Did we like it?
Imagine channel-surfing across a spectrum of dislocated, absorbing, if a little over glossy, political thrillers.
What was good about it?
• An astoundingly good cast headed by Jason Isaacs as the British ambassador to the US Sir Mark Brydon; with Ben Daniels as his devious aide Nicholas Brocklehurst; Lennie James as an ex-British solider on Death Row; and Sharon Gless as the US Secretary of Defence Lynne Warner. They could even afford to toss the excellent Neil Pearson away in what is essentially a cameo role as Brydon’s jealous, snide deputy.
• The central plot concerns the bombing of a US plane to Heathrow just after take-off that killed 250 people. Initially, it seemed as though The State Within was about to slip into the indolent catatonia of the atrocity being perpetrated by an Arab terrorist who was a member of “a group closely-linked with Al-Qaeda”; a phrase that was cunningly mimicked on the news bulletins by US broadcasters who cynically use such terminology to terrify and alarm viewers.
However, as that strand of the plot trickled along you did begin to question the hypothesis you were supposed to believe. Sure, the bomb in the cargo hold of the plane detonated when the suspected terrorist turned off his laptop, but would he really have been able to smuggle a bomb aboard an aircraft? Nicholas was passing just below the plane when the bomb went off after meeting Mark at the airport and was making covert phone calls every five minutes some of which concerned a businessman killed in the attack, when he was not sticking his tongue down the throat of his counterpart in the American secret service.
• The plane crash was spectacular, and while it had allusions to realigning the perception of the viewer to consider The State Within as a big-budget blockbuster, it did help establish Mark’s character as an atypical ambassador as he bravely tried (but failed) to rescue a woman from her burning car amid the plane debris.
• The manner in which the highly-emotional aftermath of the bomb attack was handled by Mark and the rest of his staff with clinical detachment as the list of priorities was monotonously read out such as organising a book of condolence or when Mark went through the list of phone numbers of the bereaved as though he was searching for a plumber in the Yellow Pages.
• As yet there are no feeble emotional plot crutches that blight each series of 24 with a pus-seeping wart. Although Mark’s godson may later be used in such a role.
• At first it appeared that the various deaths in the plot were dumbly played out in order to provoke understandable anger in the protagonists (the bomb victims, Lynne’s fury at Britain after it was revealed the suspect was a British national and of her soldier son’s death in Afghanistan), but when the panicking British Asian couple were shot dead, as they tried to leave Virginia when all British Asians there were rounded up like the Jews by the Nazis, it was evident that a valid political point was being conveyed – that for all the genius intellects on all sides, that for all the logical reasoning on human rights – government policies will ultimately be decided by impetuous, emotive decisions made by politicians who in times of trouble will bow to the lowest common denominator to placate public unrest (or use the unrest to further their own ends).
What was bad about it?
• The fast-cut editing and jerky camerawork sometimes gave the impression we were watching the action unfold from the perspective of a drunken bum on the Washington streets as they stagger about the side alleys looking for their latest fix.
• Apparently, the terrorist suspect came from “Tyrgystan”, a former Soviet Republic run by a megalomaniacal despot who is kept in power through the tacit support of the US and UK. And from where the British ambassador was recently expelled from on trumped-up charges of improper behaviour after he complained of the appalling human rights abuses. Perhaps it was for legal reasons, but it seemed a bit of a cop-out not to actually use Uzbekistan, which Tyrgystan is in all but name. Or maybe the BBC was warned about upsetting the lunatic dictator of that resource-rich tyranny.
• We’re sure that the ‘elite’ squad of soldiers will play a larger role in the next episode but they were shoved into the script with all the subtlety of an elephant pushing in to a queue to renew its passport.