Starring: Dan Spielman, Ashley Zukerman, Lucy Lawless
Starting out like The Killing and ending up like Spooks, Aussie-made The Code is a combination of murder investigation, manhunt and conspiracy thriller with a plot thicker than a kangaroo casserole. While receiving a government tip-off about a scandal regarding the minister for renewable energy, Ned (Dan Spielman), the political correspondent for a news website, comes across a lead to an apparently unrelated story concerning the demise of a teenage girl who has crashed her car into a ravine in the outback. The only evidence is a fuzzy, damaged video which suggests she was pushed to her death after colliding with a truck. As luck would have it, Ned’s autistic brother Jesse (Ashley Zukerman) is a gifted hacker, and he manages to clear up the video and get his hands on some potentially damaging encrypted files, but this puts them in the sights of a rogue secret agent and the bully boys of the Cyber Crimes Unit.
With clues pointing to a shady biotech firm and the question of what was on the truck badly needing answering, the narrative quickly sprawls outwards to embrace all manner of political skullduggery and intrigue. What differentiates The Code from the conspiracy thrillers of earlier decades – Edge of Darkness, Between the Lines – is the idea that Big Brother is less into controlling minds than managing screw ups. “Mistakes happen – that sums it up, don’t you think?” remarks the rogue agent. Meanwhile, the stresses and strains of the investigation shine a spotlight on the brothers’ troubled relationship, as Ned displays certain unattractive passive aggressive traits, and Jesse is pulled away from Ned by Hani, a hot young hacktivist who may not be all she seems.
Some of this occasionally feels a little far-fetched, but the direction throughout is slick and stylish, and the story is kept grounded by its regular forays into the flat, red landscape of the New South Wales bush, the eerie emptiness of which is captured in some spectacular cinematography. There are good performances too, especially from Ashley Zukerman as Jesse – a figure of tremulous bravado – and the ever-reliable Lucy Lawless as the tough but caring lady who runs a one-room community school near the scene of the crime. The Code is a show that occasionally overreaches itself, but it can’t be faulted for ambition and scope, and with cinematic production values and a final episode packed full of twists and turns, there’s plenty here to keep the viewer gripped.