Stellar deepfake thriller The Capture lands in USA thanks to NBC Peacock

Patrick

NBC Peacock, the 370th streaming service to debut in the past 12 months, will publicly launch on July 15 after an Xfinity-exclusive soft launch earlier this year. That means it’s time to review the service’s exclusive series—though in the case of The Capture, one of Peacock’s most captivating launch options, that “exclusivity” is regional.

Unlike Peacock offerings like Brave New World and Intelligence, The Capture is an import for American viewers, having already aired on the online-only BBC Three in autumn 2019. But it’s still decidedly current: a mystery thriller that revolves around deepfake technology and government distrust.

Due process versus “real” videos

By turns enthralling and suspenseful, The Capture is the sort of show one could easily binge in an afternoon. (In fitting BBC fashion, the series’ first season runs a lean six episodes.) It stars Holliday Grainger (Strike) as DI Rachel Carey, an SO15 officer on loan to Homicide & Serious Crime, who finds herself embroiled in the case of former Lance Corporal Shaun Emery, played by Callum Turner (Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald).

Like many popular British imports, The Capture is a police procedural—in this case, one with counterterrorism overtones. Emery, who just got acquitted of murdering an unarmed Taliban insurgent during his tour in Afghanistan, is accused of kidnapping his barrister, Hannah Roberts (Laura Haddock), after she refused to go home with him after celebrating his release. The case seems open and shut—the abduction was videotaped on a well-lit street and facial-recognition software positively identifies both parties. But Emery is perplexed by the charges, and when he’s shown the security cam footage, he begins to freak out. This very believable-looking video is not him. This incident did not happen.

The manipulated footage leads down rabbit holes into a vast network of government plots. It’s quite a feat how the show turns this conceit into a conspiracy thrill ride, especially when so many plot points continuously return to people standing around watching events on CCTV (you know, the high-tech version of watching paint dry). The technology has been omnipresent in British life; London has been referred to as “the most-watched city in the world,” a claim The Capture repeats in its first episode. But the series focuses its attention more sternly on the rising, real-world issue of “deepfake videos,” in which computer-generated imagery can make people appear to say and do things that never happened.

Topical

The Capture arrives at a moment when criticism of police procedurals is growing. The good news is this series focuses on the corruption behind the badge—and when government forces bend the concept of “justice” to their whims. That angle transforms in The Capture thanks to its deepfake story angle: why demand due process if the video footage can create whatever evidence is necessary to convict? Without spoiling some of the twists, I will say that the show takes a clever path to explaining away both how and why faked videos are used; the episode revealing how it’s all done is the series highlight. And the answers turn out to be just as much about government, bureaucracy, and state forces going some morally iffy routes in their aim to do “good” for the world as it is about this technology.

But The Capture is not without controversy. By the end, the series seems to sympathize with at least one government position, claiming the ends justify the means. Though the production understands deepfakes have the power to change the world, it wants us to believe this technology in government hands isn’t something we, the good people, need to worry about.

The Capture, season one trailer.

One reason The Capture works as well as it does is the gripping performances by Turner and Grainger. Graniger’s DI Carey has to do most of the heavy lifting here, attempting to find evidence that proves a time- and date-stamped section of CCTV footage didn’t actually happen, only to turn around and find that every time she sits down to watch something happening live, it doesn’t match up with what those on the scene are telling her. As the patsy in this scheme, Turner’s character also spends much of the season questioning his own perception of reality—though his best moments come once he does find out the truth and has to confront why he’s become an apparent pawn in someone’s scheme. Ron Perlman also deserves special mention as the evil token American Frank Napier, who dominates every scene he’s in.

A world of various feeds from the Beeb

Whether a single series as good as The Capture makes Peacock worth subscribing to is another question. And to that point, lovers of British TV must contend with yet another streamer to add to the ever-growing list. (Peacock also will have all the seasons of Downton Abbey seasons as well as its 2019 film when it launches on July 15.)

From Netflix’s entire subsection of BBC Two fare to various acclaimed Amazon Prime exclusives to HBO Max’s deal with BBC America, UK-based series are scattered all over the landscape. And that’s not including niche streamers like AMC’s Acorn TV or PBS Passport, the subscription service your local public television station offers alongside mugs and tote bags as part of a yearly membership.

What’s most perplexing about this is that both the BBC and competitor ITV already have a streaming service of their own in America: BritBox. The service arrived in 2017 with tons of old British shows, including every Doctor Who episode that could be reasonably rounded up from 1963-1989. The service continues to add content every month, but rarely anything current. It does sometimes offer direct feeds from the Beeb, like live coverage of the Queen’s Speech at Christmas, but that’s extremely niche viewing. The result is that BritBox has struggled to make a dent with mainstream audiences for lack of keeping shows like The Capture for itself.

American streaming networks’ growing reliance on international series to keep a constant flow of new titles is proof of how much power the BBC has right now for eyeballs. Moreover, British TV is legendary for the quality it produces. Perhaps licensing deals to the highest American streaming bidders have been too enticing—arguably more than if the BBC and ITV were to pool all their content for Britbox and create yet another subscription service. As it is, we’ll just have to keep piecemealing our streaming crumpets-and-tea together and signing up for streamers like Peacock (with both paid and free, ad-filled tiers) for shows like The Capture. We’ll have to wait and see whether Peacock opens its virtual doors to the series’ eventual, recently announced second season.

Listing image by NBC Peacock / BBC

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