Robb Stark is back, baby!
The BBC’s political thriller Bodyguard, starring Richard Madden aka the erstwhile Robb as a troubled military veteran working as a protection officer for London’s Metropolitan Police who stumbles into a real ratfuck of a political situation, was an absolute smash hit this August in the United Kingdom. The finale drew 11 million viewers, it’s currently got a 100 percent fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes, and the show’s success is boosting the case for Madden as the next James Bond. Now it’s come to Netflix, to see whether it’ll translate for American audiences.
As the two Jezebel staffers who have likely devoted the most of their lives to BBC television dramas—Stassa Edwards and Kelly Faircloth—we naturally binged the six-part series over the weekend and discussed in the DMs.
Here are our thoughts, such as they are! There are spoilers, of course.
Kelly Faircloth: Okay, let’s talk Bodyguard, the BBC series that has apparently captivated all of the United Kingdom and lately come to our own shores, and most importantly stars Robb Stark, who is suddenly very hot to me, personally.
Stassa Edwards: Not the Whitney Houston version. Robb Stark has really grown some serious leg muscles, but his acting style still involves a lot of staring at the sky as a means to express almost every emotion.
Kelly: Please don’t forget the occasional grunting.
Stassa: But here, he’s no longer Robb Stark, Lord of Winterfell. He’s David Budd, the bodyguard of Home Secretary Julia Montague, played by the should-be-more-famous-in-America Keeley Hawes. (Shoutout to The Durrells in Corfu, an incredibly fun show everyone should watch.)
Kelly: David served in Afghanistan and has serious undiagnosed trauma that he is not getting treatment for; Julia Montague is a hawkish Tory.
Stassa: Julia is more of a security state Tory than Margaret Thatcher ever dreamed of being.
Kelly: Wait—The Durrells in Corfu is actually good? Sorry, not to get off topic.
Stassa: It is surprisingly funny, and I love it. Please do not judge me.
Kelly: I would never.
Meanwhile, in the opening scene, David talks a would-be suicide bomber into surrendering and literally shields her with his own body so she isn’t shot by the SWAT responders. This is basically how the whole show works, setting up a series of conflicts between people that seem super urgent one moment and then just evaporate the next episode.
Stassa: And as a kind of reward, he’s given the equivalent of a Secret Service detail to guard the Home Secretary. And in the middle of this, his marriage with the youngest Shelby daughter from Peaky Blinders is in shambles. So a lot going on in just the first episode. And you’re right, all of the conflict that seems important is always kind of dropped. The show is basically a bunch of knives in drawers. You need all of these pieces, but who knows how or why? Not even Robb Stark knows!
Kelly: I enjoyed that Robb Stark was pretty confident that SOMETHING was happening, but fuck if he knew what, which I found deeply relatable.
Stassa: And fuck if he knew if the something happening wasn’t all his fault.
Kelly: Did you also have that moment at the end of the show where it’s like, all these women in his life are so justifiably sick of Budd’s shit, and they’re all standing there as he’s in peril, and the guy who has never liked him is like, “Hey mate, let’s sort this out.”
Stassa: Yes! But let’s rewind a bit.
So Budd is married to Vicki, but decides, after the first attack on Julia’s life (which was bloody and very action movie) that he and Julia should have an affair, and there’s like two or three episodes that are just hot sex between Budd and Julia, where the show kinda loses the whole assassination plot and is basically like, “Well, I guess we have to let these two really beautiful people have sex for a while.”
Kelly: Hot, and totally inexplicable.
I don’t know—this show felt obliged to be a compelling meditation on our political moment and also terrorism and the security state, but what really worked for me was the inexplicable fucking and the beautifully choreographed suspense sequences. Every time there was a bomb or a gun or some security scenario, I was put-my-phone-down-and-actually-watch riveted. Which—RIP my attention span and really my brain in general—hardly ever happens anymore.
Stassa: I felt like this show could have easily been set in 2002.
Kelly: The politics sometimes felt phoned in, to me. Specifically, I’m thinking of the kompromat. Did you enjoy the episode where they just said “kompromat” like 15 times in 10 minutes?
Stassa: Did that feel phoned in? It felt very contemporary, but in these really obvious gestural ways. Or, at least, I think it did? It feels that the politics of security haven’t actually changed that much for over a decade.
Kelly: Maybe that’s more what was happening—not that they were phoned in, but more that the politics of security have socked in like long-lasting bad weather.
