This review contains spoilers.
Fool me once, Jed Mercurio? Shame on you. Fool me literally every single time I watch one of your TV shows? Shame on me, and a crisp salute to you, big man. You got me.
For a good three minutes, I swallowed the notion that Mercurio had swaggered onto BBC One with the biggest drama since sliced bread, then casually disposed of both leads midway through the run, shrugging and flicking them away like a lit fag end into a trail of petrol. The target of the attacks and lynchpin of the political conspiracy: who needs her? The actual bodyguard from the show Bodyguard: move along, son.
A blank in the gun though, and poor, traumatised Sgt Budd was back in the game.
What an increasingly complex game it is. It could just be that the paranoia’s getting to me, but things seem to have gone meta on Bodyguard. A lot of episode four was actually episode three again, but freeze-framed and in black and white while people stood around computer monitors pointing at it like we’ve been doing all week.
Characters in episode four printed out still images of characters in episode three and pushed them across tables to other characters in episode four, to gauge their reactions. At the end, DCI Sharma got frustrated with it all and reviewed the show he was in. “This is grade-A bullshit,” he told DS Rayburn, “Sampson involving him in the inquiry while he’s still a person of interest!” I’ve been hearing variations on that verdict from the start.
Bodyguard certainly isn’t grade-A bullshit, it’s a top-drawer head-scratcher with grade-A twists. Killing off a main character with three episodes to go is one such. Swivelling the Eye of Sauron away from Sgt Budd as the chief suspect in her murder to shine it on her successor Mike Travis and his monkey Rob Macdonald, is another.
Mike and Rob are certainly colluding over something, but what? Is Commander Anne Sampson part of their deal? Was the chief whip/Julia’s ex-husband in on it too and only crying crocodile tears at her death? Did the prime minister mastermind it all? Where do ‘Richard Longcross’ and the Security Service fit in? What if, really, it’s all just terrorists? Has anybody seen my keys?
This complicated game is a familiar one to Line Of Duty fans. That show makes FBI body language experts of us all. To parse what’s happening at any one moment requires an ability to close-read microexpressions that borders on telepathy. A look there, a glance here… Is she lying, or does she just need a wee. Is he silently congratulating himself on pulling off a masterstroke of deception, or wondering what the Best before date was on the tuna he had for lunch. These are the skills required of a Jed Mercurio viewer.
(A Mercurio thriller distilled to its basic essence would be sixty silent minutes of characters staring wordlessly from one to the other through a venetian blind. And you know what? Ten million of us would still watch and be riveted.)
Anne Sampson (Gina McKee) is a case in point. Just episodes ago, she was loudly proclaiming Julia Montague more dangerous than a python packing a knife and now she’s all ambiguous looks and “leave this with me, Deepak.” Her lot are firmly behind the ‘Tahir Mahmood, with the briefcase, in the auditorium’ theory, while the Security Service aren’t convinced.
They are however, covering their tracks with regard to their arrangement with the home secretary. If it was Longcross or one of his pals who switched Budd’s bullets for blanks, then, because that memory stick was stored next to his gun, we can assume they also know that he knows that they know whatever it is they know about (we think) the cokey drunk of a prime minister (David Westhead).
Whoever knows what, I’ll bet you Richard Madden’s twitching jaw muscle that we the viewers, don’t yet understand a thing. Rest in peace, Julia Montague. Until this knotty conspiracy has been untied, you’re the only one of us who’ll be able to.
Read Louisa’s review of the previous episode here.