“Bodyguard” begins in a state of extreme tension and never lets up. The hit BBC series, which premiered on Netflix last month, opens on a commuter train bound for London where police Sgt. David Budd (Richard Madden), who’s traveling with his two young children, discovers a female suicide bomber. Jumping to action, Budd manages to both talk the woman out of detonating the bomb and persuade authorities not to shoot her.
The scene plays out for an excruciating 22 minutes and sets the stage for the pulse-pounding story from creator Jed Mercurio (“Line of Duty”) that unfolds over the next five and a half episodes. It’s a pulpy, kinetic story full of twists, turns, show-stopping set pieces, and just a few clichés. Fortunately, those occasional clichés can be forgiven thanks to brisk pacing and a tight script that keeps you on the edge of your seat and second-guessing even as the show arrives at a rather tidy and predictable conclusion.
The plot kicks into high gear following the foiled bombing when Budd’s heroism leads to a promotion that puts him on the security detail of conservative Home Secretary Julia Montague (Keeley Hawes), a conservative whose hawkish and quasi-authoritarian homeland security policies have made her a divisive figure in British politics. Budd, an Afghan War veteran suffering from PTSD, finds himself conflicted by Montague’s past support for the unpopular war which left him physically and psychologically scarred and has all but destroyed his marriage.
His ethical qualms get further complicated when he becomes romantically involved with Montague. While it’s a cliché the series could have done without, the connection helps to soften and humanize Montague, who is otherwise portrayed as cold, unfeeling and manipulative.
What follows is a tangled web of conspiracies, blackmail and assassinations that stretch to the highest levels of government and the darkest corners of organized crime syndicates and foreign terrorist networks. With so much action, it can, at times, be difficult to keep track of who’s playing who, what their motivations are, and where it’s all going. Detailed “previously on” recaps at the top of each episode help to keep viewers up to speed.
Uncertain who he can trust, Budd takes a page from Jack Bauer and goes rogue in order to expose the conspiracy and bring the perpetrators to justice. To be sure, the show shares DNA with contemporary paranoid political thrillers like “24” and “Homeland.” It also shares those shows’ problematic relationships with Muslims. While “Bodyguard” isn’t explicitly Islamophobic, it does walk that line with a character whose initial depiction as one type of Muslim stereotype is ultimately traded for another worse one in a rather improbable twist.
Madden, who played the rather unremarkable Robb Stark on “Game of Thrones,” gets to show more range here as Budd. The character is vulnerable and broken, but his sense of duty compels him to ignore his own pain in order to help others.
A strong, largely female supporting cast provides a variety of well-developed and interesting characters for Budd to interact with. In addition to Hawes, Ash Tandon and Nina Toussaint-White give strong performances as Deepak Sharma and Louise Rayburn, a pair of counterterrorism detectives who become key allies for Budd as his investigation deepens.
Despite some predictable beats and a bit of problematic characterization, “Bodyguard” is a fast-paced, addictive thriller that doesn’t disappoint, even as it explores some familiar 21st-century political anxieties.