people are following you.People are following
those people.And you see them?They follow me.The KGB is a circle
of accountability.Nothing more.♪ (SUSPENSEFUL MUSIC PLAYING) ♪ PETER SAGAL: Hello and welcome
toThe Chernobyl Podcast,the podcast about
theChernobylminiseries on HBO. I am Peter Sagal,
and I am here with Craig Mazin, the show’s creator and producer
and writer. -Hello again, Craig.
-CRAIG MAZIN: Hello, Peter. PETER: This is the third episode
of The Chernobyl Podcast.We’re talking, of course,
about episode three of theChernobylminiseries,
which is titled “Open Wide, O Earth.” We pick up where we left off on episode two,
down in the depths, in the dark, underneath the reactor
with the three men who were colloquially known
in stories of Chernobyl -as the divers.
-CRAIG: The divers. Even though
they weren’t really divers, they were engineers,
but they knew the subterranean area
of the complex. -PETER: Right.
-CRAIG: When the lights go out, they’re able
to kind of just grab pipes that they knew
there were certain pipes that would lead them to… the room where they could
open up the sluice gate. Now, for us, we had
an interesting problem -because if the lights go out…
-PETER: Yes. …it becomes a radio play
at that point, with not a lot– PETER: (JOKINGLY)
What’s wrong with that, Craig? -CRAIG: Yeah, well, I know.
-PETER: All right. CRAIG: I know.
Radio play, not game show. PETER: I understand.
I won’t defend my medium. CRAIG: Of course, of course. But what I believe you have–
they use– I forget what you call them,
but these hand generated– CRAIG: Yeah, I think
they’re called dynamo. So, it’s like a little
hand crank thing that you’ve probably seen
in like, an army, navy surplus store, and we found the models that were used
in the Soviet Union at the time. And they have
this wonderful noise. -(CRAIG MIMICS MACHINE)
-PETER: Yeah. CRAIG: So, we really tried
to give you a sense of… just putting you in a place,
you know. I mean, obviously,
some of these details we’re guessing on
or inventing, but the goal there is to make you feel
what it must’ve felt like -down there.
-PETER: Right. The series director Johan Renck thought about that aspect a lot
during his work. JOHAN RENCK:It was a very,
very difficult thing to do.We shot that yesterday.It was literally–I never went to film school
or anything like that,but I felt like
this was definitelya film school moment,
to shoot three peoplewho are all looking identicalbecause they’re wearing
the same outfits,you can’t see their facesbecause they’re wearing face–
you know, goggles and gas masks.You can hardly even
see their eyes…And walking around
in pitch dark blacknessand still make it feel–
we have to understandthat they’re scared,
we have to understandthat they’re lost,
we have to understand–So how do you do that
without goinginto full pantomime, you know?And it was tricky,
very frustrating,I had a really hard time,
because I couldn’t–I could see what they were doing
and then, at the same time,I didn’t want them to go bigger.Like, “No, no,
let’s not do that,” you know.You just want ’em to keep it
really small and subdued,but it was tricky.PETER: Did they actually
complete their mission in the dark? CRAIG:
That’s my understanding. They completed their mission
in the dark, and once it was open, you know, then they were theoretically
done with their job -and could just head back out.
-PETER: Yeah. CRAIG: And that’s essentially
what happened. PETER: So, the crisis is
averted by these three guys. -CRAIG: Yeah.
-And now, we do something that we haven’t done
since episode one, is we visit some of the victims of the explosion. Lyudmilla has followed
her husband, thanks to an
officious bureaucrat having a moment of mercy… up to Moscow,
Moscow hospital number six. -CRAIG: Right.
-PETER: And she, once again, manages, on the force of her,
you know, determination and her love,
as you say, to get in to see him
and amazingly… -they’re fine.
-CRAIG: Yeah. -PETER: Seemingly so.
-CRAIG: Seemingly so. PETER: Now, later on, we’re gonna get
an explanation for this. -CRAIG: Right.
-PETER: But… apparently, there’s something
about radiation poisoning that gives you
a sort of brief latency? CRAIG: Yeah. It’s one of the cruelest things
of this kind of severe acute radiation syndrome. The initial… symptoms are very much
like burn symptoms. -PETER: Right.
-CRAIG: There’s– You can see the skin reddening,
there’s swelling and vomiting and headaches. But then, as those initial… kind of what I would call, like,
almost topical… symptoms subside,
you get a little bit of a break. It seems like
you’re getting better. But you are not,
and what’s happening is the damage that the radiation
has done on a cellular level is taking
a little bit of a while -to manifest.
-PETER: Right. CRAIG:
When it begins to manifest, then things get very, very bad
very, very quickly. PETER: Right.
And we’re about to see that. -In very, very vivid ways.
-CRAIG: Yeah, unfortunately. Pretty soon,
you’re going to introduce what is going to happen to them,
which is another bit of… of writing
to set up the audience in an effective way,
if a dreading way. I wanna start, though,
with something that isn’t in the episode. In the script, you started
the episode with Dyatlov. CRAIG: Yeah. PETER: Who we last saw
in the reactor room, the guy who, more than anyone, seemingly was responsible
for the accident, the guy who, we know, denied
that the accident happened, he ordered his men
to their deaths. And we see him in the hospital
in this deleted scene, but not alone. He has a vision of his son. CRAIG: Right, so,
Dyatlov had a son who died of leukemia
around the age of ten. The details are a little skimpy, but we know at least that much. We also know that Dyatlov,
at the time, was working at a naval station
near Siberia, helping construct
nuclear submarines. So he was working
on the nuclear generators inside of submarines,
and there was an accident. PETER: Right. CRAIG: Which he was cleared
of wrongdoing– (CHUCKLES)
but he was involved. And he received, by the way,
in that accident, allegedly, a near-fatal dose of radiation, and yet survived. His son, however, shortly
thereafter, apparently… -got leukemia and died.
