The scariest thing on television

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If you’ve decided to cancel HBO now that Game of Thrones is finished, let me suggest you wait long enough to watch all of the network’s terrifying miniseries, Chernobyl. It is, hands down, the best, and most frightening, show I’ve watched on TV in a very long time.

Thirty-three years ago, on April 26, 1986, the No. 4 reactor at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant near the Ukrainian city of Pripyat exploded, releasing catastrophic amounts of radiation into the atmosphere. An exclusion zone spreading 19 miles in all directions from the ruined reactor site has been deemed unsafe for human habitation for the next 20,000 years.

Because the disaster and its effects were so unbelievable, show creator Craig Mazin has said it was essential for the show to be as historically accurate as possible:

If I have a choice between going for something that sounds dramatic or something that sounds less dramatic, I actually try to opt for less because I think what is dramatic about Chernobyl doesn’t need extra.

Believe it or not, this is the restrained version of what actually happened because believe it or not, there are some accounts where it gets even worse.

Some of those who would know best, who lived through that era of Soviet life, have hailed the show for its remarkable realism.

Chernobyl is a simultaneously horrifying, inspiring, and infuriating chronicle of the catastrophe and the Soviet government’s response. As National Review puts it:

The show is not fun to watch, unless you take a certain grim satisfaction in watching Soviet Union officials squirm in their seats, so terrified of the consequences of telling the truth that they assent to brazen lies that will lead to the painful deaths of hundreds and perhaps thousands of their countrymen.

Chernobyl  is horrifying in showing the effects of acute radiation poisoning, burns, and runaway nuclear energy seeming to scorch the very sky. It is inspiring in depicting the extraordinary heroism of first-responders, medical staff, miners, scientists, and officials brave enough to force their superiors to face a reality they were desperately trying to ignore.

And it is infuriating in laying bare the cravenness of those bureaucrats and leaders unwilling to acknowledge, even actively deny, facts they deemed politically or professionally dangerous. It is this last point which makes Chernobyl especially relevant to our times. Back to National Review:

But it’s worth keeping in mind that shameless dishonesty in order to avoid embarrassment is a human trait, not just a Socialist one. In almost any governmental system on earth, those running the system can blur their sense of their personal interest and the national interest.

A bad leader will prioritize his image above all else and see every issue through that lens. A bad leader will deny the seriousness of threats because speaking honestly about an emerging danger would require admitting being wrong earlier. A bad leader will insist that a failing solution is really working. When challenged, those types of leaders focus on finding scapegoats instead of solutions.

Or, as venerable horror author Stephen King tweeted yesterday: