“The Last Enemy”


For the last month, I’ve been watching a fascinating and increasingly chilling Masterpiece Contemporary miniseries on PBS called The Last Enemy.  Set in London with flashbacks to Afghanistan, the story follows Steven Ezzard, a “genius” mathematician who had been living in China but had been called back to London to attend the funeral of his brother.  From the moment he lands at the airport, everything seems a bit off center — a driver chauffers him to the funeral but doesn’t say who sent him, and after the funeral and remembrance party where he meets some of his brother’s friends, he discovers that his apartment is being occupied by strangers.  The government, in the form of a member of Parliament, contacts Steven to ask him to review their new computer database for surveillance, and suddenly Steven falls down what people in the spy business call “the rabbit hole.”

What fascinates me about this story, besides the incredible tension at times, is the setting.  When Steven first arrives in London, everything seems as if the story is contemporary.  But as time goes on, little details pop up that point to a near future timing.  Nothing much has changed about daily life in the city, EXCEPT that government surveillance and control of a citizen’s movements is nearly total.  The Last Enemy focuses on human behavior and relationships, how security can be a dangerous motive for governments, not on what cars look like or architecture or how far civilization has developed, or not.  Perceval and the subsequent novels also focus on human behavior and relationships with a backdrop of the near future geopolitical situation.  The future or technology are not characters in the novels. The future is not really a “character” in The Last Enemy but a detail about the setting that gradually becomes evident.  

The Last Enemy has been excellent so far.  The fifth, and last, installment is this coming weekend.  I suspect a DVD of the series will be available through PBS and I may consider buying it.  But first, I want to see in the conclusion if my guess about the ultimate tool of surveillance is correct….

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3 responses to ““The Last Enemy”

  1. sounds pretty interesting. I’ve always found it fascinating how authors or directors portray the time-setting of a story. Cars as so passe. Sure, it’s a ’58 Chevy, the movie must be set sometime thereafter. Often, it’s the little things in life. Perhaps so clearly demonstrated in Good Bye, Lenin!

    Some books are fixed fairly solidly in time. The Spy Who Came in from the Cold – even removing any particular year reference – is so clearly post-war, early cold-war West Germany. On the other spy-hand, some of Robert Ludlam’s books from the early 70s play just as well today, absent the technological changes (e.g. Bourne Identity as a movie v. book).

    Yet, the creepy books are sometimes the ones where there is no concrete put-your-finger-on-it time. The Handmaid’s Tale, for example. Nothing in it screams “it can’t be today”. The Others (movie w/ Nicole Kidman) is, hands down, one of the creepiest movies I’ve seen. Although that might not be such a statement, since I don’t often see them. Other than a verbal reference to the war, by which one assumes WW2, it could easily have been WW1. Although, come to think of it, I’m not sure which it was.

    Painting the future as Star Trek-y is so heavy handed and overdone. Sure, they’ve got communicators and transporters. Whee. London, c. 2008, has cameras posted all of the city for the explicit service of law enforcement. Great for criminal catching; great for Big Brother. (Yet, Minneapolis can’t get a dozen installed just at traffic intersections.) That’s not some nebulous ‘future’, it’s today.

    The minor little extrapolation from where we already are can be spooky. Too often we don’t object to things, because we don’t see them coming, and then – pow – they’re there. I suppose like The Last Enemy. How often do we leave somewhere for many years, come back, and it just doesn’t seem the same? We continually seek to put the image of yesterday over the reality of today.

  2. Interesting thoughts about different novels being specific to their time setting or “timeless.” I agree totally about Ludlum’s books.

    I thought “The Others” was totally creepy, too. The other totally creepy movie, which I’ve never been able to watch through to the end a second time, is “Don’t Look Now,” directed by Nicholas Roeg. I’d been to Venice and had had my own really creepy experiences there, especially at night when the canal water magnifies and distorts sounds, I was completely in the Venice of this movie….

  3. Re: Ludlum – I just read somewhere that a movie version of The Chancellor Manuscript is being made.
    http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0461652/
    Only thing was a simple “announced” for 2011, with Leonardo DiCaprio as Peter Chancellor. I haven’t read it since high school, but it was one of my favorite of Ludlum’s books. If my recollection of the content is vaguely right (and vague might just be the operative word), DiCaprio might make a pretty good version.

    I don’t know if you’ve read it – the plot listed was: “Peter Chancellor’s life becomes a mirror of his latest novel, as he becomes tangled in a web involving Washington power brokers and a blackmailed plot targeted to alter U.S. policy.”

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