“All over the world, men are lying to women to get them into bed. Don’t overthink it.”
Life must go on, even in Section D of MI5. So it was this week, that after a couple of minutes mourning for the murdered Tariq, it was back to business as usual when a random sweep of airport baggage trolleys with a Geiger counter revealed trace amounts of radiation. Someone, it seemed, wanted to make a dirty bomb, and had brought some nasty radioactive stuff into the general vicinity of London.
Ever the professional, Harry decided that this was probably rather more urgent than the investigation into the death of their colleague (“Our friend,” as he touchingly referred to Tariq). So once again, the heroes that defend our realm with a team of about five people put aside their personal feelings to concentrate on the task at hand. Fortunately, Ruth was as efficient as ever in scanning the CCTV and finding the suspect within minutes, thereby saving the viewer from having to watch all that tedious investigation stuff that’s so much less exciting than surveillance, undercover work and shooting things.
Called upon to go undercover, in a plot I’m sure I’ve seen the show do before, was new action man Dimitri – deep undercover of the target’s sister’s bedclothes, as it turned out. Since the demise of Lucas North, Dimitri is obviously being shaped into the new central hero figure the show’s always had. When Spooks began, this figure, in the shape of Matthew MacFadyen’s Tom Quinn, was the central character of the show; later it became more of an ensemble piece, as the writers realised the rest of Section D was at least as interesting, if not more so, than Tom was. Nevertheless, there’s always been a central figure who does the James Bond stuff. Probably the most memorable and long-running was Rupert Penry-Jones as Adam Carter, though Richard Armitage was broodingly charismatic as the ever more improbable Lucas North.
Now, it seems, the task has fallen to the monumental talent that is Max Brown, and this was really the first episode where the handsome if wooden ex-Hollyoaks star was thrust into the limelight. Stirred from his usual role of defusing bombs or turning up with a gun at the last minute, Dimitri was required to get close to the target’s sister by means of internet dating – a rather sadder way to pick up women than James Bond usually needs. Still, Dimitri was clearly the obvious choice – he now seems to be one of only two field agents the Grid has, and since the other one is Erin, he was the one most likely to tempt a heterosexual woman. They could have tried Calum I suppose, but his social skills would probably have resulted in him leaving the first date alone and covered in red wine.
Dimitri was uncomfortable at the thought of having to go in so deep that he’d need a condom; but Erin effectively told him to belt up, and so Natalie Grier – sister of notorious anarchist Johnny Grier – was soon swayed by his charms and took him into her bed. Then, inevitably, her anarchist brother turned up and hit him. After making a show of being somewhat put out that must have taxed his acting talents to the max, Dimitri managed to convince Johnny that he was in fact an estate agent. Since Max Brown would be rather more believable as an estate agent than as a super spy, Johnny seemed taken in, and the op was on. Cue much trailing in cars, long distance photography, and hovering drones from which Ruth worked her usual magic of identifying the suspect.
While this plot was all perfectly well-executed – with the usual tense split-screen sequences as the search team rushed to finish their job while the suspect headed ever closer to home – I have to say there was a real feeling of having been here before. Johnny’s plan, it turned out after much twisty-turniness, was to irradiate the nasty CEO of a financial speculation company, who’d made a killing in yen after the recent Japanese earthquake. Harry and Erin made no secret of their distaste for this, but the CEO was more than happy to forget the insult when Dimitri turned up in the nick of time to try and talk Johnny down from breaking open a strangely fragile glass tube containing radium 226.
Johnny, it turned out, had cancer, and wanted to make a last grand anti-capitalist gesture. Dimitri, in the standard plot trope of all stories about undercover agents, had come to like him and understand his argument; but he’s a Security Professional who knows about The Harsh Realities of the Job, and he can’t let Johnny do it. “It’s not worth it,” he emotes, Max Brown’s acting muscles working overtime in an attempt to convey inner turmoil, “nobody’s watching any more.” But of course, Dimitri’s the one who’s watching now, and he’s come to care about Johnny – at least I think that’s what Max Brown’s face was trying to show. So Johnny pours the radium all over himself, and Max is called on portray angst and guilt on his handsome but immobile face as he tries to live with the consequences of having deceived a woman into thinking he loved her. Fortunately for him, Erin has drafted “the best Dear John letter ever written… the one I’d want to receive if someone was breaking up with me”. So that’s all right then.
