A recap of Bodyguard’s first episode, and the reasons why I’m already hooked.
Netflix released Bodyguard, a new political drama written by Jed Mercurio (Line of Duty), to American audiences yesterday; and after having viewed the whole series in a single sitting (through being totally gob-smacked from the first minutes), it’s exceptionally clear why it turned it into a huge overnight success in the UK.
Anyone who even passingly browses entertainment news/review sites couldn’t help but hear big things about this series when it first aired across England in August. As a result of its soaring ratings and solid reviews, Netflix then purchased the series, and now some three months later, the rest of the world has access to it – myself included.
On reflection, there were no lies or mis-hype about this show’s quality in the cavalcade of praise that followed its UK premiere, and Bodyguard takes a brave stance on realism, far removed from your average, contemporary UK crime drama; it’s gritty and refreshingly unapologetic, giving you a savage glimpse of elite police life in a city constantly on edge, while further showcasing the day to day dealings of everyday people living and working behind the scenes in the contemporary urban war against terror.
It is mesmerizing cinematic TV – and undoubtedly a heavy-hitting contender for the best new series of 2018.
Recap of Episode 1 (Spoilers Ahead).
Within the first minute of the first episode beginning viewers are thrown head-first into the complicated existence that is David Budd (Richard Madden). David is an elite cop working for the Royalty and Specialist Protection branch of London’s metropolitan police, and is also decorated, but damaged, war veteran, who is put in a serious ethical dilemma; battling whether or not he should follow his duty or his beliefs. He must protect Julia (Keeley Hawes), the powerful and dangerous Home Secretary, whose ethics, or lack of, oppose everything he stands for, and she is also exceptionally hard work to take care of.
The first episode starts out with David on a train with his two kids – pulling into a large London station. Their particular carriage is about as serene as one would hope public transportation to be, but David quickly picks up on a jittery train attendee’s behavior. Upon approaching, she confesses that she’s been put on high alert about a possible suicide bomber in the area. Budd doesn’t panic. Instead, he calmly travels from cart to cart, eventually coming face to face with a visibly shaken Muslim woman named Nadia (Anjili Mohindra). Though afraid, which David relays to Nadia often, he manages to keep his cool long enough to reason with her.
Turns out, Nadia’s husband has brainwashed her into martyrdom, and she doesn’t actually want to die, but she’s obviously not confident in her decision to go against him. It’s David’s thoughtful, yet calculating pleas (like pointing out that the people who want her dead, aren’t willing to risk their own lives) that manage to convince her to back away from the proverbial ledge long enough to be de-armed. He even stands between her and law enforcement, against the order of the higher-ups who are ready to shoot, until she’s calm enough to exits the train.
As a Game of Thrones alum, Richard Madden, who previously played Robb Stark, is no stranger to drama, but Bodyguard pushes him in ways the former did not. David’s acute awareness of his surroundings, which is likely a symptom of his PTSD (but also makes him an exemplary bodyguard), is shoehorned in with close-ups that highlight clenched jaws, or arched eyebrows on Madden’s end. Oftentimes, the script relies on just his facial tics to let viewers in on the dichotomy of his existence, and his trauma, which is so clearly engrained within his DNA— scenes that could have easily fallen flat with a less seasoned actor.
Even after such an explosive opening Bodyguard, manages to keep steady throughout. The second half of the episode digs deeper into David’s home life and his political beliefs.
Viewers are then given a glimpse into the dynamic between David and his wife, Vicky (Sophie Rundell). Whatever caused their marriage to disintegrate, though not stated outright in the first episode, clearly has affected Vicky’s feelings more than his own, as she repeatedly turns down his advances.
David doesn’t have long to sulk though. Following his heroic act, he’s rewarded with a job as Julia Montague’s (Keeley Hawes), new bodyguard. As the Home Security and Conservative PM, Julia is a staunch politician, who’s gunning for a bill that will invade the public’s right to privacy, in favor of stronger national security.
This goes against everything that David believes.
After David stands to watch for Julia during her televised interview on the Afghan War, the scene cuts away to David, alone in his home, replaying and obsessing over her comments.
Later on, David asks Julia if she meant what she said about Afghanistan, to which she replies, “I don’t only say what the people want to hear. I’m about doing the right thing and making the right choices.” Suggesting that she senses the deeper implication of David’s question, Julia continues, “The thing is, David/Dave, I don’t need you to vote for me, I need you to protect me.”
“Rest assure Ma’am, I’ll do what’s required,” is David’s response, but it’s clear that he’s conflicted. Whether or not David will be able to fulfill his role as Julia’s bodyguard, ends up stepping down, or worse, betraying her, remains to be seen.
We are only going to recap the first episode, so as not to ruin everything for you – as it’s only a short series, as the remaining five episodes need to be seen without spoilers (there are some major twists). The whole series has been released simultaneously on Netflix, so it’s all there right now if you want it.
Reading some other US reviews on the show, it has been compared to Designated Survivor (seriously), and both canned and praised, but the majority of critics have loved it, with only one of the more snobby publications thumbing its nose, saying: “It’s more filler than thriller.”
The gritty realism of this show paints a much more abrasive and confronting picture than Designated Survivor could ever hope to, and a comparison of a glossy big-budget show such as Kiefer’s post-24 gig is barely even relevant. Admittedly Bodyguard does run a little slow through the middle, but it all picks up substantially towards the end, then hits home with a nail-bitingly furious finale that surpasses the first episode on the edge-of-your-seat scale.
You have to take this show for what it is, as not every series can be a quirky indie show focusing on some Academy-pleasing, obscure social justice issue. Bodyguard is essentially a crime drama with a down and dirty focus on terrorism, and as far as psychological episodic gun-shows go, it has no competitors in 2018.
Ignore the haters America. This show is HIGHLY recommended. Binge it and binge it now.
4 stars out of 5.
You can stream Bodyguard’s entire six-Episode run now on Netflix.