Edge of Darkness: e06 – Fusion

And so it’s over, and for all the fuss and bother and effort, in the tradition of Blake’s 7, the good guys lost. Craven and Jedburgh died, Grogan got the plutonium, and if anyone were to save the planet, we were left with the impression that it would have to be the planet, and likely in a manner that would be more destructive than anything Man could muster and which would preserve everything – except Man.

That was what Emma Craven believed, in her last and extended appearance to her father, dying of radiation exposure with at most two weeks remaining, warning him away from revenge, a warning that Craven ultimately took to heart. He was last seen on a Scottish mountainside, screaming her name. His death took place offscreen. It had the makings of a legend, the Sleeping Hero syndrome. He is not seen to die, therefore he has not died, but sleeps in a cave somewhere, to return when he is most needed. Troy Kennedy Martin wanted him to turn into a tree, in accordance with his original vision, but everybody revolted against that, so we had to imagine it afterwards.

If the Sleeping Hero bit sounds fanciful then there was more than a hint of fanciful in Edge of Darkness‘s final episode. Kennedy Martin has played with structure to great effect in the back half of the series. The invasion of Northmoor, the descent into literal darkness, was the obvious climax, the big ending the show was inevitably building up to, but that was dealt with in the penultimate episode, leaving us with a rare opportunity to see aftermaths, and to end upon a dying fade that echoed the extremely limited futures for both Ronnie Craven and Darius Jedburgh.

We began with Ronnie, waking from the gas attack in an American Air-base Hospital where he lay alone, until woken by Pendleton with the one thing on anybody’s minds now: where is the plutonium? With Jedburgh. Where’s Jedburgh? Don’t know.

Jedburgh has plans, and they are dramatic in the extreme. He’s in Scotland, looking and feeling worse than Craven, so much so that it nearly spoils his game of golf – and at Gleneagles too! But Darius is there in his capacity of Colonel, a panellist at a NATO Conference on ‘The High Frontier’, or the future of nuclear energy. It’s the opportunity for a face to face confrontation with Jerry Grogan, who’s the first speaker. Grogan spins his vision of the future with the light of fanaticism shining like a beacon from his eyes: it’s an SF dream of rocket flight and colonisation of the Solar System that totally ignores such practical realities as the inability to travel FTL (faster than light) or to actually live on any of the other eight planets in our system (this is before Pluto’s demotion).

Jedburgh will naturally speak against this but he wastes no time on philosophical differences. Instead, in the true dramatic climax of the series, no more than halfway through the final episode, he denounces Grogan’s ‘vision’ as a direct route towards subjugation, dictatorship and the creation of an unshakable hierarchy built upon plutonium. And to general consternation, he opens his case and turns to face the assembled gathering with a bar of plutonium in each hand.

It’s one of the most extraordinary scenes filmed in the whole of the decade, and it beats out most things filmed since. There’s panic, terror, all these staunchly clapping puppets suddenly possessed of the urge to scramble all over each other to get out, as Jedburgh roars at them, unheeded. You’d think the stuff was dangerous or something, the way they carry on. Only Grogan sits there unmoving, perhaps because Jedburgh is between him and the door. The irony is that he is the one, after our Colonel, who knows best the effects of plutonium, and especially the criticality if you bring two bars close enough together. The way Jedburgh does. In Jerry Grogan’s face.

Yet from here all we have is failure, defeat and death: the dying fall. Craven has run from the hospital, with the aid of Clemmy. There is one last, astonishing scene, as they part. Clemmy has become very fond of Ronnie. She wants to help him further. But Ronnie knows there is literally no future in things. She has done so much for him, but she mustn’t follow. And Zoe Wannamaker sits there with the camera tight to her face, and without moving a muscle simply radiates fear, concern, and regret.

Because Craven’s out to find Jedburgh, who’s disappeared again – who’s going to stand in the way of a man with a bar of plutonium in each hand? Everybody’s happy to let him do the detecting, and of course the dogged, undemonstrative Detective Inspector does the business and finds Jedburgh holed up in a remote cottage somewhere out in glorious Scottish hill-country. The final conversation: Craven’s worked it out. Grogan expected the vote over buying out IIF to go against him so pulled strings in Washington to have Jedburgh to get the plutonium by less acknowledged methods. He’s played Jedburgh for a fool. The Colonel grins that ol’ shit-kicking grin and asks if Craven thinks he hasn’t worked that out for himself, but we can tell.