Stassa: The machinations of the political machine were very cheesy, but I liked that they were. Like, there was this very simple explanation that corruption was always at the core. Which... universal truths and whatnot. I think more interesting is that I haven’t seen a real treatment of veterans of our modern wars that aren’t entirely heroic, and I suppose that the tension of this massive plot tying the show together is that these big political decisions fall out on like one average dude and his family.
Major spoilers ahead.
But let’s talk about one big spoiler, which is that after building up all of this sexual and political tension between Julia and Budd where he’s repulsed by her politics, they fucking kill off Julia!
Kelly: I still can’t believe they were just like, okay bye! That was a problem for me because they had set up that whole conflict—and then it becomes this very straightforward procedural. Which, again, was beautifully choreographed every time there was some specific tension-filled scenario of danger. But I felt so cheated!
Stassa: I thought for at least an episode that they were faking her death, but nope. Guess she had to go back to making The Durrells in Corfu.
The show looked really sleek, and I like that the London of Bodyguard was modern London—skyscrapers and modernist materials.
Kelly: It’s like they designed all of modern London to look good in intense political thrillers.
Stassa: I agree with you that after laying out these complex relationships, the show turned into a real paint by the numbers procedural that relied a little too heavily on “Wow, women can be evil!” As though that were some great revelation.
Kelly: The patriarchy is shook!
Stassa: Women can be corrupt; they can be terrorists, and they can be conservative MPs. Tell me something I don’t know! And make Robb Stark emote it. (Richard Madden looks up to the sky, thinking about the weight of the patriarchy.)
Kelly: I think my real struggle with this show was that I just don’t believe in active nefarious government conspiracies anymore? I only believe in passive conspiracies of silence. Because people just do bad evil shit right out in the open! When the show wanted me to ask if the security services had murdered Julia, I was like, they’d probably just launch some racist shit-posting campaign against her.
Stassa: I’m wondering if that reads very differently in the U.K., where citizens actually cared that Tony Blair lied to them about Iraq. Like, I think our sense of political corruption in the U.S. is very blasé. Whereas in the U.K., an MP building a duck house for his pond with public money was an actual scandal.
Kelly: Yeah, I think that my reaction was very specifically shaped by the last 20 years of American politics. And my reaction really bummed me out, because it made me feel very intensely this sensation of “lol nothing matters,” which is a sensation that I hate and don’t even necessarily believe. So with all due respect to this beautifully made show and Robb’s beautiful body, I should probably have watched The Durrells in Corfu instead.
His thighs really are so, so good though.
Stassa: I definitely watched it through the lens of a certain American political moment (because I’m American and therefore can only view the world through my imperialist point of view), and it felt like I had to relieve post-Iraq invasion politics. Even as the show insisted that it was set in the present, emphasizing the Afghanistan veteran with PTSD. I feel like the issue of the “security state” has been accepted in ways that might still be more controversial in the U.K—which is to say, I liked the sexy episodes where I didn’t have to think about that.
Kelly: Here’s a question: Does Brexit exist in this show’s universe?
Stassa: Interesting. In so far as Julia is a stylish Tory, which could be an illusion to May. (How many times were there closeups of Julia’s heels?) I mean, Julia would definitely be pro-Brexit. Maybe that’s a better question for our British readers. How much British television actually deals with Brexit? My perspective is skewed because I only watch costume dramas where vicars solve crimes.
Kelly: Not to bring everything back to our favorite TV show, the Turkish melodrama Magnificent Century, streaming now on Netflix, but I got the same feeling watching this, where I could tell I was missing some cultural and political context.
Stassa: Yeah, I agree. Though that feeling that Afghanistan and Iraq—that the whole period—was still an open wound, I think, was clear even to me, perhaps because that particular political moment was deeply shared between the United States and the United Kingdom. But the nuances of a lot of the political hierarchies and the fighting between different departments were lost on me.
I’ll also add that the fear of the Muslim terrorist also seemed weirdly retro and political in uncomfortable ways.
Kelly: Yup! Especially since if you are looking for a real-life example of the murder of a sitting MP, it’s not a Muslim—it’s a guy with a library full of books about white supremacy and Nazis.
Stassa: Exactly, and even in the U.S., I think there’s more palpable fear of domestic terrorism or mass shootings. But I guess even Bodyguard ultimately sold it as a broader conspiracy where a “terrorist” worked in collaboration to exploit a corrupt system, which... idk man. Whatever with that ending!
Kelly: Yeah, that ending.
Stassa: I really enjoyed the first three episodes! And look forward to returning to Poldark.
Kelly: Contemporary stories are all well and good, but give me sex eyes or give me death.
Stassa: Robb Stark could definitely take sex eyes lessons from the men of Poldark.