-PETER: Right. CRAIG: The question is,
are these two things related? -PETER: Right.
-CRAIG: So, one possibility is that the clothing
that Dyatlov was wearing that he took home, any kind
of contamination therein, may have actually led
to his own son’s death. This was a storyline
that I intended to include, but as it turned out… it was… too far afield of what, ultimately, we all felt
was the immediacy of the story -we were telling.
-PETER: Right. CRAIG:
That to flash back in time or to have any kind of
hallucinatory vision… seemed a little bit more out of the world of a normal
fictional television series, -and less in our world.
-PETER: Right. CRAIG: We were so engrossed
in the real that it just… kind of threw us
out of our rhythm. So we ended up removing it, but Paul Ritter,
who plays Dyatlov, did a wonderful job,
and it’s sort of a shame, so hopefully people will get
to see those scenes someday. PETER: There was also–
again, referring to something that didn’t make
the final version of the show, and I’ll be vague about it–
there’s a scene later on as scripted, in which Dyatlov
is asked about his son. -CRAIG: Yeah.
-And the character suggests that his attitude toward
the accident, his refusal
to take responsibility, to accept
that it was happening, in fact, his arrogance
in what he did to cause the accident–
which will be revealed later– is related to the death
of his son. I believe, as if, like, he needed to master radiation
or something. CRAIG: Right. PETER:
And that’s not there… -anymore.
-CRAIG: Right. PETER:
My feeling about that scene, which nobody will ever see,
at least not in this version, is that it’s good
that you cut it. Because I was like… (UNENTHUSIASTICALLY)
“Oh, backstory.” -CRAIG: Mm-hmm.
-PETER: We don’t need backstory. CRAIG: As it turned out,
we didn’t need backstory. -PETER: Yeah.
-CRAIG: And it is supposition, it’s a bit of sort of
armchair psychology going on there,
which also, I think… left us a little uncomfortable. But one thing that was true
about Dyatlov, at least as people
described him, uh, he was
an incredibly unpleasant guy -from all accounts.
-PETER: Yeah. CRAIG: Very stubborn,
very stubborn. And also did have a certain… kind of arrogance
in regard to radiation. The way electricians sort of,
you know, don’t mind being shocked,
and sometimes will play around with things
because they’re used to it. He felt like he had taken the worst
that radiation can give. It’s not that bad. -PETER: Yeah.
-It’s overrated. CRAIG: And he’s really
in charge of the atom, not the other way around. There was something
about that to him. Was it connected
to what happened with his son? That is armchair psychology, and I agree with you, I think– you know, obviously I agree
because we cut it out– (LAUGHS) But it was just sort of out of the rhythm
of what we were trying to do. PETER: Yeah,
and one of the reasons I commend that choice
is only because I think one of the aspects
of this television series that I admire so much
is that… stuff happened
for no good reason. CRAIG: Yeah. PETER: And people behaved
in ways that made no sense, except in the exigencies
of the moment. What’s interesting is that
this moment, as we start episode three,
things seem okay. The immediate crisis
with the thermal explosion has been solved, thanks
to the courage of the divers, the survivors of the explosion
up in the hospital seem fine. -Everything’s great. It seems.
-CRAIG: Yeah. PETER: There was even,
I believe, a parade sequence that you had
early in this episode. That they were going out
on having parades. In fact, the bureaucrat who
treated Emily Watson so badly, in a moment of bravery,
in this deleted scene, goes out and joins
this parade outside X miles away
from the radiation plume? CRAIG: Correct. They are– And the Soviet Union in general always wanted to be
business as usual. That was their favorite
thing to do, no matter what was going on. And so they were
business-as-usual-ing this as hard as they could. Gorbachev, in this episode, seems, I think,
a bit taken aback by the suggestion
that this is not going to end anytime soon. And I understand that,
to some extent, that the people
in charge of the government… threw what they thought
were remarkable resources, I mean,
thousands of helicopter sorties and boron, and sand, and lead,
and lives, counting lives. And so, “Great. Fix it.” And it’s not going to be fixed
for a long time. PETER: And the first intimation
of that, or, at least,
direct evidence of that is Legasov’s
conversation about… the effects
of radiation sickness. VALERY LEGASOV:And slowly,
the damage begins to manifest.The bone marrow dies.The immune system fails.The organs and soft tissue
begin to decompose.The arteries and veins
spill open like sieves…to the point where you
can’t evenadminister morphine
for the pain, which is…unimaginable.And in three days
to three weeks, you’re dead.PETER:
Let’s pause for a second and talk about the decision
making process that you and the other producers
had about how much of this you were going to show. CRAIG: Yeah. Well, for us… and Johan, I think, certainly
is included in this as well, our director, Johan Renck… if you are going
to limit yourself in many ways by eschewing a lot of
the usual dramatic tricks. PETER: Yeah. CRAIG: And sticking to the real
as much as you can. PETER: Yeah. CRAIG: Then, when there is
an aspect of the real that is… brutal and extreme, you need to show it, too. It was important to me
that people understood what was happening to these men because they suffered
in terrible ways. And these were not
random people suffering. These were heroes.
