Secret State comes to an end with a rousing speech from Tom Dawkins, the Prime Minister. In it, he rallies against big business, media moguls and MOD representatives who want a war against Iran for their own gains. Not because Iran have done something to start a war (because they haven’t), but because any war would be good for them, generating even more money than they already make.
It should be a strong way to end Channel 4’s mini-series, but instead it just feels like a slightly too late comment on recent events (the Leveson enquiry, the ‘War on Terror’ etc) and finishes Secret State in a rather underwhelming way.
There have been aspects of this series that I’ve enjoyed, but the original conspiracy got too big, too quickly, and it really started to unravel in the final two episodes, with an explosion in a small town in northern England leading to an international conspiracy to start a war in Iran that just doesn’t feel realistic in any way. There’s so much happening all the time in Secret State that you can’t help but think that Channel 4 should have made a longer series, or even brought it back for a second series, in order to properly give all the plot points a chance to breathe.
MOD officials and members of the government are pushing Tom to go to war with Iran, believing that evidence apparently shows an Iranian national boarding the previous PM’s private jet that ultimately crashed. Tom isn’t certain that this is the case, while the girl who was monitoring Tony’s calls believes she has evidence to prove what really caused that plane to crash.
This is a part of the series that is ultimately a bit of a let down. It’s explained that a bottle of Petrofex’s new drone fuel was on the plane, and had been damaged before being placed on board. The electrical storm that the plane passed through caused so much turbulence that the damaged bottle exploded, which is why the plane went down. It’s something that makes you think ‘Is that it?’ as it makes Tom’s decision to assassinate a known terrorist redundant and the threat of war with Iran coming as a result of that action that he didn’t have to take.
It really takes away from what the series did well to have so many layers to a conspiracy that ends up without a satisfying conclusion. Even in this final episode, I still mostly enjoyed the political aspects of it, with Tom facing a mutiny within his party and deciding to do things his own way, even if it means losing his job as PM and allowing the opposition to take power. But with so much going on elsewhere, such as Tom facing allegations of wrong doing while he was in the army (he led an illegal mission in Bosnia to rescue an interpreter he was sleeping with) and the head of Petrofex being forced out by his board that this gets lost amongst the more far-fetched aspects of the series.
The writing suffers as a result of only having four episodes (with ad breaks, roughly 160 minutes of screen time) to develop the story, meaning that many of the story lines don’t get enough time dedicated to them and that makes them feel less important, even if they are actually an integral part of the overall plot of the series. In the end I don’t even think the initial thrust of Tom’s story (getting justice for the people of Scarrow) is properly resolved, leaving Secret State feeling unfinished.
It hasn’t been a total disaster, but Secret State had too much happening all at the same time to be a coherent and competent series.