Odyssey, BBC2, Anna Friel

Tight spot – Anna Friel in Odyssey

Tight spot – Anna Friel in Odyssey

US soldier Anna Friel goes on the run when she learns explosive secrets in this sprawling, convoluted thriller

★★★ BBC2, Sunday, 28 June, 9.15pm

NEXT TO SERIAL KILLERS, perhaps the biggest scare figures in modern thrillers must be corporations. In fact, the 2003 documentary The Corporation made a good case for modern corporations having all the traits of a psycho – being cruel, ruthless and without feelings.

This new American 13-part thriller, made by NBC, has its own ominous psycho-corp called SOC, which our heroine, US Army sergeant Odelle Ballard, discovers is secretly funding terrorists.

Desert storm brewing –Sgt Ballard makes a shocking discovery

Desert storm brewing – Sgt Ballard makes a shocking discovery

Played by British actress Anna Friel – in a fresh attempt to break into US television following the demise of Pushing Daisies – Ballard is the heart of a complicated story. We first see her during a raid in Mali in which an Osama Bin Laden-type leader is killed, and she stumbles on a computer showing that the US company has been sending millions to terrorists.

Odyssey v Homeland

The plot thickens when privately contracted military group OSELA turns up and betrays Ballard and her team. She is reported dead but has escaped with her damaging evidence against SOC. She hides amid Tuareg desert nomads, hunted by OSELA.

The opening episode is hectic and packed with menacing storylines. There are two other strands to it, with former US Attorney Pete Decker (Peter Facinelli) uncovering major corruption in his new job, and G8 protestor Harrison Walters (Jake Robinson) suspecting a cover-up when a hacker friend – who believes Ballard is still alive – suddenly disappears.

Conspiracy – Peter Decker finds corruption in his new job

Conspiracy – Peter Decker finds corruption in his new job

Odyssey, like the much better Homeland, fictionalises aspects of the war on terror, here playing on concerns about private armies and corporate influence in the corridors of power.

Anna Friel is the best thing in Odyssey

The first series of Homeland has a much tighter story than Odyssey does, with its gripping focus on Carrie and Brody. Also, while Friel is a magnetic performer, Claire Danes put in a career-defining shift in her Emmy-winning depiction of Carrie.

In fact, Homeland bagged six Emmys, including Best Drama Series, and it’s hard to see Odyssey coming anywhere near that.

Having said that, Odyssey is well made and Anna Friel is very good as the mother and soldier living on her wits. For anyone who enjoys a pacy conspiracy thriller, it should make for a decent Sunday-night escape.

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