They were saving lives. And in doing so, they put themselves
in the line of fire, and this is a fire
that doesn’t kill you quickly, it kills you slowly, and it kills you
in an excruciating manner. So, Daniel Parker, the head
of our makeup department, he really did
the primary research on what this does, and came up–
I think he had, at one point, like, seven different stages. And, of course,
depending on who you were
and how close you were and how long you were there,
the stages were different. But then, we also read through
a lot of accounts, um… Lyudmilla Ignatenko’s account
of what her husband looked like was very influential
on what we did, and… we just felt
that it was important to show it because it is horrifying, and the last thing
that I want this show to do is to scare people about nuclear power. This is not a polemic
about nuclear power. However,
it’s about respecting it… -PETER: Yeah.
-…for what it can do. Because what it can do
is savage. And the love story
that we’re telling between Lyudmilla
and her husband, I think… only makes sense in the context
of what is happening to him -in front of her eyes.
-PETER: Right. -Which is absolutely horrifying.
-CRAIG: Yeah. PETER:
And there’s a scene later on in which she grips his hand,
which is moving not only because of
the condition of his hand, but because of her courage
in doing it. -CRAIG: Yeah.
-PETER: Yeah. Because these guys
were all radioactive in addition to dying
in horrible pain. CRAIG: And in this sense, this
is another one of those areas where I agree with you.
There is no why. You can say,
“Well, why did she do that? -She was told not to do that.”
-PETER: Not to do that. Yeah. CRAIG: Well,
because she loved him, but also… she’s telling herself
a story too, I think, in that moment,
which is, “It’ll be okay.” PETER: Right.
And her recklessness in… again, skipping ahead a bit,
her recklessness in going in to see him when she is pregnant. When she has been told, -“You’re not pregnant, are you?”
-CRAIG: Right. PETER: Is that something you had
to stop and think about, in terms of her attitude?
Is she in denial? “Oh, nothing bad will happen,
what are they talking about?” -Does she not know?
-CRAIG: She did it. CRAIG:
I mean, that’s the thing. She did–
she tells that story. The way she tells that story
is what the doctor asked her was, “Do you have children?” And she lied and said,
“Yes, I have two.” And she lied in that moment
because she understood the implication
of the question was, “If you don’t have children, this could prevent you
from having children. Or, God forbid,
if you’re pregnant right now, affect the baby.”
And so she lied so that the doctor would think,
“Well, she’s got two, so it’s okay.
Go on ahead.” PETER: Right. Do you think
she may have not understood the danger she was putting
her baby in at that moment? CRAIG: I don’t think
she understood. -PETER: Yeah.
-CRAIG: I think that she felt that it would be okay. And the truth of the matter is,
I don’t blame her at all because there wasn’t a lot
of awareness about what radiation was
and how it could harm you. -And also, they let her do it.
-PETER: Yeah. CRAIG: In a sense,
she was sort of relying on the authority.
If an authority says, “Listen, you’re not really
supposed to go in there, but you can,
but for, like, 30 minutes.” Well, how bad could it be?
And they’re going in there. -PETER: Yeah.
-CRAIG: They’re doing it all. And, of course,
a lot of those people did have to deal
with the impact of that as well. PETER: Sure. Let’s go back
for a moment to Chernobyl. Uh, one of my favorite scenes: -the coal miner scene.
-CRAIG: Right. PETER: Which begins with
the telling of a Soviet joke. We used to hear those
all the time back in the day. -CRAIG: (LAUGHING) Yeah.
-MINER:Here’s one, here’s one.What’s as big as a house…burns 20 liters of fuel
every hour…puts out a shitload
of smoke and noise…and cuts an apple
into three pieces?A Soviet machine made
to cut apples into four pieces!(MINERS LAUGHING) PETER: These coal miners
were brought to Chernobyl to do this project, which will be described
to us and to them. This is the second time
that people have been– Soviet people have been enlisted
to go and work on this problem -at great risk to themselves.
-CRAIG: Right. -PETER: And they go.
-CRAIG: And they go. And in this case,
it wasn’t like… the miners were what we think of
as docile Soviet workers. -Miners were tough.
-PETER: Yeah. CRAIG: We got some really
interesting research. We had a wonderful researcher
named Mimi Munson, which is a great name,
Mimi Munson. And she found this
really fascinating article about miners in the Soviet Union
and how they occupied a certain kind of
privileged position. By the way, this is one of
the reasons why the Soviet Union was so obsessed with building
large nuclear reactors. The demand for energy
was massive, and most of the energy produced
came from coal. So the coal miners
had a certain leverage… -PETER: Right.
-…over the nation and um, Mikhail Gorbachev himself,
said that the coal miners– sort of scared him. -So they were tough.
