking at is air ionized to luminescence by radiation, due to the reactor being exposed to the open air. What she is staring at is the opened maw into hell on Earth itself.
- The families of Pripyat gather along a bridge to watch the distant fire, unaware that the thing burning is an exploded reactor core. And then, the wind picks up and all these flakes of ash begin falling like snow, collecting onto their hair and clothing, while their children start to play in that ash. To the viewers, fully aware of what's happening, this seemingly innocent scene is more terrifying than most slasher films.note
- The next we see of them, they're all in the overflowing hospital, all with radiation burns. Including the same man and his infant son from the earlier scenes.
- Kudryavsev and Proskuryakov are sent to Reactor #4 to manually lower the control rods into the core, only for Yuvchenko to tell them that the rods and the core don't exist anymore. Upon entering the ruined reactor hall, the two men find themselves staring into the gaping, flaming, hellish maw of what used to be Reactor #4. They quickly realize just how FUBAR the situation really is and hi-tail it out of there. A Youtube comment summarized what they were facing well:
Staring right down the barrel of a high-energy particle machine gun that's sending a trillion x-rays, gamma rays, and neutrons a second straight through you and turning you into swiss cheese at the molecular level. Some of the neutrons even transmuting the very elements you're made of.
The dispersing kinetic energy of the molecules they throw around in their path is so high it translates into enough heat that you can feel it all inside of you.
One minute in an environment of 500 sieverts per hour. Enough for a lethal dose. Except it wasn't enough. Two of them actually go back and spend the rest of the night running around the reactor opening water valves in a futile sacrifice to try and put out the fire.
You can't put out the fire. That dispersed kinetic energy coming from the very decays inside the fuel and graphite is enough to keep them glowing red-hot. No amount of water will. In fact after being spent, these materials usually spend up to a decade in an adjacent cooling pool before they cool down just enough to be able to be transported.
- To add another layer to this: the radiation billowing out of the core is so intense that Kudryavsev and Proskuryakov are doomed just by looking at it for several seconds. In Real Life, both men died from radiation sickness weeks later.
- If you pay attention, you can see Kudryavsev and Proskuryakov's faces turning red in the few seconds they are there.
- The same thing (red face) happens on screen to Vasily Ignatenko when he climbs to the top of the rubble pile to put out the fire. This also happens to Sitnikov — ordered to report on the damage by Fomin (after Dyatlov, who originally wanted to go himself, vomits on the table and is hospitalized) with an armed guard forcing him to go — when he looks into that core from the roof of the vent block building. When Sitnikov turns his face towards the camera to show the reddened skin, he does it with a pained expression — making it plain that he knows full well he's already dead.
- The dispatch calls made to the surrounding firefighting departments. The horrifying thing is that's the Real Life calls made the night of the explosion.note What you're listening to is the actual terrified panic in the dispatcher's voice...
- At one point in Episode 1, a firefighter picks up a piece of debris out of curiosity. Unbeknownst to him, this is a piece of graphite from the core, one of the most radioactive pieces there were. Within minutes, the poor guy is on the ground screaming in intense pain, his hand horribly burned from the radiation passing through his glove.
- The view of the destroyed reactor core in Episode 1. Kudryavsev and Proskuryakov enter the refueling hall, which minutes ago was a large clean white room with all of the maintenance equipment in it, the floor of which housed the 2,000 ton lid of the reactor. They enter the hall after the explosion...and it is an absolute hellscape, billowing smoke obscuring almost everything and among the dust and debris, the open reactor, burning away below them. If ever there was a physical depiction of Hell, at that moment the two plant workers saw its mouth in Reactor #4.
- The pump room for Reactor #4 isn't spared either; Yuvchenko goes to look for Khodemchuk, who was working in the pump room when the explosion occurred. He finds Degtaryenko lying injured near the pump room's entrance, and sees the pump room behind him, which is in such ruin the pumps themselves have been dislodged from the ground, and there is so much rubble from the collapsed ceiling the *floor isn't visible*.