So where is the plutonium? It’s sunk, well-packed, in Loch Leddoch, near the dam, with a detonator. All that is required to set it off is a plutonium bullet, fired from a high velocity rifle. Boris Johnson would approve since detonation would blow a dirty great hole through the middle of Scotland: what price the SNP then?

Craven can’t allow it. He phones the Smugness Boys. An attack force approaches. Jedburgh rises from his chair, gun in hand, determined to take as many of them with him as he can, but Craven just sits there with his whisky: what’s the point? The point is that Jedburgh gets at least half a dozen before he is shot and killed. That is his self-valediction, his dogs to be laid at his feet in the burning ship that will take him out to sea, his Viking funeral. Craven sits at the kitchen table, guns pointed at him from point-nlank range. At last he screams, “Doooo it!” but they won’t: Ronnie is on their side. His last words, this dour, self-contained, down-to-earth Yorkshireman, are in a scream of anger. I am not on your side. In the end, both Jedburgh and Craven ally themselves with GAIA.

There’s very little left and it’s told in a voiceover by Harcourt to Clemmy. The plutonium is safely recovered. Jerry Grogan gets it after all, not that he’ll have much time to enjoy it, not after Jedburgh at Gleneagles. We can only hope that Jerry is the the ‘visionary’ fundamental to his projected wonder future. And Craven on the mountainside, looking on.

If I were to be at all critical, I would say that the show left loose ends all over the places, figures who simply dropped away, unseen and unheard of in this episode, but that was the nature of the series. The prospect of Death concentrates the mind and the peripherals ceased to matter in these last few days. Ross, Godbolt, even Clemmy once she and Ronnie parted. They are part of a future that now belongs to Jerry Grogan, much good may it do him. Neither Ronnie nor Darius had a place there, even if they hadn’t removed themselves from the playing field by their own actions. So I am not critical at all.

Of course you couldn’t make something like this any more. The BBC wouldn’t dare, no matter how much ‘balance’ you introduced, and besides that day is done. Some things can only produced out of the background that preoccupies. Nuclear energy was a subject of great debate and action in the Eighties. Making something about it now would be just as much old hat as making a drama about Flying Saucers. But I am very glad they made it when they did and that we still have it to refer to.

And a word for Bob Peck, who didn’t last as long as he deserved, thanks to that bastard killer, cancer. This is not a bad legacy, however.

Edge of Darkness: e05 – Northmoor

They could just as easily have called this episode ‘Down the Rabbit Hole’ because that’s where we were: underground, in the dark, queasily unaware of exactly what was going on. In the shadows, but not penetrating them.

This is the episode that most firmly took me back to the times in which Edge of Darkness was made, a world still very much under the threat of nuclear destruction, a visible, voluable anti-nuclear movement trying desperately to keep the world on track to actually reach the Twenty-First Century. Where has all that energy gone? The nukes haven’t gone away, nor the waste, nor the plutonium. Just us.

Episode 5 saw Craven and Jedburgh, led up to a point by Godbolt, going underground, following the GAIA team’s route of approach, going towards Northmoor. The episode was deliberate in its early approach, long slow shots of Jedburgh snoring, of him shaving, wandering around in his pajamas. Deliberate mundanity, deliberate nothing-to-see-here. Then the build up, heading for the access shaft to the mines. They’re not the only ones on the move. Northmoor knows they’re coming (how? Someone tipped them off. Who? Unexplained, intentionally. On Deep Space Nine, which came after this, I’d have complained of lazy writing, but here it’s of a piece with the series: all over the place, people know things). Four jeeps of semi-military men, set not to repel boarders but to extinguish them.

