Spooks: 1.4 to 1.6 Re-View
What’s a ‘Re-View‘? For starters it is either a horrible pun or a horrible abbreviation. For us it means we’re watching old shows or films and reviewing them. We’re ‘re-viewing’ them, or viewing them for the first time and reviewing them. Or even ‘retroactively-viewing’ them if that’s better for your pun hating soul.
The Internet is home to many contemporary reviews for contemporary shows and films. However older properties have not been given this treatment as often as perhaps they deserve. I say perhaps because we’ll see exactly what they deserve in the process. Enjoy.
1.4 – Traitor’s Gate
In my review for the previous episode I complimented the show for, so far, giving defectors compelling psychological reasons to be so. There was no clichéd falling in love with a target, or being bribed and so on. That ends with episode four. Wherein Rupert Giles falls in love with his young friend-with-benefits, who is also a member of an anarchist terror group. (For the uninitiated when I say Rupert Giles I mean the character played by Anthony Head.)
This plot is essentially the main A-story. There are several B-plots I’ll deal with next. Head’s Peter Salter is described as a legendary agent. He is of personal importance to Tom Quinn and his skills seem to be well regarded in the wider intelligence industry. However the episode itself doesn’t show us any of this. This Peter Salter is dumb, irresponsible and mostly horny. Whilst this is clearly intentional to set up a story of a downfall, it would be nice to see hints of former greatness. However it’s just described to us by the other characters. Mostly this story unfolds tediously: Salter reveals his true nature to his lover, he then tries to screw over MI5 and help his targets, however MI5 foil him, but before they can use him he commits suicide. The anarchist group’s plan involves altering map data of a mountain range so that Air Force One (on a UK visit) crashes into said mountain range. Personally I feel Air Force One could have dealt with this situation even with the maps changed simply by pulling up, or being warned on the radio and staying generally higher, but who cares. Antony Head is wasted on this serviceable plot. The plot however does largely perform a greater service in its B-plots.
Symbolically as his mentor grows untrustworthy, Tom Quinn must prove himself trustworthy to his girlfriend and daughter. Specifically the former wants Quinn to inform the later of his real name and profession. Whilst I understand the emotional reasoning of her wanting her daughter to know her partner is a spy, I feel this is reckless and dumb. You could just say he works for the government or is a special kind of policeman and not tell a small child (who could show off on a playground) that you are a spy. The daughter could theoretically be picked up by some villains and easily have that information plied from her. If this B-plot sounds annoying, that’s because the Tom-and-Ellie love story has reaches the peak of its interest and that peak isn’t very high. Even Air Force One would struggle to hit it in this universe.
The other B-plots however are stronger. Danny’s financial fiddling is uncovered by big bad boss Harry, however he simply sweeps it under a rug. Apparently Danny is not the first, nor expected to be the last, to commit this crime in the service. As luck would have it due to the treachery of Peter Salter, MI5 is being investigated and is hiding any other wrongdoing for political face-saving purposes. This episode also reveals MI5’s wobbly relationship with MI6. The latter is represented by Hugh Laurie’s extremely posh Jools Siviter. Laurie gives such an overly mannered performance as Liviter it is approaching parody. The writing fares no better as Siviter is hilariously out of touch with not just the common man, but any basic sense of the modern world. Harry refers to MI6 as being run by stock posh boys from Eton whilst MI5 is the more realistic service with its ear to the ground. As much as I love tonal homage to Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (irrelevant upper class men run formerly great intelligence service into the ground through petty insecurities) it doesn’t seem to fit here.
However, the other B-plot is far more interesting. Zoe discovers that Tessa is running fake agents and pocketing the money provided for their upkeep. Zoe doesn’t reveal this ruse due to several fears. The first fear being that Harry is aware of this. The second is that Harry isn’t aware, but Tessa’s already displayed political manoeuvring means she is the head of MI5 all but in name. The third is the general fear of going against someone potentially good at covering their tracks. The previous story sets up Tessa as a reformed dodgy agent who is now loyal to the service. However this week it is clear that loyalty only seems to apply to very immediate threats.
1.5 – The Rose Bed Memoirs
Espionage is political. There is no escaping that fact in the modern age. Whilst the War on Terror is now ramping up in the world of Spooks, the day-to-day dealings of MI5 is still largely petty crime and covering up another kind of threat to national security: scandals. This grounded, cynical and realistic depiction of MI5 is exactly what I want from Spooks.
A disgraced former MP (Hampton Wilder) rounding off a prison sentence claims to have found God. Thus he alerts MI5 to the fact he has written memoirs that place another MP (Richard Maynard) as an illegal weapons dealer, something Wilder now realises will hurt the country. An investigation follows and eventually the memoirs are already found to be in MI6’s hands, specifically Siviter’s hands. Whilst his performance in the previous episode hampered the tone, his overly-mannered approach actually benefitted the sleaziness of this story much more. Soon it’s revealed that the memoirs are mostly filled with lies, or hard to believe truths, and Maynard is exonerated and Wilder relieved. However a final twist is that Maynard is and has been a CIA operative for years. He then swiftly flees to America for a teaching post at Harvard. This of course retroactively reframes his weapons dealing as a CIA mission. The idea of a British CIA agent posing as a corrupt politician to infiltrate a weapons dealing ring from the highest level is a fascinating idea. In the end Britain respects the ‘special relationship’ too much to get pissed off at the CIA directly and drops the matter.
