Bodyguard s1 ep 6

*BIG, GIANT SPOILERS*

After the gripping train sequence in episode 1, the terrifyingly visceral sniper situation in episode 2, the massive explosion at the end of episode 3, and the matter-of-fact death (which did indeed stick – kudos) of the female lead and attempted suicide of the male one in episode 4, perhaps the most shocking thing about the Bodyguard finale is just how defiantly un-shocking it actually turned out to be.

It all started out thrillingly enough, with Budd being lured into Aikens’ hands (too easily, but I suppose our man was desperate and there was only an hour or so of screentime left), the police finally linking him with Apsted and then – then! – the poor guy coming round all strapped up and ready to blow. Now that was shocking, in fairness, and the next twenty minutes – thirty? I don’t know, I was too busy freaking out – were great: taut, tense and fantastically acted by all concerned. On any other show, I’d have been thinking “no way is he going to die” but with this one I was thinking “they killed Keeley Hawes, they might actually do this…” and fretting accordingly. Which meant that the “suicide vest” section of the episode worked, for me anyway. Turns out I needn’t have worried about Budd at all, though, because the Bodyguard finale didn’t have half the bottle the rest of the season did.

It’s not that I’m annoyed they didn’t kill him off – I’m glad he made it. As I said before, he’s a character the show made me really care about and I’d happily watch Richard Madden play him again in a (surely inevitable) second season. Truth be told, at this point, I’d happily watch Richard Madden in anything – I even sat through “Ibiza” on Netflix the other day. (Really not my type of thing, but it was worth it.) But Budd didn’t just “survive,” did he? No, in the space of about fifteen minutes or so, he solved the mystery (which turned out not to be that complicated), exposed the conspiracy (which turned out not to be that deep), earned back Sharma and Rayburn’s trust and respect (ok, I was actually really pleased about that – I love them), got into therapy (which turned out to be very effective very quickly) and got his beloved wife and 2.4 kids back. Ta-da! What an incredibly tidy ending for a show that initially promised to be so much messier.

Even the few loose ends left dangling for season two weren’t very loose at all. Longcross is out and about, possibly slightly disfigured so he can be the Joker to Budd’s Batman next time around. And Mike Travis and Anne Sampson got away with some political shenanigans. But that’s about it. Everything else was wrapped up in the neatest of bows; a disappointingly straightforward ending for a show which seemed significantly more complicated at the start, with the Nadia revelation being the most obvious example. The big twist was that she was exactly the type of bogeyman used to stoke up right-wing anti-Muslim-women bigotry after all? Ok, that was shocking too. But I absolutely hated it.

Still. If I ignore those last 15 minutes or so, Bodyguard season one has been terrific entertainment. The cast has been stellar – as well as Madden and Hawes, Gina McKee, Nina Toussaint-White and Ash Tandon all deserve all the praise we can give them – and for the most part, the show has been properly thrilling, grown-up entertainment, proving to anyone still questioning it that the box in the corner of the living room really isn’t just for streaming stuff onto, no matter what some folk might have you believe. If the BBC gives us another season – and with these ratings it would be mad not to – I’ll be back.

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Bodyguard s1 ep 5

*SPOILERS*

I sat down to watch this fretting a little: it feels like we’ve only just begun this story, but next week it’s going to end! What will we watch then?! That question hasn’t yet been answered – I might write about the decidedly underwhelming Press another day but, put shortly, it’s definitely not going to fill the gap left by Richard Madden and co – but plenty of others were last night as Bodyguard, as conscious of the limited time it has left as I am, starts to draw together a number of its mysteries and begin to solve them, mostly through the medium of Sgt David Budd actually telling people stuff he knows. Or making other people do the same. It’s good to talk.

All this communication means that Budd and the fundamentally decent, straightforward Raybourn start to trust each other – up to a point, I mean, there’s still the Thornton Circus sniper problem to come out, and that’s going to eff everything right up – with the clear, speedy results of their collaboration bringing even the (understandably) reluctant Sharma on board. And it also means that poor, maligned Tahir is posthumously exonerated using a combination of science, logic and brute force – “It’d be redundant for me to say I know where you live.” (Heh.)

