wed 21/03/2018

Undercover, Series Finale, BBC One | reviews, news & interviews

Undercover, Series Finale, BBC One

Undercover, Series Finale, BBC One

Implausible drama about institutional racism in the UK and US had its heart in the right place

Calculated fantasy: Sophie Okonedo and Dennis Haysbert in 'Undercover'

In its final episode Undercover tied up a lot of loose ends and introduced a number of new ones. The biggest loose end to remain unaddressed was pretty big. Nick Johnson was the alias of a policeman who in 1996 went undercover to spy on black activist Michael Antwi and his lawyer Maya Cobbina. Nick promptly fell in love with Maya; they married and had children. For the next 20 years, Maya, possessed of such a brilliant legal mind that she ends up as Director of Public Prosecutions, never once questioned Nick’s claim to be a writer despite his prodigious – nay absolute – lack of output.

OK, so some writers are dossers, but really? Mind you, Maya seems to have been the least busy DPP in the history of that office, leaving her bags of time to fight the case of Rudy Jones, who has been on death row in Louisiana for 20 years.

Peter Moffat is a leading television scriptwriter with a long CV of dramas about the law: North Square, Silk, Criminal Justice. In Undercover he left behind the official workings of the UK legal system to paint on an altogether bigger canvas and attempt a portrait of institutional racism in not only the UK but also the US. He peopled the foreground with characters inspired by all those news stories of coppers going deep undercover.It was a lot to squeeze into a six-hour drama. The result was quite a quantity of cut corners, and plausibility casually sacrificed to the requirements of plot. The three teenage Johnson children included a son whose learning disability – an insistence on telling the truth and believing lies – was cynically exploited not only by Nick in the final episode but by Moffat generally to move the narrative along. The children were written as devoted and unstroppy, and yet when Maya had her first epileptic fit at home, her younger daughter bolshily complained that a hospital trip would mean she’d lose her lift to a party. This felt startlingly clumsy and done in poor faith. Then when the oldest daughter was delivered to her Oxford college by Nick, Maya’s best friend also happened to be dropping off her child in the same street and so was conveniently placed to witness the moment Nick was kissed by a strange woman, thus triggering his exposure.

And yet Undercover still contrived to keep you somewhere near the edge of your seat as Nick attempted to solve the mystery of his strategic importance to invisible higher-ups. The most glaring implausibility of all turned out to be the most morally satisfying and dramatically hefty: the testimony of Rudy Jones (Dennis Haysbert) before the nine Justices of the Supreme Court (pictured above), in which the only man to survive a lethal injection broke his silence to describe the intensity of the pain, change the mind of the court and earn his acquittal. This scene was a calculated fantasy, but its heart was in the right place.What helped Undercover to improve on the sum of its overworked parts was the acting. Sophie Okonedo and Adrian Lester oozed integrity as Maya and Nick – tears for her, soulful stares for him. An array of character actors – Derek Riddell as an untouchable establishment fixer, Mark Bonnar as a dodgy prosecutor, Alistair Petrie as a bent government minister (pictured above) – were convincingly shady representatives of a corrupt and self-serving establishment bending the law for the common good.

Nick managed to save his marriage only by turning double agent and fully committing to the idea of self-sacrifice, with a journalist lured along to witness his murder and expose the rotten heart of his bosses. Of course it would have helped his investigation if his recording device, to conceal which he smashed up and plastercasted his own wrist, had secured the evidence he was after. But then he wouldn’t have had to tell Maya his life story, and finally get round to a bit of writing.


The most glaring implausibility of all turned out to be the most morally satisfying and dramatically hefty


Editor Rating: 
Average: 3 (1 vote)

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I am left even more confused than ever.  Why protect a dead man's reputation, if he was a murderer that they were trying to besmirth?Did his mother know?  Why did they speak with African accents?    Why send an undercover cop in, anyway?  Like Nic/Mike I want to know what it was all about.

I watched all 6 episodes and hoped on the last episode I would understand who-dunnit and wot-it-wos they had done.

The acting was fantastic, music irritating, the plot could have been better written by my 7 year old grandson.

Would I watch a second series? It would all depend on how much they paid me.


I'm not sure I agree with all loose ends being tied up!

 - the recording device DID work, Nick smashed it with a hammer just after he used a hacksaw to release it from his plaster-cast - why, since he later told Maya "he deserved to die" - the exact same phrase uttered by Rudy, only Nick qualified that it was the Mayor that deserved to die, not Michael Antwi, who, it turns out, had killed him, not Rudy - so what else was on the recording device - what did the Scotish Spook tell Nick in the corridor?

- why did the mayor "deserve to die"?

- why did the spook kill Michael for killing the Mayor (yes he used a racist thug but it was still his doing)?  Were British Spooks acting on behalf of American Spooks?

- What did Michael (and Rudy) (and, presumably, Nick) (and, come to think of it, the Spook) know about the Mayor that made him think he deserved to die?

- The Spook told Nick the Mayor deserved to die.  If the Mayor deserved to die, why did Michael Antwi deserve to die for killing someone everyone seems to agree "deserved to die"?

- Is this the BBC attempting a Broadchurch, where the unaswered questions made you want to watch a next series?


And why, if a big part of the programme is a plea against capital punishment, is 'deserved to die' used so flippantly. 


