Bodyguard episode 3 review: BBC One's cat-and-mouse game blows away the competition

Launching across two nights with a hugely arresting opener and a follow-up that, if anything, raised the stakes and upped the tension, can BBC One thriller Bodyguard possibly keep up the pace in its third outing?

The answer is yes, and no. For most of its running time, the latest chapter eschews the outrageous action sequences that were the highlights of the first two episodes. Instead, we get a less spectacular but equally gripping first 45 minutes that builds on the conspiracy at the heart of the show, and on the cat-and-mouse dynamic being played out between its two leads (even if it’s still not entirely clear who’s the cat and who’s the mouse).

The decision to have Julia Montague (Keeley Hawes) and her minder David Budd (Richard Madden) end up in bed together drew a mixed reception from viewers, and early scenes of them giggling under the bed sheets, sharing pillow talk and nipping off to the loo for a quick snog during business hours might further irk the cynics.

But it becomes abundantly clear, very quickly, that there’s more at play here: not only is Budd spying on Julia, but he’s not reporting the whole truth about her dealings with MI5 to his police handlers, further calling his motivations into question.

Bodyguard gives us our most explicit look yet at Budd’s PTSD here, as he’s stirred suddenly from his sleep by Julia and, in a dead-eyed state, tries to throttle his lover. What’s most telling, though, is how in the aftermath he seems genuinely upset by the prospect of being replaced as her protector.

Right now, we have no clue how David Budd really feels about Julia Montague, and we’re not convinced he does either.

Then there’s the question of how she feels about him. Series creator / writer Jed Mercurio has hinted that there might be a “manipulative” angle to Julia’s actions, that “maybe it’s in her interest” to have seduced Budd, and certainly hints that she might be using sex as a weapon, particularly in a sequence where she slips her hand down her trousers, luring David back into bed after a small tiff.

Sex and power are deeply, inextricably tangled up in this dynamic, and it’s a right mess.

But any assumptions that this will be a comparatively calm episode of Bodyguard, a quieter outing that builds character in the absence of any major plot turns, are quite literally blown away by the final act.

Mercurio has merely been biding his time and, in the closing scenes, delivers the show’s boldest, most brazen whammy yet, with Julia’s speech at the RIPA ’18 conference being devastated by another terrorist bombing, leaving the Home Secretary’s survival uncertain.

While Line of Duty has made a great success of disguising the inherent silliness of its many twists and turns with lots of police terminology and 20-minute long interrogation scenes, Bodyguard seems less ashamed of being rapid-fire popcorn entertainment.

From a show about a man who might knock off the woman he’s trying to protect, to a psycho-sexual thriller, to a mindblowing whodunnit (MI5 and the mysterious Longcross? Mike Travis and Julia’s ex, Roger Penhaligon? David Budd?), its determination to keep changing things up also means it remains delightfully difficult to second guess.

Like the hired gun of its title, Bodyguard is volatile and unpredictable, and has done more than enough across the first half of its debut series to guarantee we’ll ride this rollercoaster to wherever its final destination might be.

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