Against my better judgment, I watched the Chernobyl miniseries. With universal rave reviews, how could I not? It’s the first program of HBO’s I’ve seen since the first season of Game of Thrones.
There’s not a lot I can say about the production, sets, acting, and costumes that everyone else hasn’t said a hundred times before. It’s a riveting, enjoyable program, particularly if you acknowledge it as a fictionalized account. The illusion is shattered by familiar if beloved actors in the principal roles who speak with English instead of Russian accents. I understand that this was addressed in podcasts related to the show, but it took me out of the program a number of times. Stellan Skarsgård makes a far better snowplow driver than he does a Communist party apparatchik, despite his talents. When I saw Jared Harris I couldn’t help but think of his role as the horrifying David Robert Jones in Fringe.
While I’m quite familiar with the necessity of adjusting events in a “based on a true story” presentation to better entertain the viewer with drama/conflict, Chernobyl took a number of liberties that will linger in the imagination far longer than the facts. For example, radiation isn’t catching from person to person like a disease if you just remove your irradiated clothes and take a shower. And at the end, when the titles came up informing the audience what happened after the events of the program, they repeated an urban legend regarding the so-called Bridge of Death as fact. This suggests a desire to persuade rather than inform.
The scenes with the kid learning to shoot irradiated pets didn’t add to the plot. They just filled up time.
The writers decanted the “brilliant lady who knows exactly what’s going on at a glance” trope with Ulana Khomyuk, played without shame by Emily Watson. The producers admitted that she’s a composite character intended to represent a team of Russian scientists under Valery Legasov, but this didn’t detract from her insufferable moral/intellectual superiority. Because she’s entirely made up, her ethics are unearned, and her preaching unwelcome.
Where things start to fall down is with this Tweet:
It’s impossible to watch HBO’s CHERNOBYL without thinking of Donald Trump; like those in charge of the doomed Russian reactor, he’s a man of mediocre intelligence in charge of great power–economic, global–that he does not understand.
— Stephen King (@StephenKing) May 30, 2019
Okay, you think. King hates Trump, so of course he’s going to see things through this lens. It’s a sickness many people in public life have infected themselves with.
Series producer Craig Mazin agrees with King:
Soviet behavior didn’t arrive in Moscow via meteor. It was human behavior. The potential is within us all.
Today, I wonder… who ignores scientists? Who wraps themselves in red? Who celebrates liars? Who indulges in mindless propaganda? Who shouts “enemy of the people!”? https://t.co/1CHOgW2eN7
— Craig Mazin (@clmazin) May 29, 2019
So the show’s about Trump. And/or it’s about all of us. It’s not about the failures of communism. It’s not about a broken Soviet system.
The American left, including the people who made the Chernobyl miniseries, are completely full of shit. I know this because I was alive during the 1980’s, and even as a teenager I remember the news and entertainment media slobbering all over Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev and pissing on President Ronald Reagan. They loved Gorbachev, regarding him as the perfect foil for the stupid cowboy Reagan. Remember the worshipful paeans to fictional claims of glasnost? The American left’s love for Gorbachev got so overt that Rush Limbaugh referred to each new expression of approval as a “Gorbasm”. The left had multiple Gorbasms daily.
But now, in HBO’s Chernobyl, Gorbachev’s the enemy. He was always America’s enemy. The American left loved him at the time because they hated Reagan so much. He’s only the enemy now because of the Trump-Russia conspiracy theory that’s gotten so much play of late: Trump’s regarded by the intellectually challenged as a Russian spy/stooge, so people who hate Trump are now obliged to hate Russia. The left either really did prefer Gorbachev to Reagan in the 1980’s, or they knew he was the enemy and concealed it because they loathed Reagan so much. Both are bad.
You don’t need to know these things to enjoy a fictionalized account of a real event. Just consider the source. Our self-appointed betters aren’t so great.