Thursday 13 December 2018

Bodyguard - the 10 questions we want answered in the finale

Could Julia still be alive? And just who replaced the bullets?

Richard Madden and Keeley Hawes in Bodyguard (Des Willie/BBC)
Richard Madden and Keeley Hawes in Bodyguard (Des Willie/BBC)

Meadhbh McGrath

Jed Mercurio’s BBC series is drawing huge audiences, recalling an age of appointment TV. Ahead of next weekend’s finale, Meadhbh McGrath considers how Bodyguard’s measured blend of sex, conspiracy and bold plotting sets it apart from other dramas

On Sunday night, living rooms across the country erupted as the penultimate episode of TV sensation Bodyguard left off with a tantalising cliffhanger. What was on the secret tablet? Did home secretary Julia Montague (Keeley Hawes) hide it, knowing she would be killed, or is she really alive and leaving clues for her principal protection officer/lover, David Budd (Richard Madden)?

It was just the latest explosive instalment in the must-see thriller. From its 20-minute opening sequence, which featured a heart-stopping foiled terror attack on a train, through the steamy sex scenes between the two leads and the shocking death of its biggest star, the series has kept viewers gripped week after week, becoming the BBC’s biggest drama in over a decade.

Bodyguard has become a national event, as writer and creator Jed Mercurio (known for his other hit, Line of Duty) looks to have single-handedly brought back the water-cooler moment. Spoilers do not apply — this is a show you watch live because you can’t wait any longer. In any case, the details of every episode are splashed across news sites and social media the minute it ends.

What makes it such a phenomenon? At first, audiences were drawn in by the chemistry between Hawes and Madden, but after Mercurio took the gamble of killing one of them off halfway through the show, viewers are sticking around to find out who is really behind a series of terror attacks across London.

You couldn’t ask for a more contemporary storyline, and it’s certainly trounced the usual Sunday night period drama, with ratings rival Vanity Fair dwindling on ITV. Ahead of the bumper 75-minute finale next weekend, we count down the 10 questions we still need answered.

1. Who is Chanel?

Julia’s former aide was sacked halfway through the premiere, and after throwing a spectacular strop, she tried unsuccessfully to sell her story to the press. Chanel reappeared in the penultimate episode, giving a barista a fake name and accidentally-on-purpose bumping into David. The two exchanged numbers and planned drinks, before Chanel tottered off yet again in a hulking Range Rover. David took a snap of the car, and the police were able to identify the driver: a man called Luke Aitkens, a senior figure in organised crime.

Why has Chanel turned up so late in the game? Had she been operating as a mole inside the Home Office for Luke’s criminal enterprise? Not very efficiently, then, seeing as she got fired early on. And why is she making contact with David? Could she be trying to raise suspicions by meeting him in such a public place, with Luke parked right outside?

2. What’s in the kompromat?

When Julia spotted David eyeing up a framed photo of her and David Cameron in episode one, she quipped, “That was us, plotting to build the Death Star.” Later, during their secret trip to meet the Prime Minister, she cryptically remarked, “If I don’t come back, go to the Death Star.” On Sunday, we saw David being suspended from duty and rushing over to her flat, where he made a beeline to her study. Inside the frame, he found a tablet, presumably containing the much-discussed “kompromat”, a file of compromising material about the Prime Minister’s buried scandals. We already have a vague idea of what these are: sexual assault on a woman named Charlotte Foxfield, treatment for drug addiction and financial misconduct at an old firm.

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Richard Madden and Keeley Hawes in Bodyguard (Des Willie/BBC)

But that’s not all — in episode three, we saw David reading the tablet while Julia slept, and caught a glimpse of the words “history of alcohol dependence”, which could refer to him. Plus, he didn’t tell his boss what he had seen. Did Julia know more about David than we thought? As for the information about the Prime Minister, we don’t know if she was blackmailing him or trying to remove him from power. Was Julia preparing to stage a coup for the leadership? And could it have gotten her killed?

3. Who is Vicky dating?

In episode one, David’s estranged wife revealed she had “met someone”, but we never got to see who he was. We know it’s not Richard Longcross, as Vicky identified him as the ‘security officer’ who visited her at work, but her new man’s conspicuous absence has raised suspicions. Could it be Luke?

