by ALEX CARNEVALE
creator Patrick Harbinson
When Fearless begins, attorney Emma Banville is living with three other people in her house in Suffolk. The first is an ISIS operative named Miriam (Karima McAdams), who has a baby son. The final resident is her boyfriend Steve (John Bishop), her alcoholic photographer boyfriend. Her idea for the present and future is this: how can I bring a child into this life? Since she cannot conceive naturally because of an operation, Emma plans to adopt. When she presents her credentials to the agency involved, they are like, thanks but no thanks.
As her makeshift jury, we feel no more sympathy for Emma than her self-selected judge. A criminal defense solicitor, she is convinced she is not complicit in the crimes of her clients, and she proves it by housing a terrorist and defending a local man falsely accused of killing a fifteen year old girl in 2002. Fearless suggests there is basically no distinction between these two sorts of people; it is roughly the dramatic equivalent to those who cold-bloodedly explain that terrorist attacks are actually quite rare. Treason is a far worse crime than murder, and there was a point in history where this was manifestly obvious to everyone.
Fortunately Ms. Banville does not live in a world of greys. She has an adversary who obfuscates the moral instability of her world: Heather Myles (Robin Weigert), an American NSA operative who is responsible for every single bad thing that happens in Fearless. Evil is obvious, the opening title sequence of Fearless suggests as a young girl meant to represent Ms. Banville leaps over a wall tattooed by the words truth and justice. Various clips suggest the historical subtext to Fearless – that England was somehow duped into the Iraq War and that Tony Blair was some kind of fool for believing in the U.S. as allies. What this has to do with Donald Trump I’m not quite sure, but he also puts in an appearance during the awful prologue.
Thankfully, the rest of the series itself is quite a bit better. Helen McCrory – Damian Lewis’ wife in real life and Narcissa Malfoy in the fake one – is one of those actresses who suddenly became stunning as she crested her 40s. Even though scripter and Homeland veteran Patrick Harbinson has her smoking a cigarette in every scene of Fearless, this can do nothing to obscure her inner beauty. McCrory is a performer of devastating, uncompromising range who takes scenes that would be outright dull for anyone else and turns them into a rollercoaster of human pathos. She does more on the end of a simple telephone call than Helen Hunt has done in her lifetime.
The rest of the cast seems largely selected by virtue of it being impossible for McCrory to dominate them onscreen. Most are placid shields that absorb her measured tenacity. Her colleague Dominic, played by the amusing and subtle actor Jonathan Forbes, is the perfect rejoinder to McCrory’s ups and downs. As the detective who originally made the case against her client, Wunmi Musaku is a little too cold-blooded to be believable, but it is great fun watching the rest of the cast smash up against the impenetrable wall she represents.
The legal aspects of Fearless, including the twists and turns in the case, are relatively contrived and serve largely as background noise behind McCrory’s eloquence. That she is not able to try her own case in front of the court as a barrister is an aspect of the British justice system clearly unsuited for the small screen.
It is fun to see America positioned as a great evil in the world. Recently, their intelligence services have really made a mess of things in British film and television. Perhaps it is useful for England to think of its international reach as a subtle counterpoint to America’s cynical warfare, only the field of international security is not quite as morally definite as Fearless suggests. When MI6 comes to Emma’s flat in order to arrest her lodger, the woman slips her a SIM card valuable to the other members of her ISIS cell. Even though the British authorities have apparently been listening in, they do not arrest Emma.
Emma is implicated, but she does not trust her government. Instead of going to the authorities immediately, as every aspect of her should be screaming, she prevaricates and decides to leak nude photos of the murder victim to the press. Sadly, this accomplishes nothing and even makes Emma look like more of a sleazeball in the eyes of everyone she knows – including her husband, who accepts a photography assignment for three weeks in Sweden just when things are at their most delicate. In response, Emma smokes another cigarette and visits the hospital where her father is on the brink of death. No matter how many unpleasant things she does, she knows how to have fun.
Alex Carnevale is the editor of This Recording.