It’s going to be the same as before. Alternating with the underground scenes we have the Committee meeting. Bennet gives lengthy evidence, admitting to the raid, admitting to the plutonium, admitting to the deliberate decision to flood the lower levels and kill the terrorists to prevent them getting out with the plutonium. Admitting to not telling anyone they should have about this, but only telling the Ministry of Defence. It’s their plutonium.

The coldness of it, the indifference. Though the clearly Conservative member of the Committee was all gung-ho for progress and privatisation (oh yes, those days). If you weren’t already spooked by Ronnie and Darius’s almost-surreal journey underground, you were getting the indelible impression that the Nuclear Industry was One Bad Thing, if it needed people like this to run it.

And the underground journey pinned you to your seat, pressed your shoulders to the chairback, and defied you to look away. From the moment the darkness crowded in, through long tunnels with little more than the pair’s headtorches and the ones in their hands, illuminating nothing, we were in the middle of it, possessed by the conviction that what we were partially seeing, the light at the end of the tunnel, was something unclean, something to instinctively shy away from. Just by having to be carried out in conditions like this, the Nuclear Industry became a thing to revolt from.

Of course, it was being done by smoke and mirrors, but you could know that and still come to the rapid conclusion that this was Wrong, that this was more than just unwise and dangerous but that it was something not to be touched by anyone with sanity in their head and heart. A gift to the anti-nuclear movement, as I said.

But Northmoor was partially crippled. They can’t fully flood the lower levels – with irradiated water, it was not directly pointed out – because there wasn’t enough water, not without exposing the plutonium rods. Thus villainy frustrated itself, as villainy oft does.

Craven and Jedburgh got to the Hot Cell, and here their paths diverged. They joined on this expedition with mixed motives, and now those motives broke things up. Whilst Ronnie holds up the armed men – ridiculously, he with Emma’s revolver kills two men who are firing high-speed machine guns that miss him completely: horribly weak cliche about a thousand levels below the rest of the episode – Jedburgh suits up to steal the plutonium. One for Ronnie, the rest for him, for his superiors, and if Ronnie doesn’t like it, Darius will take his one bar back, off his corpse.

So the alliance, which was never more than two travellers going the same way for a short time – is over. Jedburgh disappears, Craven distracts. Distracts himself into an office of absurdly old telephones, with no exit, as gas pours in like the credits to The Prisoner. A desperate Ronnie finds the one phone that’s still connected, to a disused office in Downing Street. He demands Pendleton…

Next week pays for all. One thing however has been made clear in this episode. Ronnie Craven isn’t just obsessed with finding out what happened to his daughter, Emma (this is the only episode in which Joanne Whalley doesn’t appear). Ronnie is going to his death, knowingly and dispassionately. He’s already absorbed enough radiation to kill him. Ronnie has had a death wish since Emma was murdered in front of him, hell-bent, and I use that term deliberately, on following her. Those early scenes, those slightly disturbing moments, the kissing of the vibrator have now to be seen in a different light. To find out what took Emma away from him, Ronnie must repeat her steps. All the way until he catches up with her.

Think on that until next week.

Edge of Darkness: e04 – Breakthrough

Spend enough time writing stories, and enough time writing about others’ stories, and you start to understand story structure, the forms and techniques that go to building a story. You can recognise the building blocks, the beats, the stages a strongly-constructed story goes through to make itself effective. Sometimes, such things are cliches, lazy writing, substitutes for creativity, but they are part of the better works so it’s better to think of, and refer to them, as tropes.

Episode 4 of Edge of Darkness had me musing on this point early on. Rather like The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies it started with a leftover piece of the previous film/episode, Craven’s confrontation with the ex-IRA bruiser McCroon, who intended to kill him. It was played slowly, almost drawn out, as Ronnie points out the flaws in the theory that McCroon killed Emma in mistake for him out of revenge for Northern Ireland and is close to coaxing out of him who hired him, and then McCroon’s head explodes thanks to the Police Marksman Superintendant Ross had not withdrawn as promised.

And there it was: the false ending. The neat wrap-up for the rest of the world, the simple answer that they use to close the case, sorry about the loose endings. It’s there to turn the hero loose, free him for the individual pursuit, the is-he-or-isn’t-he-a-deranged-obsessive phase that will lead him and us to the truth.

