Sep 30, 2008

The Last Enemy on PBS: May We See Your I.D. Please?

A half century ago Orwell predicted Big Brother's eye watching over everyone. The scenario seemed preposterous, scary, and so far, far away that future generations would have to deal with the issue. Not us. Well, 1984 has come and gone and privacy as we once knew it has disappeared. We have become a surveillance society. Cameras in plain view follow my actions at the bank, at intersections, through toll booths, in airport terminals, and while shopping. Credit card companies follow my every purchase, phone companies detail every call I make, and online libraries, bookstores, and movie rentals track my personal preferences. Imagine my chagrin when a computerized gizmo makes suggestions based on past purchases. Google and Firefox brazenly record each site I visit, and from space satellites take images of my neighborhood that are so detailed that I can see my car parked on its pad.

It boggles the mind to think what would happen if some entity decided to brand me by my credit cards, driver's license, passport, citizenship papers and other vital pieces of identification. How would I be able to travel or do banking or purchase a house or do anything that required legal documentation? Or what if some bureaucrat decided that I belonged on a public enemies' list or that I required extra surveillance without my knowledge, and that I had no course of appeal because all of this was done in secret on behalf of the state?

The Last Enemy, a modern drama written by screenwriter Peter Berry, prompted these thoughts. This five-part contemporary drama, will be show on Masterpiece Contemporary on PBS Sunday October 5th through November 2nd.

Spurred by heightening surveillance and identity laws in contemporary England, Peter Berry crafted The Last Enemy as a cautionary fable of post-9/11 society, where technological and political trends are converging on a culture that is the antithesis of everything represented by Britain's ancient charter of individual liberty, Magna Carta.

"There are those who would argue that the innocent have nothing to hide," says Berry, "but soon the innocent are going to have to prove that they are in fact innocent - suspects until proven innocent by the data logged on their ID cards. Ordinary citizens will become the enemy - the last enemy."
The first episode sets up the series. Stephen Ezard returns to London to attend his brother Michael's funeral after fours years of doing mathematical research in China. Mysterious events occur almost immediately. A female refugee dies in his apartment, then her body disappears. Stephen meets Michael's widow and almost immediately starts and affair with her. When he is kidnapped by a rogue agent he learns that microbiologists are dropping like flies, dying of unnatural causes. I won't give the plot away except to say that Stephen and his paramour, Yasim, are instrumental in unraveling the clues of this modern thriller.

The characters:

Robert Carlysle as Russell, the mysterious agent

Benedict Cumberbatch: Stephen Ezard, the mathematician

Max Beesley: Michael Ezard, Stephen's brother

Annamaria Marinca: Yasim Anwar, Michael's widow

Geraldine James: Barbara Turney, the PM's assistant