Benedict Cumberbatch, The Last Enemy, 2008
The Last Enemy is a dystopic story set frighteningly close to our own world. It takes place in modern day London, but it is a London (and world) obsessed with surveillance of the populace, all in the name of ‘safety’.
Stephen Ezard returns home to London from China to attend the funeral of his brother, Michael Ezard, who was killed when his jeep struck a landmine. Stephen, a reclusive and shy man by nature, finds London far from the place he left it. There are armed officers patrolling the streets. Everyone is required to carry special ID cards. Surveillance cameras are set up everywhere. No place is safe from observation.
After the funeral, Stephen arrives at the apartment he and his brother owned. Much to his surprise, Stephen finds a very sick woman in the apartment, who turns out to be being tended by Yasim, the wife he didn’t even know his brother had. Soon after he arrives home, the sick woman, named Nadir, passes away.
The next day, Stephen unexpectedly receives an offer for funding for his future research if he will be the public spokesman for the TIA system, a massive database that compiles an unprecedented amount of data, and allowing the government unlimited access to a vast array of personal information. Stephen declines the generous offer. He returns to his apartment to find both Yasim and the body of Nadir are gone. Eleanor, an old friend of Stephen’s, and now a government agent, shows up to seek his help with the TIA project, with which she is involved. Stephen realizes it could potentially help him find Yasim and he agrees.
Using the TIA program, Stephen discovers a meeting between Yasim and a scientist named John Morton. He follows Yasim to a second meeting with Morton. Unfortunately, an assassin shows up and kills Morton and his assistant. The assassin also knocks Stephen unconscious and leaves his weapon beside him. A panicked Stephen turns to Eleanor for help when he wakes. She urges him to check into a hotel, because he is wary of returning to his home. He follows this advice and finds a hotel.
After checking in, his shoes are taken from him, to be polished, despite his protests. Soon after, the fire alarm is pulled. When Stephen tries to evacuate the hotel, he is kidnapped, and taken to a fortified location. His kidnapper is an unknown player, who wants to know what Stephen knows about Yasim, Morton and Nadir. The kidnapper, Russell, returns Stephen to his hotel when he realizes the mathematician doesn’t have any useful answers. Stephen returns to his room, where he finds his shoes have been returned to him. Little does he suspect, but they have been tagged with an ID tracer to allow his movement to be tracked. He calls Eleanor again, panicked even more because Morton’s murder has made the news.
Soon after, Yasim corners Stephen, confronting him over following her. She fears her husband has been murdered for trying to look into a possibly contaminated vaccine for hepatitis B that the refugees he had been working with had been given. Among those who received the vaccine was Nadir, now dead. She is not the only recipient to have died from an unknown illness. Yasim asks Stephen’s help in contacting another scientist, Cooper, to perform an autopsy on Nadir’s body and he agrees. Using his access to TIA, Stephen finds Cooper and gains his cooperation. As the pair are discussing this, they are unaware that they are being tracked by another assassin, looking for Yasim. Russell rescues them and takes them back to his ‘fortress’.
Russell reveals that he is Nadir’s father and convinces Yasim to take him to her body. She does so, only to find that Nadir’s body has been removed. Russell leaves Stephen and Yasim, but goes back for them. Lucky for them, as the assassin is on their trail. He takes them back to his fortress. Yasim stays with Russell, while Stephen returns to his work with TIA, this time using it to track down someone within the pharmaceutical company that the vaccine came from who might be willing to help them. He finds a likely candidate and goes to the company to watch for her. While waiting, he thinks he sees his dead brother. When his target leaves work, Stephen follows her and speaks to her, managing to get her to confess that the vaccine assembly line had been closed down for several weeks the previous year. Stephen manages to find out which vehicles came to the plant while it was shut down and a check of the drivers reveals that they are all dead now and that all had connections with Cooper.
Michael and Stephen come face to face. Michael hadn’t actually been killed by the landmine. He had taken advantage of the supposed death to take his hunt for the vaccine culprits underground. Despite Stephen’s warnings, Michael follows him back to Russell’s fortress. The assassin trailing Yasim/Stephen is also following and he ends up being electrocuted by Russell’s protections. It is after this that Michael reveals himself to Yasim. Russell is angry that they’ve compromised his home. He destroys it and leaves the trio on their own.
