Not one for binge-watching, but spent all last night with “Chernobyl” for the first time… & it was dreadfully amazing.

I could probably find a better description for the HBO mini-series, but that’s what’s come up after I went to bed to kind of mull over my impressions of what I’d seen. As a history-buff, anything based on a true story is pretty well up for the viewing, especially if I’ve read up on the subject a bunch.

But if there’s something I’ve learned from the series, it’s how little I had actually learned before watching.

I think in the states we’ve all gotten the basic gist in schooling and “this day in history” segments. Something about the control rods and a shutdown not working right, a bunch of people in Ukraine killed from the radiation and explosion, some uninhabitable land.

But heavens–there is so much more. I’m surprised my jaw didn’t come completely off during that 5 hours of “holy crap” I’d watched.

Chernobyl is definitely an experience. More than that, it’s a powerful lesson. I disagree with some folks who’ve come out to criticize the series as being against nuclear power as an energy source. If anything, the series is for it, but with a cautious eye, as in train your staff and don’t skimp on maintenance and be a cheapskate.

Of course, that is something that should be a part of ANY huge utility, energy industry, etc., and should be self-evident.

I’m just amazed that within the space of a few weeks I’m glad I’ve seen two things that I’ve enjoyed on screen. Granted, Chernobyl‘s harder to take than Dune emotionally, but I know I’ll be revisiting it, despite the dark subject matter and the marathon of tension. It’s indeed in the storytelling, and I can’t wait to read the books I got about the accident and the eyewitnesses in the next few months.

I avoided Chernobyl at first because I thought it was going to be a lot like other “based on a true story” type films where there would be too much hype and too much focus on action moments. I rather liked that it’s mostly a story about the people involved and trying to figure out the accident through their eyes, recollections, moments, etc. It wasn’t some damned Hollywood film with too many cookie-cutter characters spouting curse words and yelling at each other. No, it was intelligent and didn’t treat the audience like we were idiots.

No wonder I loved it. And it’s the scariest damned thing I think I’d ever seen on the screen. Certainly the most suspenseful, because we never got much more than a glossed-over version of the events in the west (unless you were going to work for nuclear power plants or in some other nuclear-related job). The cleanup effort and the many things that went wrong before and after the explosion were mind-boggling…not to mention the political ass-kissing and dancing around the issue to not lose favors in this Soviet society. It was tense and dreadful because I kept feeling like something just HAD to go right at some point, law of averages and everything.

And technically, it’s not over yet. Just the initial problem… but we have such short memories as a species, and the accident site is gonna have to be dealt with off and on for decades more or perhaps centuries.

That’s what I think hit me the most while watching this series and seeing the attempts to put out the fire, evacuate, clean up, etc.: they were dealing with an issue nobody had ever had to deal with before in history, and they seemed rather pitiful in the face of the monster. How can you defeat an enemy you can’t see or even get close enough to without risking your own life, or your equipment will fail because of particle bombardment and radioactive decay?

The more I watched, the more I had the unsettling feeling that as a species we’d unleashed a monster before learning the best methods for containing it in case it tried to reach around and bite us on the ass. I had that phrase “price of progress” going through my head as I thought about the absurdity of having this tremendous power source and no plausible contingency plan to deal with it in case of an accident, no matter how remote that possibility seemed to be.

That made me wonder how many other things in our modern world we rely on that have no real contingency plans, either. I’m sure there are quite a few.

This thinking reminded me of a video I stumbled on a few months ago (which kinda got me interested in watching Chernobyl… too bad the book mentioned in the notes is too expensive for me right now). It talks about Chernobyl and the “risk society.” Definitely worth a look:

I’ll be watching this series again for sure. The performances are fantastic, for one thing, and the presentation astounded me. It makes me want to tell stories again and find new ways to do it. But I’m going to read up on the accident first before tackling the series again.

I finished watching it about 20 hours ago and I’m still mulling over all I observed. I probably will be most of the week. And I wanted to toast the real folks most of all, and figured making my first screwdriver with some of dad’s unopened vodka stash would be fitting… and help it go down a bit easier.

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