But writer Craig Mazin spends a lot of episode 4 on the ground, chiefly with the baby-faced volunteer Pavel, who’s been drafted into the Chernobyl military effort. He joins two other soldiers in Animal Control, which isn’t as simple as it sounds – its purpose far more horrific than the bland name implies.
These scenes don't directly connect to Boris and Legasov - they could’ve been cut without much notice from the viewer. But regardless of its relevance, Pavel’s story is integral to the story of Chernobyl, to the lives affected and lost in that disaster.
Boris (Stellan Skarsgard) and Legasov (Jared Harris) continue to solve the graphite problem
Episode 4 spans over five months, leading into the December snow falling on the desolate city of Pripyat. The quiet streets sprout with high, modernist apartment blocks, largely depleted of civilisation - only an ominous emptiness remains.
But, some continue to live within the Evacuation Zone, regardless of the consequences. The opening scene stays with an 82-year-old babushka (June Watson) milking a cow, arguing with a soldier who’s telling her to leave. She details the history of Ukraine, what she's endured during wars and revolutions, the family she’s lost.
It’s like Mazin wants to bring awareness to country’s sad past, and their continual tensions with Russia. Even now, their conflict shows no sign of stopping.
An old babushka (June Watson) sheds light on Ukraine's tortured past
Much of the series is about the victims, last week being especially gruesome, but episode 4 expands on the less obvious sufferers of the meltdown. It’s not just about radiation sickness – it’s about the heavy trauma and abhorrent duties that resulted. Pavel is one such story.
Rising star Barry Keoghan (Dunkirk, American Animals, The Killing of a Sacred Deer) plays Pavel with a blank, youthful naivety. Similar to his character in Dunkirk, it’s difficult to know whether he’s courageous or stupid. But he’s there to help. Keoghan provides another enduring performance for the series, starting with a silent strength and ending in painful tears.
Pavel (Barry Keoghan, right) joins Animal Control with soldier Rahym (Fares Fares, left)
The scenes between Pavel and the two other soldiers are some of the most absorbing and upsetting in the series. It’s curious whether Mazin is trying to outdo the horrors of the episode before, the brutality growing with every hour. Two words of warning for dog lovers: look away.
Mazin likes to follow the smaller characters, the ones that are barely remembered for their bravery. And to address them in such a cinematic fashion, reaching right up close to the sickening action, is a commendable feat in television. The world doesn’t look the same after Chernobyl.
Chernobyl continues Tuesdays at 9pm on Sky Atlantic
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28 May 19 – 28 May 20, 9:00 PM – 10:10 PM