The No-Rules world of 'Bodyguard'
So Bodyguard is done. Shaggy, Daphne and Fred pulled the rubber mask off David Budd’s boss, revealing her as a bent copper in super-criminal Luke Aitkens’ pocket. “I’d have gotten away with it, if it wasn't for you meddling protection officers,” she didn't say (but should have).
Warning - this blog post is replete with spoilers.
Look, I wouldn't usually bother filleting the unsatisfying ending to an otherwise fun slice of drama, except (a) Jed Mercurio can clearly do better, and (b) we’re getting another series, as ‘Bodyguard’ was super-popular. And why not? It had a great cast, was home-grown, gritty… but man, that ending. Parts of 'Bodyguard’ were beyond fantasy. It would have been more realistic had David Budd crossed Mordor on a giant eagle and hurled his suicide vest in Sauron’s fiery eye.
Even Fantasy has Rules
Fantasy is a genre where 'Bodyguard' might learn a lesson or two about suspension of disbelief. You see, if you’re writing about magic or demons or fiery swords, you still need consistency. Rules. The rules can be anything (for example, vampires can’t cross water or enter a home uninvited, right?), but as long as the rules have internal consistency, the punter will go along with the ride ('don't invite him in - he's a VAMPIRE!'). ‘Bodyguard’ had few rules, internal or otherwise. Ergo, no suspension of disbelief. Here’s a few things that jarred most:
MI5 aren't the KGB. Honest.
I never thought I’d feel sorry for MI5. The modern Security Service is full of earnest young graduate-types, the Thames House canteen more Starbucks than Smiley. And although there are (more or less baked-in) tensions between Police and the intelligence services, nowadays they rub along well enough. Yet here we have MI5 as a hatchet-faced Gestapo analogue, comprised almost entirely of middle-aged white men (ironic, given the real-world Service has long been a worthy standard-bearer of gender balance).
There’s nothing wrong, of course, with Jed Mercurio deciding to make MI5 (one) of the bad guys – that’s his prerogative. But their badness is simply a given in the world of ‘Bodyguard’. There’s no explanation as to why they’re so set on using Kompromat or extra-legal tactics, it’s simply presented as the natural way of things. Not just lazy, but also inaccurate. And, even worse, unconvincing.
Doctor Evil eat your heart out
Organised crime in Latin America and, say, southern Italy, is famously systemic. It’s inveigled its way into politics and culture like knotweed, which is why Palermo magistrates need to check under their cars in the morning. In the UK, with its traditional class strictures, organised criminals remain (by and large) working-class outsiders. Had ‘Bodyguard’ introduced some sort of reason why that had changed so much, then maybe it’s role as prime-mover wouldn’t feel so shoe-horned into the plot.
The mastermind in this case was Luke Aitkens (played by Matt Stokoe, who was great in ‘Jamestown’ if you haven’t seen it), a super-criminal. His superpower? Invisibility. He can drive un-checked around London’s Government Security Zone (one of the most highly-surveilled places on the planet) in a standard issue gangster-black Range Rover. He can knock about openly with one of the Home Secretary’s personal assistants. Dammit, his boys can supply sniper rifles on street corners and procure expert-level Jihadi bomb-makers. Aitkens can corruptly manipulate a Met Police Chief Superintendent, even one holding the highest levels of Government vetting. Again – no rules, given the bloke's a complete mystery for the first three episodes. All of these things could have had their own internal consistency, with Aitkens-as-Dracula level uber-baddie. We happily bought into the idea of super-calm David Budd talking down a suicide bomber, after all.
And, for the record, top-end organised criminals don’t as a rule go ‘hands-on’ when it comes to running around doing illegal stuff - someone else does that for them. Nor, in my experience, do they give much of a toss about legislation like ‘RIPA18’. A series being genuinely original and edgy might wonder why organised crime is so unbothered by such flashy new laws…
The last twenty minutes of ‘Bodyguard’ felt like an episode of Oprah, but with dynamite and G36 carbines. Everyone wanted to CONFESS! – the master bomb-engineer from ISIS, the bent copper, the criminal… it felt like an exposition dump to me, like Mercurio wanted to fit seven episodes into six. Why do people admit things? Usually because (a) it’s in their best interests or (b) they genuinely want to get it off their chest. To be fair, I think they almost achieved that with David Budd’s boss, who seemed properly shocked at the consequences of her corrupt links to Aitkens (amongst anti-corruption investigators, its not unknown for some coppers to be relieved when they finally get the knock on the door). Otherwise? People go ‘No Comment’ and lawyer-up. Again, I could live with something counter-factual had the story told me why.
Will I watch the next series? I’ll give it a go, as I’m sure the writers will learn from series one (a fair bit of feedback has been critical of the ending). I just hope the next series' world-building and internal consistency matches the quality of the cast, production values and atmospheric direction.
Oh, and please bring back Keeley. It hasn’t been the same since she left.