-PETER: Right. CRAIG: And they chose,
willingly, to do this, again, in part because of a general sense
of honor and community. And when someone comes to you
and says, “Listen. There’s going
to be a permanent disaster unless you do this,”
you do it. So miners from Tula,
which is in Russia, miners from the Donbass,
which is in Ukraine, and other places, came… to Chernobyl. Now, what were they doing? PETER: Yes, I am curious. CRAIG: So, when we ended
episode two… PETER: Right. CRAIG: We understood there was
this risk of thermal explosion. Once that was eliminated, the understanding was
that, sooner or later, this fuel was gonna melt down.
So what’s a melt– We talk about meltdown
all the time. It just means, basically, that the uranium fuel
is getting so hot and reactive that it begins to melt
the cladding around it, and it turns into
a kind of a lava, and it will start to burn
through things below it. There was a possibility… that it would burn through
the concrete pad underneath the structure,
and if did that, it would enter the water table
and it would be a disaster. -A possibility.
-PETER: Right. CRAIG: So, the miners were asked
to dig this tunnel, get underneath that pad, and excavate a room large enough
to put in a heat exchanger, which is basically a fancy word -for refrigeration unit.
-PETER: Right. That would use liquid nitrogen
to cool the space above it and reduce the heat of the lava. PETER: All the liquid nitrogen
in the Soviet Union. CRAIG: All of the liquid
nitrogen in the Soviet Union. In fact, there– a little bit of
a compression that we made was what happened to Bryukhanov
and Fomin, the two guys
that were running the plant. We sort of imply that they’d
been arrested very quickly. In fact, it took quite a while for them
to be arrested, but they were sidelined
pretty quickly as people started to understand that they were probably
gonna be held responsible. But in these early days, it was Bryukhanov, actually,
who’s ordered to find all the liquid nitrogen
or he would be shot. They literally told him,
“We’ll shoot you if you don’t find us
the liquid nitrogen.” So these miners dug this tunnel,
but they were digging it under the impression that
it was absolutely necessary. And one of the weird things and the kind of brutal things
about science, particularly nuclear science, -is it’s based on probabilities.
-PETER: Right. CRAIG: And so, at the end
of this episode, Legasov says, “I’ve ordered
these people to do this. I have effectively killed
a large number of them. And I’m doing it
because there’s a chance we might need it.” And, in fact… they didn’t. PETER: So all of that effort
ultimately– CRAIG: Was unnecessary. PETER:
Because it never melted down– CRAIG: Because it never melted
through the concrete pad, so it never got
to the groundwater. And that’s– that’s a really… it’s just a chilling fact
that… I would put myself
in Legasov’s shoes there… and you start to realize
the cruelty of this situation. You have no choice. A 50-50 chance
that you’re going to, you know,
poison the Black Sea forever -is not acceptable.
-PETER: Right. CRAIG: And so, you now have
to send 400 men, and reportedly, about one out of
every four of them died. PETER: Of cancer
or radiation related disease. CRAIG:
Of radiation related disease. PETER: Yeah. But of course,
it is important that they went because it gave us what is…
important for every HBO show: -an unnecessary nude scene.
-CRAIG: Yes, well, I think– -(LAUGHING) actually necessary.
-PETER: Let me say that again. It gave us what every
HBO production must have is -a gratuitous nudity scene.
-CRAIG: Yes. PETER: Which is important.
Is that real? Did they actually like, take off their clothes
and dig naked? CRAIG: Yes. There were
some varying accounts of how much clothing
got taken off, but more than one said that they took it all off, and for the exact reason
that we state in the show. It was brutally hot. You know,
we’re talking temperatures of, I think we say
50 degrees Celsius, so Americans are gonna
be confused. (CHUCKLES) But it’s around 130 degrees. I mean, it was like
a real oven in there. And they couldn’t use fans
because… it would stir up the dust. And in fact, in the old days, apparently,
it was somewhat customary… for miners to work in the nude -because of the heat involved.
-PETER: Right. CRAIG: And the truth is that it really didn’t expose them
that much more because the danger
at that point was, I mean… If you’re gonna be
near radiation, your clothing is barely
gonna do anything. PETER: Well, the head miner
makes that point to Legasov. “Is it really gonna make
that much of a difference?” -CRAIG: It’s really not.
-PETER: Yeah. CRAIG:
And the biggest danger to them was what was in the air,
which, you know, you can try
and minimize dust, but you can’t
eliminate it entirely. PETER: There’s a scene
in which… Legasov does something
he doesn’t do a lot. -He gets angry.
-CRAIG: Right. PETER: And he gets angry because of the 30-kilometer
exclusion zone. BORIS SHCHERBINA: Yeah,
of course, we’ll also need–MIKHAIL GORBACHEV:
Whatever you need, you have it.That should be clear by now.
Anything else?-SHCHERBINA:No, no. Thank you.
-LEGASOV:Yes.I’d like to address
the 30-kilometer exclusion zone.GORBACHEV: Wait–
Professor Legasov, is that you?What exclusion zone?SHCHERBINA: Minor details,
General Secretary.Premier Ryzhkov has determined–GORBACHEV:If he determined,
then he determined.Look, Professor Legasov,you are there
for one reason only.Do you understand?
