HBO’s Chernobyl premiere recap: 1:23:45


The premiere episode of HBO’s Chernobyl examines the immediate aftermath of the Chernobyl disaster of April 1986, playing out like a real-life horror story.

Chernobyl begins in Moscow, April 26, 1988. A man is speaking negatively into a tape recorder about Anatoly Dyatlov (Paul Ritter), calling him an arrogant, unpleasant. We soon learn that Dyatlov was Assistant Chief Engineer at the Chernobyl nuclear power. Also, the man recording himself is Valery Legasov (Jared Harris). Legaslov says Dyatlov doesn’t deserve prison, but death. As Legaslov heads outside to hide his cassette tape recordings (and his narrative), it seems a car is outside, spying on him. When Legaslov returns to his apartment, he feeds his cat, then hangs himself.

Pripyat, Ukrainian SSR, two years and one minute earlier

Not far from the Chernobyl plant, Lyudmilla (Jessie Buckley) and fireman Vasily Ignatenko (Adam Nagaitis) hear and see the plant explosion from their home. Meanwhile, at Chernobyl, we get an inkling as to why Legaslov bad-mouthed Dyatlov earlier. Right from the outset, Dyatlov denies the possibility of a core explosion, blaming Toptunov (Robert Emms) for blowing up the control tank and downplaying the disaster. Still, Perevozchenko (Jay Simpson) insists the core is no longer there. However, Dyatlov doesn’t appear to be so bad, at least not yet. Similarly, Vasily the fireman downplays the explosion, confidently getting ready to face the danger.

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However, at the facility itself, people are already vomiting blood, and a man named Khodemchuk is missing (apparently they never find him, at least not in this episode). Another man, Viktor (Karolis Kasperavicius) is bloody — often a sign things aren’t going well. Despite how the air tastes like metal, Dyatlov still denies there was a core explosion and acts like things are okay. However, the firefighters, nuclear plant workers, and bloody sores begin to tell another story.

“I looked right into the core”

Perevozschenko says this, meaning to say there was no core there! However, when assessing the problem, including the injuries around him, Dyatlov tells Akimov (Sam Troughton) that he’s seen worse. On that note, Akimov is told to call in the day shift, to help assist in the situation. Meanwhile, we learn that the nearest hospital doesn’t have iodine pills — although, realistically, such pills offer only minimal protection against radiation, at best.

When assessing what happened, Chief Engineer Nikolai Fomin (Adrian Rawlins) and Director Bryukhanov (Con O’Neill) are told that hydrogen accumulated in a control system tank and ignited. However, Dyatlov still denies a core explosion possibility. Then, in perhaps the bleakest scene of the episode, we see nuclear dust particles in the air, and children playing in it! While this fun is happening, Vasily and other firefighters are directed to address the fire from the roof.

The air is glowing: 3:30 am

As power plant workers head into the non-existent core, those in charge hold a meeting.
Director Bryukhanov says the accident is “well under control.” However, Petrovich (Alex Blake) says radiation is not limited to the plant itself and notes that “the air is glowing.” However, in a rousing speech, Zharkov (Donald Sumpter) urges the committee to seal off the city, so no one leaves and to “cut off the spread of misinformation.” Afterward, Dyatlov vomits from radiation exposure. Meanwhile, Sitnikov (Jamie Sives) is sent to look at the core from the vent block roof. He initially refuses, but ultimately goes and sees the disaster for what it is.

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As truck after truck bring people to the hospital, Valery Legasov gets called in to attend a meeting, to give answers about RBMK reactor questions. However, Boris Shcherbina (Stellan Skarsgård) makes clear that Legaslov is only to answer technical questions, and it’s implied that the range of acceptable topics and answers will be limited. The episode ends with an encroaching, ominous cloud, then a crow falling dead from the sky.

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