Americans Hate Tingle: The only group to stand against the flood of almost universal unwavering praise for this series both from the media and the public (including general audiences in Russia) has been the pro-Putin press.note This despite the fact that a) Chernobyl is in Ukraine and b) the series' main antagonistic force is the Soviet Union's Communist government, not the contemporary United Russia government (though it should be noted that Putin served in the KGB for 16 years) The state-owned network NTV said it would produce its own series, about a CIA agent who supposedly had a hand in triggering the accident. No, that's not based on anything approaching historical fact, but according to the show's creator, "many historians do not deny that, on the day of the explosion, an agent of the enemy's intelligence services was present at the station."
Angst Aversion: Brilliant as the series may be, it's also an unrelentingly grim, almost unwatchably intense portrayal of utterly catastrophic damage that indirectly resulted in the deaths of thousands of people, the most gruesome extent of which is shown in unflinching detail, as a direct result of easily avoidable bureaucratic incompetence. Understandably, this makes it a rather difficult watch for casual audiences and even some critics. It's not for nothing that many people have described the series as a "historically accurate horror movie."
Dyatlov's character can be seen as the representation of the quagmire that was the Soviet system: proud, intolerant of dissidence, unrepentant, unwilling to take fault and ultimately more concerned with reputation than of taking responsibility for his actions. Fittingly, the only time he looks humbled is when the fatal flaw of the RMBK reactor, which the Soviet state concealed, is revealed to the public.
Craig Mazin has noted how the lessons of Chernobyl are more than applicable to climate crisis of today, with a clear and obvious disaster that directly threatens the lives of millions being obfuscated and covered up by corrupt, complacent, and incompetent authorities who actively hinder any attempts to mitigate it.
Glukhov's gotten a lot of love for his Brutal Honesty and mercilessly snide sense of humor, making him one of the few sources of genuine comedy in this extremely dour series. Being A Father to His Men and one of the few characters willing to call the government bureaucrats on their bullshit doesn't hurt either.
Bacho is also this for being a hardass Sergeant Rock who proves to be surprisingly compassionate in carrying out his duties. It helps that he's also a Deadpan Snarker with some genuinely hilarious lines, and he gets one of the best monologues in the show as well.
The three liquidators note Alexei Ananenko, senior engineer Valeri Bespalov and shift supervisor Boris Baranov have (quite justifiably) been hailed as the highlight of the entire series for their utterly astoundingact of bravery and badassery in venturing deep into the belly of the beast, preventing an explosion that would have had caused a far more serious nuclear disaster than the one that already happened. Oh, and despite basically everyone (in Real Life and the series) thinking of it as certain death (Legasov asks Gorbachev for his permission "to kill three men"), they all survived. One died of a heart attack in 2005, and the other two still live in Kyiv.
"Open wide, O Earth" is commonly said at Russian funerals.
"The Happiness of All Mankind" uses an untranslated Cossack song as a leitmotif. It is about a man talking to a crow circling above him, which represents death.
The leaden "egg basket" obtained by Bacho for Pavel to protect him from going infertile is a pun in Russian - "eggs" is slang for testicles.
"Vichnaya Pamyat", the title of Episode 5 and sung in the end credits, is Ukrainian for "Memory Eternal" and is a traditional Eastern Orthodox proclamation at funerals.note Technically, it's in liturgical Ukrainian, as a modern Ukrainian person would say "vichna" instead of "vichnaya". "Vichnaya" might be something said by a speaker of the Russian-Ukrainian "surzhyk" patois.
The finale aired on June 3, 2019, almost exactly one month before a fire aboard a deep-sea Russian nuclear submarine killed fourteen crewmen, who according to a high-ranking Russian naval official had averted a "planetary catastrophe." Fans of the miniseries were quick to compare the fire to the Chernobyl disaster, and many of them initially thought that the presumed nuclear accident was worse than what the Russians were officially letting on.
The August after the above event happened, another major explosion occurred in a Russian arms depot in Siberia, potentially spreading dangerous chemicals to the populace. And another similar incident involving a nuclear missile test happened a few days after that.
After detecting radiation in the air, Khomyuk thinks of Ignalina power plant in Lithuania as a possible source. It is a perfectly reasonable guess in-universe because Ignalina is the closest nuclear plant to Minsk... but it also happens to be the place where the Chernobyl scenes in the show were shot.
Michael Colgan, who plays the Minister of Coal, played Toptunov in a BBC docudrama about the same events.
After the series aired, some Russian reviewers accused it of being American propaganda made to make Russia look bad, and one Russian network promised that they would create their own television series showing the "true" events of the disaster (claiming it was engineered by the CIA), essentially inadvertently proving the entire point of the series.
Before the show's airing, many people thought the three Liquidators who went under the reactor to drain the water had died, in particular the post-rock band We Lost the Sea believed when they composed the song "Bogatyri" only for the show to prove that no, they did in fact survive. The best part is We Lost the Sea acknowledged their mistake too.
The finale aired on 3.6.2019. Not great, not terrible.
This isn't the first time Jared Harris and Adam Nagaitis have found themselves involved in a historical tragedy.
Love to Hate: Dyatlov. Not since Joffrey Baratheon has an HBO character been so universally loathed by the audience, but Paul Ritter's excellent performance and his numerous memetic lines have endeared him to fans.
There's been some reactions by right-wing pundits about the series is an indictment of leftist thinking, mostly (if not exclusively) due to the fact that the setting is the Soviet Union, leading to Mazin defending the series as an argument againstany short-sighted bureaucracy unwilling to listen to experts about ongoing Real Life catastrophes.
