Last night’s episode sixth and final episode of Jed Mercurio’s Bodyguard was always going to be a talking point. If it was good, we’d be poring over the minute details across our desks. If it was bad, we’d do the same, but with more despondent looks and disparaging tones. This morning in The Pool office, it was unfortunately the latter.
But on Twitter, there’s another debate running alongside the disappointment or jubilation over the ending of the most watched TV drama since Downton Abbey. Rather than an MI6 conspiracy, or a political coup, Montague’s death was part of a wider terrorist plot after all, with the meek, scared Nadia – the would-be suicide bomber who nearly blew up a train at the very beginning of the series – at its helm.
But was the reveal of Julia Montague’s killer as Nadia, the would-be suicide bomber at the very beginning of the series, playing into the hands of Islamophobia? Some certainly thought so.
Viewers expressed disappointment that such a complex and twisting drama as Bodyguard was not only falling on a lazy Scooby-Doo-esque reveal, but also perpetuating a negative and potentially dangerous stereotype of Muslims. While it’s impossible to empirically deem whether Islamophobia rise in response to television programmes, last year a record-number of anti-Muslim attacks were reported to police. The threat of an Islamophobic is a very real and very terrifying reality for many Muslims in the UK – especially Muslim women.
But Anjli Mohindra, the actress who plays Nadia, has said she found the role empowering and refutes her character as an “Islamophobic stereotype”. “When I first read that the show opens with a suicide bomber on a train who was wearing a hijab, I just felt like I didn’t want to be a part of the Islamophobic perpetuated narrative,” she told The Telegraph, “It did feel empowering [to overturn the stereotype], even just from a feminist perspective: women are constantly undermined.”
True, politicians are increasingly protected by security guards, but violence and hatred against Muslim women is an everyday, intimate threat to their safety and wellbeing
Mohindra believes Mercurio’s writing was an attempt to give a Muslim woman a voice and different dimensions, rather than the oppressed, subservient wife we thought she was. “We have this idea that women who wear hijabs are oppressed and do so not at their own will and that is something that we need to think about and take stock of because that is absolutely not the case.” It’s a valid point, and one that needs exploring – especially in prime-time narratives such as Bodyguard. However, she does admit that Nadia’s story would have been just as relevant if she hadn’t worn a hijab.
But is affording a Muslim woman agency, just to turn her into a terrorist a dangerous move? Let’s imagine a different ending, in which the security service, or the police, or fellow politicians were revealed to be behind the murder of Keeley Hawes’ home secretary – would the same argument rise to the surface? Probably not. True, politicians are increasingly protected by security guards, but violence and hatred against Muslim women is an everyday, intimate threat to their safety and wellbeing.
Whichever side you land on with this debate, one thing’s for certain – for the last six weeks Bodyguard has gripped eight million people, spinning a web of deceit and suspense. And despite the clumsy, questionable final scenes, the drama has provided us with a long-overdue national conversation about the representation and safety of Muslim women. Long may it continue.