Secret State begins amongst a scene of destruction. Deputy Prime Minister Tom Dawkins (Gabriel Byrne) is visiting Scarrow, a town in northern England that has been devastated by an explosion at a chemical plant. He picks up a child’s glove, only to see that it still has fingers poking out of it.
It’s a very grim way to start a new mini-series, but Secret State is a show that mostly takes place in and around the darker side of politics. The British people are tired of the government and want changes, but Dawkins still promises that they will fight to get the people of Scarrow compensation from Petrofex, an American company that owned the plant. While Tom is facing the angry people of Scarrow and probing questions from the media, the Prime Minister is in Houston, meeting with the Petrofex chairman and hoping to reach an agreement over compensation.
The PM calls Tom as he flies back to the UK, and tells him that he’s managed to get a comprehensive compensation package from the company, but before he returns, contact is lost with his plane. When wreckage is discovered, the Prime Minister is presumed dead, and Tom is forced to lead the party in his place.
Gina McKee plays a journalist that has a man on the inside at Petrofex, and is feeding Hawkins information, hoping he’ll take some kind of action while he’s in charge, even with time running out on his party’s time in power. MI5 are watching both of them, while also investigating the crash that killed the Prime Minister.
I enjoyed this first episode; like any other show, there’s a lot to get through to establish characters and plot, but it did it well enough to keep my attention. What does worry me however, is the preview of the next episode. What we see in that suggests that the show will become something along the lines of 24; there’s a radar shot of a truck and Tom wavering on a decision to give an order to take the people inside that truck out, and that doesn’t really fit with the events of episode 1 and the style of it either.
It doesn’t seem like the right direction for it to take. I enjoyed the political machinations of this episode, with the home and foreign secretaries immediately lobbying Tom for his support of their respective leadership campaigns, while Charles Dances pops up as a senior figure in the party who is pushing Tom to step up and lead the party. Byrne is an actor I like, and he’s does a lot of things very well in this episode, but I worry that the show will lose its way, despite a strong cast, if it gets too deeply into the espionage and terrorism aspects that episode 2 appears to contain.
There is an interesting story to be told here, about how a government can react in the face of a disaster that could have been avoided and what goes on within the party when its leader is suddenly taken out of the picture, but the direction it goes in next could take it somewhere else, and that I feel would be a mistake.
We’ll see what happens next week, but for now, Secret State is a mini-series that is off to a good start.