“We all ruin the lives of people we care about. It’s part of what we do.”
And another one bites the dust! In keeping with the grand Spooks tradition that any main character can be killed off at any time (not just in a dramatic season finale), tonight’s otherwise fairly routine episode was suddenly enlivened at the end by the not entirely unexpected demise of loveable tech geek Tariq.
I say not unexpected because this twist was telegraphed so heavily, the only way it could have been more obvious would have been if Tariq had spent the episode wearing a T-shirt saying ‘dead soon’. Firstly, we had Sasha and his FSB pal Anatoly horseplaying around with an umbrella. “You’re dead,” japed Sasha, “poison umbrella.” Obviously this was a callout to the infamous assassination of Georgi Markov in 1978, when Bulgarian secret police stabbed the famous dissident with a ricin pellet from an umbrella tip, while waiting at a bus stop on Waterloo Bridge.
As with the old ‘Chekhov’s gun’ rule – if you show a gun in the first act of your play, someone will have been shot with it by the final act – this was a pretty obvious bit of foreshadowing. The only question was, who would be the victim? Step up Tariq, ‘unusually’ thrust into the limelight rather than his usual background technobabble function.
First he had a go at snide git Calum, who, let’s face it, was undoubtedly more rubbish for having a laptop full of top secret information nicked from him by mugging. Calum was mocking Tariq for his surprisingly crap file encryption (though if the encryption had been up to his usual standard, the plot couldn’t have taken place). This caused Tariq to deliver an unusually impassioned speech about how he had to work hard to get where he was, and he worked so hard because he “gave a shit”.
Not content with the usual device of building him up into a bit of a hero before killing him, the script then had him commit the fatal error of trying to bury the hatchet with a bit of socialising. As he turned down Calum’s offer of a pint with a promise that they would have one “soon”, he basically put himself in the place of every soldier in a war movie who tells his pal they’ll get together soon, just after this last assault on The Bridge at Remagen. And thus, his fate was sealed. As soon as the power went off just after his mysterious revelation on the CCTV footage, you knew he’d be dead in minutes; it was thus no surprise when a passer by ‘accidentally’ bumped into him and he discovered a spreading lump on his stomach just before he lurched out of his taxi to die outside Thames House.
However well signposted, it’s still a bit of a wrench to see Tariq go. Shazad Latif did a surprisingly good job of making him as likeable as previous Section D tech bod Malcolm – thus far the only member of the team who’s managed to retire without dying, going mad or being sent into exile. But this was clearly one of those episodes about The Harsh Realities of the Job, and presumably Tariq knew what he was getting into when he saw the list of previous casualties from the Grid – not least Colin, a previous tech support bod whose first venture into the field resulted in him being hanged by terrorist fanatics. Tariq will be missed, not least because it’s now clear that the unlikeable Calum was pre-emptively brought in to replace him.
Also learning about The Harsh Realities of the Job this week was the impossibly glamourous Erin – something of a surprise, as her previous role as stand-in for Harry rather implied she was a seasoned veteran. As the mysterious leaks from the stolen laptop spread across the internet, it became clear that one of her assets, an analyst at a Russian oil firm called Martha Ford, was about to be compromised. Trying her best to be ruthless like Harry, Erin commanded Martha to extract all the files relating to this year’s baddie Ilya Gavrik before getting the hell out of there, all the while reassuring her that the stolen laptop didn’t include her details, really it didn’t.
Martha thus dutifully downloaded all the files onto the usual conveniently hi tech USB stick before running (well, walking briskly) like hell out of the oil firm’s offices, which were the usual modernist hi tech building of big glass walls favoured by every corporation in the Spooks world. Imagine then her surprise as she saw a giant TV monitor at reception outing her as a spy, which somehow nobody else in the building was paying attention to.
Clearly Martha’s cover was blown, and Erin secreted her in one of MI5’s inappropriately named safe houses (these things are usually as safe as a swimming pool full of sharks and razor wire in Spooks-world). Cue much crying as Martha realised that ‘Karen’, as Erin was known to her, had lied to her all along and cared little about her safety beyond her usefulness. This caused Erin to get teary as well, though at no point did it – or anything else – cause any disturbance to her immaculately coiffured hair.
