“I left because I always thought there’d be too many secrets between us. Stupid really, because, you and I… we’re made of secrets.”
It’s the saddest day ever in Thames House, because it’s the end. The very end. And in keeping with the style of the show we’ve come to know and love over the last ten years, it’s not a happy one.
In contrast to last week’s high octane, action-filled episode, this was a season finale that was, basically, a bunch of people in a few rooms talking. But rarely has such talking been so tense and hyperdramatic, as all the secrets about the Big Plot, stretching back over more than thirty years, were gradually uncovered while all those concerned still tried to deceive and manipulate each other. As our heroes got together with the Gavrik family in an abandoned nuclear bunker to chew over events recent and old, the tension was palpable, based on knowledge of the stakes being played for.
But first, there did have to be some actual action, as the drama couldn’t proceed with Harry still in the custody of the vengeful CIA. After taking something of a back seat last week, Erin and Dimitri were properly back in the fray as Elena Gavrik suddenly and unexpectedly revealed that she knew everything, but the only person she’d talk to was Harry. Thus, Erin and Dimitri hatched a plan that was worthy of Harry’s disrespect for official channels – they were going to spring him from CIA custody as he was transported to a secret flight out of the country, presumably for a bit of rendition.
The CIA, it seems, transport their prisoners ‘inconspicuously’ in convoys of giant black SUVs, as obviously a giant Hummer with blacked out windows blends perfectly into the British countryside. Knocking out the electrical systems of the Hummer’s equally inconspicuous escorts (two giant Chevy Blazers), Dimitri fearlessly stood in the Hummer’s path until taking a shot at the very last moment to blow out its front tyre just as it was about to hit him. A nicely choreographed moment, to be sure, though I had to wonder why the vehicle didn’t have bulletproof tyres, or why it was so easy for Dimitri to just pull open the door and point guns at the occupying agents – surely the CIA would have made the Hummer as secure as a Group 4 van? Nonetheless, Harry was revealed to be locked in the trunk, as Dimitri perhaps unwisely pulled off his balaclava to reveal to him (and, presumably, the CIA) his true identity. As Harry commented, “this will probably come up in your next pay review.”
With Harry free, he was taken to an old MOD nuclear shelter handily equipped with police style lockable interview rooms (why the post-nuclear wasteland would require these was not explained). And it was here that, as the episode progressed, the important characters in the Big Plot gradually gathered. First to arrive were Ruth and Calum, bringing the now very dubious looking Elena, who’d ditched her husband’s security retinue with the surprisingly mundane cover of an interview for the Women’s Institute. Also along for the ride was Sasha, now in possession (he thought) of the true facts about his relationship to Harry Pearce, and just as eager to catch up with him as Elena was. And of course, he’d brought his gun, which seemed somehow to be the only one in circulation at this meeting of top security professionals.
And so the revelations began, while a sinister bald man started getting up to nasty things on a flight from Moscow to London. This was apparently “Plan B” for the shady group of Russian conspirators glimpsed occasionally as the story progressed. I must confess, as it was now clear that Elena was working directly for them, I wasn’t too sure exactly what Plan A had been. Elena obviously didn’t really intend to get either herself or her husband killed (or did she?), so the original plan must logically have been to sow seeds of discord between Britain and the US by framing the CIA as being behind all the attacks and subterfuge. Except, surely by driving a wedge between the US and the UK, they’d only push the UK closer to the very alliance with Russia they were trying to prevent? Still, it’s often the case in spy stories that motives are murky and methodologies unclear – at least that’s the excuse I’m using in case I missed something in the flood of revelations that subsequently occurred
I commented last week that Elena’s tearful conversation with Harry seemed implausible and melodramatic, but here we saw why it rang so false; because it was. Alice Krige was masterful in her performance of an apparently genteel Russian lady with a hitherto unsuspected core of steel and a rabid fanaticism about her nation. So, it transpired that she’d been lying to Harry from the moment she met him. Recruited by a black ops group within the KGB to pretend to be an asset and work as a double agent, she knew that Harry’s story about her parents being tortured by the KGB was a lie to recruit her. She did confess that she had real feelings for Harry, and had hoped he wouldn’t use the lie; but he did, and the die was cast.