To make this stop.I don’t want questions.I want to know when this will
be over.LEGASOV:If you mean when will
Chernobyl be completely safe,the half-life of plutonium-239
is 24,000 years.So, perhaps you should just say
not within our lifetimes.PETER:
And he seems to be angry because it’s just so arbitrary. CRAIG: Yeah, it was
an incredibly stupid decision and it was in fact made
by Premier Ryzhkov and no one can seem
to understand why. Somewhere in a room, far,
far away… from Chernobyl, this man decided
that 30 kilometers would be a good amount of space
to evacuate everyone from. So, if you were
in a 30-kilometer radius of Chernobyl, they would come and get you
and take you away. And that made no sense
whatsoever. Not only did it make no sense, not that it didn’t have no basis
in scientific fact, but it was effectively also
condemning more people to, at best,
shorten life spans and disease. And here, I was using
this essentially to help start to move
Legasov’s character a bit out of the realm of… -Soviet zealot.
-PETER: Right. CRAIG: Because you start,
I think, in these circumstances, you start to lose your religion. I think both he and Shcherbina start to lose their religion
necessarily. It can’t survive this. You can’t keep believing
in a system when you are living
this nightmare that the system has created and the system
keeps perpetuating it -and making it worse.
-PETER: Right. CRAIG: Happily, they did
then expand that zone quite dramatically. PETER: And is that
the exclusion zone to this day? -CRAIG: It is.
-PETER: Right. So… (CHUCKLES) …so, not only were they wrong about the immediate needs
of the evacuation, they were wrong about an area that is now completely devoid
of human life, except of course, for those
who are there to maintain it, to this day. CRAIG: Yeah, essentially,
what they landed on after the random
30-kilometer guess, was a huge chunk of the Ukraine, and I believe a bit of Belarus
as well, and it is– That is the evacuation zone
to this day. It is, um… I mean, you can go in and out, but it is very carefully
controlled, I’ve done it. You hand over your passport
to soldiers, -you go through checkpoints.
-(PETER STAMMERING) PETER: I was gonna save it
till this last episode. But we’ll talk about it now,
I guess. How does one arrange
to visit Chernobyl? To get inside
the exclusion zone? CRAIG: Well, they– you know,
for me, happily, HBO and SKY sort of arranged our arrival,
but we went through a service that does provide a kind of
guided tour of the zone and we also went
to the power plant itself. Interestingly the gentlemen
who took us through were children in Pripyat. -PETER: Really?
-CRAIG: Yes, they were there! So you–
It is a military checkpoint. You have soldiers,
they’re Ukrainian. And they have pretty big guns, and you hand over
your passports, they have a list,
they write everything down, then they give you
your document back. And you must go through a series
of radiation checkpoints. They check you on your way in. “Are you radioactive?
No? Okay, good.” Now you can go in. Then when you get closer, you go inside
any of the larger facilities, check again, on your way out,
they check you. With the understanding,
if you ring a bell, -you’re not leaving.
-PETER: You’re not leaving? CRAIG: No, they have
to decontaminate you. They’re not gonna let you leave.
So… there is a certain sense of… a reasonable sense
of seriousness to this entire production of getting in and out
of the zone. And once you are in, you do get a sense very quickly
of how massive it is because you’re barely seeing
any of it and yet, it is just extending
to the horizon practically. PETER: You mean,
the exclusion zone? -How big it is?
-CRAIG: Correct. PETER: Again, this is a question
I was saving for later, but I’ll ask it now. You presumably visited Chernobyl
after X number of years of researching, writing,
re-writing, production… How did it feel
to actually be there? CRAIG:
I’m not a religious man, uh, but I suppose that’s about
as religious I’ll ever feel. Because I had… spent so much time living
in that space in multiple areas of those spaces for so long
and with the people in my mind for so long that to walk
where they walked… felt so… strange and also… being under
that same piece of sky, you start to feel
a little closer, in a sense, um, to who they were. I felt it probably the most when we were in the city
of Chernobyl, which is– well, it’s not really a city,
it’s a town of Chernobyl, which is different than Pripyat,
it’s actually further away, about 20 kilometers away
from the power plant. And in the city of Chernobyl, there’s a small building
that’s basically– it was the cultural center. That’s where they would put on
shows or, you know, songs about Soviet Union
and Lenin or whatever. PETER: Yeah. CRAIG: And that is the room
where they eventually held the trial that we will talk
about in episode five. But in that moment, standing where Dyatlov and Fomin
and Bryukhanov stood, it was… it was very chilling. Even in a weird way… it was more moving to me than moving through the actual
power plant itself. PETER: Really? CRAIG: The one thing though
that I did feel, walking through
the power plant… a little bit of a better sense of how easy it would be to deny. -PETER: Right.
-CRAIG: Because it’s so big. You know,
it’s the weirdest thing. It’s a little bit like–
if you’re in a skyscraper, just like, this is solid.
(LAUGHING) PETER: Yeah, it’s not gonna like
tip over. CRAIG: Correct.
You just feel safe within it. It’s the– I don’t know
how else to put it. You feel safe
and in that sense, you can start to feel
how people would say, “Okay. For sure it’s not like
the reactor blew up.” This is some other
smaller problem. PETER: Right. How close
can you get to the site of reactor four? CRAIG: Fairly close, I mean, it depends
if you’re all geared up and you have
a special dispensation, I think, you can actually get pretty
far inside, although, now, that it’s covered
and they’re dismantling it, it may not be the case anymore. But we got as far
as control room three, and a pump room
for reactor three. We had a safety officer, I guess that we brought with us
as part of the production. And he had a dosimeter running
the whole time, and it would, you know,
occasionally beep. But, you know, I’ve learned now that radiation
is everywhere and so, I don’t freak out
if I hear a beep or two. When we got into the pump room
for building three, which is now fairly close to– PETER: Yeah, cause it was
building four, building three, a huge extent of turbine. -CRAIG: Correct.