The talking doesn’t end there, either, as Budd – having essentially googled his way to the heart of the conspiracy, which you’d think maybe should have been a teeny bit more difficult but hey-ho – also starts to trust Sampson and Craddock, finally reading them in on the “Kompromat” and, having nudged Nadia into a not entirely reliable identification, setting everyone on the trail of the surprisingly hands-on Longcross. I mean, if I were in his position, I’d be sending different, not-quite-as-identifiable minions, possibly wearing beards and sunglasses, to do my dirty work each time instead of constantly wiping my own face off CCTV, but that’s just me.

So far, so things are going swimmingly(ish) for our hero. But the Security Service isn’t exactly going to roll over and just let itself be caught murdering a cabinet minister, so Longcross does some talking of his own, dishing the dirt on the “intimate unprofessional relationship” between Budd and Julia (who still appears to be dead, sorry Jed) as he, Penhaligon and everyone else tear around looking for the Tablet that Almost Brought Down the PM, rightly surmising that Budd might know exactly where to find it. Oh yeah, and – enter, pursued by a Range Rover! – Chanel is a gangster’s moll/honeytrap and might not be called Chanel at all.

Unlike episodes 13, there’s no immediate, terrifying threat of carnage and mass murder but, like ep 4, this one is no less gripping for it. And, unlike 4, you could almost fool yourself – if you squint, and hope really, really hard – that Budd might come out of this sort-of-ok? Till the man loses the one thing keeping him in check: he’s finally removed from duty (in fairness, he did shoot himself in the head), stops trusting anyone, and – midway through the process of procurement of a PSL, aka a semi-automatic rifle, from a shady fellow in a dark alley for purposes as yet unexplained but likely to be alarming – storms off with the unmistakable scent of “Going Rogue” heavy in the air. This isn’t going to end well for him, is it? But what a fantastic journey it’s been for us thus far – I’m not sure I’m ready yet for it to end at all.

Bodyguard s1 ep 3

*SPOILERS*

We hadn’t intended to review every ep of Bodyguard but since it’s turned out to be something of a unicorn in tv terms – not only are both Jed and I watching it,  but so is most of the country – it seems daft not to throw in our tuppence-worth. I mean, I did sort-of-comment on the second episode last week but let me expand on that quickly, just for the sake of completeness: I was a bit taken aback at how quickly two really attractive people, working super-closely together, in an incredibly intense, high-pressure environment, having just barely escaped with their lives due to one of them being a (hot, damaged, and did I mention hot?) superhero, jumped into bed with each other. Then I read that sentence again.

Anyway, the car/sniper sequence was electrifying. Which means episode 2 is now neck and neck with episode 1 in the Best Way to Give CJ a Heart Attack Award stakes. (One for the end of year poll?)

With all these absolutely thrilling extended set-pieces in the first two instalments, however, it’s perhaps not entirely surprising that episode 3 takes its foot off the accelerator in terms of breathless action of that kind and concentrates mostly on breathless action of other kinds instead. By which I mean there’s a lot of sex, mostly as a means of control – the, er, “trouser” scene was a bit much for me. But at least Julia and David seem to be enjoying themselves. (Till she tries to surprise him in his sleep, that is. Bad. Plan.)

Personally, I could have done with more shooting and less snogging, but that’s no reflection on Keeley Hawes and Richard Madden (and the gratuitous shot of his butt) who make it work. It’s interesting at least – and brave, given this is traditional prime-time BBC1, not HBO – to have a woman in the unapologetically, matter-of-factly dominant, more powerful role for a change. And in fairness, although the audience (ok, I) may be slightly distracted by the sex, the show isn’t: everybody (including and especially our two leads) is manipulating everybody else, and as Julia, her aides, that fellow Mike(?), the Secret Service and the police all try and screw each other over (in less carnal fashion than Julia and David) the question isn’t whether it will end badly, it’s more whether there’s anyone at all for whom it won’t.

