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.