“What Happens in Helmand” makes for a decent start to the Beeb’s twisty new drama about video trickery and (maybe) PTSD.
This recap of The Capture Season 1, Episode 1, “What Happens in Helmand”, contains spoilers.
BBC One’s twisty new drama is one of two things, though after the premiere, “What Happens in Helmand”, it’s difficult to tell which. It might be a paranoiac fantasia about video fakery, human rights abuses, and establishment cover-ups; it might just as easily be about wartime atrocities having separated another young man from everyday reality. I suppose it might be both, or neither, but all available evidence — including a strong counterterrorist undercurrent and looming Orwellian overtones — seems to suggest that The Capture has plugged itself into the mains of mistrust for both technology and the UK government.
We start as we mean to go on in The Capture Episode 1, as an expert witness in video engineering reveals that seemingly damning footage captured by a helmet-cam in Afghanistan was, in fact, misleadingly out-of-sync. What appeared to be soldier Shaun Emery (Callum Turner) executing a defenseless Taliban insurgent was actually an act of totally justified self-defense. Shaun, a good-looking teetotaller with a young daughter and several lairy working-class estate pals, is free, having spent six months inside for a crime he (apparently) didn’t commit.
This is “What Happens in Helmand” engaging in some old-fashioned foreshadowing. Post-release, Shaun celebrates in a ropey pub full of his idiot mates and his gorgeous barrister Hannah Roberts (Laura Haddock), a surging human rights lawyer and soon-to-be kidnap victim. Shaun is smart enough to realize that fraternizing with his legal counsel represents a conflict of interest, but also smart enough to know that now the case is over he can make his move; he catches up with her at a bus stop, shoots his shot, and receives a smooch in return. All is well — for now. She boards the next bus, and Shaun goes home. In the middle of the night, he’s arrested for assaulting and kidnapping her.
We’ll pump the brakes a bit there since we’re yet to introduce our bundle-of-cliches arresting officer, DI Rachel Carey (Holliday Grainger), a transplant from the Met’s SO15 counter-terrorism division who needs to lead a high-profile homicide or kidnapping case to be given the keys to the kingdom back at SO15. On the checklist of put-upon go-getter female characters, Rachel ticks most of the boxes: Her immediate superior hates her for being an overachieving high-flier, she’s frequently underestimated because she’s a pretty lady, and she’s having an affair with her married boss. All of this makes it likely she’ll side with Shaun when it’s inevitably revealed that he’s embroiled — presumably as a patsy — in a larger conspiracy since the CCTV footage of his encounter with Hannah at the bus stop seems to have been doctored.
Or has it? Since it takes great pains to establish that Shaun doesn’t drink, “What Happens in Helmand” is obviously floating the idea that Shaun committed the crime but — thanks to undiagnosed PTSD — doesn’t remember doing so. But it also took the time to establish the bona fides of his controversial high-profile barrister and the general unreliability of video evidence, which was also a recent topic in the Netflix docuseries Exhibit A. That’s the obvious early-days hook of The Capture, its very title redolent with Big Brother-style surveillance state panic, and it’s a decent enough lure to keep audiences coming back in search of the truth.