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‘Bodyguard’ Review: Richard Madden Owns This Addictive Netflix Conspiracy Thriller That Set U.K. Ratings Records

In just 10 minutes, show creator Jed Mercurio will lay claim to the next six hours of your life.

Richard Madden and Keeley Hawes, "Bodyguard"

Richard Madden and Keeley Hawes, “Bodyguard”

Sophie Mutevelian/World Productions/Netflix

[Editor’s Note: The following contains spoilers from “Bodyguard,” including the finale.]

The first half of the “Bodyguard” finale is everything a fan of the series could want. David has been ambushed and emerges on the streets of London strapped to a suicide vest. His assailants had also taped his thumb to a Dead Man’s Switch, which means that if he’s killed, the bomb will go off. In a long, heart-pounding sequence, David must first convince the police that he is the victim and cannot control the device, somehow deliver kompromat materials he stole to convince them of his good faith, and then disarm the bomb himself using only verbal instructions.

David survives, which should be expected since he is the series’ protagonist. Yet, the extensive bomb sequence works so well because Mercurio created uncertainty throughout the series; at every moment, viewers are braced for an explosion. If he decided to kill off his hero, the move would have been bold but not entirely unexpected. After all, Mercurio killed off Julia with a bomb in Episode 3, and despite hopes that this was a ploy to sniff out the culprit, she remained dead. In Mercurio’s worlds, it does not pay to become overly invested in his characters.

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Learning that organized crime boss Luke Aitkens (Matt Stokoe) has been aided and abetted by David’s own police supervisor Lorraine Craddock (Pippa Haywood) feels anticlimactic. At this point, it’s more surprising if someone is trustworthy — but that’s by design. That swift resolution sets up the series’ big twist: Nadia (Anjli Mohindra), the hapless Muslim woman whose terrorist husband forced her to wear a suicide vest during the Oct. 1 railway bombing attempt, was also a willing and active jihadi. Not only that, but she’s also the engineer who designed the suicide vests (including the one strapped to David) and who communicated intel about his kids so that their school could be targeted for an attack.

Richard Madden, "Bodyguard"

Richard Madden, “Bodyguard”

Sophie Mutevelian/World Producti

From a storytelling standpoint, it’s a worthy surprise for a series in which nearly everybody is guilty of some deception. David’s heroism saved Nadia from supposedly being used as a reluctant pawn and victim, creating sympathy for her plight. Having her character off screen and imprisoned for most of the series also helped to keep her off viewers’ radar, thus amplifying the surprise element.

Nadia’s revelation isn’t entirely satisfying, though. Other than wrapping up the series, there’s no reasonable explanation as to why she’s motivated to spill her guts now. Having wrought havoc from the safety of her prison cell, she could have just continued to be a hidden menace from inside London.

However, the biggest issue with the big twist is its troubling, real-world implications. Nadia’s contempt for David because he viewed her as a submissive, oppressed Muslim woman — someone who’s not a threat — sends the Islamophobic message that it is right to suspect all Muslims, even the ones who seem innocent. It’s troubling that this show sows doubt and suspicion of real-life girls and women who actually are used as unwilling suicide bombers. It’s akin to promoting stories about false rape accusations to justify not believing women in cases of assault.

Furthermore, the poor aide Tahir Mahmood (Shubham Saraf), who was also killed in the blast that targeted Julia, was seen as a suspect in that bombing. As a result, his family was rounded up and questioned. It would have been satisfying to have a scene where his name is cleared, where it’s acknowledged to his family that he too was a victim.

“Bodyguard” remains a gripping and thoroughly entertaining adventure that’s emotionally deft, but that clumsy ending dims its overall excellence. Mercurio is already discussing a possible second season of “Bodyguard” with the BBC, and the world he has created is compelling enough to warrant a return. Maybe this time, the show’s cynicism won’t create more distrust among groups who should be trying to understand each other.

Grade: B+

“Bodyguard” is currently streaming on Netflix.

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