Ghosts of the Deep

If you go down to the watery depths today you’re sure of a dire discovery.

“You died for nothing, Raymond,” wheezes James Nesbitt’s character Clem through the pain of a bullet wound to his chest. Oh, Nesbitt, if only I didn’t have to say the same for your character and the rest of this anticlimactic mess of a series.

From the mind of Simon Donald comes The Deep, a five-part BBC drama about an ocean research crew’s adventures beneath the Arctic Circle. Its filmic indents did a good job of peaking my interest enough for a full viewing. From the surface, it’s a modern deep sea mystery fit for marine fantasists and fans of Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea.

It begins with the search for a lost loved one in a manner befitting any story of human survival against the unstoppable will of Mother Nature. We’re introduced to the crew: there’s the whiney one (and, yes, she does die first), the handsome one, the geeky one, the foreign one, the suspicious one, and the bit-of-a-soft-touch trouser-wearing captain. Once they submerge, Clem (Nesbitt) stares longingly out at the open ocean wondering if he’ll ever see his wife again – or perhaps why he’s the only character with an impactful purpose on this expedition into the murky heart of lacklustre science fiction drama.

In fairness, The Deep has its moments: Brief flurries of suspense as alert tones sound and the crew run about their sturdy deep sea explorer as if on a collision course with the gaping mouth of a Kraken, and plenty of freak TV resurrections throw your suspension of disbelief even further out the window. What starts out as a clichéd, but somewhat likeable rescue tale, meanders into a no man’s land of conspiracy with a political agenda. As each elaborate fix and predictable escape is layered on top one another, the cracks begin to strain. And, sadly, it’s padded out with sequences of drama both bland and confusing.

“I took an oath to preserve this crew from grave and desperate circumstances, and I have singularly failed,” says Captain Frances (Minnie Driver). No argument here. Half the crew left for dead and only ready to put up a fight when her chiselled love interest fails to save the day? They may call Captain Nemo crazy, but at least he was loyal. You can bear witness to her passive captaining as the crew of the Orpheus encounter Russian survivors aboard a damaged nuclear submarine. From then on, unpicking the motives of Arkady, Zubov and the mutinous shipmates removes any sense of mystery, leaving the show to drift further into its own madness.

By the end of the series, the only story that feels like it is addressed believably is that of Nesbitt’s character. A slow fade out on Vera Filatova’s criminally underwritten character, Svetlana, trapped beneath the ice shows the creators couldn’t even find a final purpose for her beside an obvious cue for pity. In a whirlpool of uncompromising rhetoric and defeated faces, the events and relationships of the series are neatly washed away in the last episode like so much sediment. There’s the inferred victory, of course, and these arctic adventurers do leave their trail behind. Don’t follow them. There’s nothing left to salvage but disappointment and tears.

Aaron Lee

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