I can still remember how flippantly, at first, I panned HBO’s 5-episode Chernobyl series back in 2019 before actually giving it a chance, thinking that there couldn’t possibly be anything that would make me want to watch what would surely be a bleak and depressing TV show about a nuclear power catastrophe in the Soviet Union. Obviously, how wrong I was, because the show — coming just a year before the coronavirus pandemic — ultimately hooked us all thanks to a binge-worthy narrative mixing avarice, power, politics, and a cautionary tale about over-reliance on the state. The show was so good, in fact, I’m not surprised Netflix is about to try its own version of the same thing four years later in the form of The Days — which, having learned my lesson, I’ll obviously be checking it out, albeit with reservations).
The Days, which will have 8 episodes, is coming next week (on June 1), and this series revisits the accident at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in Japan that unfolded over seven days in 2011. Unlike with Chernobyl, though, it wasn’t human failing that set this new accident in motion. It was, rather, a 9.0 magnitude earthquake followed by a tsunami that triggered the crisis central to The Days.
The official synopsis for this Netflix series promises a snapshot of “what really happened on that day and in that place,” by incorporating the perspectives of the government, corporate entities, and first-line responders who risked their lives to respond to the crisis.
Where The Days also has an opportunity to shine, in my opinion, is by doing what HBO’s Chernobyl did — specifically, in universalizing the crisis with the introduction of characters like the main scientist, as well as the old man with the cane. A state apparatchik, he was an avatar of the Soviet bureaucracy who menacingly reminded Chernobyl plant executives that “this is our moment to shine.” Viewers had no idea, of course, that we were about to see a real-life version of that scene’s delusion unfold in short order. In HBO’s Chernobyl, In Netflix’s The Days, and during the pandemic year of 2020, the irresistible force of government ineptitude meets the immovable object of a cataclysmic disaster. Death and almost incalculable suffering ensue.
Hubris, the failure of government institutions, black swan events — they’re all the kinds of things that contribute to powerful storytelling. Mostly because the thing that links them all together are the lessons that we keep failing to learn, over and over again.