As I said, this was all done competently enough, but it had the feel of very, very familiar ground as far as Spooks is concerned. What with this and last week’s mostly uninspiring stolen laptop plot, it may be a good thing, if a little sad, that the show’s finally coming to an end. Nobody likes watching a once-great show retreading old ground in an overextended lifespan – that’s what made The X Files often painful to watch during its last few seasons. If Spooks really has run out of ideas, it’s best that it goes out while still on a modest high.
The modest high – and it may get better than that – is this year’s Big Plot about detente with the Russians, Harry’s old flame/asset Elena Gavrik, and the seemingly duplicitous CIA. While shoved very much to the back burner this week, the Big Plot is miles more interesting than the overfamiliar runarounds taking up the bulk of the last two episodes. Thus, this week, Harry’s women got to have a tete-a-tete, as Ruth was sent in to retrieve the mysterious fake communiques from Elena. In keeping with the general attempt to mine every Cold War cliche in the book, they met at an art gallery, where their words seemed to echo rather more loudly round the room than would be entirely advisable for a secret meeting.
It was more than an exchange of intelligence though; Elena has twigged about Ruth and Harry. “I saw the way you looked at him at the reception… you love him, don’t you?” Ruth did that nonplussed look that Nicola Walker is so good at; a sort of very British mild discomfiture at the thought of openly discussing emotion: “I don’t know how to answer that.” But Elena knows Harry as well as Ruth, and has words of advice for her: “You can never expect the full confidence of a man like Harry Pearce. He can’t even give that to himself.”
Again, we’re in the fun territory of writing that vaguely recalls bits of John le Carre (whose opinion of this show is “crap”, incidentally). But the half-recalled Cold War tropes are a bit of fun nostalgia, enlivening the twisty plot about Harry’s past. Later, he meets up with his unsuspecting son Sasha, to let him know the results of their investigation, and Sasha is curious as to why Harry came himself. Cue a masterly angst-ridden pause from Peter Firth as Harry eventually blurted sadly, “no reason”. With his repressed emotion every bit a match for Ruth’s, it’s clear these two were made for each other.
And Ruth was getting flirted with herself this week, from a very unexpected quarter. Shifty Home Secretary Towers (the mighty Simon Russell Beale) invited her to dinner! He wants to promote her, for reasons that are unclear and very probably highly suspicious. His excuse is that he hates to see “wasted potential” – but you can’t help thinking he wants to split up the highly effective, romantically charged team of Harry and Ruth. But to what end, I wonder? Still, the whole thing served to get Ruth to express – cryptically, of course – the doubts she’s been having about Harry: “I’m sick of secrets. You never really get to know people. It just ends up with everybody feeling alone.”
Meanwhile, a contrite Calum is getting inevitably more likeable as he pursues a quiet investigation into Tariq’s death. He’s managed to retrieve the CCTV footage that Tariq was killed for having seen, and found that the courier for the stolen laptop was “from a little outfit called the Central Intelligence Agency”. What with the fake communiques to Elena containing info known only to Harry, Elena, and CIA honcho Jim Coaver, it’s clear that the CIA are behind it all. But this is Spooks, and the season’s only halfway through; expect this to be a total red herring. Mind you, the Big Plot will lose points with me if it turns out to be yet another shadowy international conspiracy bent on changing the global balance of power – Spooks has already had at least three of those, and you wonder how they managed to work their long term shady plans without ever noticing each other.
So, yet again this week, we had a very standard Spooks runaround that, while exciting enough, was nothing we hadn’t seen before. The bits involving the Big Plot were far more interesting, and it’s notable that, despite being a fairly small part of the episode, I’ve spent far more time dwelling on those than the overly familiar main plot. Last week at least had the shock death of Tariq to lift it a bit higher than being routine, but this week we only had the character moments of Harry, Ruth, Elena and Sasha. Here’s hoping for something a bit less familiar next week…