The Last Enemy Redux

The last episode aired a couple of weeks ago, but what with one thing and another I’ve only just got around to watching it. When the series started, I said

What’s good about The Last Enemy as a drama is the direction, which manages to make any amount of staring at computer screens interesting, and the acting, particularly from Benedict Cumerbatch as Ezard — he’s convincing as a man distinctly uncomfortable with much social interaction, yet nuanced enough to avoid cliche. And what’s good about The Last Enemy as science fiction is that it doesn’t try to do too much, that it follows the implications of its idea through quite thoroughly but (for the most part) doesn’t try to sensationalise them. Whether this will last is an open question: the producer has described the series as a “cautionary tale”, which rather suggests the ending will be exactly what you expect it to be, ie that the introduction of TIA is thwarted at the last moment, while recognising the irony that it’s helped to stop whatever dastardly plot is afoot. We shall see.

To update these points in order:

  • The direction and the acting, particularly from Benedict Cumerbatch, did remain pretty good throughout, although the focus shifted to more dramatic subjects than computer screens, such as running around and explosions.
  • Probably the biggest plus in the series’ favour is that it seemed to be trying to show how a suite of present-day concerns — immigration, terrorism, security, underregulated pharmaceutical industry — might interrelate, without suggesting that any one of them was The Problem Of Our Times. Unfortunately, the ending they came up with was very much from the Giant Conspiracy school, which was rather too neat.
  • Which is to say that in the end, it did try to do much, not specifically because the science it described was (and the methods used to approach that science were) complete bobbins, but because it introduced a genie too big to be stuffed back into a bottle.
  • Which in turn is to say I was sort of half-right in my prediction for the ending. What is actually thwarted is the introduction of TIA: The Next Generation; TIA itself (unless I missed something) heads steadily towards implementation and is used by various characters throughout the series to find the next plot coupon.
  • To be fair to the ending, it did have characters recognise that they were trying to stuff a genie back into a bottle, and it was by no means kind to its protagonists; one Ezard ends up dead, while the other is utterly trapped by the existing surveillance technology; the girl ends up wandering free but alone.
  • Moreover, if it weren’t for the tub-thumping lectures about personal liberties in the last fifteen minutes — which most of the rest of the series managed to do without, trusting that it was showing the relevant points — I could have lived with it, even, particularly given the irony that the lectures were being delivered to the one government character who (unbeknown to the lecturer) might agree with some of them. As it is, my overwhelming sense was that the actual science fiction story, and the more interesting story, would be the one about what happens five years later, when the genie actually does get out into the world.
  • Summary: B for effort, C- for execution.

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