-PETER: And then– -CRAIG: And two on one. Yeah.
-Yeah. CRAIG: So three’s right up
against it. And when we got
into the pump room of three, the (IMITATING BEEP)
started going up. And you know, our guide said, “We’ll only be here for about,
a minute.” (LAUGHING) -PETER: Yeah.
-CRAIG: “And then we’ll leave.” -It’s yeah, it’s something else.
-PETER: Wow. Back up at the hospital,
the KGB appears. -CRAIG: Mm-hmm.
-And the research efforts are interrupted. KGB OFFICIAL:Comrade,
I know you’ve heardthe stories about us.When I hear them,
even I am shocked.But we are not what people say.Yes, people are following you.People are following
those people.And you see that?They follow me.The KGB is a circle
of accountability.Nothing more.PETER: Again,
because we’re dealing
with an invented character, I’m assuming you’re representing a larger effort by the KGB
to prevent this scientific investigation
from going forward? CRAIG: Correct, I think
that the KGB probably wasn’t particularly concerned
about the investigation, reading the stories
of scientists and some of the jeopardy
that they put themselves in, the question was more,
who are you gonna tell this to? -PETER: Right.
-CRAIG: We don’t mind necessarily if you know
something. but if you’re gonna talk
about it, that’s a problem. -PETER: Right.
-CRAIG: And there were a number of scientists,
one in particular, um, one source said
that he was put on trial. And he was put on trial and probably
would’ve been convicted except at that point
the Soviet Union collapsed. PETER: He was put on trial
for what? For talking too much in public about what happened
in Chernobyl? CRAIG: For challenging
the narrative and questioning superiors and saying things
he wasn’t supposed to say. So, they absolutely faced
the same kind of normal repression of speech
that everybody faced in the Soviet Union at the time,
and the KGB was… everywhere. And again, you know,
random people would sort of, work hand-in-hand with the KGB. You know, the woman
who’s the manager of the apartment building would be in touch with the KGB,
it was understood. -That’s how it worked.
-PETER: The part of me, who’s able to stand aside
and just admire clever writing, really enjoyed
that little speech by the KGB head. It was like, “Well,
I’m being followed.” It’s the circle
of accountability. CRAIG: It’s a circle– PETER: It’s such a benign way
to like, to describe
a surveillance state. “We’re all just keeping
each other honest.” CRAIG: I mean, that’s sort of
the nonsense language– I’m so fascinated by… the creepy Orwellian nature
of repressive bureaucrats and the way they speak. The turns of phrases
they come up with are just shocking to me
and chilling. Probably,
because I love language. -PETER: Sure.
-CRAIG: So… to see it abused
in that fashion is– So, yeah, I just thought
“a circle of accountability” sounded to me like
the sort of thing a bureaucrat wishing to soft pedal the KGB
would describe it as. PETER: It was amazing
and you know, you always wonder
how villains see themselves. CRAIG: Right. PETER: Because nobody
ever wakes up and says, -“I’m gonna do villainy today.”
-CRAIG: Right. PETER: They say,
“I’m gonna do this today for these very good reasons,”
as distorted as they may be. And I thought that was–
I don’t know what the real head of the KGB
might say but maybe. CRAIG:
Probably something like that. PETER:
Probably something like that. We’re back in the Kremlin
conference room. And in a weird way, this is sort of
the other version of… Legasov’s earlier speech
about radiation poisoning where he says this is what’s
going to happen to those men. Now he’s describing
to Gorbachev and the rest of the council, “This is what we are
going to need to do.” To describe, what I believe, is called historically
the liquidation. CRAIG: That’s correct, yes.
So, you’re exactly right. The body of the Soviet Union
has absorbed this initial shock. It is now– Had a little bit
of a latency period and here comes Legasov
to explain– oh, no, no, no. In fact, what happens now
is this long, brutal war that’s gonna take place over
hundreds of thousands of acres, and involve hundreds
of thousands men and material and cost
and it must happen. And I think probably
they thought, “Oh, good. Now, finally, we can just
throw people at this thing.” PETER: Right. CRAIG: There’s a liquidator
who described the entire effort, he said, “We were thrown upon
the reactor just like the sand.” And that’s essentially
what the Soviet Union did. They just went with volume. PETER:
Why are they called liquidators? CRAIG: Right, so a liquidator
was the all-purpose term that the Soviets used for the people that were sent
to the zone to clean it up. These were people that were sent
to do construction work, to chop down trees,
to dig up dirt, to use bulldozers. And in some cases, to control
the animal population. The word “liquidator”
is a bit scarier than in the English language
than it is in Russian. It comes essentially from
the Russian word to eliminate. So they were there essentially
as kind of disaster abatement positions. But they referred to themselves
as liquidators and have always been so. PETER: We go back to Moscow
for a second, after the scene in the Kremlin, in which Legasov explains
what will be needed and then is accepted. He goes and finds Khomyuk in
the prison where she’s been put. CRAIG: By the way,
interesting production fact, this portrayal of two people
in a KGB prison was shot in a KGB prison. This is a former KGB prison. This is now a museum
in Vilnius, Lithuania, that is dedicated
to the many victims of the KGB. So, as we moved through it,
we were aware that there were, you know, the ghosts
of history around us. They showed us these rooms–
“So that cell, that’s where
they would put you.” The doors were quite heavy, they were padded on the inside
in case you attempted to, I don’t know,
smash your head against it. There were little slots for food
and such. But then there were
some grimmer rooms. There was one in particular
where the floor sloped down and so, it was lower
than the entrance to the door and the idea there was that
you would go into that room and they would fill it with
water up to your knees or so, so that you couldn’t sleep. PETER: Right.