And so she spent decades acting as an asset, all the while manoeuvring herself closer to Harry for some unspecified future masterplan. Again, what that was was unclear; I doubt that, at the height of the Cold War, the Russian conspirators foresaw the still rather implausible alliance between Russia and the UK. Still, they had something in mind, and apparently hoped one day to turn Harry. This indicates they didn’t do their research very well, as everything in Harry’s psychological makeup argues against that even being possible. But still, a disillusioned Harry had to give her credit for such successful duplicity: “You’re ten times the spy I ever was.”
But why come out with all these revelations now? Apparently, “Plan B” involved an attack that would kill hundreds, and “we all have a line won’t cross”. Plans within plans, as our heroes were led to a middleman who lay dead by a shredder containing a jammed photo of the sinister bald man. Calum’s usual lightning checks revealed him to be a former Spetsnaz agent currently on a flight into Heathrow – a flight which hadn’t been answering calls from Air Traffic Control. Jumping to the inevitable conclusion that a 9/11 style attack was in the works, Harry was straight on the phone to the frantic Home Secretary, and jets were scrambled to shoot down the suspect airliner with its payload of 312 passengers.
Of course, it was all a lie, too convenient to be true; the real plan was to force the UK into shooting down a Russian passenger jet and torpedo the nascent alliance. Typically, it was Ruth, with her talent for empathy, who was clever enough to figure this out. Elena had been prepared to defect to the West with her son, and have him brought up as British despite her nationalist ideals. That level of dedication smacked of fanaticism, and fanatics very rarely have lines they won’t cross. Sasha discovered this too as Harry threatened to shoot him if Elena didn’t come clean, and she still stuck to her lie.
But the very fact that Elena wouldn’t tell Harry what he wanted to hear (even if it was a lie) when her son’s life was at stake was enough to convince him, and he was straight on the phone to the Home Secretary (now in a rather low-rent recreation of the COBRA meeting room) to call off the jets. Obviously, the Spetsnaz agent was jamming the plane’s signals to engender the necessary suspicion, and the plane should be allowed to land normally. But the Home Secretary didn’t believe him, and the jets were only a couple of minutes away from their target.
Step up then, Ilya Gavrik, who had turned up at the bunker in time to witness his wife’s confession to decades of deception. He’s put the weight of his government behind the plea to call off the fighters – but only if he could have the key to the interview room where Elena was detained. Obvious alarm bells were going off in our heroes’ (and the viewers’) minds, but really, what choice was there? So there followed a genuinely tense sequence as the Eurofighters got closer… and closer… then pulled away with less than five seconds to go. And so the Big Plot was done, the crisis averted, and all that remained was to pick up the pieces of the human wreckage.
The most obvious wreckage being to the Gavriks, now revealed as possibly the most dysfunctional family the Cold War ever produced. After last week’s excellent summit between Harry and Ilya, Jonathan Hyde again gave a chillingly believable performance, reminding us that, whatever Ilya is now, he used to be a KGB man. He knows how to kill. So, inevitably, he locked the door of the room before our heroes could get at him, and got on with the job of exacting vengeance by strangling his wife in front of their son.
Which went down about as well as could be expected. Tom Weston-Jones has been broodingly handsome as Sasha throughout, but now we saw some real acting chops as he showed us quite how a young man who’s just had his whole world overturned would react. He’s found out, in short order, that Harry was his dad; then that his mother was a secret agent first for one side then the other; then that Harry wasn’t his dad after all; then that his mother was prepared to let him die in order to carry out a mass murder. And to cap it all, he then got to see his actual father strangling his mother. This is not going to make anyone feel well-adjusted, and it came as no surprise when he surreptitiously pocketed a handy shard of broken glass. The only question was, who was he going to use it on?
