Not even the pets are safe in “The Happiness of all Mankind”, another thoroughly depressing (and excellent) episode of Chernobyl.
This Chernobyl episode 4 recap for the episode titled “The Happiness of All Mankind” contains spoilers. You can check out our thoughts on the previous episode by clicking these words.
Blimey, Chernobyl is depressing, isn’t it? It’s already a show about a nuclear disaster of unprecedented scale and devastation, which is downbeat enough, but “The Happiness of All Mankind” decides to take things several steps further: Now, amongst another selfless act of human courage, we also have to put up with all the local animals being killed.
It’s unavoidable, obviously. The animals — most of them domesticated pets — are radioactive. And unlike the residents of Pripyat, they can’t be evacuated into the exclusion zone, so they have to be hunted and shot and buried under concrete. Fun!
And that’s not even the worst of it. The big issue in “The Happiness of All Mankind” is that the nuclear plant’s roof is covered in extremely radioactive rubble, which needs to be removed. But, as Legasov (Jared Harris) cheerfully explains, if humans were to go up there, even in full protective gear, they’d reduce their life expectancy by half after just two minutes of exposure and be dead in months after three. The decision is made to instead use lunar robots, specifically one gifted from West Germany, but that goes badly wrong because of — all together now — the Soviet Union telling outright lies in an ill-advised attempt to save face. Military men are instead sent to clear the rubble in extraordinarily dangerous 90-second shifts.
As has been the case throughout this miniseries, Soviet doublespeak and political posturing is a huge roadblock in “The Happiness of All Mankind”, especially for Ulana Knomyuk (Emily Watson), who is trying to get to the bottom of what caused the reactor meltdown in the first place. But “there is no truth”, after all, except I suppose whatever the State insists the truth is. In a lot of ways, since the very beginning of the premiere episode, Legasov has been grappling with that idea. When Knomyuk comes to him in this episode and concludes that he is partly complicit in the oversight that allowed for this mess to happen, she urges him to side with the truth, and not with the Soviet Union. Boris Shcherbina (Stellan Skarsgard), naturally, would like just the opposite.
With one episode left, we know there’s no happy ending to be had here. But what constitutes “happy” in a story like this? Is it the glossy, Hollywood version that we’re used to, in which everyone survives and lives happily ever after, or is the reality of humanity and devotion to the truth, at all costs, the happiest thing we can hope for? If I were a betting man, I know where I’d be laying my money.
Jonathon is the Co-Founder of Ready Steady Cut and has been Senior Editor and Chief Critic of the outlet since 2017.