Spooks: Series 10, Episode 5

“This is about Elena Gavrik and you know it. You’re still in love with her, and it’s clouding your judgement.”

SpooksTowers

Now that was a good Spooks episode! After the a run of episodes that seemed like weak rehashes of things the show has done before, this week was thankfully all about the Big Plot, as the show ramps up the twisty-turny action for what will, hopefully, be a great final end.

There was so much action and intrigue this week that it’s hard to know where to begin looking at it. As I’d suspected for a while, the fact that the finger of suspicion was pointing so squarely at CIA honcho Jim Coaver meant that this was nothing more than a red herring (as if in tribute to this much-used device in the show, one shot even showed the Home Secretary’s car driving past a pub clearly named the Red Herring!). Having served his purpose as a misleading plot device, Coaver was duly dispatched when a group of phoney CIA agents turned up to ‘rescue’ him from Harry’s clutches, then shoved him out of the back of a van after a pretty exciting car chase.

Coaver’s other function, of course, was as a link to Harry’s murky Cold War past, a past that’s informed most of this year’s Big Plot. So we learned in flashback that Harry had been all set to extract Elena and Sasha from East Berlin in the 80s, but Coaver stopped him at gunpoint: “We lie to people all the time. That’s how we recruit assets. Falling in love with them… that’s the cardinal sin.” William Hope did a good job of making this other Cold Warrior believable and even sympathetic as he professed both his innocence and his friendship to Harry. Of course, as soon as he told Harry that they’d find out who was behind it all “together”, you knew he was toast. So he got a dramatic death scene as he coughed up his last blood on the road, while apologising to Harry and revealing with his last breath (of course) that his laptop held the key to everything that was happening.

This led to two new directions for the plot: the CIA hold Harry responsible for Coaver’s death, and our heroes have to get hold of that laptop to learn the truth. But as it’s looking more and more like Harry’s coming totally unglued, Erin balks at the only logical option – nicking the laptop from inside the American embassy. So despite having left to take up the Home Secretary’s job offer (without even a leaving do, as the Grid’s a bit busy for that), it’s time for Ruth to do Harry one last favour. As Security Advisor to the Home Secretary, only she can get into the embassy and, with Calum’s hi-tech help, get the evidence our heroes need.

This was a genuinely tense sequence, as Ruth’s feigned illness and need for paracetamol led a convenient secretary away from her desk so that Ruth could plug in one of the Grid’s ubiquitous USB spying devices. Mind you, given that the Home Secretary and a top bod from the Foreign Office were standing not six feet away from her at the time, you had to marvel at their lack of observational skills. And Ruth’s sheer chutzpah.

Nicola Walker was very much to the forefront as Ruth this week, as the script showed plenty of soul searching from every side. She got another great scene with Harry as they met clandestinely in his Range Rover in an underground car park (another classic Spooks trope). Harry confessed that he couldn’t even trust himself, much as Elena had told Ruth before, but that he didn’t still love Elena: “It was guilt. That can look a lot like love.” Played pitch-perfect as usual by Walker and Peter Firth, this was an example of why it could actually be rather a shame that the show’s coming to an end. Granted, it seems to be running out of ideas. But at its best, it can give us characters and performances that are superb, and the Ruth/Harry ‘romance-type-thing’ has been terrific throughout.

As has new Home Secretary William Towers, who also got a lot of the action this week. When Spooks began, it had some vague pretence to be happening in the real world; one episode featured a plot to assassinate George Bush and Tony Blair. The showrunners soon realised, however, that if they were going to have government figures involved in the action, it would be best to divorce itself from the real world, in which shady conspiracies to change the global balance of power don’t happen every year (that we know of). So the previous Home Secretary in the show, Nicholas Blake, was introduced, played as a cynical political opportunist by Robert Glenister.

Blake lasted for several years (despite numerous reshuffles in the real world), but as the show still wants to have some vague acknowledgement of real political events, the change of government meant that he had to go. This being Spooks, of course, he couldn’t retire gracefully; no, he had to be a key player in one of those shady conspiracies, and got murdered by Harry for his pains. If Harry offers to pour you some scotch but never takes off his black leather gloves, better watch out!

And afterward, the show got a new Coalition Home Secretary in William Towers. Perhaps wisely, scripts have never spelled out which party he’s from, though the fact that the Conservatives hold all the really important posts is probably a giveaway. For two series now, Towers has been played by the marvellous Simon Russell Beale, who brings a lovely world-weariness to the role of a man who’s every bit as cynical as his predecessor, just more avuncular. It helps that he gets some of the best lines; this week he complained that “a CIA foetus has been on the phone threatening to ‘get medieval’ on my backside, whatever that means.”

As a key architect in the new ‘special relationship’ with the Russians, Towers has been much more involved in the episodes this year than the last, and Ruth’s defection to his office meant that this week he was pretty prominent. I’m still wondering whether he’s somehow involved in the overall plot to destabilise the arrangement and/or kill Minister Gavrik and/or destroy Harry’s reputation.

