Spoiler alert: the following contains spoilers for the ending of BBC One's Bodyguard.
Name a television drama that’s more intense than Bodyguard. I dare you. For the last six weeks, our Sunday nights have been oriented around BBC One’s show about fictional Home Secretary Julia Montague (played by Keeley Hawes) and her troubled, devoted bodyguard Sergeant David Budd (Richard Madden). And wow, what an emotional rollercoaster it's been.
Needless to say, expectations for last night’s series finale were high. Our hearts raced with each damning revelation that came to light as the narrative worked to tie up (some, not all) loose ends. But there was one particular plot twist that had viewers feeling let down by what could have been a far more progressive conclusion. Tread carefully if you haven’t watched yet, huge spoilers ahead.
In the final episode, we finally found out who the bomb maker was. Though breadcrumbs between Julia Montague's assassination and the two suicide vests that link the first and last episodes seemed to lead to Richard Longcross, one of the security services' elusive strongmen, it turned out that the mastermind behind the explosions was Nadia (played by Anjli Mohindra), the Muslim woman we meet right at the beginning of Bodyguard.
She's quickly dismissed as a suspect when she's found on a train wearing an explosive device which she claims her husband put on her. When she's interrogated throughout the series, Nadia is positioned as the unsuspecting, defenceless wife who was unwittingly put in the middle of a terrorism investigation. And then, just as we approach the possibility that the acts of terror that drove the programme narrative could have been actioned by, well, anyone, Bodyguard managed to reinforce the stereotype that's come to define the discriminatory image of British Asians and Islam.
It's disappointing that this scenario is positioned as the only plausible conclusion for a series that leans so heavily on terrorism in the UK. While it points to awful events in recent history that have indeed been claimed by terror organisations which align themselves with Islam, there's huge concern about how using this as a plot point (when there were clear alternative routes to go down without jeopardising the otherwise gripping narrative) reinforces a deeply ingrained prejudice that society is, sadly, a long way from eradicating.
"What a way to spoil an incredible series. Essentially the message they've just ended on is 'even sweet, feeble Muslim women can be bomb makers too. Really, really disappointed in that message, does absolutely nothing but further Islamophobia", one person pointed out on Twitter.
The stereotyping was SO clanging in the 1st ep of #Bodyguard I only kept watching convinced Nadia would turn out to be Secret Service, vengeful veteran or similar. Shoulda figured all she would get was a double-whammy of awful victim/evil tropes, miserably failing @theriztest.— Beth Watson (@bethwhatcanido) September 24, 2018
Many viewers on social media vented their frustration at the unhelpful, potentially offensive storyline. While some viewers enjoyed the surprise that timid Nadia was behind it all, there is also the fact that for so much of Bodyguard, the investigating police and the audience alike were more willing to believe the cliché of the impressionable hijab-wearing Muslim woman motivated by fear of her husband. The idea that Nadia might be a prominent figure within the conspiracy in her own right wasn't even toyed with. It's this type of complicated dynamic that really holds a mirror up to our society, and how well we tell stories about women, minority faiths and ethnicities.
Could Bodyguard have pursued the line of inquiry into the security services' corrupt middle-aged white men who were very much at the centre of Julia's assassination? Yes, of course. And their involvement is noted in a brief reference to a couple of resignations and jail time. But the fact that the series opted for a narrative that many viewers feel promotes misplaced fear of the Muslim community has overshadowed the conclusion to one of the most popular television dramas in years. And that says a lot.