The concept of a nuclear disaster (and the inevitable fallout) is nothing new in pop culture. Whether it s the hit Fallout video game franchise or horror films like The Return of the Living Dead and Robert Rodriguez s Grindhouse installment, Planet Terror, the trope of a chemical disaster and the monsters it births into the world is a subgenre that has kept audiences entertained for decades.Those examples are far enough removed from the real world, giving viewers an escapist perspective filled with zombified humans and mutated beasts to battle. It s an easier pill to swallow when such a catastrophic event is flooded with a plethora of supernatural goodies.Then there s HBO s Chernobyl.Creator Craig Mazin s (The Hangover Part II, Identity Thief) bleak five-part mini-series does away with the expected horror tropes audiences have become familiar with and, instead, delivers an up-close, completely terrifying, and grotesquely personal look at Ukraine s infamous 1986 power plant explosion — including the government cover-up and devastating calamity that followed.Here, no undead hordes or mutant hounds can be found shambling about the vacated Soviet roads. Instead, the big bad of the historical drama is largely unseen. It s everywhere and nowhere at the same time, only making itself known to unsuspecting passersby once it s too late. The agonizing visuals of skin melting off living innocent bodies is just the tip of the aesthetic iceberg here, and really nails home the extent of the damage caused.The tons of toxic poison seen billowing out of the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant s exposed roof is the ominous villain here. The unseen monster, followed by the even more damaging accomplice of the lies the government tells to save face, come together in a way so catastrophic, so heartwrenching, and so unbelievable that we can t help but label Chernobyl as the scariest thing we ve seen on TV in years — and maybe even ever.It s unsurprising then, that critical praise collected along the way had given the series Certified Fresh status with an impressive 96% on the Tomatometer with 47 reviews.SPOILER ALERT: THIS ARTICLE CONTAINS DETAILS ABOUT THE FIRST THREE EPISODES OF CHERNOBYL. STOP HERE IF YOU HAVE NOT WATCHED.(Photo by HBO)In the closing moments of episode 2, titled Please Remain Calm, three brave men, fully outfitted in protective suits and gas masks, wade through the flooded tunnels beneath the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant. With the reactor core exploded and exposed, pouring tons upon tons of nuclear materials into the air, these men — dubbed by history as The Suicide Squad — ventured into the bowels of the building to open the pipes in order to drain the water (which, upon hitting the open core, would allegedly create lava that would drain into Europe s main water source). Their bravery stopped a full-blown meltdown from occurring.It s a horrifying moment and one that is fully brought to claustrophobic life through nothing more than dim lighting, the men s belabored breathing, and their radiation detectors constant ticking sound: an ominous reminder of just how embedded in the chaos they really are. The scene is so stifling that we d be hard-pressed not to mention our own shortness of breath upon viewing the episode.While we ve seen instances of such events play out in big-budget action films, it s worth noting here that before 1986 the world had rarely faced a catastrophe like this, one whose impact on humanity and mother nature would reverberate on such a mind-boggling scale. And that detail brings with it an even more baffling truth: No one knew how to fix it.Soviet nuclear physicist Valery Legasov (Jared Harris) and Soviet Minister of Energy Boris Scherbina (Stellan Skarsgård) are brought in to investigate and ultimately clean up the mess, rightfully carrying the story as the chemicals and news of the accident spread. It really is a rousing spectacle when you take a step back and view the miniseries from afar.The addition of Emily Watson s Ulana Khomyuk — who Mazin said is a fictional character, created as an amalgamation of the nuclear scientists called in to fix things — adds an insightful layer to the world-building of Chernobyl. It was five years before the Soviet Union crumbled, meaning in 1980s Russia women were rarely seen in such scientific roles. The antiquated nature of the gender roles portrayed here gives clarity to a society and time we Americans only know passing information about. It s probably worth noting that the Chernobyl accident happened the same year the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded and the news of that tragic instance quickly dissipated.