June 8, 2019

If you have access to HBO and haven't yet watched Chernobyl, start now. The five-part miniseries, written and conceived by Craig Mazin (yes, that's the same guy who was roommates with Ted Cruz), deals with the fallout of a nuclear catastrophe. And by "fallout," I mean more than radiation.

Mazin's aim was to take a story about a real thing that happened and tell not only the story of the explosion of Reactor #4 at Chernobyl itself, but tell it in the context of the coverup, denial and lies about what actually happened. The series doesn't just put the viewer in the center of one of the worst radioactive explosions ever, it centers them in the middle of a dreadful coverup of the cause. With all that, it is also about the heroes -- the firemen, the coal miners who shoveled radioactive debris, the people forced to abandon their homes and everything they had at a drop of a hat, the medical personnel and the scientists too.

As Vice writer Drew Schwartz observes, "[Mazin's] dramatization is about the failings of the Soviet system, and the unique set of unsolvable problems that system created. It is about “the cost of lies,” a phrase we encounter in its first scene, and the danger of a world without truth."

In an interview with Vox, Mazin amplifies that thought:

It’s the story of the Soviet Union, but the danger is you make the story about how the Soviets were a bunch of liars and it’s easy for America — and some Americans continue to do this, remarkably — to say, “See? Those Soviets ... they’re liars.” And it became clear to me that Soviets are just people, and we’re just people, and lying is not in the water over there. It’s something people do. And they do it here. The Soviet system is a warning: Don’t take it this far. Please, for the love of god, don’t take it this far.

With all that background in mind, it should surprise no one that the exceptionally thin-skinned Russians are making their own film about Chernobyl, and this one will place the blame for the explosion on CIA sabotage.

The series, commissioned by Gazprom-owned NTV, will center around efforts to track down the saboteur and bring him or her to justice. Because of course.

“One theory holds that Americans had infiltrated the Chernobyl nuclear power plant and 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,” the director, Alexei Muradov, told the Moscow Times.

But of course, this theory was long-ago debunked, as the Washington Post reports:

The idea does not match reality. Experts from the United Nations and the Nuclear Energy Institute have determined the explosion was probably the result of a faulty reactor design and human error — an assessment that Soviet officials agreed with in their own 1986 report on the explosion, according to the Los Angeles Times.

In the end, the impetus for this series really comes down to ruffled feathers.

“The fact that an American, not a Russian, TV channel tells us about our own heroes is a source of shame that the pro-Kremlin media apparently cannot live down,” he wrote this week. “And this is the real reason they find fault with HBO’s 'Chernobyl’ series.”

Ruffled feathers, and the false impression that Mother Russia can do no wrong. There's a lesson there for all of us.

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