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: 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?