The State Within begins at breakneck pace. It cuts between rapid close ups of shrink wrap, wire and explosives leaving the dizzy impression that we’re in for another imitation of the hit US series 24.
But it soon becomes clear that this is no fevered, neoconservative nightmare. Its conspiracy thriller credentials more resemble writer Paul Abbott’s 2003 thriller State Of Play about corruption and murder in parliament.
Both have witty dialogue to commend them, but more importantly an astute scepticism about the secretive use of state power.
The hastily assembled bomb does not keep us in suspense for long. Within minutes it has exploded on a British plane taking off from Washington. British ambassador Mark Brydon (Jason Isaacs) is – somewhat implausibly – on the scene, attempting a dramatic rescue of a trapped motorist.
It is quickly apparent that Brydon’s moral dilemmas will become a point of audience identification among the welter of shady goings-on.
We feel for him as he phones the families of victims to offer his condolences, and as he worries about the untreated burn on his hand earned by his act of heroism.
He has been offered a government post, just as soon as the appropriate by-election can be arranged, yet you suspect that his ascent up the greasy pole will not be so straightforward.
For example, there is his troublesome association with James Sinclair, former ambassador to “Tyrgyztan”.
Sinclair took a stand against this Central Asian regime’s political repression, for which he became persona non grata among the British establishment. If the name of former ambassador to Uzbekistan Craig Murray springs to mind, I have a hunch that this is intended.
This “Central Asian dimension” becomes fleshed out when the US discovers that the chief suspect for the bombing was trained… well, you can probably guess where.
As US secretary of defence Lynn Warner (an ice-cold Condoleezza Rice like figure played by Sharon Gless) says of the Tyrgyz dictator, “We’re paying that asshole $100 million a year to scratch his balls.”
But the US and Britain’s special relationship is soured when it becomes clear that the suspect was a British citizen. The governor of Virginia begins rounding up British Muslims with the help of the Patriot Act. Soldiers kill a young couple at a border post.
Brydon rightly denounces this “obscene act of racial discrimination” as a witch-hunt. The only part of this scenario that stretches credulity is Warner’s response – she doesn’t want her son to have died in Afghanistan for nothing. When did the neocons send their own kids to the front line?
The first episode introduces other plot threads with great potential. There is a military death and cover up with shades of Deepcut, and a campaign to save Falklands hero Luke Gardner (Lennie James) from a choice between lethal injection and the electric chair.
In another swipe at the US justice system, we are informed that alibis aren’t much help for a black man accused of murdering white girls.
Though it deals with serious issues, The State Within raises enjoyable questions. What, we wonder, is the plot significance of the mercenary making a killing in Baghdad?
How much will Tony Blair squirm when he sees Britain’s ambassadorial team called to the White House, with one asking another whether they were “invited or summoned?”
With all this to get riled about, will the “moral majority” still have the energy to denounce the most sustained gay kiss I’ve seen on TV since Queer As Folk?
I wouldn’t like to predict where The State Within is going to end up, but I’ve a hunch that it won’t please warmongers either side of the Atlantic.
The State Within begins on BBC1 at 9pm on Thursday 2 November.