On top of this first step, writer Troy Kennedy Martin, a professional to his boots, built a slow-moving, for a while almost static, episode. Craven, in shock and horror, is removed to a hospital where he undergoes psychiatric examination that produces the usual distorted outcome (Craven relates a late conversation with Emma in which she said that she saw him as a tree, which he didn’t like, which immediately gets translated into Ronnie having a tree fixation, an arboreal complex, that renders him unusable as a witness to a Parliamentary Committee on the Nuclear industry: it’s funny, you’d almost think it was engineered that way to discredit him).

Mind you, on one level you might not find it that hard to discredit Ronnie. He’s back from the Hospital (not till later do we learn he’s discharged himself) and he’s seeing and hearing Emma again, and having conversations. This is one point I disagreed with. First the ten year old Emma, then the Joanne Whalley version appear, the former leading Craven to a piece of paper concealed in one of Emma’s cookbooks, with a list of Tube Stations. This step is a contrivance that sits ill with the rest of the series. It’s rationalistic, it’s solid. And Ronnie finding this paper, even suspecting to look for it, is magic, it’s leftfield. There is nothing on any rational basis to lead him to this crucial discovery, and that’s a cheat.

Re-enter Jedburgh, back from El Salvador. Jedburgh perks things up, builds a degree of momentum that leads through to the end. He tells the story of how, under (President) Carter, he came to assemble GAIA, warns Ronnie about the tunnels under Northmoor and the need to get a 3D map.

And suddenly the pace is jacked up and information floods in. With the aid of a couple of contacts, Craven invades an MI5 base, accesses its computers, extracts information about GAIA and Northmoor (including the aforementioned 3D map) and runs off, just ahead of the enthuisastically pursuing coppers. The Berwicks run clear, Ronnie runs into the arms of Clemmy, who’s assigned to look after him (she will do so on the divan, and later in his bed, the episode’s sole and unworthy drop into cliche). Of course the Smug Boys, Pendleton and Harcourt, know all that’s going on and seem content to let it develop. They bring Craven to Parliament to this Committee that he won’t address but that puts him next to Godbolt, who relates to him the story of how he was bought and sold as a Union man, that Ronnie was targetted because the Northmoor security boys figured he had to lead the fatal GAIA incursion, when it was Godbolt himself who did it: not entirely owned.

So: Ronnie has the map. He’s going in, with Jedburgh alongside him. Pendleton advises him if trouble starts to shoot Jedburgh who, being American, isn’t on our side. And this is where the structural case is blown apart, because this ending is a penultimate episode ending, as indeed is all the build-up to it, and this is not the penultimate episode. Martin is building to something more than a dramatic climax. All tropes are flung wide. We shall see what we shall see.

Edge of Darkness: 03 – Burden of Proof

Classical serial structure. First half questions, second half answers. That should mean that we are now at the fulcrum, that we should shortly be seeing a shape emerge and go on to be defined. Some features are slowly becoming detectable, like an iceberg emerging from fog, but like an iceberg much of it is still buried.

The third episode began with a Police raid, 7.00am, block of flats, more men than surely necessary, several cars, police marksmen all converging to take Low, the man believed to be behind Emma Craven’s death. It’s overkill, surely, for one man. One man, who manages to break free and ‘jump’ six storeys to his eventual death. How much of that does Ronnie Craven buy? Bob Peck is still not letting us behind his watchful eyes but he’s giving the impression of subscribing to the cock-up theory of history, which is more than the audience is currently doing.

As if by provocation, Kennedy Martin introduces our Trade Union friend Godbolt, discussing religion on TV with two vicars, and going out of the way to tell millions (?) of people that his friend Ronnie’s barking up the wrong tree if he thinks there’s some kind of conspiracy knocking around over Emma’s death. Superintendent Ross is of the same mind: Ronnie’s going off his head with grief. It’s simple: Low wanted revenge. So did his partner, the ex-Provo gunman McCroon. That’s all. Nothing more. Methinks he doth protest too much.