However, following Coaver’s revelations, it’s now looking more like the finger of suspicion should be pointing at Gavrik himself. With another twisty-turny episode to go, I think this is probably yet another red herring; but the script played nicely with the uncertainty as Harry’s old Cold War enemy paid him a home visit, bottle of vodka in hand.

I’ve not yet mentioned how good Jonathan Hyde is as Ilya Gavrik (in fact, the only other thing I recall seeing him in is Titanic, where he played White Star Line owner Bruce Ismay as a truly slimy piece of work). But he’s been great as the sly former KGB man turned politician, and this two handed scene between him and Harry was yet another highlight of a better than average episode. Recalling similar scenes in many Cold War spy thrillers, this was the inevitable moment when the British spymaster meets his opposite number in neutral circumstances, and they have a good old chinwag.

Hyde got some brilliant dialogue as he revealed that he not only knew about Elena’s betrayal and her affair with Harry, but he actually used his pull with the KGB to get her off despite knowing she was guilty. As he chatted, he forced Harry to reflect on the failure he’d made of his private life by not moving on, living a solitary life in a well-appointed but lonely home. By contrast, Gavrik had a wife, a son and a tortoise in the garden: “He looks like you, Harry.” Ostensibly referring to the tortoise, you had to wonder whether Gavrik was actually referring to his son – one thing he didn’t come clean on was whether he also knew that Sasha’s father is actually Harry. Hyde played Gavrik as keeping his cards very close to his chest, a slyly genial figure who may yet turn out to be the real baddie. While a lot of the show is indeed very far-fetched and cartoonlike, John le Carre might want to check out scenes like this before dismissing the whole thing as “crap”!

Unfortunately, he might have been justified in levelling that accusation at the similar scene between Harry and Elena. Alice Krige is a very good actress, but even she can’t sobbingly deliver a line like “Kiss me! It’s the least you can do!” without coming across as comically melodramatic. Peter Firth got rather better lines as Harry struggled to apologise for his abandoning her to the KGB, delivered with his traditional repressed emotion and stiff upper lip, but overall this scene came across as ham fisted when it could have been so much better.

With all this going on, the rest of the regulars took something of a back seat this week, and in all honesty I can’t say that I missed them. Much. After waving guns around in the abduction of Jim Coaver and subsequent car chase, Dimitri, Erin and Calum spent pretty much the rest of the episode staring at monitors back at the Grid, in an attempt to identify the three mercenaries who had kidnapped Coaver and later tried to blow up the Home Secretary with a Ford Transit filled with explosives. Having been the voice of reason when Harry was Clearly Going Too Far, Erin still couldn’t resist pitching in with the US embassy raid, while Calum got to be all snidely superior when the others failed to check a key database. Deprived of the opportunity to thump anyone or defuse anything, Dimitri  came across as rather a spare part; though he did at least spring to Tariq’s defence when Coaver sneeringly referred to him as an office boy: “No offence.” “Some taken.”

It all came to a head as Harry, seemingly accepting that he’d Clearly Gone Too Far, was given a heads up by the Home Secretary to put his affairs in order, as he was about to be handed to the Americans for his part in Coaver’s death. Cue much doomy music as Harry fastidiously went through his house sorting out those final domestic chores like pouring away the milk and burning the top secret files he keeps buried in his garden. Finally, he wound up on a gloomy beach by the Thames, CIA goons hovering in the background, as a tearful Ruth bade him farewell: “I can’t believe this is the end.” Harry, as usual, had the final word: “Then pretend it’s not.” Hmmm.

So, one episode to go, and Harry’s in trouble yet again. Held in the US embassy, he’s being thumped by aggravated Marines: “My father served with Jim Coaver in the 82nd Airborne. You’ve suffered a fall. Please let us know if you need medical attention.” But Harry’s been set up, and so was Coaver. By whom? The leader of the dodgy mercenaries with an insatiable desire for unmarked vans turns out to be a former bodyguard of Gavrik’s. But that seems too obvious. Who else would want to torpedo the detente if not the Americans or the Russians? Well, that really only leaves the British. Could Towers be behind the whole thing? If so, he’d better watch out; noticeably, the last things Harry took before closing up his house were his black murdering gloves. And will he be sprung from captivity? Perhaps Sasha can help, as after purloining the already stolen laptop from Ruth, he now knows that Harry’s his father. Is that liable to make him more or less annoyed? (Actually it’s hard to imagine him any more annoyed than his usual state.)

