Sunday, 6 April 2014

The Professionals - Private Madness Public Danger s1e1

Lone wolf terrorism always makes for good drama, both in fiction and real life. When terror is carried out by an organisation there is a sense that resources can be invested by the 'authorities' to counter it; infiltrate the group, spy on it, prosecute it, cut off its funding. The 70s was awash with groups like this, both large and small.

The lone wolf however, is much more difficult to counter. Cranks, zealots, obsessives, all derogatory terms for the terrorist that generates a particular type of fear because there is little that can be done to prevent them, short of mass-spying on the population. And that could never happen. Oh, wait...


So, to the episode! A lone wolf, Nesbitt (played with steely determination by Keith Barron), fired from his job at a chemical factory, exacts his revenge by poisoning a coffee machine with a hallucinogenic drug, ADX, leading to the death of one employee, following some drug-induced fish-eye close-ups... and an "I-can-fly" moment.

As if hallucogens weren't horrible enough, added close-up
The ransom is delivered to 10 Downing Street, demanding that the UK stops developing chemicals for use in biological weapons. Seems fairly reasonable by today's standards, but then again the populace of the time thought nothing of wearing 100% polyester. Cowley refers to him as a "nutty idealist" and quite rightly assesses that Nesbitt will continue to make his point unless caught.

In a scene cut from the current broadcast version, Nesbitt then heads to the pub to inject some ADX into the draught bitter and give the lunchtime drinkers a little extra in their Tavern VIP or pint of Harp. A Watney's Party Eighth, perhaps? I presume the scene has been removed because of the very blasé attitude to drinking and driving, or perhaps the grim interior of pubs and the limited choice (beef OR cheese sandwich) are best wiped from the collective consciousness. A series of ADX-induced car crashes ensues and a harassed Cowley arrives on scene (he's got his tie loosened round his neck, dammit!) and delivers a pithy one-liner.

Jump cut from mass casualty attack to... Birds! In sequinned underwear trotting through frame as Doyle and his undercover colleague wait to nail the drug-pusher, Sutton after a revue show. Unlike drug-pushers of today, they were much smarter 35 years ago. Sutton wears a three-piece suit, a syrup and is dealing by way of heroin-in-a-bunch-of-flowers. Sutton is connected with Nesbitt and so gets brought in by Doyle to be interrogated at CI5 HQ.

Bodie, by the way, spends most of the episode at a hospital bedside looking pretty miserable. As would I in that wide-lapelled houndstooth blazer.
Not a handbrake turn in sight
Back at the ranch, Cowley indicates just how far CI5 is willing to go to catch this terrorist. In later episodes there are numerous references to special dispensation and how CI5 'trumps' all other law enforcement. Sutton gloats that he survived torture during the war and they'll never get him to talk. Fine, Cowley will inject him with heroin and turn him into a junkie. Makes the West Midlands Serious Crime Squad look like bureaucratic pen-pushers by comparison (their preferred interview technique was suffocating the interviewee with a plastic bag over the head).

Race to the finish, cars, shootout, bomb disarmament and Cowley telling the boys off for ignoring orders. A wee dram of scotch and for once, the only losers are the bad guys.

As a first episode, it does a reasonable job of setting up the relationships between the central characters but it is a little too black and white. It does score well on the newly-created Nobody Ever Wins unrealistic-portrayal-of-a-drug-addict scale for Susan Fenton, a middle-class skag addict with lovely home furnishings.

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