I’ve been saying since the beginning of this year’s series that, on prior evidence, there would be no happy ending for Harry and Ruth. The only question was, which one wouldn’t make it? I’d been tending towards it being Harry, going down in a blaze of glory as he saved the country single handed. But with the immediate crisis averted, that looked unlikely. Obviously Sasha and his broken glass were on the way, to deal retribution to whoever he thought responsible for the situation. Harry had engineered the whole thing, but Ruth had been the one who gave Ilya the key to the room where Elena was held. All bets were off.
But it was only fitting that, before the inevitable heartbreak, Harry and Ruth got one last scene to resolve their on-off relationship from the last few years. Theirs has been one of the most touching romances in recent TV drama; entirely chaste, fraught with the potential of future happiness continually thwarted, with two very likeable people seemingly resigned to the fact that their happy ending was never going to come. In Peter Firth and Nicola Walker, this has been conveyed with such quiet dignity, such unspoken British repression of feeling, that it’s been irresistible viewing.
As they began what turned out to be their final conversation, it looked – for a moment – like there might be a happy ending after all. Ruth continued her theme of this year about hating the secrecy so necessary in their profession: “I’ve always thought, the longer we keep secrets, the more our true selves got buried. That one day, I’d go looking and I wouldn’t be there any more.” But there’s an out; she’s leaving the service, and buying that nice house by the seaside. And Harry could go with her. “Leave the service. With me.”
Like, I’m guessing, a lot of viewers, I was silently wishing that the show’s writers would, just this once, let these two most likeable of characters have a deserved happy ending. But this is Spooks, and those are pretty rare here. So, with Wagnerian inevitability, Sasha approached with his lethal shard of glass, and both Harry and Ruth tried to take the fall for each other. But it was, surprisingly (to me, anyway), Ruth who caught the stab wound as she tried to push Sasha away from Harry.
Sasha was quickly taken out of the action by a handy pistol shot from Erin, and we got one of the more painful death scenes I’ve seen – not painful in a physical sense, but emotionally. It was hard to keep from tearing up as Ruth coughed her last, knowing full well that the show she’s been in for years doesn’t allow for happy endings: “We’re not meant to have those things.” And then, finally, Harry’s face cracked into heartbreaking tears as Peter Firth finally allowed himself to show the emotions his character was feeling.
All else was – literally – post mortem. Another quietly devastating scene followed as Harry went to inspect the house Ruth almost bought, and left, unable to stand it. For a moment, we wondered if he really had taken Ruth’s suggestion of quitting the service. As he drove away, the Home Secretary told him on the phone, “Nobody expects you to come back to work. Ever.”
But this is Harry Pearce, and his quiet nobility and devotion to duty are one of the show’s eternal mainstays. So it should have come as no surprise that, whatever his current reputation, his next stop was the Grid, and back to work. But before heading to his office, we got an emotional sendoff to the series as a whole, as he popped down to the previously unseen MI5 memorial wall to the fallen to pay his respects to “R. Evershed”. And she was the last name on a long list that, touchingly reminded us of all those characters we’ve seen die in the last ten years: Tariq, Ros Myers, Adam Carter, Jo Portman, Zafar Younis, even timid little Colin Wells from the tech section. And as if to emphasise the show’s past, its very first hero Tom Quinn (Matthew MacFadyen) put in a (widely rumoured) quick appearance, privately hired by Harry to take out the head of the Russian conspiracy.
It was a sweet capstone to a show that’s been (however frequently implausible) one of the most enjoyable British dramas of the last decade. And as Harry settled back down in his office, it was a comfort to know that, however unhappy, we’ve got this team of four people carrying on defending our land. Asked to sum up the day’s reports, Calum put it best: “Bad people want to kill us.” As good a summary of the situation as I ever heard, and as Harry, after a masterful pause, picked up the phone to hear what the next crisis would be, it felt like closure. No happy endings, to be sure. Just the safe and certain knowledge that we’re secure in these people’s hands. It may not be realistic, it may be wildly improbable, and they may only have four people against hordes of the nation’s enemies. But it’s good to know that, even if we don’t see it any more, life on the Grid goes on.