TV: The Code (Season 1)

the-code-season-1-posterThe conspiracy thriller continues to be a thorny genre in the post-truth era, but fortunately they still get made, because they still make for great drama. My latest watch in this category is the Australian series The Code, and while its idea is better than its execution, overall it’s an effective example of its type.

The action begins with a car accident in a remote corner of New South Wales. A girl is killed, and the surviving boy is so traumatized he can’t remember what happened. A government cover-up glosses over the story, but a whistleblower steers it toward journalist Ned Banks (Dan Spielman), who works for an online magazine called Password. Ned’s investigation takes him to the small town of Lindara, where, with the help of the boy’s schoolteacher Alex Wisham (Lucy Lawless), he begins to uncover a connection between the accident and a biotech firm called Phylanto. Ned’s autistic younger brother Jesse (Ashley Zukerman), who also happens to a brilliant computer hacker, gets wind of Ned’s investigation and can’t resist getting involved, hacking into Phylanto’s computer network to gather evidence. The hack, however, lands Jesse and Ned—along with Jesse’s hacker friend Hani (Adele Perovic)—in serious hot water, when their pursuit of the story lands them in the crosshairs of various government agents, corrupt politicians, and ruthless mercenaries.

The Code is impeccably acted and boasts some beautiful cinematography, leveraging both the urban and rural landscapes of Australia to great effect. I was particularly enamored of its time-lapsed establishing shots, a striking stylistic flourish. Visually, it’s like the flip side of Fortitude, particularly when it ventures to unforgiving desert locations. The narrative is suitably complex, entwining its heroes with a shifting roster of potential allies and enemies, among them Rectify’s Aden Young. Spielman and Zukerman are both excellent, and the fraught, convincing relationship between the brothers provides a solid emotional core to the convoluted plot. Adele Perovic is also quite appealing in a key supporting role, and by the way, the theme song and credit sequence are absolutely first rate.

Unfortunately, while it starts well and ends satisfyingly, certain parts of the journey are muddy and confusing; shows of this nature benefit from clockwork pacing, and The Code isn’t quite there, its moving parts occasionally grinding. The action unnecessarily veers into triggery violence and torture at times, and the “autistic computer genius” characterization does feel a bit like a shopworn trope, at this point. These imperfections aren’t deal-breakers, however, and overall The Code does balances its taut story mechanics with an engaging human story. Looking forward to the second season.

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