There’s only one dissenting voice and that’s Jedburgh. He’s still got this fixed idea Emma was a terrorist, terrorist here being defined as someone concerned about the lethal effects of plutonium, who puts trees and the earth ahead of people (as if there’s a distinction). These people have no humanity.

But there is more going on, a pot still bubbling, whether or not it is being stirred. Emma’s last boyfriend, Terry Shields, comes to Craven, mentions something called a ‘hot spot’. Emma thought there was one in Northmoor, she was hot for it (weak pun). What’s a ‘hot spot’? Terry doesn’t know, Jedburgh doesn’t answer, but he and Pendleton are very shortly at Terry’s place, where the watcher in the van has had his head bashed in and Terry’s in a cold running bath, lovingly clutching a shorted out toaster: it’s not the only thing that’s shorted out.

Pendleton and Harcourt, the Happiness Boys, Smugness Incorporated, want Craven at the House of Commons for 10.00am. A closed Committee is about to go into session. It’s interviewing Jerry Grogan, CEO of the Fusion Corporation of Kansas, who want to buy International Irratiated Fuels: IIF own Northmoor. Their CEO, Robert Bennett, will stay in charge. Craven’s there to be seen and to fluster (and to give devastating but perjured evidence if he wants to co-operate) Grogan, who’s identified by Harcourt as the man they suspect of having Emma killed.

Enter a new player, Clemmy, played by Zoe Wanamaker, a cool, attractive enigma of a woman, a ‘friend’ of Jedburgh whose role in all this is completely unexplained. She appears to be connected to GAIA. So is Jedburgh, according to her: he helped found it.

Questions, all questions. All we know so far is where the questions lead to, where they led Emma and her colleagues to. The biggest question of them all is not what answers lie in Northmoor but, who let them in?

Edge of Darkness: e01 – Compassionate Leave

I’ve known for a long time now what TV series I wanted to go onto after Lou Grant – another multi-season affair but not something that will commit me for more than two years. That, however, can go on hold for a short time. The idea behind my current Sunday Watch series, like the Film series that went before it, was that there would be something different more or less every week. It would therefore have made sense to start watching The Singing Detective in this slot, but I didn’t think of that in time. But with socrates7’s enthusiastic embrace of the idea of my commenting on Edge of Darkness as inspiration, here we go.

Edge of Darkness was made by the BBC in 1985, written by Troy Kennedy Martin, a veteran writer from the Z-Cars days, and starring Bob Peck and Joe Don Baker, not to mention the lovely Joanne Whalley in a small but crucial role. I didn’t watch it when it was broadcast, I don’t know why, but I remember the acclaim it received. I didn’t get to watch it for the first time until the last decade, so this is only my second time around.

It felt somehow old-fashioned when I did get to see it, as well it might for something now thirty-five years old. Watching the opening episode made me feel old, in a way that Lou Grant, despite being further back than Edge of Darkness never did. The reason is obvious: Lou Grant dealt with issues that affected its country and Edge of Darkness, despite the universal story it will expand into, is steeped in the affairs of my country, in an era I experienced at first hand, an era that did much to sharpen my own political viewpoints. There is television footage of Margaret Thatcher being interviewed about Britain’s nuclear deterrent late in the episode which brought a lot back.

As an opening episode, ‘Compassionate Leave’ followed a fairly conventional structure, leavening it initially by a compelling if stoic performance by Peck – an unknown up to this point – as Detective Inspector Ronald Craven, and then stirring into the brew some odd and unexpected elements that to this point, hint at the shapeless outline of something deeper.

We start with what seems like a red herring, something for Craven to be doing as the story waits to start. Craven, a Yorkshireman in a Northern constabulary that’s played as being not-Yorkshire but which still feels like it’s set in Leeds, is investigating ballot-rigging in a Union election. That solidly roots the series in a distant time. Ronnie’s under open pressure, by the successful Union Secretary James Godbolt (Jack Watson) and the more silent complaisance of his Superintendant, Ross (John Woodvine) to hold off for two weeks during Conference in Blackpool, so as not to set off (more) political grief. This is a land, and a time, of Industrial Strife

Ronnie assents, silently. A man of few words is our Ronnie, and the vast masjority of them quiet, slow but decisive. Peck uses the minimum dialogue to establish Ronnie Craven as, on the surface, colourless but, not very far below, rock-solid, determined and also very right.

