'Chernobyl' episode 5 review: Legasov, Khomyuk, and Shcherbina risk their lives and reputation to expose truth about nuclear disaster
The brilliant series concludes by returning to its recurrent theme of selfless people putting their life in jeopardy to save thousands of others.
Spoilers for episode 5
"Where I once feared the cost of truth, now I only ask: What is the cost of lies?" After unveiling the morbid reality and grotesque consequences of the world's worst nuclear disaster in the last four episodes of the popular HBO series 'Chernobyl', the finale ultimately addresses the truth of the disaster and calls into account the people responsible for it.
The fifth episode titled 'Vichnaya Pamyat', meaning 'Eternal Memory' or 'Rest in Peace', shows the central characters of the miniseries — Jared Harris' Valery Legasov, Emily Watson's Ulana Khomyuk, and Stellan Skarsgard's Boris Shcherbina — confront the infamous Soviet regime and putting their lives and reputation at risk.
The episode offers viewers a glimpse of normalcy creeping in months after the catastrophe as the residents of Pripyat go on with their lives - after witnessing months of pain, loss, and struggle. The episode, in the beginning, focuses on the children of the survivors, suggestive of the gross consequences to come years after the nuclear disaster. Studies have shown that many residents of Pripyat were afflicted with cancer - decades after being exposed to dangerous amounts of radiation triggered by the disaster.
We even see the inevitable effects of radiation on Legasov and Shcherbina after being exposed to months of radiation near the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant, and how their lives would change forever.
'At last a Soviet scientist who tells the truth'
Legasov, after his testimony in Vienna on the nuclear disaster, is hailed as a hero as he successfully manages to relay an honest account - though not the whole truth -- to the world of what unfolded on the fateful night of April 26, 1986, saving the Soviet Union humiliation on the world stage.
However, a greater measure remains for the acclaimed scientist when he is asked to provide testimony at the trial of the men responsible for the nuclear disaster — Anatoly Dyatlov, Nikolai Fomin, Viktor Bryukhanov.
KGB Deputy Chairman Aleksandr Charkov approaches Legasov and reminds him to present an account similar to the one he did in Vienna “You are quite good at this," he says, to which Legasov replies with: "At what? Lying?" suggesting that the scientist's account at Vienna was not the whole truth.
The KGB head also dangles the title of the Hero of the Soviet Union — the highest honor — and a promotion, considering all goes well at the testimony, leaving Legasov in a dilemma.
'At the trial, you are going to tell the truth'
We see nuclear physicist Ulana Khomyuk continuing to strive for truth and becoming Legasov's conscience in the episode. Khomyuk pays the scientist a visit at his home and urges him to tell the truth at the testimony. A disillusioned Legasov, who by now knows speaking the truth in the Soviet Union is futile, tells Khomyuk that it is a show trial and nothing good would come out of it, and the truth would be buried.
A resolute Khomyuk, however, persists and tells Legasov to insist on reforms, forcing the regime to make changes to remaining reactors in the Soviet Union, and reminds him that key members of the scientific community will be present at the testimony, and who can can make a change. “You’re Valery Legasov and you mean something," she says. As Legasov ponders, he says out loud: "They will shoot me Khomyuk."
'Lies! That is how an RBMK reactor explodes'
During the trial, Soviet Deputy Prime Minister Shcherbina, Khomyuk and the First Deputy Director of the Kurchatov Institute of Atomic Energy Legasov, present their testimonies one by one, choosing the truth despite the regime breathing down their necks.
As Shcherbina points out the recklessness and corrupt nature of Dyatlov, Fomin, and Bryukhanov, high officials at the plant and who authorized the perilous safety test in lieu of greed, Khomyuk points out the human problem of the catastrophe — the inexperienced workers who were told about the test minutes before it was conducted.
However, the onus to reveal the truth — the one Soviet Union had been desperately trying to conceal — lies on Legasov. After presenting a truthful account of what occurred in the reactors, the scientist pauses and goes on to defy the Soviet Union, pointing out the prevalent problems in all the nuclear reactors in the region, even the ones running miles away from where the testimony is being held.
Legasov presents the truth despite being threatened by the KGB, and risks his life and obliteration of his social stature. The brilliant series concludes with a return to its recurrent theme of selfless people putting their life in jeopardy to save thousands of others.
"Every lie we tell incurs a debt to the truth, sooner or later that debt is paid. That is how an RBMK reactor explodes — lies."