Image used under a Creative Commons license courtesy of damo1977.
I took a break from Spooks-watching* this winter, but I was very ill over the weekend and needed something I could watch in a bit of a haze, so I finished up the third series and began the fourth. It struck me that one of the reasons I enjoy the show so much is that it consistently and seriously examines a phenomenon that would be taboo in America: the virulence of far-right-wing extremism**. I don’t mean that it’s actually impossible. Rednecks and neo-Nazis show up as criminal suspects, but they’re frequently jokes or incompetent. We live in a world where the Department of Homeland Security gets torn apart for issuing a report on the growth of militia and other extremists groups. A television show that tried to suggest that violent extremists groups were at risk of causing major riots across the country or had a chance to rise to serious political prominence would be boycotted, network executives woodshedded dramatically. I’d be very curious to know if anyone’s pitched such a thing.In the UK, the political dynamic is very different, of course. But Spooks has consistently and intelligently examined multiple right-wing plots. In season one, it’s a racist demagogue who is inciting riots and beating his wife. In season two, there’s the risk of an army mutiny. In the fourth season, the team has to infiltrate and sabotage a rising anti-immigrant party with an arm that commits acts of violence and stirs up unrest in council estates. While the team has generally been successful in stopping these plots before they reach catastrophic magnitudes, their victories generally come at some cost. The extremists they’re facing are sophisticated, whether they’re using state-of-the-art anti-surveillance technology or the political system. And while the extremes to which they’ve taken their politics are loathsome, they’re not always wrong, something respectable team members acknowledge on a fairly regular basis. These folks are true enemies, real risks, precisely because they are realistic and tap into genuine fears. So they need to be not simply defeated but acknowledged and grappled with. The idiotic extremists who dapple American television usually don’t. But that doesn’t make them less dangerous, or us more secure from them.*For earlier posts on the show, see here and here.**That, and Princess Diana-related conspiracy theories. So. Awesome.