In this episode of COBRA, the focus turns on Britain’s Red Zone: Northumberland, which is currently without power and awaiting the arrival of a new transformer. Major cities (Newcastle, Sunderland) are uninhabitable. At the university, which was invaded by escapees from the Immigrant Holding facility, a shocked young woman (Laura Meredith) tells Stuart Collier that at first everything was friendly. But a man with blotched skin became violent with the women, resulting in two rapes, and stabbed another man who tried to protect them.
Known to the authorities, he’s a Lithuanian criminal nicknamed Freckles, who received the distinctive markings in an acid attack on his girlfriend and was awaiting deportation. Now SWAT teams roam the empty buildings. The students are bussed to a Relief Center, a huge collection of tents next to the same hospital where the plane crash victims were taken. Collier and his team have a command center in the basement of the hospital, sharing its emergency power.
Back in London, Prime Minister Robert Sutherland tells his cabinet it is his duty to visit the Red Zone, taking members of the press on a bus to see him in action. He and Anna bicker—she doesn't think it’s safe, and ironically for once, she agrees with Archie, who does not plan to go with them. When Press Secretary Peter Mott invites the press onto the bus he deflects a surprise question about the PM’s daughter from journalist Cressida McGuire (Katherine Jack)—“There is no situation with his daughter.” However, it turns out that another guest at that fateful party has leaked a story to the press and a major story is about to be published.
Just as the entourage is about to leave, Fraser, who we’ve seen popping pills to stay awake, tells Robert that a truckload of water has been hijacked, and breaks the news to him that there is no water supply (because, you know, there’s no electricity to pump it). Robert tells him brusquely to fix it.
On his way back to the command center, Collier passes a corpse at the side of the road displayed with a hand-lettered sign warning off other looters. Who was responsible for this rough justice? The place teems with stressed, frightened people, many of whom have walked miles to get here from their homes, and who face an indefinite future without electricity, living in primitive conditions under military and police rule. Simply put, it's a powder keg.
A dark-skinned man Kemal Hussain (Zar Demani) waiting in line is told to let a woman take the last bottles of water—“In this country, it’s ladies first,” the official snaps at him. But the woman sees he’s with a small child and hands the water to him, apologizing. It’s enough, though, to bring him to the attention of the crowd. People notice his skin color and that he suffers from vitiligo, and they jump to the conclusion that he must be Freckles, who is still at large. Things turn violent and a beating turns into a possible lynching when a motorcyclist turns up. Collier rushes through the crowd, and saves Hussain’s life, seconds before he's dragged off to his death.
Meanwhile, Robert, his entourage, and the press are at the checkpoint outside London, heading north. Anna has invited Francine Bridges, not yet officially hired, to accompany them, and she’s accepted, even though she once defined Robert publicly as “a monument to unconscious sexism.” He lets her know he hasn’t forgotten either. Francine finds Fraser on the point of collapse from his drug use, and the two form a tentative friendship—they’re both old Labour supporters who’ve found themselves on the other side. But even their slight pheromone exchange doesn’t eclipse Anna, who’s texting away to Edin about meeting up when she returns to London.
At this point, it’s been pretty much decided that they’ll turn around, given the violence and uncertainty of the Red Zone. But a couple of things fire Robert up.
One is that Archie, back in London, has given an incendiary radio speech, putting his trust in the “people’s judgment,” which in this case means white people’s judgment. And we know that Archie has welcomed another conspirator aboard, no less than the head of the FBI, Eleanor James, with whom he seems to enjoy sparring just a bit too much, and he’s in cahoots with journalist Cressida McGuire. The information they’ve gathered about Ellie will almost certainly bring down the government.
The other inspiration—if that’s the right word—is a statement issued by the head of the left-wing lorry drivers’ union (ALDU), Harry Rountree (Con O’Neill), deploring the dangers into which truck drivers are placed. This acts like a red rag to a bull on Robert, and they resume their northward journey.
When they arrive at the hospital, Robert has agreed not to make contact with the crowd outside, but only to visit victims of the plane crash and their families. He meets the woman and baby Stuart Collier rescued in the first episode—she’ll walk again, but we don’t know if her husband survived. Then Robert insists on seeing the severely injured Hussain and speaks to his wife and his daughter. After that, he insists against everyone’s advice, that he’s going to speak to the crowd. He knows the importance of a politician showing his face at a time like this.
He leads the way outside, into a hostile crowd who let loose the occasional missile. One hits Anna. A minute or so in, as he tells the crowd Hussain’s daughter wanted to know why her daddy was hurt, a thrown bottle smashes close to him. He continues,
If you’re going to throw things, please maybe try and aim a little better? At times like this, well, it’s usual to say I feel your pain. Empathy, right? All your best politicians are meant to feel it. Well, I don’t feel your pain. No. How can I? I can only try and do something about it. Now I can tell you that the transformer has left Germany and we are working day and night to bring it to you. And we will bring it to you. I promise you here that right now. We will bring back power. We will turn the lights on again. Let this situation bring out the best in us rather than the worst. And to those who try to exploit the situation for their own ends, from the vigilantes to the charlatans who try to make political capital out of the suffering of others, I say this—there will be a reckoning. I promise you we will turn the lights on again.
It’s not a massive, overwhelming reaction from the crowd, but they have listened and they’re certainly friendlier at the end; more importantly, they’ve stopped throwing things. Robert tells a woman as he leaves that he can’t predict when the transformer will arrive, only that it’s on its way, and she appreciates his honesty. And it was a good speech, although I think we viewers would have liked it, and Robert, more if we hadn’t seen him rehearse it in front of a mirror with Anna as his coach before they left London.
On the way back to their vehicles, another reporter asks about Robert’s daughter, who has had another police interview, and he makes a vaguely statesman-like statement about justice taking its course.
Robert insists Anna goes home by helicopter since she has a head injury, not to mention exhausted thumbs, but as we know she doesn’t intend to go home. We’ve seen her kids, teenagers who adopt left-wing causes and views to annoy her, and her husband Sam (Mark Bazely) tends to side with them. Now she is apparently spending the night at a friend’s apartment and he’s suspicious.
Edin tells Anna about an idyllic house on a hillside with fig trees, wine, and books, but she laughs it off as a fantasy. She seems perturbed, however, to discover that a Toni Lulin has he left a message on Edin’s phone, and it’s a name that seems to hold some significance for her. Meanwhile, Sam has discovered a photograph of Anna and Edin together outside the hotel.
What are your thoughts? What did you think of Robert’s performance as a public politician, something we haven’t really seen before? And do you think there’s a potential romance developing between Fraser and Francine?