The Capture Provides a Brief, Terrifying View at the Future of State Surveillance

It’s also the best series on Peacock’s streaming service

TV Reviews The Capture
The Capture Provides a Brief, Terrifying View at the Future of State Surveillance

In The Capture, Holliday Grainger’s DI Rachel Carey believes she has an open and shut case regarding an assault and kidnapping captured on CCTV. The perpetrator’s face—Lance Corporal Shaun Emery (Callum Turner)—is clearly shown and easily identified, leading to his quick apprehension. But was it him? It’s not just that he’s confused about this crime he has supposedly committed that he has no memory of (and in fact, has a conflicting memory about), it’s that it also comes on the heels of an overturned conviction based on de-synced audio and video evidence, suggesting how easily manipulated that kind of evidence can be.

A smart and twisty thriller written and directed by Ben Chanan (and imbued with a cozy autumnal London aesthetic), The Capture leads Rachel down a path to question everything she sees—including live events that may be manipulated. The how and the why drive this captivating 6-episode season (which the BBC has already renewed), introducing us, via Rachel, to the technique of “correction methods,” which sounds an awful lot like pre-crime from Minority Report.

While there is a certain sci-fi element to where the series ends up, it’s not out of the realm of possibility now or in the far future. Deep fake exists, as well as facial recognition software and increasing camera surveillance everywhere. We carry a lot of it around with us in our pockets with our phones, but The Capture doesn’t get into the tech side so much as it wants to explore the moral quandary of exploiting its general potential. With doctored footage, redacted frames, the exploitation of blindspots and more, it feels like the stuff of conspiracy. But when a character describes their methods of doctoring footage as “not fake evidence, it’s truth reenacted,” there is a chilling reality to it.

In many ways, these ideas pair perfectly with the idea of visual literacy and the question of how we will remember our current cultural moment. It was on my mind after arguing with a family member about protestors wearing masks; the news footage she saw showed protestors not wearing masks, the news footage I saw only showed protestors with masks. Which was true? Undoubtedly both images were real, but cherry-picked to appeal to and support partisan views. Which will we remember? Which version will be shown to us in the future? It’s not much of a leap to believe the next step is not just showing curated images, but creating them.

Despite these considerations, The Capture is never preachy, and is in the same vein as recent UK thriller series like Bodyguard and Collateral. Its plotting can be exceptionally coincidental, but then again, what else do you expect from a riveting thriller? It’s exactly those connections that make these tightly-crafted seasons work so well. The other element is, of course, the series’ excellent cast. Grainger’s Rachel is that special UK brand of hard-nosed London investigator willing to use whatever methods necessary to get to the truth, and she excels in it. Turner also gives a particularly compelling portrayal of a soldier whose life gets turned around again and again within the course of a few days, yet who is ultimately able to come to a kind of reckoning with himself and his future. BBC series veterans Ben Miles, Lia Williams, and Laura Haddock are always a delight, although two American characters (played by Ron Pearlman and Famke Janssen) never quite fit in.

Speaking of America, The Capture may get a little too clever with itself in its final, divisive episode in terms of allusions to current politics, but perhaps it’s not wrong to do so. Ultimately, the grounded choices it makes are as believable as its twistiest revelations. It chooses to be quiet rather than bombastic in its final scenes, doubling down on the ethical questions considered throughout its run. Can this technology be used as a force for good? Who watches the watchers? And of course, can you believe even what you see with your own eyes?

NBCUniversal’s new streaming service Peacock has placed The Capture on its short list of new launch titles, and it is by far the best of the bunch (even though it’s an international acquisition and not an original). This thoughtful but still thrilling series is a worthwhile watch that may leave you a little shaken, wanting to make sure your computer cameras are covered … just in case.

The Capture premieres in the U.S. Wednesday, July 15th on Peacock.

Allison Keene is the TV Editor of Paste Magazine. For more television talk, pop culture chat and general japery, you can follow her @keeneTV

For all the latest TV news, reviews, lists and features, follow @Paste_TV.

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