- Although not mentioned much in the series, the Real Life fate of Valery Khodemchuk: He was most likely in the southern circulating pump room when the explosion occurred. Either he was incinerated immediately in the blast or was caught in the rubble. Try not to think about the horror of that second option...
- This video shows the various radiation levels of places in and around the Chernobyl nuclear plant. Standing next to the open reactor itself would be enough to give you a lethal dose in 30 seconds. Room 712 (where Akimov and Toptunov opened the valves to let water into the now burning reactor core,) had enough radiation to kill a man after a 1/2 hour exposure. Akimov and Toptunov spent 2 hours there. They knew going in that they'd be dead men walking out of it.
Please Remain Calm
- As the helicopter carrying Shcherbina and Legasov approaches Chernobyl, the former orders that they fly over the reactor to get a good look at the damage. The latter tries to warn about the intense radiation that they will be subjected to if they do. Shcherbina tells the pilot to obey him or he'll be shot, finally, Legasov retorts that if he does, he'll be begging to be shot within a day.
- Later, a helicopter flies directly over the reactor to drop sand on the core, and the two men watch as it falls out of the sky. While the crash itself was caused by the chopper striking a crane, the incident was caused by the radiation interfering with communication with the ground, and from the look on Legasov's face, it was obvious that even if the pilots didn't crash, they were dead men. This was based on actual footage that was captured.
- "Crash" is too mild a word. The helicopter doesn't fall to the ground and explode, it disintegrates without so much as a "bang" on hitting the ground. It doesn't seem possible, because what you're watching is solid steel military machine hit by so much radiation that it turns to the consistency of table salt.
- In order to gain an accurate reading of the radiation levels being emitted from the destroyed core, Colonel General Pikalov volunteers to drive into the plant in order to record the data. When he returns, he reports that the Roentgen levels coming from the core are far, far higher than the 3.6 Roentgen stated by Bryukhanov. Enough radiation that if not contained, could wipe out all of Europe:
- The worst case scenario described by Ulana to Gorbachev, of what she thinks could happen if the radioactive lava melts into the plant's underground levels and comes into contact with the water tanks, sounds downright apocalyptic:
When the lava enters these tanks, it will instantly superheat and vaporize approximately 7,000 cubic meters of water, causing a significant thermal explosion. Gorbachev:
How significant? Ulana: We estimate between two and four megatons
. Everything within a 30-kilometer radius will be completely destroyed, including the three remaining reactors at Chernobyl. The entirety of the radioactive material in all of the cores will be ejected at force and dispersed by a massive shockwave that will extend approximately 200 kilometers and likely be fatal to the entire population of Kyiv as well as a portion of Minsk. The release of radiation will be severe and will impact all of Soviet Ukraine, Latvia, Lithuania, Byelorussia, as well as Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Romania, and most of East Germany.
- Three men - the Chernobyl Divers - volunteer for a Suicide Mission, and wander through heavily irradiated water on their way to manually open a gate to drain the water when their flashlights go out, all while their Geiger counters are reading so much radiation that they're not merely clicking. They're screaming.
Open Wide, O Earth
- If the images of people with severe radiation burns in the first two episodes weren't enough to keep you awake, stay tuned for Episode 3 where you can see the final stages of acute radiation syndrome. The skin is burned and blackened beyond all recognition and patches of it slough off like wet paper, eyes are discolored and the technically-still-alive patients howl in incessant pain. As Legasov points out, their bodies are so far gone from internal and external hemorrhaging that even morphine doesn't work because the veins are so damaged they can't inject it and the blood wouldn't be able to carry it.
- As Lyudmilla watches her husband die in utter agony, she's dragged out of the room by Khomyuk and asked if she's pregnant. When Khomyuk is asking her why she would go inside the plastic, Lyudmilla just stammers that Vasily is burnt — implying nobody ever told her about the radiation until the time for the funeral.