Michael has managed to trace the bad vaccine down to a single batch. He persuades Stephen and Yasim to work with him to uncover the conspiracy around the vaccine. They attempt to track down a group of refugees Michael knows about, who have also had the vaccine, in the hopes of getting a blood sample. However, they arrive too late. They find the refugees at the train station, where they have been stopped for using false IDs. Leaving them, Stephen is found by Eleanor and the TIA people, who tell him his work with them is done. They wish to pack him off back to China with funds for research for a further five years instead of three. The only stipulation is he must leave immediately. They’ve already arranged a flight for him. Cut off from his access to TIA, and feeling he is no longer helpful to the cause, Stephen accepts the deal. He makes it all the way to the airport before having a sudden insight regarding the vaccine and turning back. When Eleanor and the TIA people learn that he did not make the flight, they put a block on Stephen’s ID, making it impossible to do anything in the ID-dependent society.
Stephen ends up in the hands of an anti-ID activist who finds him huddled on the streets, and is taken to an area where others who have no IDs gather. His world has crumbled around him. He has no money, no home, no way to travel or contact anyone. Desperate for help, Stephen seeks out Dr. Cooper and finds Yasim also waiting to meet with the scientist. Unfortunately, Dr. Cooper is kidnapped on his way to meet them. Yasim takes Stephen to Michael, where he lets them in on the insights that lead to his predicament. Stephen’s theory is that the vaccine has an internal ID tag and it was that, and not faulty card IDs, that set off the alarms when the refugees were at the train station.
Stephen takes them to the haven of the ID-less. Michael has revealed that he, too, took the tainted vaccine and now he begins to get sick. Russell shows back up and tells them he is the one who kidnapped Cooper. He takes the trio to the scientist. Cooper agrees to help them, but he needs blood samples from the sick refugees, as well as from Michael. The group concocts a plan to sneak into the facility where the detained refugees are being held. Stephen manages to get the blood samples and bring them back to Cooper. While Stephen is in the facility, he has another, even more frightening insight regarding the vaccine.
During the few days during which this takes place, Michael miraculously recovers, making him the first person to do so. Cooper finds evidence that supports both of Stephen’s insights- the vaccines contained an ID tag. The fatal batch also contained a virus tailored to only be terminal in people of specific ethnic origins. Michael, of all the recipients of the fatal batch, was the only one of a different ethnic group. Cooper is killed for his discoveries and all evidence locked away. With the loss of all evidence save Michael himself, Stephen, Michael and Yasim are at a loss. Michael and Yasim leave the country, to keep Michael safe. Stephen has plans to join them later, but he doesn’t get the chance. Stephen’s ID is reinstated with severe restrictions. He cannot leave the country, access certain public buildings or take certain forms of transport. He has been labelled as a subversive and will be monitored via one of the implanted ID tags. The ending of the story is left open to interpretation- does he accept the restrictions or not? The final scene shows Ezard sitting at a desk, in an empty house, writing a letter, with tears on his face. For me at least, the ending is clear. Stephen is unable to cope with the information he has brought back from his ‘descent’. He cannot integrate into this new world.
Ezard’s Journey following Schmidt’s Journey:
*The Illusion of a Perfect World- Ezard is under the illusion that the government is benevolent and that they keep track of people for safety. He cannot fathom secretive reasons that would warrant a cover-up.
*Betrayal/Realization- Ezard’s realization/betrayal begins when he finds the sick woman in his home and he learns of the government’s attempts to cover-up the illness from Yasim. It is furthered along when he begins to learn more about TIA and how it works.
*Awakening- Ezard starts to question the motives of his government. He begins to look for answers to help Yasim (and himself), using the very program he is supposed to be advocating.
*The Descent/ Passing the Gates of Judgment- the government officials who begin to get suspicious of Ezard are his ‘gatekeepers’.
*Eye of the Storm- Ezard thinks he’s safe. He’s allowed to keep working with the TIA program, despite growing suspicions.
*Death- things finally come to a head. The suspicions against Ezard are fully acted upon and his ability to use his ID is terminated. This cuts him off from the life he knows, from comfort, from the simple basic necessities of life.
*Support (or not)- here, the ‘connection to a larger whole’ is a notion altogether more frightening than the usual concept. Ezard has learned, to his dismay, just how ‘connected’ the government would like people to be. All of his support has been taken from him. He is left with the knowledge his journey has given him, but he cannot act on it in any appropriate way. Ezard’s journey ends here, though we do not know for certain just how tragic his consequences are.
*Cambell, Joseph, The Hero with a Thousand Faces, 1972
*Frankel, Valerie, From Girl to Goddess: The Heroine’s Journey through Myth and Legend, 2010
*McDonald, Ian, B. (director), The Last Enemy, BBC, 2008
*Murdock, Maureen, The Heroine’s Journey, 1990
*Schmidt, Victoria, Story Structure Architect, 2005
*Schmidt, Victoria, 45 Master Characters, 2007
*Volger, Christopher, Writer’s Journey, 1992