It is worth noting that Tessa was having an affair with Maynard. At this point the show is doing Tessa a bit of a disservice by having her motivations for corruption as greed with her actions a little blunt. It doesn’t help that in only five episodes she has had sexual relations with two antagonists (of a sort). Her methods are crude, she’s defined by who she sleeps with and is generally a dick. On the other hand, Zoe decides to tell Harry of Tessa’s misdeeds, which is a nice icing on a shit cake. The other primary B-story deals with Tom Quinn accidentally getting Ellie’s ex in trouble with the police and then doing nothing about it. His willingness to do this (and clearly risk a relationship he’s supposed to be fighting for) seem slightly out of character. A problem with the show I’ve noticed quite often is whenever Tom makes a mistake it’s one that seems out of character. Usually it’s through a specific moment of incompetence that he clearly wouldn’t make. I’ve also noted that when Tom is cynical about something, he’s usually right and when he’s idealistic he is usually right. And the Tom-Ellie plot is still annoying as fuck.
SIDE NOTE: I couldn’t place the actor playing Maynard until the title card for Thames House (MI5 HQ) came up. Then I realised I’d seen the same actor entering Thames House in Torchwood: Children of Earth, wherein he played a sweaty Prime Minister.
1.6 – Lesser of Two Evils
Whenever there is an over the top security system installed on a TV show I immediately wonder how it’s going to go wrong. Tom Quinn wants Ellie back and her wants her safe. So the best thing for him to do (only in his mind anyway) is to install steel doors and bullet proof windows on his house. All of this is controlled by a single centralised card locking system. I immediately thought about how wrong that can go. Then something else hit in the face. I’ve seen this one before. I have a vague memory of watching an episode of Spooks wherein the protagonist’s partner and her daughter is trapped inside a house with a bomb. They can’t escape and there’s no time to defuse the bomb. I found this very upsetting as a child when I saw it live. However this time I was just mildly peeved.
The long term set up to this situation (as in the main plot of the episode up to this point) was great. The short term set up to this situation (as in how they got locked in) was ridiculous. The show bent over backwards to have the security system lock Ellie and her daughter in the house. Essentially Tom showed them both how the house works. And then Ellie’s daughter covered the card in chocolate and then covered the swipe pad in chocolate, which somehow disabled all of them. This child, whilst annoying, has not been shown as young or thick enough to do this. And surely that one swipe pad getting covered in chocolate would just damage that one swipe pad? And surely as it’s a swipe mechanism it uses light? So there are no gears or wires for the chocolate to touch? Just clear plastic? Essentially what I’m saying is that the chocolate would stop the light hitting the card or vice versa, but it wouldn’t break the entire system. However it was nice that this whole thing was caused by Quinn’s creepy try-too-hard-with-Ellie-factor. The plot was at least informed by character.
ANYWAY. Up to this point the episode is great. MI5 is contacted by an IRA member, a particularly grisly one at that too. A man that once killed a friend of Harry’s in a way I’d prefer not to type out myself. However, this IRA dude is contacting MI5 because he’s discovered that a Sudanese terrorist cell (which he helped train and supply) is planning to assault a nuclear power station in the UK. Obviously his reasons for giving this information to MI5 is because Ireland is quite close to the UK as I understand it. Some parts of Ireland are even in the UK, which as I understand it this dude has some strong feelings about. McCann (that’s his name) wants MI5 to pull surveillance from the IRA for twenty-four hours in exchange for the information. The team puts this to a vote and they pull the surveillance. Ultimately the IRA attempt to bomb a train station, but the gang prevent this through slightly confusing means.
The IRA intel then rings true and MI5/the army prevent the Sudanese terrorists causing any nuclear fallout. I appreciated how they prevented this also. MI5 established a subtle perimeter, they spotted the terrorists in a likely position and then they shot them. I loved how straight Spooks played this. No one got in a gunfight or a car chase or any of that bollocks. Men spot bad guys, men shoot the bad guys. In addition to this realism I appreciated how the show specified how if the attack was successful it would cause nuclear fallout, not a nuclear explosion as a Hollywood film would erroneously depict. I am then suddenly reminded of 24 season 6 when a nuclear bomb goes off in California and is, in Universe, forgotten five hours later. Then after this McCann’s less grateful friends rig the laptop with the intel to explode, assuming Quinn would take it to MI5, instead he takes it to #ChocolateHouseSeizeUpGate. Then cliff-hanger.
There are some good character beats for Harry also. He discovers McCann is aware that his cowardice that lead to the capture, torture and death of his friend. Harry also tries to take action against Tessa for her running fake agents and intel. However she blackmails him with knowledge of this cowardice and he backs off. This development is mixed. The Harry stuff is nice because it gives him a lot more depth and makes him finally sympathetic. Meanwhile the Tessa stuff has gotten very stupid. She’s even running fake agents during a possible nuclear attack on a country she’s inside of. If her motivation is selfishness, you’d probably only run real intel on the day your entire country could go bye-bye. Her dickishness is so dumb and brazen it’s ridiculous she’s not been caught before now. ERGH. At least she’s leaving.