Ronnie has a daughter at College, Emma (Whalley). She’s a activist, attached to left wing and ecological causes. There’s great enthusiasm, passion, an urge to make the future better in Emma and her contemporaries: oh jesus, this is like time travel! It’s pissing it down, to use Ronnie’s words, and it is, and it’s night, and dark, and half the time you can’t see properly, and sometimes the dialogue’s mixed lower than Eric Clapton’s guitar soundtrack, which is entirely deliberate because when Ronnie picks her up, gets her home, has ratatouille ready, some rain-slick, hooded and bearded bastard brandishing a shotgun and screaming something about bloody murdering bastards steps out in front of them and points. Emma rushes in front of her Dad. He lets flies. She is literally blown off her feet and dies more or less instantly.

A police procedural. The death of a young woman. Probably an intended revenge killing, meant for Ronnie. Ronnie silent, in shock, determined that he’s alright, he’s not affected, that he’s fully functioning over the death of his only child, his only family, his wife dead ten years, of cancer, within a year of moving onto this patch. Officially, Ronnie has nothing to do with this investigation. He’s sent on two week’s compassionate leave. But he’s all right. He’s a Yorkshireman.

But that’s not all it is. We started in the dark, with uniformed men patrolling chain-metal fences, with a train moving at night, carrying odd-shaped sealed containers, so we know there’s something in the background. There’s a man named Pendleton (Charles Kay) who’s in London, calling the Chief Constable on his direct line to talk about the unintended murder of a 21 year old College student. There’s a tall, burly American in a stetson hat, giving his name as Darius Jedburgh (Baker) back from Texas and bringing Pendleton aerial shots of something called Northmoor.

And there’s a disquieting scene where the still damp Ronnie wanders round Emma’s bedroom, half sinking into the suddenly-terminated life his daughter had that was her as Emma not her as daughter, and half searching the place like any trained Policeman. He looks at old toys, clothes, wallposters. What we were back then. In a bedside cabinet drawer he finds a pink boxfile with only the word GAIA written on it. Inside there are papers, and a map he doesn’t look at. Ronnie finds a vibrator, a plain, basic white one. Then, disturbing it is, and this was Peck’s spur of the moment improvisation, he kisses it. His daughter’s vibrator. We are in the land of the seriously weird here.

Then he finds a gun. A black, metal gun (sorry, I don’t know gun species). His daughter had a gun. Ronnie sinks back on the bed, brain whirring, a gun in one hand, a tattered but loved teddy bear in the other. Strange scenes.

There was one other thing in the boxfile that I didn’t mention just now. It was something black, shaped like a mobile phone that was bulky even for the times. Though I’m not sure how clearly we were expected to recognise it then, I knew it as a Geiger Counter. After he’s formally identified his daughter’s body at the morgue, and raised his voice for the only, startling time to stop them covering her face, it’s not until he goes home again that Ronnie uses the Geiger Counter. It crackles over the things in the boxfile. It’s louder over the gun. And it goes positively electro over the lock of Emma’s hair Ronnie has kept.

Ronnie’s going to spend his leave in London, where the Met put him up in a decent hotel. London’s where the killers will have come from. He gets a call from Pendleton to meet in the car park. They’ll use Pendleton’s car because Ronnie’s is bugged. Is Pendleton 6 (MI6)? No, but he’s part of a unit attached to the Prime Minister and they’re going to the BBC, where she was just seen being interviewed. Pendleton casually describes Emma as a terrorist (that part at least has not dated). He suggests that it was not Ronnie but Emma who was the target.

And he leaves Ronnie to walk back when the PM’s route to Downing Street is varied. Or is that the real reason? He’s left Ronnie near a railway line. under the bridge a train emerges, a goods train, carrying oddly-shaped sealed containers.

Professionally, an object lesson in writing an opening episode to get you hooked, suggesting but not defining possibilities. What those possibilities are, we shall soon get to see. I should have watched this in 1985.