It starts with a negotiation in a restaurant. A Russian double agent has information MI5 wants; in return, he wants a house. Agent Beatrice Ogilvy (Lydia Leonard) doesn’t like him, he doesn’t like her, but her boss says it’s her show so the Russian doesn’t have a choice. Eventually her pressure pays off and he starts to talk: there’s a terrorism threat known as ‘Redback’ planned against a new Scottish nuclear reactor. If they want to know more, time to invest in real estate.
It seems like the investigation is off to a solid start – until the double agent walks outside and is promptly murdered by a mysterious assailant who then kills Beatrice’s boss before escaping (the killer’s fondness for poison makes the country he’s working for fairly easy to guess). All she has left is a single clue: that the reactor’s computer security system is built by Danish company Rieper Hansen.
For Beatrice, what follows is personal in more ways than one. Not only was her boss killed in front of her, but now she has to front up to the MI5 chief who happens to be her father (Stephen Dillane from Game of Thrones). He’s not happy that the Russian is dead, and he’s especially unhappy that the Russian didn’t tell them anything useful before he died because Beatrice didn’t want to spend money on a house.
Red Election’s steely blue London setting and slickly polished action set the tone right from the start, but it’s the early hints of Beatrice’s more sensitive side that make this series stand out. She’s still no soft touch; she’s the one that first spotted the killer, even if it was too late to stop him. Annoyed that her negotiations have gone wrong, distraught at the death of her boss and visibly shaken when she’s dressed down by her father, there’s an emotional side to her that sets her apart from the typical emotionless espionage agent.
Meanwhile in Denmark, Rieper Hansen’s head of security Torben Jensen (Niels Justesen) has vanished, leaving behind both his computer and his increasingly frantic partner Katrine Poulson (Victoria Carmen Sonne). When a representative of Rieper Hansen turns up to collect the laptop from their home, claiming the company is worried the security codes Jensen was working on have been compromised, her suspicions – and her annoyance at being a prime suspect – kick into overdrive.
Turns out she’s an intelligence agent with eight years on the job, so there’s no chance she’s going to let anyone else handle things even when Beatrice and partner Levi (Kobna Holdbrook-Smith) fly into Copenhagen to question her. But while she sees right through Beatrice’s questioning techniques – as she says, “Establish a bond, understand, but don’t dominate. Are you going to do the whole manual?” – that doesn’t mean they don’t both want the same thing: to figure out exactly what is going on.
Over the ten episodes of this pan-European thriller (almost everyone speaks English, but there are numerous scenes in Danish), both Beatrice and Katrine find themselves pulled into an increasingly vast and complex web of terror. There’s a number of subplots on the go at once, including a referendum on Scottish independence, an attempt on the UK PM’s life, Beatrice’s effort to track down the man who killed her boss, Katrine’s search for Torben, a Russian mole in MI5, at least one bomb goes off, and it’s extremely clear that nobody can really trust anyone else.
For a series that features a Cold War-era hammer and sickle on the logo, Red Election is surprisingly up-to-date when it comes to the world of espionage. Deep fake videos are standard when it comes to political smears and keeping governments off balance; just about every electronic gadget you can think of can and is turned into an eavesdropping device. If you want to feel paranoid in your daily life, this is definitely the series for you.
It’s the good cop–bad cop double act between the two leads that brings all this global drama down to a human level. Beatrice is the smooth professional who takes things to heart; Katrine is the hard-edged one who can’t let anything (even a bad cup of coffee) go. Her take-no-prisoners attitude to everything from interrogating suspects to ordering dinner makes her the perfect foil for Beatrice while being extremely entertaining in its own right.
She might be a nightmare to deal with, but she’s a lot of fun to watch – and if she manages to help save Europe from a sinister Russian plot along the way, so much the better.
Red Election premieres on SBS Thursday 28 October at 8:30pm with a double episode. Episodes will then air weekly, with episodes available the day of broadcast on SBS On Demand.
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