You couldn’t sit or lie down because water’s up your knees. CRAIG: Correct, you could sit
but you couldn’t sleep. If you fell down
from exhaustion, you would drown and so,
it was kind of… torture– I would’ve
never even contemplated. It was just awful and right
in the middle of a city. Not some far flung gulag thing. Just right there in the middle
of a city next to this building
and that building is your KGB prison where people
were tortured and of course, then there was an execution room
where they were put to death. PETER: Wow. You know,
my writer’s eye was like, “Oh, this is a scene. This is one of the very,
very few places in this entire series where we stopped
to make a point.” -CRAIG: Right.
-ULANA KHOMYUK:Comrade.LEGASOV:I think it’s possible.KHOMYUK:I think
it makes no sense, though.I think it’s what I would sayif I was trying to cover
my own mistakes.LEGASOV: But…KHOMYUK:I believe them.LEGASOV:
Then you should pursue it.We have to pursue
every possibility.No matter how unlikely.No matter what
or who is to blame.PETER: The point seems to be
about the scientific community involved in Chernobyl
and what they were doing and why they were doing it. CRAIG: The point is– yes,
you’re correct about what they were doing there
at the time but it is also referring
in no small way to how this all happened
in the first place. We don’t quite yet
understand that. We will come to understand that. But this notion of what it means
to be a scientist… and what it means to pursue
the truth… is at the center of all of this. And there is a moment
immediately following it where Khomyuk tells Legasov,
listen, this is what they said. They said that they did shut
the reactor down. They pressed AZ-5
and then it exploded. And you see on Legasov’s face
a very strange reaction which Jared Harris performed
to perfection. And it is a sense–
we have at least, even if Khomyuk
doesn’t notice it, that this is not altogether
shocking to him. PETER: Right. CRAIG: That it is stirring
a memory of a thing. PETER: Right. CRAIG: And he is starting
to suddenly realize something and it is making him feel
a bit sick. And yet what he says
to her after is, “Pursue this at all cost,
no matter who is to blame.” PETER: Right. CRAIG: And so,
there is the scientist saying, “Regardless of how I feel, and regardless
of how this turns out, the truth must be told.” PETER: Right, there’s obviously
a character moment there for both of them
as you just described. But the series began
with the words, -“What are the cost of lies?”
-CRAIG: Right. PETER: So, it almost seems
as if this is a counterpoint to that. Like– because lies, as we have seen
and we’ll see more of, are so devastating, the only response
to that problem is to seek the truth no matter what. CRAIG: Yeah. It is–
It is a character moment. And it is a point moment,
I think in part because, I root Legasov’s character
in this statement that lies have a cost. As I was writing this, I remembered suddenly
feeling antsy early on in episode three because there was this question
in the back of my head that needed to be answered but we were so busy trying
to not blow up, you know, half of Europe
we didn’t have time to ask it. And the question was simply,
“How did this happen?” And now, we begin to delve
deeply into that question. And for me it is both
character and point. Because Legasov
is on the front line of this in a very big way. And we’ll see how that
functions for him, particularly at the end
of the next episode and into the final episode. The question of truth
and truth seeking and truth telling is not
as simple as it would seem. Not for him and not for anyone
in the Soviet Union. PETER: Right. And in much
the same way that this episode is mainly about
like the long-term costs of what has happened, The final episodes
are the difficulty of executing that. Both the– As we’ll see, the liquidation and ultimately, the search for truth,
which has to be done. CRAIG: It has to be done. And it will not be done
in a clean way. It will not be done
in an efficient way. It will come in fits and starts. This is part of the reality of the way
this disaster unfolded. It’s also one of the reasons
why it had to be told in a series of episodes
like this over the course of five hours. You can’t tell this in say,
as a movie, because the story
didn’t work that way and the reality of how
this kind of unfolded is quite startling. But we know at least this much. The show has already put you
on a clock. And the clock is… there is an explosion, and two years later,
this man is dead. PETER: Right. CRAIG: So at this point here
in the middle of the series, we are starting to see that fuse being lit. And we understand
at this point, it is going to lead ultimately
to his death. And in that sense, although, I’m dramatizing
these moments, especially with Khomyuk
who’s not– was not, you know, an actual person. This is in fact what started
to happen for Legasov. This is where the fuse was lit
and we’re gonna carry through a very important event
that we– Actually happens in between
episode four and five that we don’t see
but we refer to. PETER: Right.
There’s a shot in this that stayed with me
more than I think than almost any other shot
in the whole series, and that is Emily Watson entering the hospital room
of Akimov. We’ve seen Toptunov, the younger man
with that wispy mustache, who was so horribly burned, who even in his hospital bed
seems proud that he was the chief engineer
in the control room -at the age of 25.