Grappling with her conscience, Erin reported to Harry, who thankfully doesn’t have that much hair to be worried about. Harry then dutifully gave her one of his trademark speeches about The Harsh Realities of the Job: “First, we have to be prepared to give everything. Second, and far harder, we have to be prepared to ask others to give everything.” Erin bit her lip and accepted that these were indeed The Harsh Realities of the Job, which thus far haven’t impacted on her responsibilities as an impossibly glamourous single mum juggling the defence of the realm with childcare and haircare. Surely it can only be a matter of time, as families are always an obvious weak point for the agents of Section D.
Families were also much on the minds of Harry and Ruth, as this week’s runaround involving intel details leaked to the internet from a stolen laptop intersected with this season’s Big Plot. Not only was Russian minister Gavrik involved in the oddly named oil firm ‘KaspGaz’ (some reference to Garry Kasparov perhaps?) in which Martha was embedded, it seems that the laptop was stolen by somebody involved in the Big Plot and then leaked to a former Spook with a grudge. Said ex-Spook made the foolish mistake of staring straight into the nicked laptop’s webcam as Tariq pulled off his final feat of techno-magic – turning on the webcam after having failed to track IP addresses and email links seems so obvious you wonder why they didn’t try it first. The laptop duly recovered, Harry is now curious about the link.
He’s also still curious about who’s reactivated his former asset and lover Elena Gavrik. In order to seek more information, he flipped open his book of Cold War cliches and arranged to meet her at a ballet rehearsal. This had the effect of recalling all those Cold War spy thrillers which climax with backstage shenanigans during a performance of the Bolshoi (though the only one that leaps to mind is 1965 Morecambe and Wise ‘classic’ The Intelligence Men). But times have moved on and budgets are limited, so instead of the expected full auditorium watching a sumptuously mounted production of Tchaikovsky, we got a lone ballerina practising to Beethoven. The only people watching in the whole theatre were Harry and Elena, which surely made them stand out rather more than they’d like while having a clandestine meeting.
Unfortunately for them, two people did clock them, and they both work for Russian secret service the FSB. Rather more fortunately, one of them is Harry’s long lost son Sasha, who’s spent the episode trying to conceal his mum’s treachery from FSB comrade Anatoly, a man so aggressively Russian with his piercing blue eyes and bushy black goatee that he appears to be constantly auditioning for the role of Rasputin. Obviously it’s pretty impossible to explain away his mum having a secret meeting with a senior agent of MI5, so Sasha is obliged to do Anatoly in, in a fight tastefully intercut with the ballerina bouncing around to Moonlight Sonata. Having finished filling Elena – and the viewers – in on what’s going on, Harry is confronted again by Sasha, and between scenes helps to remove the body in a way that is not disclosed.
Back at the Grid, Harry has deduced that the only likely suspect to impersonate him in reactivating Elena is top level CIA spook Jim Coaver, played by William Hope who will forever be known as the ineffectual Lt Gorman out of Aliens. In the twisty turny world of Spooks, the CIA are always about as trustworthy as the Russians, so this comes as no particular surprise. Thus, Ruth is tasked with investigating Coaver while Harry meets with him in his usual unofficial office – That Bench on the Embankment that has a nice view of the Houses of Parliament. Meanwhile, we discover that Ruth has doubts – she’s not only looking into Coaver, but she’s checking up on Harry too. Nicola Walker’s pinched frown is virtually causing her face to implode with guilt – but she’s going to feel even worse when she finds out the result of having sent the hardworking Tariq home for the night.
The usual Spooks runaround then, but fun nonetheless. The stolen laptop plot felt like the sort of thing the show used to do in its sleep, but its link to the Big Plot, and the death of Tariq, give it a bit more significance than just a filler. Next week, expect accusations and guilt to fly around the Grid like paper darts made from Eyes Only files, and we’ll continue to wait with bated breath for the inevitable moment when Sasha discovers that nasty old Harry is actually his dad. My money’s on him finding out just after he’s shot Harry…