'Chernobyl' episode 4 review: Another set of men risk their lives as the truth remains behind closed doors in 'The Happiness of all Mankind'
The latest episode of the popular HBO series offers a glimpse of what happened to the inhabitants living near the Chernobyl nuclear plant after the explosion
"It's time to go, this is an evacuation." With the radioactive bodies of firemen laid to rest in concrete at the end of episode three, we see the Pripyat Exclusion Zone, which acclaimed scientist Valery Legasov fought for, come to fruition in Chernobyl's Episode four 'The Happiness of all Mankind'. The latest episode of the popular HBO series offers a glimpse of what happened to the inhabitants living near the Chernobyl nuclear plant after the explosion and how scientist Ulana Knomyuk (Emily Watson) struggled with the Soviet Union's obstacles to finally determine the truth about the explosion.
'They're happy to see us, and then... BANG!'
With the exclusion zone created in the nearest town of Pripyat, hundreds of military personnel pour into the town to evacuate every living resident. However, there are some who cannot be evacuated — the animals. The personnel are categorized into different teams to handle duties of digging up the ground, cutting down radiation-laced trees, evacuating people, and animal control. The harsh reality of shooting down animals with bullets is shown through the eyes of a fresh, teenage recruit who struggles to kill the innocent creatures — mostly pets who are happy to see humans after the town has been deserted. A team is organized to scourge through the empty houses and shoot down dogs and puppies, dump them into the ground and cover them in concrete because they are "radioactive."
Despite the cruel task, several stray dogs were left behind after the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, and now their descendants — hundreds of them — have learned to survive in the woods around the exclusion zone.
'These are the most important 90 seconds of your lives'
Chernobyl's last three episodes have shown us heroic human examples of those who risked their lives so others could live. The latest episode continues the theme with a group of military men asked to perform a life-threatening task — of removing radioactive rubble lying on the roof of the nuclear plant.
Legasov (Jared Harris) and Soviet Deputy Prime Minister Boris Shcherbina (Stellan Skarsgard) strictly prohibit the use of humans to remove the radioactive rubble, constituting of parts of the nuclear reactor core. Legasov explains that if humans were to stand on the roof with full protective gear for two minutes, their life expectancy will be cut in half, and if they are present there for three minutes, they'll be dead within months. The duo, along with a military commander, decides to use lunar robots to perform the task instead, leaving the most dangerous task to a robot, Joker, provided by West Germany to help the cause. However, the task proves to be a failure because Soviet propaganda ensured they gave wrong radiation readings — less than 10 times — to Germany. The official position of the state at the time was that a global nuclear catastrophe was not possible in the Soviet Union, despite the disaster unfolding before their eyes.
With the failure of the Joker, military men were employed to clean the radioactive debris, with each person exposed to the roof for exactly 90 seconds and taken for decontamination. Throughout the episode, we hear the disturbing sound of heightened radioactive readings, adding a sombre depth to the situation.
'There is no truth'
Recently freed from the infamous KGB's grasp, Ulana Khomyuk continues with her quest to reach to the root of the explosion, only to find continuous governmental hurdles facing her. The Soviet Union does not want anything out. The nuclear physicist from Minsk, however, persists and despite being handed limited information on previous articles on nuclear reactors used in Chernobyl, she stumbles on the truth the Soviet government was striving to hide.
Khomyuk confronts Anatoly Dyatlov, the deputy chief engineer of the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant, in his hospital room, recovering from radiation sickness, and offers him a chance to tell the truth. Dyatlov, at this point, has accepted his fate and knows there is no winning with the Soviet Union, and no one can save him from getting the bullet in the end. "Do you think the right question will get the truth? There is no truth. Ask the bosses, you’ll get a lie and I will get the bullet," Dyatlov says, knowing very well how it all ends.
'Someone has to tell the truth'
Khomyuk, with all the answers in her hand, visits Legasov at Pripyat in December 1986. With only a few officials remaining in the ghost town, Emily Watson's character presents a minute-by-minute timeline of what exactly occurred at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant on the night of April 25, 1986. Although she states that the engineers in the control room were guilty of incompetence and recklessness, she concurs that they were not responsible for the explosion. Khomyuk also considers Legasov partly complicit in the oversight and urges him to tell the truth about the faulty reactors to the whole world when he presents the case in Vienna. This means going against the Soviet Union.
"There are 16 RBMK reactors running in the Soviet Union, the only way to fix them to reveal it in public," Khomyuk says, only to be interjected by Shcherbina who wants the KGB to handle this discreetly. The deputy prime minister asks Legasov to consider the consequences of going against the KGB and to think about his family.
Episode four also shows the loss caused by the Chernobyl nuclear reactor. After losing her firefighter husband to radiation, a pregnant Lyudmilla Ignatenko faces the grim reality of how the disaster has affected her and her baby.
Watch 'Chernobyl' on HBO at 9 pm ET on Mondays.
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