- The resident doctor told Lyudmilla to only stay for half an hour when she first arrived, but that was over a day ago. The doctor also told Lyudmilla not to touch Vasily but she did. When the doctor, about a day after her arrival, realizes Lyudmilla is still there, Lyudmilla is able to get the doctor to let her stay, but the doctor tells her absolutely not to go inside the plastic. When Lyudmila is back in the room, the first thing she does is go inside the plastic and touch Vasily, even kissing his hands. And she never knew what was wrong.
- We see Toptunov turning red, Vasily turning black and yellow, and even Dyatlov pale, white-haired and emaciated. But Akimov is kept offscreen. Later, Khomyuk mentions that by the time she met Akimov, he had no face left
- And yet despite all the horror involved, the creators actually chose to leave out some for fear that it would look exploitative. According to the real Lyudmilla, Vasily spent his last two days vomiting parts of his internal organs, and his arm's muscles became dislodged from the bone when she raised it.
- There's something very unsettling during the funeral of Vasily and the other ARS victims. Their bodies are so irradiated that a traditional burial or cremation isn't possible due to contamination risks. Instead, the bodies, still in plastic mortician bags as they're basically skeletons holding human sludge at this point, are put in lead-lined wooden coffins nailed shut, which are then put in steel coffins welded shut, which are then put in a mass grave filled with several feet of concrete. Knowing that even in death, these people are still a danger to everybody for centuries at least due to all the radiation they soaked up that they can't even have a proper burial and must be disposed of like a toxic waste... Radiation is a gift that keeps on giving.
- After signs of the disaster have been detected in other nearby countries and news have begun leaking, Schrebina hears that children have been warned to stay indoors in Frankfurt, which is a thousand miles away. At the same time he watches local children in Pripyat going about their normal business, unaware of the danger.
The Happiness of All Mankind
- The later shots of the evacuated city of Pripyat. Its quiet stillness is unsettling, combined with the harsh realization of the nightmare just miles away unfolding. In Real Life, even today the Ghost Town is an undeniably spooky place to visit, especially at night.
- In episode 4, the scene with the "bio-robots". It takes place in real time and we already know 90 seconds on the roof will give you a lifetime dose of radiation and a little more than that means death. We see the conscripts lining up and wearing pitiful outfits, mostly rubber with some home-made leaden armor. The bell goes and they madly rush out to the roof, and we watch one in particular struggle to lift up a few heavy chunks of graphite with his shovel. All their Geiger counters are going berserk the whole time. After 90 seconds, the bell rings again and they all run inside, except that one conscript, who trips and gets his foot stuck under a chunk of graphite. Precious seconds go by until he manages to break free using his shovel. He runs towards the door, stumbling and falling into a puddle of water, but eventually clambers inside. He takes a second to catch his breath and then looks down at his rubber boot. There's a tear in it. He's not mentioned among the fallen, either, but given the radiation levels on that roof...
- Special mention has to be given to Reactor #4's wreckage, visible briefly when the camera follows said liquidator as he dumps graphite over the rail, taking care not to look over the edge. The camera gives us a brief glimpse of the interior of the ruined reactor, visible from above in the daylight. Even with sunlight above, the visual is horrifying; twisted lumps of metal can be seen everywhere, the reactor's lid is a tangled mass of bent control rods reaching up to the sky, and the entirety of what is visible is dominated by its wrecked remains. All while the Geiger counter in the background is basically screeching from the immense levels of radiation.
- Three words: "You are done." They're directed at the poor soul from above who got his boot torn on the graphite.
- A blink-and-you'll-miss-it moment (2:52 of this video) shows the luckless conscript less than a foot away from what looks like a fuel rod, still largely encased within its graphite.
- While briefing the Liquidators, Tarakanov shows footage of the working area. That is actual footage of the cleaning crews.
- Combined with Tear Jerker in episode 4: The garbage truck dumping a whole mass of dead dogs and cats into a mass grave, the result of the liquidators being forced to purge all the wildlife in the area so they can't escape the containment zone.