On the other hand, some reviewers in Russia (and even in Ukraine) also called the series "anti-Socialist" and "anti-Soviet". But for purpose of bashing, rather than praising.
And then there are tankies (pro-Stalinist extremists) on social media who use the miniseries to compare the USSR's response to Chernobyl favorably to how the U.S. government has handled disasters like Hurricane Katrina or the Flint water crisis, going so far as to claim the miniseries vindicates Soviet-style socialism. This despite the miniseries clearly depicting the Soviet government as corrupt and incompetent — prioritizing its ideology over facts — which contributed to the disaster and bungled the response at several points afterward.
Some believed that the series would preach against nuclear power, and show the dangers that exist with it. Surprisingly, the series shies away from it and instead makes a point of showing that if any number of things had been different, the disaster would have either had minimal damage or never even happened in the first place. In effect, the series shows that when built and operated correctly, nuclear power is actually safe; it just so happens that the particular reactor that exploded could never have been built correctly because it was poorly designed, and a corrupt, incompetent idiot was ordering people to operate it incorrectly under threat of being fired, neither of which are problems when authoritarian politics aren't taking precedence over competence.
Donald Sumpter as Comrade Zharkov. He gets approximately two minutes of screentime but delivers one of the most chilling speeches in the whole series.
In the podcast, Peter Sagel expressed regret that Michael McElhatton had so few lines in Episode 5, just from the way he opens the trial.
Retroactive Recognition: This isn't the first TV show about Chernobyl that Michael Colgan (who plays Mikhail Shchadov, the Minister for Coal Industry) has been featured in; he previously starred in the Chernobyl episode of the BBC series Surviving Disaster as Leonid Toptunov.
Rewatch Bonus: On the first watch, it is easy to overlook that Dyatlov sees graphite lying on the floor with his own eyes in Episode 1, before he starts to berate his subordinates for thinking that the core indeed exploded and that graphite was scattered on the ground. As if there were not enough reasons to hate Dyatlov, this scene in retrospective shows how willing is he to reject the reality and knowingly endanger the lives of his workers only to shift the blame from himself.
The show has a surprising few, such as the two workers looking into the exposed core, Ignatenko's state after the disaster, a liquidator shown in hazmat gear hosing down the streets of Pripyat, and of course, the disaster itself.
Poor Sitnikov being forced to look into the roof and mouth of the core as he returns a look of pure hopelessness.
Please Remain Calm
Both the liquidators' exploration into the loins of the power plant and the exposition about the worst possible scenario.
Open Wide, O Earth
Vasily's radiation mutilated body.
The Happiness of all Mankind
The 90-second Real Time scene of the young liquidator hurling graphite off the roof and tearing a hole in his boot, leaving him to an uncertain fate.
The recreation of the last seconds before the explosion including the mind bending shot of the melted borderline Eldritch control rods around the reactor core as well as the trial in general.
Some Anvils Need to Be Dropped: The disaster didn't have to be as big as it was if only the Soviet government was more honest with itself about the dangerous design flaws of that reactor type, and if the emergency response was focused more on saving people than on covering up everything. The Aesop of the entire series is: "This is the cost of lies."
Another comparison has been made to the miniseries and Shin Godzilla, which also dealt with politics behind the response on major disaster along with red tapes in delaying solutions against the crisis.
When it skews as close to humour as the subject matter let's it, it channels the pure, unadulterated, Black Comedy of Slavic media and jokes of the past 300 years, with a cut of Joseph Heller and Kafka for good measure. When drama/horror... Slavic works, again, with a nod or six towards Kafka, Orwell and Lovecraft.
Dyatlov. Even though Legasov justifiably blames the Soviet government for contributing to the disaster, at the show trial he still makes it clear that Dyatlov's insane actions were the primary cause, laying out just how thoroughly stupid and dangerous his actions were. Dyatlov very knowingly violated every safety procedure, every rule in the book, every bit of common sense, to complete a test that he should have known would have been impossible to perform under the circumstances and would have given useless data at best. While he did it with the (understandable) belief that the AZ-5 emergency shutdown would work as intended, he still drove a nuclear reactor into meltdown for no sane reason. When the personnel objected to his orders, he yelled at them. When Akimov balked at his insanely dangerous order, Dyatlov threatened to destroy his life if he didn't comply. What's particularly baffling to the control room staff was that Dyatlov insisted on forcing the test to take place despite the reactor not meeting the conditions necessary to even conduct one, let alone produce a valid result.
Khomyuk, Legasov, and Scherbina express this sentiment against the Soviet state itself at times. In particular, when the state gave West Germany the propaganda number for the radiation level when looking for a robot capable of operating in high-radiation environments to do essential cleanup work—naturally, with the actual radiation level being many times greater than admitted, the robot immediately fails due to intense radiation, wasting lots of time and money. Khomyuk is in disbelief when she finds that the AZ-5 emergency shutdown could, because the control rods were tipped with graphite, actually make things much worse for a brief time before the reactor powered down...and the KGB and Soviet leaders deliberately kept all of that a state secret, even from the people managing and running the reactors themselves.
At his show trial, Dyatlov has the gall to interrupt everyone and blatantly lie that he wasn't even in the control room when the control rods were removed from the core, despite numerous witnesses all saying that he was, that he gave the order, and that he threatened Akimov when he initially refused. Given that this was a show trial, and the only way to avoid severe punishment (or execution) is to basically express sincere guilt, shame, and humility, it was an incredibly dumb thing to do — so much so that the prosecutor, Legasov, and the judge are baffled that Dyatlov even tried it.