The penultimate episode of Bodyguard really just sets the stage for the 75-minute finale to follow, but it’s remarkable how successfully it maintains tension in doing so, never feeling like it’s merely treading water before it’s time to get to the good stuff. Whereas as so many modern programs, especially on Netflix, sag somewhere in the middle, there really isn’t a dip in this six-hour experience, thanks in part to Richard Madden’s committed performance, but mostly thanks to the consistent pacing, which keeps the plot moving without getting ridiculous or overheated. Think about this episode — it features a stunning number of people looking at computer screens and answering phone calls, two of the least tense things in the world. And yet it works.
Again, credit should go to Madden, who makes David Budd’s drive to figure out who was behind the death of Home Secretary Julia Montague believable. He’s not just an average “cop on the edge.” He feels genuine in the way Madden conveys the urgency of the situation. He knows that they’re going to pull him from the case any day now. They’ll either come to their senses and realize he’s suicidal, or possibly connect him with Andy. He also knows that whoever killed Julia could easily kill him and his whole family next. He needs to unearth the conspiracy to save his own life. And the really brilliant twist of Bodyguard is that we still can’t be 100 percent sure we can trust David. Why is withholding the info about Andy? Why is he buying weapons? Does he still have a secret or two?
Most of this episode circled around the identity and power of Richard Longcross, the mystery man who brought Julia Montague kompromat in the middle of the night just before she died. One key suspicion was confirmed: the compromising material was about the prime minister himself, revealing a sexual assault, drug addiction, and shady financial dealings. Montague took that material to the PM to do what? Pressure him? Show him what was being revealed? Whatever the case, it led to her death. Or were those wheels already in motion? So many key questions remain going into the finale, but the location of the kompromat becomes key to this episode as Richard Longcross, the cops, and David Budd are all trying to find where Julia stashed it.
The first revelation is one we all suspected: The bomb wasn’t in the briefcase. So David didn’t fail in that part of his job. It was under the stage and could have been triggered by Tahir stepping on a sensor stage right or remotely. One of the remarkable things about Bodyguard that the writers of similar shows could look at (ahem, Homeland, ahem) is how much Mercurio and his team take the time to answer any questions that might leave plot holes. Just as you’re thinking that there could be security footage of whoever put the bomb under the stage, there’s a scene that reveals it was erased just like the footage at the hotel. Just as you’re wondering if Longcross is the same man who gave Nadia the bomb for the train, they drop the scene that reveals he very likely was (unless Nadia is lying … which could still be true). Bodyguard works so well because it answers the questions that would arise in the viewer’s mind just as they come up.
Take for example the question of Rob Macdonald’s involvement. David knows that he has to talk to the last man alive who touched that briefcase, and he bullies him into confessing what he was planning. It turns out that Rob isn’t a mastermind or even really a cog in a murderous machine — he’s just a dolt who wanted to embarrass his boss, probably in part because she rebuffed his sexual advances. The briefcase didn’t have a real bomb, just a political one, and Rob was ready to let Julia give a factually inaccurate speech. That’s why he distanced himself. It’s believable. Rob seems like a jerk but not a killer.
And what of Chanel? The fired PR lackey returns this week, bumping into David in a coffee shop in a way that immediately raises his suspicions. He plays along with her flirtations, giving her his phone number, but also taking a picture of the car in which she speeds away. And this leads to one of the most interesting revelations of Bodyguard — what if none of this was about terrorism at all? From the beginning, we’ve presumed that homeland security was what got Julia Montague killed, but she also wanted increased surveillance. There are illegal operators who would not want to be tapped or monitored. Is that what got her killed?
So where does this episode leave us before the finale?
We know that Richard Longcross is very dangerous and very powerful. Not only can he erase his image on security cameras like some modern Keyser Soze, but he bullies poor Vicky Budd at work. He’s clearly working with Security Services. He’s dangerous and will be even more so when he learns that David found the kompromat at the end of the episode.
David is off duty, removed when he became a bit too reckless. Could this make him even more so? He looks ready to do whatever it takes to solve the case as the episode ends.
And what of Sampson and Craddock? The cops who have been pulling strings felt like suspects last episode, and there’s still something about them that’s not quite right. Perhaps the police powers-that-be were most likely to be revealed as corrupt by Julia’s increased surveillance. In 75 minutes, we’ll know for sure.
• At its best, and Bodyguard has been very good lately, the show reminds me of ’70s thrillers like The French Connection and The Conversation, films that got a lot of mileage out of making surveillance and conspiracies into entertainment.
• We’ve praised Madden and Hawes a lot here, but this episode reminded me how good the entire cast is. Even the actresses behind characters like Rayburn and Vicky, Nina Toussaint-White and Sophie Rundle, respectively, who only get a few scenes, find a way to make an impact. And the roster of “evil-looking Brits” is remarkable. Who wouldn’t be terrified of crossing Michael Schaeffer’s Richard Longcross?
• Okay, here’s the big question: What if Julia Montague isn’t dead? Gasp! I know. But think about it. Her funeral was closed-casket. Could she have faked her death to reveal the conspiracy? Jed Mercurio is reportedly known for twist-heavy finales, and that sure would be a big one. Would it be too cheap? I think so. It would undermine the emotional angle of Madden’s performance and feel like a cheat. However, I’m pretty sure there’s a major twist or two to come.