First, I need to say that I really tried to like this show. I watched it because Benedict Cumberbatch is the star, and I’m obviously a fan of his work on Sherlock. The subject matter doesn’t much appeal to me, but I gave it a chance. Unfortunately it wasn’t particularly good.
The plot is very reminiscent of 1984; it all revolves around government forces spying on everyday people, vast conspiracies kept from the public, etc etc. Benedict plays math genius Stephen Ezard, who returns to the UK after a long absence because his brother has just died. The action revolves around him, his former girlfriend, his brother’s widow, and a cast of political figures and assassins. There are lots of intertwining plots, all of which revolve around evil government actions, from incredible surveillance databases to genetically engineered viruses. All of this in the name of protecting the civilians from the threats of terrorism. The show technically takes place in a Britain of the not-too-distant future, and it’s easy to see (especially as they have increased their security measures for the Olympics) how that level of surveillance could become a reality.
Benedict does a really good job playing someone who is incredibly smart but not particularly capable at human interaction–sound familiar?
There are a couple of other really good actors in the show. Anamaria Marinca, a Romanian actress, plays Yasim Anwar, who is both Stephen Ezard’s love interest, and his brother’s widow. I don’t think she’s been in much else, but I thought she was really good in this. Robert Carlyle, from Trainspotting, and most recently Once Upon a Time, is also in it. He plays some sort of assassin with a secret bunker very similar to Gene Hackman in Enemy of the State.
The concept of the show is interesting, but it does make me wonder about the UK. Between this and Orwell, I just don’t really get the obsession with government invasion of privacy. It’s not something that really is an issue in the US, or at least not in my opinion. In the UK, they definitely have way more cameras, from private security cameras to the public CC TV cameras. Those are everywhere. It never bothered me when I was there–in fact it was comforting when I was walking alone at night to know that anyone that tried to rape/kill me would be caught on camera. In these conspiracy stories it’s always the government going beyond surveillance to use their knowledge for nefarious purposes. Nineteen Eighty-Four is more about the total takeover of an entire culture by Big Brother. The Last Enemy is subtler; the voting public is sold on the idea of new ID cards and further surveillance because of the threat of international terrorism. They have no idea the lengths to which the government is already going to track people. But the endings are similar–re: not happy.
Truth be told, the show is incredibly depressing. It doesn’t end well, for anyone. And the public is none the wiser, just like in Nineteen Eighty-Four. Depressing endings don’t always mean bad stories, just look at Casablanca. But this show is no Casablanca. It’s too convoluted and I had a hard time keeping track of who was who, and what part they all played in the conspiracy. The show was too complicated and there were too many characters. I didn’t have the energy or the memory to care about all of them. The themes weren’t very clear and all of the complications to the plot just made it lack emotional punch in the end. So, all in all, mediocre at best. Unfortunately. It is available on Instant Netflix, but I would only recommend it if you’re a real fan of conspiracy theory/government control/electronic surveillance oeuvre works.