The Nest is immediately compelling telly, with interesting ethical ideas underpinning an engaging thriller.
This recap of The Nest Episode 1 contains spoilers.
The Nest is the latest in a burgeoning trend of BBC dramas set in Scotland and revolving mostly around ethical issues – The Victim was about rehabilitation, The Cry was about toxic masculinity and domestic abuse, and this is ostensibly about surrogacy, although, judging by the first episode, it’s also about privilege, classism, and perhaps quite a bit more besides.
Anyway, the plot setup is as follows: Emily (Sophie Rundle) is a Glasgow music teacher married to very well-off local businessman Dan (Martin Compston), who has a chequered past and may not necessarily be entirely straight-up in his dealings, though we’ll shelve that possibility for now. Either way, they’re quite happily married, live in a swanky glass-walled loch-side home, and can’t have a baby.
The baby thing is, intentionally or otherwise, presented as just another aspect of this couple’s privilege in The Nest Episode 1 – that one thing they need to complete their perfect existence, discussed in the same desperate with-this-we’ll-be-complete terms as one assumes their house and cars were once talked about. IVF hasn’t worked, and a bit into the premiere we see their chosen surrogate, Dan’s sister Hilary (Fiona Bell), miscarry. With one frozen embryo and money to burn, Dan thinks the solution can be found abroad, but another solution quite literally throws itself in front of Emily in the form of 18-year-old Kaya (Mirren Mack).
Kaya is fresh out of a children’s home after a lifetime of violence, has a frosty relationship with her social workers, and doesn’t want to work a menial job or go to college or any other mundane, normal thing, when instead she can carry the baby of a wealthy, seemingly perfect family and be handsomely compensated not just financially but with the gratitude that she has presumably spent her entire life chasing and never receiving. She’s perfectly happy, nay eager, to be Emily’s surrogate. The central dramatic question of The Nest will be why.
Kaya is clearly lying about virtually everything – her life, her motives, the lot. Mirren Mack, who proves to be superb casting, keeps the character teetering on a knife-edge between a vulnerable, neglected youngster and a manic, possibly dangerous psycho. She’s sharp and quick-witted with some people – especially Dan, who implicitly mistrusts her but knows she holds the key to his wife’s happiness – and doe-eyed with others; a classic, compelling manipulator with, thus far at least, no clear motives for what she’s doing.
The Nest Episode 1 does, in its final moments, reveal more about her: She isn’t fresh from a care home but a prison stint, and we’re to assume, I think, that she wasn’t convicted for anything petty – the final shot of the episode is of her meddling neighbor (Paul Brannigan) sinking to his death at the bottom of the Clyde, only a few scenes removed from threatening her with exposure.
Thus far, the thriller components of The Nest are more compelling than its undertones; Kaya’s obvious manipulations make the show’s argument about surrogacy something of a tough sell, since she’s very difficult to see as a victim, and the question of whether money can buy you happiness is an old one that always produces the same answer. For now, Emily and Dan think they’ve got a good deal on the one thing that’ll complete them, but they’ve almost certainly got more than they bargained for.
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