- In the opening, we see the citizens of Pripyat going about their daily business. The Ignatenkos are chatting with a neighbor, with Vasily playing with their kid. Then we see, in the store window's reflection, Dyatlov walking by on his way to work. The music seems to take a darker tone like he is the Angel of Death.
- Episode 5: The disaster is shown, in all its horrifying glory, from the slow build up of Toptunov and Akimov's genuine concerns over something being amiss, Dyatlov refusing to listen to anything they say...and then everything goes to shit.
- But the AZ-5 button is supposed to shut down the reactor if the safety test goes awry, right? Wrong, oh so wrong. As it turns out, the Soviets knew there was a flaw in the RBMK reactor and kept it from everyone, even as someone as bullheaded as Dyatlov. Legasov put it best...
- To elaborate, the AZ-5 button was an effectively a detonator because the boron control rods had tips made of graphite, which increased reactivity and thus power output. When a prosecutor asks the reason, Legasov gives a small tirade ending in a simple answer:
Legasov: It's cheaper.
- And once AZ-5 was pressed, the power shot up from 200 megawatts to 33,000 (over ten times the output the reactor was designed for) and led to the core exploding, but not before we see the lid covers start jumping and clanging randomly due to the pressure build up...and then the build-up of said core caused a bigger explosion due to oxygen entering the exposed core, all while the scene shows the graphite control rods flying out of Chernobyl and the eerie radioactive blue light rising out of the burning crater.
Legasov: At long last, we arrive at 1:23:45 — explosion. In the instant the lid is thrown off the reactor, oxygen rushes in. It's combined with hydrogen and super-heated graphite. The chain of disaster is now complete.
- When Legasov announces that the reactor hit 33,000 megawatts before exploding, the entire room is completely and utterly silent. It's as if you can see the exact moment that everyone, even Dyatlov, realizes that yes, RMBK reactors do explode.
- Note one thing too after the lid is thrown off: Dyatlov is shown to be terrified the minute the first explosion is felt, the complete sense of dread and realization that shit did go wrong...and then when the second explosion happens, he's shown with his head hung low, arguably unable to process the disaster and the eventual lead to him sending others to their deaths due to his own refusal to accept the reactor exploded.
- The background status panel, which lights a section when one of the 200+ lid covers is removed... lighting up entirely, showing the lid is GONE.
- The tangled-up mess of control rods◊, lit up by the eerie glow of the core as it begins to burn up, looks like nothing less than the birth of a dark god or the opening of the gates of Hell. Or, considering the insane amount of radiation at this moment, Death itself. You thought the inside of Reactor #4 was scary in S.T.A.L.K.E.R.? Reality was scarier.
- Legasov's arrest by the KGB.
- Arguably the biggest NF of the entire show isn't just the fallout of Chernobyl, it's the fact everyone refused to acknowledge or accept how fucked up the situation was. Dyatlov is obviously a big example of someone who was in heavy denial over the disaster and refusing to see that yes, the core exploded, but you also have Fomin, Bryukhanov, and arguably all of the Soviet government, who would rather hide and play off the idea that there was no way the reactor would have exploded. It becomes more clear that the true horror of Chernobyl's disaster wasn't just that, but the those who wanted to lie and cover their own asses.
- The music of the entire series. If it is even present, it consists of mostly Scare Chords and metallic grinds which sound like something from Silent Hill, and those rare times that seemingly hopeful music appears, it is in scenes that are definitely not hopeful (like the bridge scene above), somehow making them even scarier.
- Who ever decided to give the radiation a damn Leit Motif deserves an acadamy award. It is nothing more than scratchy noise, and you first hear it when the plant workers look into the exposed core for the first time, but any time after it, it is haunting, and usually plays over the regular score when characters on screen are getting exposed to dangerous levels of radiation.
- One particularly eerie track is Waiting for the Engineer which plays most prominently when Legasov first reads the report on the initial explosion and when Lyudmilla hugs Vasily in the hospital. It starts off with an ethereal, ghostly melody before transforming into, as a commentator accurately put it, something like the sound of a growling, furious beast. Both in and out of context of the show, it sounds like the kind of music that would play during a Nightmare Sequence.
