Did we like it?
A slick, oily thriller that while leeching from various other sources, does chisel out an identity of its own. But because of the processional nature of the central plot – assassin is given target, assassin kills targets – we wonder if there is enough variety to keep it buoyant for the full six weeks, and possibly beyond.
What was good about it?
• Andrew Buchan as John Mercer, a former soldier released from a life sentence by a government organisation formed to assassinate criminals who are beyond the normal reach of the law.
• If you leave aside the pat shorthand characterisation – he used his army training to murder his aunt and uncle who had sexually abused his sister, therefore establishing him as ruthless yet vaguely sympathetic at the same time – Buchan’s wearied stoicism captured the truth of a man entrapped into doing something he was good at, but who also was a disgusted by his orders. After the initial hit on an arms dealer, Mercer wanted out, but was coerced into completing the operation by the threats of his ostensible boss, Lenny Douglas, towards his sister and her children.
• And it is this tension between Mercer and sinister Douglas (the excellent Peter Mullan) that will form the centrepiece of the conflict in The Fixer. As the ‘villains’ Mercer is ordered to despatch are often little more than sketchy ciphers, Douglas’s constant efforts to control Mercer provide the most dramatic conflict. Indeed in this episode, Douglas seemed prepared for his minder to throttle Mercer’s ex-cellmate Calum McKenzie (Jody Latham), humiliate him by tracking his steps throughout his forlorn getaway, and his aforementioned threat to Mercer’s sister to get his charge to toe the line.
• So effective is Buchan at playing the assassin that when he complained about the Colombians in the flat above making too much noise, we half-expected him to hop and bound up the stairs and put a bullet in their foreheads simply to ensure he got a quiet night’s kip.
• Jody Latham and Tamzin Outhwaite as Rose are both decent actors, but their roles here were, at least initially, marginalised with Latham the laddish comedy turn to contrast with Mercer’s brooding tepidity, while Outhwaite was a drab ‘honeytrap’ set by Douglas that professional assassin Mercer blundered into.
• All of its prepossessing features should be enough to keep it from the executioner’s block at ITV1 that butchers shows well before their prime if they score too lowly in the ratings.
What was bad about it?
• With ITV1’s ratings plummeting faster than Margaret Thatcher’s pulse rate, they’ve resorted to their old, reliable trick to pull in the ratings – copy successful BBC shows. There are many elements here which employ the same methodology as Spooks (we would say rip-off but it’s written by one of Spooks’ lead writers Ben Richards), the covert government agency, the incessant imperilment of major characters, the chaste brutality of those same major characters in order to achieve ‘what is right’ and the sense that powerful government organisations responsible for the security of the nation have about four employees. And the central premise is identical to the film Nikita, except in the gender of the protagonist.
• As Buchan and Outhwaite are both ‘name’ actors, their frenzied copulation bore those trademarks of demure sterility, which, if extrapolated across the country would lead to a 99% fall in the birth rate as she kept her bra on and her body at least a foot away from his groin as they made the beast with two backs, while he donned a modesty-preserving towel to ransack her purse.
• While we like Andrew Buchan’s performance as John Mercer, we’re a little confused about Mercer’s supposed flaw of being “emotional”, something that Douglas exploits to compel him to join his organisation. Mercer only seems to get ‘emotional’, such as when Douglas threatens his sister, when the script wants to remind viewers he’s a human being rather than a doleful, dispassionate killing machine.
• Elsewhere, he’s the perfect ruthless assassin, even when making love with Rose, as we’ve seen pallid, moss-covered gravestones go at with more hot-blooded gusto than those two, while after they’ve dispatched the bent copper it’s Calum who throws up in the car not the “emotional” Mercer.
• Calum using the phrase “multi-tasking”. This was unrealistic not only because he is a wideboy bloke, only out for a good time and shag, but most of all because he wasn’t wearing suit and bowing his head in a ceremonial ritual of terminal despondency while in the vicinity of a gossiping coven standing adjacent to a water cooler.
• The risk with The Fixer is that the plot from one week to the next will blur into one coagulated blur of sanitised murder. None of the two ‘legal’ victims of Mercer were drawn in any detail – the arms dealer was slandered by Douglas in the briefing before arriving at an airport and popping into the gents, the next time we saw him he had a hole in his head and a bloody pillow. And the bent copper checked in to hotels under his real name when on the run from government assassins, and went for long runs on deserted beaches to give those same assassins a lovely opportunity to bump him off with no witnesses.
• As this was the opener and introducing everything was paramount, we’ll not be too damning here, but the adversaries must offer more of a predicament and threat than simply making Mercer wait around moodily in men’s toilets or on cliff tops.