-CRAIG: Twenty-five. PETER: But then she goes
to visit Akimov who was in charge of the room,
I don’t know his official title. CRAIG: Right.
He was the shift chief. -PETER: The shift chief.
-CRAIG: Yeah. -PETER: And we don’t see him.
-CRAIG: Right. -PETER: We see her face.
-CRAIG: Yup. -PETER: As she looks at him.
-CRAIG: Yup. PETER: And she says later
his face was gone. CRAIG: Yeah. PETER: So, you made a decision
not to show, not to… uh, up the ante
on the physical brutality of what… had happened. CRAIG: Yeah… There is a fine line
between real and impactful -and purposeful and gratuitous.
-PETER: Yeah. CRAIG: And even within
the editing of the– For instance, Vasily Ignatenko
played by Adam Nagaitis, he– you know, we show the most
of how this has ravaged him. PETER: Yeah, the fireman
we’re talking about. CRAIG:
Correct, and you know, one of the things
in our initial cut, we lingered quite a bit longer
on him and… Kary Antholis,
who was our executive at HBO, he said, “You know… maybe not so much because it’s starting to feel
a little abusive.” And he was right, you know. We kind of went back
with fresh eyes and said, “Yeah, this actually
is crossing the line.” It seems now like we’re almost,
you know, enjoying it. We never wanted to be gratuitous
or sensationalist in any way. We just wanted to show
it was real. In the case of Akimov,
we felt like we had done it. And to go further, I mean, the description
of Akimov when he died, his body was described
as essentially blackened. His skin had gone all the way
to like, um, almost like a charcoal color. It– he… -It’s terrible.
-PETER: Yeah. CRAIG: And we just didn’t… feel like… to show that to people I think
at that point would have been gratuitous. -PETER: So, you never filmed it?
-CRAIG: No. Never put the actor
in makeup and filmed it? CRAIG: We never put the actor
in makeup, we never wanted to. PETER: One of the reasons
it was so effective, and so memorable, in addition to Emily Watson
doing all the work, we had seen Toptunov
and we’ve seen Vasily. CRAIG: Yeah. -PETER: They looked terrible.
-CRAIG: Yeah. PETER: And the implication is
what Emily Watson is looking at -at that moment is far worse.
-CRAIG: Yeah. PETER: And so what we imagine
is bad enough. CRAIG: And sometimes
that’s the strange nature of– of telling a story visually
like this. Sometimes, what you think you’re being… I don’t know, showing restraint, you’re, in a weird way,
you’re making it worse. -PETER: Yeah.
-CRAIG: But, again, this was a terrible thing
that happened to these men. Awful. And two women by the way,
two women, two security guards at the plant were also exposed
to massive amounts of radiation that night as well. And we kinda need
to get that across and listen. At the end of this episode,
the story that we’re telling about how the bodies
were handled is true. -PETER: Right.
-CRAIG: They were put in bags. They were put in crates. Those crates were put
in zinc lined boxes, they were welded shut, they were put in a collective… grave and then concrete
was poured on them. PETER: Where is that grave,
by the way? CRAIG: It’s called– Any Russian speaker’s
gonna be very upset with my– PETER: They gave up on me
years ago, don’t worry about it. CRAIG: Mitinskoe Cemetery
in Moscow. So, it’s just outside of Moscow. And that’s where
they are now and… you know, just imagining… a burial ceremony, where a cement truck backs into
place is just mind boggling. PETER: Yeah.
There’s a strong implication that people then knew
who these people were, why they were being buried
that way. -CRAIG: Mm-hmm.
-PETER: That the secret was out. -CRAIG: Yes.
-PETER: In a weird way. I mean these people were not
being secret away at night. CRAIG: Correct. The secret
was out at this point. And there was
a certain amount of… discrimination that went on,
at least initially. People were terrified of,
you know, the people who had been moved out of Pripyat and maybe
put into other communities. There was a sense of fear
and dread of those people for some. And also there was
for a very long time, I think, a sense that… people like Akimov and Toptunov
were to blame. -PETER: Right.
-Which is, I think, a reasonable assumption
people would make. “Whoever pressed the buttons
in there obviously stank and blew it up and they did
all this.” -And that’s not entirely wrong.
-PETER: Right. CRAIG: But it’s nowhere near
entirely right. When this series is over, I hope
that people understand that Akimov and Toptunov in most ways
were really innocent and do not deserve blame
for any of this. PETER: Right. And they certainly
didn’t deserve what ultimately happened
to them. CRAIG: No one does. PETER: This has been episode 3
of theChernobyl Podcast.The only podcast that’s
even more depressing than the show it is about. You can of course
rate this podcast, you can subscribe to it, you can tell your friends
about it. You can call ’em up
in the middle of the night, cause you just can’t stop
thinking about it and then just, you know,
annoy them with telling them all of your thoughts
about this podcast. I highly recommend doing that. You can listen to this podcast
via Apple Podcast, Spotify, Stitcher, NPR1 or whatever else
you choose to get your podcast. It’s also available on YouTube. And for the first time ever, the HBO Go and HBO Now apps. We’re finally dragging
those apps into the podcast era. I am Peter Sagal and I’ve had
the honor of talking to the shows writer, producer
and creator, Craig Mazin. CRAIG: Thank you, Peter. PETER: We’ll see you next week, to talk about episode four
ofChernobyl.♪ (SUSPENSEFUL MUSIC PLAYS,