- Everybody with a somewhat advanced knowledge of Chernobyl knows about the Elephant's Foot, a mass of corium located deep within Reactor #4 and the most radioactive part of the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone. At the time of its discovery, six months after the explosion, the Foot was emitting 10.000 roentgens per hour, enough to give you fatal radiation poisoning (as in you drop dead) in 300 seconds. While its radioactivity has significantly decayed over time to the point that it could be photographed in person in 1996 (the liquidators in 1986 took pictures of it using a jury-rigged "selfie stick") and, nowadays, can be approached for a few minutes with proper protection... Just imagine how much radioactivity this thing was emitting after the explosion. Estimations vary, but the consensus it that exposure was fatal in less than 30 seconds. For a few weeks at least, this block of dried nuclear lava was the absolute deadliest thing on Earth. The worst part? The Foot has a "little brother" in the form of a pile of discarded uniforms from the firemen who arrived after the explosion. That pile of clothes is still sitting in the basement of the Pripyat hospital and is still highly radioactive (it is, in fact, the most radioactive thing in the Zone save for the Foot). Standing near it for extended periods of time will make you sick. Putting these clothes on will irradiate you enough to contract ARS in a few minutes... and the firemen were wearing these for hours, immediately after they were irradiated, 33 years before the series aired.
- Overall, the scenes actually featuring the destroyed reactor are absolutely terrifying. It's often only seen in quick glances, to remind you that for the people there, looking at it for more than a second or two meant acute radiation burns, poisoning, and death. With its opened maw, the twisted remains of the control and fuel rods looking more like tentacles than bits of metal, the ominous buzzing sound of the music whenever it is seen, and the absolutely hellish things it does to people who so much as look at it unprotected, the show makes Reactor Number 4 seem more like an Eldritch Abomination trying to claw its way into our world than something man-made.
- The real nightmare fuel is that this actually happened.
- An important takeaway is not that nuclear power in and of itself is bad, but that poorly-managed plants and badly-designed reactors, especially those under the control of nasty totalitarian bureaucracies who will happily cover up imminent disaster, are pretty much a one-way ticket to hell on Earth. Fortunately, most reactor designs are far safer than the Soviet RBMKs, which made the disastrous decision to manufacture their control rods out of graphite, and so the likelihood of a Chernobyl-like accident happening again is a lot slimmer than it once was, and on the whole, in the face of climate change, nuclear power has the potential to be a very good thing. Nevertheless, Chernobyl is a grim reminder of what can happen when nuclear power goes catastrophically wrong, when corners get cut and bad designs get approved, and we must demand transparency and democratic regulation of nuclear power to reduce the chances of a repeat to near-zero. After all, we lucked out the first time. There will be no second chances.
- The fact that nobody knows how many people really died because of the disaster. The Soviet government's official estimate, used by the Russian Federation today, is just 31. Most third-party observers, however, estimate the true death toll at anywhere between 4000 and 93,000 people* . Due to coverups and the diffuse nature of radiation, we'll probably never know the actual human cost of Chernobyl.
- In real life, the volunteer divers didn't have backup torches when their main torches went out. They did it in the dark. They lived.
- The painfully relevant nature of the show in regards to climate change denial has been pointed out by many reviewers and viewers, and was confirmed by the show's creator Craig Mazin. Many of the same obstructive government forces shown in the show are currently doing the exact same thing regarding an impending global catastrophe that dwarfs the Chernobyl disaster several times over. Everything that you see in the show you are currently living through right now.
Mazin: I think what were struggling with now is something worse. The planet is heating, the climate is changing. We know this. We have not just one scientist or two, but thousands screaming this at us at the top of their lungs. And we have a government full of disinterested, stubborn people who are going to cling to their denial and their nonsense. And thats where we are. As I said, we are in the control room right now, and there is time, but its running out.