4. Was Andy the sniper working alone?

Back in the premiere, David met his old army pal at the Veterans’ Peace Group, and the two exchanged terse words about David’s new boss, particularly her policy towards conflict in the Middle East. Was he a lone wolf, or had he been recruited by the security service to carry out the sniper attack on Julia? Could he be involved with Luke, who also attended the veteran’s group? And why has it taken so long for the police to identify him, let alone his connection to David?

5. Who replaced David’s bullets?

Overcome with grief following Julia’s death, David tried to shoot himself, only to discover the bullets in his gun, safely stowed away above the light fitting in his flat, had been replaced with blanks. Who could have switched the bullets? And did they know he was in danger, or were they trying to stop him from hurting someone else?

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David Budd, played by Richard Madden, in Bodyguard (BBC/World Productions/Sophie Mutevelian)

6. What do Julia’s colleagues know?

On Sunday night, we heard special advisor Rob McDonald insist that he had been planning to publicly humiliate Julia by writing her a speech laden with inaccuracies, in order to weaken her political standing. He says he instructed Tahir Mahmood to bring the briefcase on stage to “create an embarrassing scene on camera”, but is he telling the truth? Or did he want Tahir to set off the bomb’s pressure sensor by stepping on stage?

Another theory is that Rob and Tahir were merely pawns in a much more sinister plot devised by acting home secretary Mike Travis and Roger Penhaligon, Julia’s rotten ex-husband. David seemed particularly intrigued to learn that Roger had been eager to track down Julia’s personal possessions once she was admitted to hospital, hinting that he may have known about her secret tablet.

7. Who is Longcross?

The night before the conference bombing, Julia received a visit to her hotel from a mysterious agent who gave his name as ‘Richard Longcross’. While eavesdropping on their conversation, David heard Longcross passing on the kompromat about the Prime Minister, and later discovered security footage from the visit had been deleted.

We have since learned Longcross is a senior operative with the secret service, and that he also called in to David’s wife Vicky at work — another visit wiped from CCTV. Later, when David searches for information about the Prime Minister’s scandals at an internet cafe, Longcross and his team track the keywords and narrowly miss him at the cafe.

On top of that, an hour of CCTV footage from the college where Julia was killed has disappeared. What does Longcross want? Could he have planted the bomb, or was he just trying to retrieve the kompromat?

8. Are the security service behind the terror attacks?

Nadia, the would-be suicide bomber from the breathtaking premiere, identified Longcross as the man her husband secretly met in a car park, but she has already admitted to lying about the identity of the man before, previously describing him as Asian. Could she be lying again? If she’s telling the truth and Longcross is involved, is he acting on his own, or are the security service staging the attacks? One theory is that the security service aimed to sow fear with a series of attacks across London to help pass the controversial RIPA bill, which allows greater surveillance powers for the security service. If so, why would they want Julia dead, given she was on their side?

David suggests, “Maybe the relationship went sour, or she became a liability”, raising the possibility that she may have threatened to go back on the deal.

9. What are David’s motives?

Our hero has proved difficult to read, with critics putting it down to everything from a split personality to actor Richard Madden’s inability to convey emotions. Whatever it is, we’re still not clear on how he really felt about Julia. Earlier in the series, he seemed to loathe the home secretary, furiously rewatching her TV interviews and criticising her policy decisions. Could his icy fury have melted away once they started sleeping together, or was his seduction part of a larger scheme? Given his struggles with PTSD, some have suggested he may be suffering blackouts.

Or is he being framed by the security service? In the penultimate episode, we saw him examining photographs of sniper Andy’s rifle and bullets, before switching off his phone and going to meet a shadowy figure, from whom he requested a rifle that “has to be traceable back to me”. What is he planning?

10. Is Julia still alive?

It’s the burning question, and despite Mercurio’s insistence that she is definitely dead (including a rather indisputable Radio Times interview with Keeley Hawes’ face splashed across the cover, framed by the headline ‘Why she had to die’), we never saw a body. Mercurio has form in killing off big-name stars — he did away with both Jessica Raine and Daniel Mays in the opening episodes of Line of Duty — but many viewers are convinced he is carrying out an elaborate deceit.

So what really happened to Julia Montague? Could she have faked her own death to protect herself, following several attempts on her life? And can Mercurio pull off a sudden resurrection without disappointing viewers? We’ll just have to wait till Sunday to find out.

Bodyguard, BBC One, Sunday, 9pm

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