Don’t let the title of Rory Haines and Sohrab Noshirvani’s counter-terrorism drama fool you: the series is not solely focused on the titular “Informer,” a young man named Raza (Nabhaan Rizwan) who, after getting arrested for possession, gets coerced into working with intelligence officers to gather intel about potential terrorists. Instead, the core of the show is really focused on the relationship between Raza and his handlers Gabe (Paddy Considine) and Holly (Bel Powey).
“We wanted to approach what is a big, heavy theme of the war on terror from a very, very personal angle and story because we feel there have been a lot of dramas where you see CIA boardrooms and executive branch decision-making and that story’s great, but it’s been done, so what does it look like from the street level — from the ground up?” says Haines.
To throw their audience into just how complicated their world is right from the jump, the premiere episode opens not on the titular informant or those with whom he starts sharing intelligence, but instead a young man who gets off a train to return a lost cell phone to a woman and gets caught up in a shooting in a coffee shop. The first episode then flashes back a year to introduce all of its key players. Each subsequent episode starts with another victim of the attack, offering a little more insight into what happened that day, which, as Haines points out, “re-reminds the audience of the stakes” but also puts the event into a more human perspective.
“When these events happen we focus on the perpetrator, but for the victims it’s its own thing,” Haines says. “So every episode opens with a slice of life of one of the people whose life is going to be forever changed — and of course it will build up to the bigger mystery [of who is responsible for the act] on the plot side.”
Researching similar attacks to not only understand how they are investigated but also attempted to be prevented was of the utmost importance to Haines and Noshirvani, who focused heavily on the July 7, 2005 bombing in London that killed more than 50 people. Utilizing the inquest reports that get written up for the public and are available online, the writing duo was able to read transcripts from survivors to understand the emotional impact, as well as look at an “immense amount” of data around the event.
“Two things really struck us. One was how banal it was and how that’s even more terrifying. Maybe you’re on your way and you’re late and that means you don’t die, or you’re late and you do, and you have no control over it,” Haines says. “As we were writing it we felt the weight of truth. … We had to piece it together and make a narrative but as much as we could we wanted to make something that came from reality.”
What rang the truest for Noshirvani was the theme of identity — for Raza and for Gabe. For the former, Noshirvani says, it’s about “how narratives are ascribed to us, how the circumstance can end up fulfilling them, and how tragic that is.” A key part of Raza’s journey is realizing his identity “is being used against him, and he learns to use it to his advantage,” which leads to drastic changes for him. Meanwhile, after spending a large part of his past undercover, Gabe is “a guy who has no control over the other side of his identity, and that’s someone who is really damaged by it.”
“Gabe is really good at sectioning off the different points of his life and Raza is not so good at that, and you see the psychic damage of that. So Gabe is where Raza could end up,” Noshirvani says.
Although the show dives deeply into global — and political — topics including terrorism, police corruption, immigration and racial relations, the creators never wanted their audience to feel like “issues are being taught to you,” Haines says. They focused much more on the richness of the complications in their characters’ lives and showcasing how they often had no control in situations but “were not defined by that.”
“Obviously we are all aware that everything is so divided, and we didn’t want to create something that was easy for anybody because the truth is not easy, no matter what your political opinion is,” Haines continues. “Over the arc of the whole season, the only thing we felt should resonate is that there is an idea that all of these things are true and they happened and you can feel however you want about them, but the question is, do they make you feel any safer? We’re 20 years into the war on terror now, I don’t know if anyone feels any safer.”
“Informer” streams Jan. 11 on Amazon Prime Video.