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05th Jun 2019

Chernobyl creator discusses the hidden meaning behind the powerful season finale

Paul Moore

“The cost of lies.” A superb finale for a superb show

While we’re not encouraging TV fans to start betting, we’d be amazed if Jared Harris, Stellan Skarsgård, Emily Mortimer and Craig Mazin don’t win a heap of awards for their incredible work on Chernobyl.

After five excellent episodes, the miniseries came to an end as Valery Legasov (Harris), Boris Shcherbina (Skarsgård) and Ulana Khomyuk (Watson) risked their lives and reputations to expose the truth about Chernobyl.

In the very first episode, audiences were introduced to the horrific events that unfolded on April 26, 1986, the fateful night of the disaster.

However, the finale showed that human error was just as much to blame as the technical malfunction that caused so much destruction and pain.

Ultimately, the levels of bravery and sacrifice from everyone involved in the aftermath of the horrific accident helped to save Europe from an unimaginable disaster.

Chernobyl was a scientific tragedy, a political tragedy, and a deeply personal tragedy.

Viewers may have noticed that the last words said in Chernobyl are “the cost of lies,” which was also a key phrase in the series’ first scene.

In an interview with Slate, writer/creator Craig Mazin said that this was a very deliberate decision because he sees a similarity between the heartbreaking events that unfolded in 1986 and the current political climate.

“Well, we are experiencing something now that I used to think was mostly just a phenomenon in a place like the Soviet Union, which is a disconnection from truth,” Mazin said.

“And the emergence of a cult of personality. And a distrust and debasement of experts who don’t go along with whatever the official narrative is.

“It’s so upsetting, and we don’t know quite how to handle it. What I want people to consider is that no matter what it is we want to believe, and no matter what story it is we want to jam the world into, the truth is the truth. If you organise your life around some political party’s list of things you should believe, or an individual that you think is going to come and save you, you are disconnecting yourself from truth. And there is a price to pay.

“We live on a planet that is under threat, and scientists are warning us, just as they did in the ’70s regarding RBMK reactors in the Soviet Union. Governments are choosing to listen or not listen, and people are choosing to listen or not listen. But the truth, the globe, the thermometer, doesn’t care. And the RBMK didn’t care either. It didn’t matter what they wanted to do that night. It didn’t matter that the fatal flaw of the RBMK reactor was a state secret. The reactor didn’t care. And that’s the problem we struggle with. We are attempting to make ourselves superior to fact and we are not.

Chernobyl as a series was instantly memorable because viewers were quickly immersed in the horror that was unfolding as the reactor began to overheat and to Mazin’s credit, he withheld some of the important details for the final episode.

Essentially, in the first four episodes, viewers went on an emotional journey as they saw the human cost of the tragic accident. However, after becoming so invested in these people, the finale was all about justice.

Mazin said that this approach was important because he didn’t want to start the show with scientific and technical speeches. He wanted audiences to be emotionally invested in the story and the people.

“The last thing I wanted to do was just make homework,” he added.

“I think if you see how people suffer, then and only then can you hear why. You will be far more interested to know, because you understand that there was a terrible cost. You’ve witnessed it. You’ve experienced it, and you’ve felt it.”

In another interview with EW, the writer/creator elaborated on this narrative decision.

“My hope and my intention was that people would experience the tragedy of what Chernobyl was in every regard: a scientific tragedy, a political tragedy, an emotional and personal tragedy, all of that,” he said.

“Just really feel what it did to an entire country and people, and then say, ‘Okay, now that you know all of that, let’s see how it actually happened, because this is how we learn to keep it from happening again’.

“And when I say ‘it’, I don’t mean a nuclear reactor exploding, I mean a tragedy caused by lies and neglect. And there’s an additional factor that I wanted to introduce which was, for most of those men in that control room, they were innocent, and I think it’s important for people to know that. They just didn’t know. Even the villain in the room to some extent was kind of innocent, and that’s kind of a shocking thing.”

If you would like to watch the miniseries again, the boxset of Chernobyl will be available to stream on NOW TV in its entirety, as well as through Sky on demand, from 4 June.