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….