“Vichnaya Pamyat” proves haunting, dramatic and tragic as the fallout from Chernobyl (radioactive and political) defines its legacy.
This Chernobyl episode 5 recap for the episode titled “Vichnaya Pamyat” contains spoilers. You can check out our thoughts on the previous episode by clicking these words.
The fifth and final episode of HBO’s haunting, tragic and terrifying exploration of the 1986 nuclear meltdown at Chernobyl ended fittingly, with fallout both radioactive and political, as the lumbering Soviet machine combs through the wreckage in search of a convenient scapegoat on which to pin the blame. As the closer to an exceptional miniseries, “Vichnaya Pamyat” did everything it needed to; as the conclusion of a real-life story, it revealed how much more could have been done to save lives at the time.
Dense with flashbacks and courtroom drama, “Vichnaya Pamyat” revisited those events from the season’s premiere, only now with the emotional burden of additional context. We already know the fate of brave fireman Vasily (Adam Nagaitis) and his wife Lyudmilla (Jessie Buckley) and their unborn child. We know what happens to Akimov (Sam Troughton) and Leonid Toptunov (Robert Emms). We know what’s coming when Anatoly Dyatlov (Paul Ritter) bullies an untrained overnight crew into overseeing a long-awaited safety test. Dyatlov, alongside plant director Viktor Bryukhanov (Con O’Neill) and chief engineer Nikolai Fomin (Adrian Rawlins), find themselves on trial in “Vichnaya Pamyat”, the disaster apparently their fault.
Chernobyl recreates the meltdown with the same kind of dread-inducing craftsmanship that has defined the series, even if it isn’t quite as harrowing as some of its previous set-pieces. But what comes across is what must have come across to the team at the time: that crushing realization that the measures put in place to save them were inadequate; that the reactor’s entire operation was at the risk of human life, a resource defined by bizarre Soviet calculus that still to this day admits to only 31 lost lives, rather than the more realistic figure of thousands.
This awkward truth is of particular concern to Valery Legasov (Jared Harris) in “Vichnaya Pamyat”, touchingly endorsed in his anti-Party testimony by the steely and pragmatic Boris Shcherbina (Stellan Skarsgård), who has been a consistently underappreciated presence throughout the series. Beyond giving his life for the investigation, Legasov also sacrifices his status as a loyal communist in the Soviet Union by revealing that cost-saving measures — graphite tips on the boron control rods — were responsible for the explosion. It’s a mundane reality that reflects the mundane truths of the show itself; what happened was caused by ignorance, stubbornness, lies, and the desperate desire to save money and face over real, human lives. It was all avoidable.
After sticking the landing, Chernobyl must go down as not just the best television of 2019 thus far, but among the best programming in HBO’s history; a contemporary of Band of Brothers, showcasing the strength and resilience of humanity in the face of overwhelming and senseless opposition.
Jonathon is the Co-Founder of Ready Steady Cut and has been Senior Editor and Chief Critic of the outlet since 2017.