Did we like it?
The kind of drama that likes to ascend to the lofty peaks of a mountain while a throng of pilgrims trail reverentially in its wake. We’re amongst said throng, partly enticed by the fast-moving, thrilling script but we’ve got our arms folded in scepticism at the somewhat nauseating moral piety of the lead characters.
What was good about it?
• The most fascinating character in this opener was DI Bell (Douglas Hodge), which is a pity as he was discredited and is unlikely to feature in future episodes. Bell was the anti-terror officer in charge of holding an Egyptian national in grimy conditions without charge while they fly in an expert torturer to extract fake information that will enable the security forces to arrest more innocent people.
• Bell had all the moral conflict absent from the protagonists, wrestling with the absurdity of holding men without charge and ultimately always absolving himself of any guilt by reeling out by rote what sounded like Home Office press releases on the great danger facing the public.
• When acting impulsively, Ben (Richard Coyle) was a charismatic lead, venturing off just exactly where the viewer wanted him to go – the home where he had seen the suspect bundled into, or the airport to intercept an MI5 doppelganger of the suspect ‘fleeing the country’ so the real suspect could be killed on the quiet – the problems with him only emerged when he was allowed to preach for any length of time.
• Kenny (Daniel Ryan) as the gadgets man fulfilling the role of James Bond’s Q or The X-Files’ Lone Gunmen, even though he was swayed too easily to Ben’s cause he was a likeable addition to the cast.
What was bad about it?
• While charismatic, Ben seemed to have been blessed with a similar superpower to that of Eden from Heroes, a talent to coerce others into acting as she wants them to. At the very beginning, Ben convinces a coach company to write out a cheque for £500,000 in compensation for his disabled client even as the judge commences court proceedings – why didn’t they arrange this earlier?
• Later, Kenny’s view on helping Ben beyond removing the bugs from his home is miraculously changed when he watches internet footage of torture – if he was so apathetic about a grave issue like that a couple of days before, is he really going to put his life at risk after a banal pep-talk from Ben? While absurdly DS Waite, Bell’s deputy, a hardened copper spent about half an hour in Ben’s company and he couldn’t’ wait to grass up his boss.
• While we appreciate the need for drama, some of the events that occurred are the sort of coincidences that only happen on TV and therefore rip you from the reverie the pretty absorbing narrative has out you in. Ben was bequeathed £300,000 from the will of the client, for whom he won £700,000, after he committed suicide – this was manipulated by the security services to discredit Ben after he took a stand. Alisha was about to become a partner, but was warned that Ben’s alleged corruption in getting the bequest from his client meant she would have to dump him – she resigned.
• Both of these instances clumsily served to colour in the moral purity of the couple. Ben’s desire to extort compensation from the coach company at the sacrifice of exposing the truth about its incompetence were a factor in his client taking his own life, despite the cash, as the truth was more important than the money. Alisha rejecting the promotion cast her in the same mould – and so essentially you have two leads who share exactly the same moral perspective, which makes it hugely inferior on this score to say Spooks or The X-Files, where the leads are distinct and must each deal with conflict between their own personal views and the duty to their respective governments.
• The dialogue on occasion seemed to be a proxy war fought by the characters on behalf of the leader columns in the Guardian and the Daily Mail, far too articulate to have come from the mouths of stressed lawyers or policemen. “It’s our job to make millions of people happy, safe and secure,” bleated Bell. “Every time we try to act against terror we’re told we’re doing something wrong!” he said later, pretty much paraphrasing Rupert Murdoch’s credo to abolish the Human Rights Act. While Ben piped up with: “What will we be defending? The democratic right to kill who we like?”
• The odious product placement for RyanAir at the airport, as the plane was in shot just long enough for the bold advertising legend to become legible on the side of the plane. It utterly undermines the rest of the drama as its central theme, followed by Ben and Alisha, was ethics over avarice, yet the producers see fit to plant a fat corporate image right in our laps. It made us wonder if the whole airport scene had been bolted on exclusively to feature the RyanAir plane.