Britain produces cop shows with an abandon that defies our present moment’s global supply shortages. Just this week, ITV launches two new procedurals – Ridley and The Suspect – while the BBC brings back its hit surveillance drama, The Capture, for a second season. It is a national addiction on a scale usually reserved for tea consumption, football hooliganism and insincere apologies. Within this obsession, The Capture represents the genre at its classiest and, though it might upset some patriots at our state broadcaster to say so, at its most American.
Holliday Grainger – surely one of the most charismatic actors to remain predominantly constrained to the small screen – returns as Rachel Carey, now promoted to DCI and working within the bubble of Correction. Correction, as The Capture’s first series exposed, is hi-tech audiovisual manipulation software, used for the planting of digital evidence by the authorities. As such, viewers can be fairly confident that, even after the cliffhanger ending of the last season, Carey isn’t naïve to the total immorality of the system. “No, I haven’t joined them, you big bloody idiot,” she whispers to an injured colleague, somewhat indiscreetly. “I’m trying to beat them.”
This season focuses on the threat seemingly posed by a piece of Chinese AI profiling software, Xanda. With the contract for facial recognition up for tender, Britain’s security minister Isaac Turner (I May Destroy You’s Paapa Essiedu) meets with Xanda’s rep Yan Wanglei (Succession’s Rob Yang). “As long as I’m security minister, Britain’s borders won’t be monitored by a storefront for the People’s Republic of China,” Turner tells him. But Xanda won’t be fobbed off easily, and with the might of the Chinese government behind him, Wanglei threatens the minister. “I’ve got nothing to hide,” Turner declares. “Everybody has something,” Wanglei replies. And so, a cat-and-mouse game of digital manipulation and political doublespeak begins.
At its best, The Capture feels like the closest thing Britain has to Homeland. The first series tackled war crimes perpetrated in Afghanistan, and this second hands the thematic reins over to state-sponsored terrorism. “We’re looking at the most blatant attack by a foreign power since Salisbury,” announces Lia Williams’s DSU Gemma Garland solemnly. This isn’t bent coppers or murders in grotty seaside towns; this is more James Bond than Jack Frost. The pacing is excellent, and the action sequences are suspenseful and original. With Correction technology now out in the open, the filmmakers have licence to utilise the real-time altering of CCTV footage from the off. Watching an assassination unfold simultaneously in the real world and through ghostlike security footage is a genuinely novel experience.
Yet there are, unfortunately, mistakes here. Essiedu is miscast as a government minister with two young children. The actor is in his early thirties (an age that would make him, by several years, the youngest minister in the current government) and his boyish face makes it hard to buy him as a career politician. The role is a misuse of his undoubted talents. And Grainger, too, is underused: now that she is inside the tent, aware of the power of Correction, that sense of eye-opening discovery is diminished. Carey is constantly being shoehorned into the action, even when her presence makes little or no sense.
These are imperfections that keep The Capture from being truly headline TV. The spread of Correction technology – and the souping up of its capabilities to near science-fiction levels – is a smart way of creating a new mystery out of the one that’s already been unravelled. “You know exactly who we need to call,” says Cavan Clerkin’s DS Patrick Flynn when he witnesses this technology in the wild, “and it ain’t Ghostbusters.” Cyberterrorism might not be the most original premise in 2022 (it’s only a few weeks since The Undeclared War was on our screens) but introducing a crack team of AI specialists is a satisfyingly pulpy twist. “Trust no one” might be the show’s message, but you’re almost guaranteed to enjoy this. Trust me.