I quite enjoyed episode 1 of Secret State. The politics side of it was interesting; how the government reacted to the death of the Prime Minister so close to an election felt real, with possible candidates making moves almost immediately after hearing the news that he’d been declared dead following the loss of his private jet and how Tom Dawkins (Gabriel Byrne) was reluctantly forced into the job, at least on a temporary basis, despite the foreign and home secretaries trying to get him to back their candidacies.
But the preview of episode 2 worried me; there were scenes featuring Dawkins in what looked like a war room, being urged to take out a terrorist accused of blowing up the PM’s plane. It seemed like an odd venture into 24-land and looked like taking Secret State in a different direction than I’d expected. And unfortunately, this scene does seem to be pushing Secret State away from being a political drama about the aftermath of a devastating explosion in a small English town and how a political party rebounds from the dramatic death of its leader, into a show that wants to be more like 24 or Homeland than The West Wing.
That would be a pity, because I still do enjoy the behind closed doors politics of Secret State. This episode begins after the election, with Tom now as PM after he’s steadied the ship and persuaded the electorate to give his party another term in power. But the fallout from the Scarrow explosion and his battle with Petrofex to get compensation continues, and Tom is being very vocal about forcing Petrofex to come clean about what happened as well as make sure the people of Scarrow get what they deserve.
Tom’s often drunk friend Tony Fossett is doing some digging around, working from his home and using a series of different voice to get information from various sources to try and find out if foul play by Petrofex led to the explosion in Scarrow. There’s evidence that Petrofex employees in Scarrow had high levels of a new chemical in their blood system, and Tom also discovers that a secondary explosion expanded the blast radius. I found this part of the episode to be interesting and well written, and there’s more than enough in this area of Secret State to make a compelling and successful mini-series.
But the terrorist angle is something that I really don’t think works for the series. The black box recorder from the PM’s flight has yet to be found, with MI5 still trying to determine how the plane went down. This gives military men an opportunity to push Tom into taking out a known Al Qaeda terrorist. He’s believed to be making his way to Pakistan, but there’s a chance for Tom to authorise a strike on him, and he’s encouraged by MI6 and high ranking military officers to do so in a bizarrely excited fashion. It’s not a particularly well written part of the episode, as they enjoy the opportunity to kill the terrorist while he’s praying and just barely stop short of exchanging high fives and doing little celebration dances when Tom does authorise his execution.
It then transpires that the explosion may have taken place over the Iranian border, with Iran claiming that it was an act of war. This again, feels out of place amongst the Petrofex story, pushing Secret State in directions that a four part mini-series doesn’t seem to have enough time to cover.
I think Secret State will be a success if it stays away from this terrorism/global war angle, but I worry that it won’t. This isn’t a bad episode of the series, but it has plenty of red flags that I can’t ignore.