All this intrigue, sexual or otherwise, just isn’t quite as visceral or as gripping as episodes 1 and 2, though, so it’s just as well that, when I begin to get restless, and in need of yet another one of those heart-in-my-boots action sequences, the show obliges. It’s obvious from the moment Shifty Rob pulls out of Julia’s St Matthews appearance that he’s setting Tahir up, and that something terrible is going to happen there. And so it does. Who’s dead? I don’t know. Who’s responsible? I have no idea. But I really want to find out. This third episode may not have been as good as the previous two, but the acting and the last ten minutes mean it’s the most exciting thing on the box right now. I’m hooked.

Bodyguard s1 ep 1

At a time when Muslim women and how some of them choose to dress are the subject of particularly vicious scrutiny and prejudice from a lot of people, politicians and press who should know better, it’s not ideal that a lady in a hijab is the potential villain in the first episode of Bodyguard. In fairness to the show and the writing however, Jed Mercurio’s Bodyguard isn’t interested in pandering to prejudice – it’s looking to find its real villains in the corridors of power, and although some people will undoubtedly come away from the show still secure in their own prejudices, they’re very much choosing to miss the point.

As are the people who seem to be complaining about the number of women in the show, period. WTF is wrong with them? Trying to answer that will get me nowhere though, so time to get off my soapbox and get reviewing: Bodyguard opens with perhaps the most nerve-shredding, terrifying twenty-five minutes I’ve seen on TV since Game of Thrones. I don’t want to spoil too much of the train sequence but it is magnificently executed and almost unbearably tense, and I may have come close to having some sort of cardiac event during it. My GOD.

If every other second of the ep were terrible, it would still have been worth it to see that twenty-five minutes, but the rest of Bodyguard is also excellent, with a different kind of tension and unease pulsing throughout. Richard Madden is brilliant cop and army veteran David Budd, scarred by his experiences in Afghanistan, suffering PTSD, and just about managing to suppress those feelings in order to protect hawkish Home Secretary Julia Montague (Keeley Hawes). For now. It’s a career-making performance from Madden: even in the middle of acts of extreme heroism, his Budd is never less than visibly, desperately human, with compassion, determination and gut-wrenching fear all playing out across his face at once. Hawes’s Julia is much more closed-off, however, as befits her character, and it’s never entirely clear which way their relationship is going to go. There are some lovely moments between them – the apology, the shirt moment (you’ll know it when you see it), the summary dispatch of the Chief Whip – but there’s also the abiding, unshakeable feeling that David is about to go very wrong, very soon. I hope he doesn’t – one ep in, and I already really, really care about this character – but either way, this is a superb start to the series and an excellent way to kick off the BBC’s autumn drama season. I’m not planning to review every ep but I’ll maybe do a round-up at the end and we can see if the rest of Bodyguard lived up to its terrific first ep.

Public Service Announcement 31 of 2018: Bodyguard, The Bodyguard

BBC1’s big new Sunday night drama Bodyguard, with Keeley Hawes and Richard “Robb Stark” Madden, comes with some high expectations. Writer Jed Mercurio’s impressive body of controversial, big-ticket work includes not only recent mega-hit Line of Duty but also Cardiac Arrest, Bodies, and, er, Strike Back season 1 (I was surprised too), so his latest take on the political action thriller should be interesting, at the very least, and ideally more complex and nuanced in its politics than your standard shoot’em up fare. One very clear thread running through Mercurio’s work (even those four episodes of Strike Back, if you squint a bit) is his determination not to idealise authority or the establishment – he’s always trying to look behind the façade to the murkiness beneath – and this tale of a police officer assigned to protect an ambitious politician from the very types of danger it suits her agenda to magnify looks like it might well be in the same mould. So if it somehow turns out to be a right-wing reactionary fantasy instead, I’ll be somewhat annoyed, but there’s only one way to find out. First episode is 9pm tonight (Sunday) and I’ll review as soon as I can.

