There are MASSIVE spoilers in this review. Read at your own risk.
There is always something to say about political conspiracy theories whether they are true or whether they are fictional. They capture the attention of audiences because they are usually intriguing. The people watching get to see a fictional account of how the government works and they get to be immersed in a story that ratchets up the tension and proves that television can be just as good or not better than the movies.
That is exactly the case with Netflix’s new series Bodyguard. Bodyguard, a joint venture with the BBC, who aired the show first about a month ago, is a tightly woven political drama that examines the role mental health plays in soldiers who are returning to work after the war, as well as examines how far corruption can go if given the right motive. The show stars Richard Madden (Game of Thrones) and Keeley Hawes (Line of Duty). The series was written and created by Jed Mercurio.
Mercurio is no stranger to corruption. His show Line of Duty focuses on crooked police officers and the special police unit who investigate the officers and often bring them to justice. While Bodyguard shares that basic premise, the series is ramped up to an eleven and should not be missed despite the fact that the big event happens in the third episode and then the intensity wanes to an anti-climactic ending that left me wanting more.
The series begins with David Budd (Madden) stopping a terrorist attack on a train while on his way home with his two small children. He manages to take the woman, Nadia, into custody all without the bomb squads and police firing a single shot. The sequence is tense and it doesn’t stop until well into the fourth episode. Following the successful prevention of a terrorist attack, Budd is assigned to be the Home Secretary Julia Montague’s (Hawes) personal protection officer. Yes, the first three episodes of this show play out like Romeo and Juliet to some degree. Hence the name and all the steamy chemistry Budd and Julia have. The two definitely fall in love. The power dynamics are so interesting, Mercurio could have made a show that showcased how that dynamic worked.
Instead, he ruined it for a big event to happen in episode three.
From a writer’s standpoint, Bodyguard is the perfect television show to dissect for its structure and what it did wrong and what it did right. What it did wrong is obvious: Mercurio should have never killed Julia off in the third episode. In terms of a six-episode series, the move was a ballsy one. In fact, I can safely say that I haven’t seen anything quite so gutsy in television before. It was great until it suddenly wasn’t.
Some people might make the argument that Julia’s death veers too far into trope material. A woman is killed to motivate the male protagonist into some type of action. In the case of David Budd, it’s to motivate him to not only get help for his PTSD but to also make the personality changes that he so desperately needs. One of the things that bothered me about Budd’s character was the fact that he wasn’t very conflicted about the idea of killing a Tory party member. This is due to her role in sending troops to Afghanistan. He was prepared to do it. He thought about it then ended up falling in love with Julia which then, of course, motivated him to find her killer and bring them to justice. It all felt a little too familiar and icky to me.
All of that, however, is somewhat forgiven by the very obvious power dynamics Mercurio sets up in the show. Julia is clearly David’s superior and their relationship is the bread and the butter of the first three episodes of the series. Hawes and Madden have a chemistry that crackles with wit and electricity. It’s really sad to see it all get blown up, quite literally, in episode three. If Mercurio wanted to steer away from a big budget adaptation of Line of Duty, then he had ample opportunity to do so with their relationship and keeping Julia alive. Part of the inherent tension of the first three episodes is their sexual tension. Despite the fact that they pretty quickly indulge in it, it continues to ramp up every time they’re on screen together which is why killing her killed the tension.
The other women in this series, Vicky Budd (Sophie Rundle) and Louise Rayburn (Nina Toussaint-White), do not have the same electric and interesting energy that Julia Montague had. They also do not have the same type of chemistry with David. Mercurio attempts to fix the issue of waning tension and chemistry by putting David and Louise together. White, though she’s wonderful in the character, fails to capture the same commanding energy that Julia oozes. Poor Vicky, meanwhile, never really gets the chance to shine. In fact, after having a character like Julia to play off of, it’s hard to see how David ever fell in love with Vicky. (A harsh, but undeniably true statement.)
It’s worth noting that this series is good. While it sadly does have an anti-climactic ending, it’s cinematography is breathtaking. The directing done by Thomas Vincent and John Strickland is claustrophobic and unnerving and serves Mercurio’s writing style well.
Bodyguard should have been a perfect package of television and it is to a point but it could have easily been more. It easily could have been even better. In all, it’s a television show you shouldn’t miss but be prepared to possibly be disappointed by the end.
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