But confusing  which wasn't helped by delay of last episode.I thought perhaps Michael was killed because he knew top folk were paedophiles ( maybe he was one himself.?).and perhaps was going to disclose this?Rudi knew?about Mayor being one and killed  him..therefore  guilty verdict was correct. .? But thinking he was innocent she fought hard to get him off after botched up lethal inj.Think defo left open but need  to tighten writing was so messy..acting kept it watchable..

Completely agree. Last episode very confusing and parts weak. Great acting which kept things going but did feel very dissapointed at end. Great potential, but failed to deliver.


I think it was a very poorly written programme but you seem to have missed a very basic part of the plot even after you've seemingly read these comments. Let me enlighten you - Rudi did not kill the Mayor, Michael did. As for the plot, what struck me as weird from episode 1 was why an undercover police officer would be given a false profession such as a writer which is a very public profession and quite easily checked out even in the early days of the Internet in 1996. 

The recording device did work. Nick smashed it because of what Derek Riddell's character told him in the corridor, which we subsequently learned was the truth about Michael Antwi having been responsible for the murder that Rudy Jones was framed for.

Too many black people have died in police custody - some of them may have been guilty, many were innocent. A drama that bangs on about how wrong the death penalty is, saying Michael (a murderer) deserved to die when we saw how brutal and terrible that death was, is doing a great disservice to all of the people who have really died. NONE of them did. I am so angry about that ending.

They didn't say Michael deserved to die. They said The Mayor (that Michael killed but Rudy was on death row for it) deserved to die.

i watched the finale of Undercover and felt none the wiser about the plot after seeing all six episodes.  Can anyone enlighten me?  Ok, there was racism, political revolt, cover up for cops, cruel and unjust treatment, the death penalty and American justice system, but why did the Scotsman go free?  Was he told by very senior political figures to do what he did, in a seemingly democratic society, or was he killing people to save his own reputation?

The plot seemed to hinge on the fact that Michael Antwi killed the mayor whom Rudi was wrongly imprisoned for.  According to Rudi the mayor deserved to die, but we weren't told why.  You don't know why the Scotsman went free because there was no explanation other than he was above the law.  Neither was there any explanation of the political involvement.  I would assume that things have been left open for the possibility of a second series, but I for one will not be watching it.

I found Undercover rather confusing as there were so many storylines and characters. For me it would have made a lot more sense if the episodes were in 2 hour slots rather than 1 hour slots, or even a one off drama. I had to read the reviews to understand fully what each episode was portraying.

I found the last episode a "cliff hanger" ending.  Hope there will be a follow up.

The acting was superb.

Undercover was a massive waste of talent and my time.  Nick may have been left wondering for 20 years why he was spying on his wife, but I don't want to wait another year or so for series 2 to explain why Michael Antwi killed the mayor and a political cover-up was felt necessary.  Compare the slack plotting and implausabilities of this programme with the brilliant "Line of Duty".

Goodness all those rich words spoken about this utter, utter bilge. Didn't she have jet lag ? how did she find time to keep crossing the Aatlantic ? Concord! How did he manage to keep his secret so long ? Is she thick or stupid that she didn't suspect he might be a cop, because he did not come over as the brightest card in the pack did he ? How did he make a living or did he just sponge of his Missus ! I.m sorry but I reckon an amateur writer could have made up a more believable storyline than this 'proffessional' writer. It should have been titled 'POINTLESS'

I have to agree that much of the last episode seemed to pass me by. So Michael Antwi committed the crime for whcih Rudi was convicted and nearly died. Why did this mean that a young black lawyer had to be secretly surveyed for 20 odd years? Why did Abigail need to die a nasty death in a back alley? I'm afraid the rushed ending seemed to lose its way.


I feel I wasted my time watching this ultra confusing silly storyline.

Why would an officer be paid for twenty years to spy on  his wife who was defending an innocent man when the real murderer they knew to be dead.

These great actors deserved a better storyline!


Can't believe I committed so much of my time on a Sunday evening.  This was beautifully acted....utter tosh.  The American storyline was bonkers...why did he have a British lawyer and why had the court in Louisiana not moved on since To Kill a Mockingbird.  Was Nick getting a salary for 20 years to go running every day and make pasta for his unbelievably un-stroppy teenagers...what was he reporting back? Anything? Why were the British cops apparently killing with impunity.  Why was the Scotsman freed?  Why did I start watching it?


How I wish I had read all the comments before I bothered watching the last episode!   This is the worst drama I have seen in a long time  and if it wasn't for the acting would have been a total waste of time.

The best thing about this series was the host of black actors...why can't we have a LOT more stuff with blacks, asians was fabulous to see many black faces.   It was a shame it wasn't more coherent...but not the actors' faults!

A superbly acted series, with some very thought-provoking elements. As a vehicle for exploring themes such as betrayal, injustice, abuse of power by the State, remorse, etc. the screenplay was very effective indeed. It was gripping! But the effort needed to suspend disbelief in the face of the clumsy contrivances used to achieve the situations where these themes could be developed was so great as to leave me wondering why I had bothered watching it. Charles Dickens used many unsophisticated coincidences to move his plots forward but nevertheless his work achieved greatness through its overall quality and genius. One example from Undercover: the coincidence of two children from different families central to the drama both attending the same Oxford college AND the female undercover cop choosing that as the location for contacting Nick was a coincidence too far. I will not be watching any sequel.

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