Those looking for a bit more of a nostalgic take on the theme meanwhile, might want to switch to Channel Five tonight at 10pm, ie just when ep 1 of Bodyguard finishes, since, in a frankly genius move, they’re showing the Whitney Houston/ Kevin Costner classic – don’t even bother arguing with me on this – The Bodyguard. What a night for fans of the bodyguard/ hate-to-love romance genres! (Yes, I mean me.) Sadly, it finishes after midnight and I have to get up annoyingly early for work in the morning so I’ll have to give it a miss, but since I haven’t seen it since I was about 15 and I’ve become significantly more cynical since then, it might be just as well. This way it can remain pristine and beloved in my memory instead. All together now, “If I should stay, I would only be in your way…..”

Philip K. Dick’s Electric Dreams ep 1: The Hood Maker

Set in a future which looks, as sci-fi futures tend to look, like a particularly grim, off-key vision of the past, The Hood Maker sensibly wastes little time on exposition, opting instead to focus on establishing its characters from the start and letting us see their world through their eyes while filling in any gaps for ourselves.

So Holliday Grainger is Honor, a telepath or “teep”, working for some sort of law enforcement agency, paired up with Richard Madden’s ostensibly reluctant Agent Ross to investigate mounting, violent unrest and stop the mysterious Hood Maker making things worse. The Hood Maker himself is a symptom rather than the cause of the pressure building up in the city, though: the teeps are second-class citizens, openly despised and exploited in imaginatively horrific and disturbing ways, while the “normal” majority rage against what they see and fear as the impending loss of their own power and control to a minority of people other than them. (If it sounds familiar, then it’s meant to.)

Ross seems different, however, as sci-fi heroes tend to seem, and he and Honor quickly – too quickly? – form a bond over runny egg sandwiches and dank, dirty crime scenes. Or do they?

If the romance is a touch speedy, and a couple of the story beats (the purpose of the Hood is blindingly obvious the second we see it, for all it seems to take Honor ages to work it out) a bit predictable, it’s still engaging and involving to watch. Madden and Grainger have so much chemistry, I would have been deeply disappointed if there hadn’t been any romance, and in fairness, these stories were written so long ago and Philip K Dick has been so influential, we’re bound to find themes and ideas we recognise. This episode’s aesthetic, for instance, is a mix of Blade Runner’s grimy, seedy neon and Indiana Jones’s dusty 40s chic; the former only to be expected given that it’s based on a PKD story too, and the latter because there are few things cooler than a tall, handsome man who can rock a fedora. The similarity with Spielberg’s cornball adventures ends there, however; a couple of flashes of humour aside, this story is much bleaker, darker and more ambiguous than your Raiders or your Temple of Doom. Which makes it very well-made, very engaging, somewhat old-fashioned but also entirely current since authoritarianism, oppression, slavery and prejudice are, sadly, timeless.

With all that said then, my problem with The Hood Maker may be an unavoidable side-effect of the anthology format itself rather than this story. I liked it so much I’m not actually ready to be done with it. Could we not spend more time with these characters in this world, rather than moving onto new people in a new story just yet? Come on, Channel 4 – any chance of a Hood Maker spin-off? Please?

Public Service Announcement 36 of 2017: Philip K. Dick’s Electric Dreams

Not, as far as I can tell, anything to do with one of my favourite songs of all time, new anthology drama series Electric Dreams is instead based on various self-contained short stories by seminal sci-fi writer Philip K. Dick and looks like the most ambitious thing channel 4 has done in a long time.

A (very expensive-looking) collaboration with Amazon Prime and Sony Pictures, the series involves a vast, impressive array of talent both behind the camera and in front of it, with writers like Battlestar Galactica’s Ron D Moore and Life on Mars’ Matthew Graham, big-time directors like Tom Harper and Jeffrey Reiner, and a cast of recognisable faces including Bryan Cranston, Liam Cunningham, Anna Paquin, Steve Buscemi and Timothy Spall, amongst others, popping in for various turns. In short, for sci-fi fans – including me – this is Big. News. Unfortunately, channel 4 seems to be adopting the US network model of mid-season hiatus by only showing the first six episodes this year (Sundays, 9pm) and saving the last four for 2018, but hey ho. The first instalment “The Hood Maker” starring Richard “Robb Stark” Madden and Holliday “also appearing in Strike over on BBC1 at exactly the same time” Grainger kicks off tonight (Sunday) at 9pm, so I’ll review this one and see how we go from there.