We all know how the story goes. It’s Episode 5. We know who’s guilty, and the central character’s hunch has hardened into certainty, but there’s still not enough evidence: their every lead has petered out in a wilderness of brick walls, red herrings and dead metaphors. Colleagues have lost faith; they think the hero/heroine is too close to the case, too emotionally involved. Their charismatic but flawed and actually quite dislikeable personality has, episode by episode, pissed off all the wrong people. Even their family feels neglected in favour of a delusion, an obsession, an inability to admit a mistake, a wilful insistence that they alone see things as they are. Their stay-at-home husband has taken the kids to the summer cottage, their wife is spending too much time on the porch sharing an illicit cigarette with the creepily over-attentive neighbour.
Then we get to Episode 6, and the missing piece that makes sense of it all is found, usually with the sacrifice of our second-favourite character. It’s incontrovertible. The bundles of photocopied documents start thudding onto editors’ desks; the muffled confession recorded in a pocket goes out on the national news, interrupting regular schedules; the film clip goes viral. Within seconds a corporation’s share price plunges; within minutes a government falls. The billionaire philanthropist up on stage wonders why his audience is scowling and muttering and backing away, until his assistant shows him her phone. People flood onto the streets, crying out for change; they stare in disgust at the burgers in their hands and bin them. The second-hand market for SUVs crashes and there’s a nine-month wait for a new bicycle. The skies empty, and Michael O’Leary buys up the deserted Heathrow tarmac and applies for the biggest-ever rewilding grant.
Except none of this happens.
The bundled documents get opened by the most junior intern a day or so after they were delivered. Despite her inexperience she recognises that this is a story they’ve already covered. It isn’t news. The taped confession gets bumped from the running order to make room for shock revelations about the behaviour of an obvious and self-confessed predatory bastard. The film is denounced as a deep fake by the mainstream contrarian media, ridiculed on GB News, condemned by the Telegraph as an attack on the aspirations of ordinary hard-working families and their cars and dogs. The Daily Mail says whoever’s behind it is an enemy of the British people.
In other news silos, the choir looks up and sees a different preacher, but the sermon is very much the same.
In some of those who see it for the inconvenient truth it is, the fire of anger rises, but in others there’s nothing combustible left, just a blackened smouldering pit where the anger used to be.
And that concludes Season One. Ideas for Season Two, anybody?
Nick Langley has been a technology journalist and editorial consultant for a global conservation charity, and worked on a variety of books about wildlife and conservation. He is now retired and fully occupied with a bus pass, a library card and an allotment.
Call to action: If, like me, you are in your late sixties or above, you’re the tail-end of the luckiest generation there’s ever been. Time to stop spending the kids’ inheritance and start clearing up the mess we are leaving them.