Hackers kept hush- hush
Dan Spielman and Ashley Zukerman expose a dark secret in The Code
As far as locations go, the new ABC miniseries The Code takes in both the harsh but spectacular expanse of the Outback and the corridors of power in Canberra.
But there’s another location that interests The Code: the new frontier of cyberspace, where information that could topple power structures and even end lives hurtles along electronic superhighways.
It’s this information that is discovered by two very different brothers – journalist Ned ( Offspring’s Dan Spielman) and computer hacker Jesse ( The Slap’s Ashley Zukerman). Their quest to dig deeper and bring injustice and conspiracy to light will draw them into a sinister web of secrecy and manipulation that affects everyone.
The story begins when Ned receives a video file of a car accident in the Outback, one that left two kids seriously injured but has seemingly gone unnoticed and unreported.
Unable to view the damaged footage, Ned turns to his brother Jesse, whose background in hacking has resulted in a strict good- behaviour bond.
Birse: “The digital frontier is a whole new world.”
With Jesse’s help, the video’s shocking images are revealed. And when Ned posts the video online, it places both himself and his brother in the firing line.
The footage reveals information about a top- secret international research project being kept very hush- hush ... and the government wants to keep it that way. But just how far are the powers that be willing to go?
For The Code creator Shelley Birse, whose credits include Wildside, Rush and Miss
Fisher’s Murder Mysteries, the miniseries’ story was sparked by a trip to Israel with her husband and new baby.
“The Arab Spring was starting to cook next door, and I knew about two Australians who were involved in using technology to get the story out to the world,” she said.
“So that was inspiring on one hand, and on the other hand this was also around the time further charges were stacking up against Julian Assange, another Australian using his skills with technology to spread a story that might have gone unheard otherwise.”
Birse was fired up by the notion of Australians “changing the world” by challenging established modes of dispensing information, often information that people in power would be happy to have kept under wraps.
“It felt like a story with legitimate international legs,” she said.
“The digital frontier is a whole new world, and that was something that intrigued me – that there were Australians moving forward in this new frontier, and right alongside them there is this incredible
clamping- down – or attempted clamping- down – of those voices.”
The story of The Code was also sufficiently intriguing that it attracted some top- shelf local acting talent, with the likes of David Wenham, Lucy Lawless, Adam Garcia, Aaron Pedersen and Rectify’s Aden Young taking on key supporting roles in the six- hour production.
“It was a great canvas, a huge idea, but we never wanted to lose sight of the fact there are people at its heart,” Birse said.
“Political thrillers are essentially about people, and we wanted to have viewers watching this without feeling like they were being lectured to or seeing people they didn’t relate to. From the word go, we envisioned it as a political thriller but also as a family story.”
Indeed, the characterisations in The Code run deep, and there’s great work from Lawless, Wenham and Young that enhances these characters beyond mere black- and- white.
But the talented Spielman and Zukerman give The Code its heart, their moving, genuine depiction of the relationship between brothers Ned and Jesse the core of the miniseries.
“These two brothers are living together probably well after you would imagine them still sharing that space,” Birse said.
“Their father left the family when the boys were quite young, and that created a great deal of stress. And on top of that Jesse has what we call ‘ some kinks in the mental wiring’.
“That’s the way I like to phrase it – there’s been a lot of talk about Asperger’s and the autism spectrum when it comes to Jesse but it felt important to us that we didn’t label him any particular way. The make- up of our brains and behaviour is as individual as we are.
“And Jesse has a set of behaviours outside the box, so I wanted to look at a complex relationship between brothers where one adult is caring for another.
“In addition to everything else that happens throughout the course of the story, The Code also explores whether these two can separate and possibly have a more healthy relationship.”
So while it’s a sprawling saga that takes “three overlapping circles” of Canberra- based cyber- security, the new world of online journalism and the mystery of the outback accident, says Birse, “it is the involvement of these two brothers that brings these three worlds together”.