In one sense, I can’t wait for next week’s episode; as my friend Paul commented last week, he’s already seen it and it’s apparently an excellent conclusion to the series’ ten years. In another sense, I kind of wish the show could go on longer. We’ve seen a lot of recycled stuff this year, but at its worst it’s never been less than watchable, and occasionally, as this week, it’s been excellent. I’d like to think there’s a happy ending waiting for Harry and Ruth, but given the show’s usual style, I’m more expecting that Harry will finally go out in a blaze of glory. Since he’s basically been spending the whole series with the weary resignation of a man who knows it’s all coming to an end (much like Matt Smith’s Doctor this year), that would be the obvious. But Spooks delights in pulling the rug out from under you, so maybe the ultimate twist will be that, this time, somebody really will live happily ever after.

Spooks: Series 10, Episode 4

“As punishment for recent actions of the British government, Trafalgar Square will be attacked at 6pm… And MI5 will let it happen.”

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Looks like I was indeed a little wide of the mark last week when I theorised that Dimitri was being shaped up into the central figure of Spooks this year. It turns out that the writers are going for more of an ensemble approach; last week was “the Dimitri episode”, and this week’s, it soon became clear, was “the Erin episode”. Much emphasis on Erin in the “previously on…” bit was then followed by a sinister man in a car spying on her leaving home and promising that “the woman will be taken care of”, as if to hammer the Erin-centric nature of the story home.

It’s an interesting way to approach the storytelling, in that it’s focussing primarily on the characters. This may explain, why, yet again, the central character this week was allowed to develop by means of a plot that is very familiar ground to Spooks fans. Erin was thrust into the foreground of that old Spooks stalwart, the “thwart Muslim extremists” plot, as an imprisoned Abu Hamza-like cleric groomed the soon to be released inmates at his prison into jihadi suicide bombers.

This caused much tokenistic soul-searching as characters turned into political mouthpieces for the writers. Meeting with the Home Secretary, Harry expressed concern at a violent cult leader being locked in an environment full of vulnerable, impressionistic young men; basically, his own ripe recruiting ground. The Home Secretary countered by outlining the alternative of allowing him out and inflaming all the country’s right wingers. Some relief from this rather simplistic pontificating was offered by the Home Secretary’s weary admission that it was a no-win scenario: “I get rather a lot of those.” Simon Russell Beale’s world-weary delivery was pitch-perfect, and almost made you feel some sympathy for career politicians. Only almost, though, the writing’s not that good.

Back at the Grid, Dimitri and Calum engaged in a similar discussion, culminating in an uncharacteristically liberal outburst from Calum: “3% of the country is Muslim, but they make up 11% of the prison population. Maybe we should start with that.” It’s a tricky line that shows like Spooks and 24 have to walk when presenting Islamic extremists as their villains, and it’s become de rigueur for the writers to add a bit of debate to display that they’re not trying to characterise all Muslims like this, while not ignoring that some of them are. This tends to lead to some very out of character mealy-mouthed platitudes in the dialogue. While I recognise the perceived necessity for it, this often comes across as ham fisted, and Spooks was no exception this week, though thankfully it didn’t descend into the near-offensive cultural stereotyping that became a hallmark of 24.

But thankfully, we didn’t have to linger long on the cultural philosophy. This is Spooks, not Newsnight, and there had to be enough time left in the episode for the requisite running around, peering at CCTV footage and shooting guns. Thus it was that we discovered one of the two potential jihadis being released from Eastland Prison was actually one of Erin’s assets, supplying her with information from inside the prison in exchange for a promise that his daughter would be allowed to move to the UK from their home in Pakistan.

The script didn’t linger on the statement that this man, Ashur Mohali, was a university lecturer in Pakistan who’d been arrested for illegal menial work in the UK; that was one of the political points better handled, left hanging there for you to make your own judgement. Slightly less well-handled was his impassioned plea to his fellow jihadi, a former BNP member turned Muslim convert, that what they were doing was wrong according to so many tenets of the Qu’ran. All true enough, but again it felt like the point was being hammered home.

Unfortunately for Ashur, his handler Rashaida (the impressively sinister Chu Omambala, who we’d seen spying on Erin earlier) wasn’t the trusting type, and he’d kidnapped Ashur’s daughter in order to ensure that Ashur would go through with the plan. This led to much hand-wringing from Erin, who’s obviously still ridden with guilt about having screwed over another of her assets a couple of weeks ago. Lara Pulver is rather better at portraying inner doubt and guilt than Max Brown, so we actually felt for her as she begged Harry to petition the Home Secretary for help: “Just once, I’d like to fulfil the promises we make to those who are risking their lives for us.”

This showed that The Harsh Realities of the Job still aren’t fully clear to her. For Erin , one of those Harsh Realities is being really, really unlucky, as not only was she in the process of ruining yet another life, the job came perilously close to home when Rashaida kidnapped her daughter too. Double daughter jeopardy! It wasn’t made clear exactly how Rashaida managed to get his hands on her; I suppose it’s possible that he killed Erin’s mum to get her out of the way, as we didn’t see her again. I’d like to think that the writers wouldn’t be so cruel, as Erin’s already having enough bad luck to make her envy Job. But this is Spooks, and nobody gets a happy ending here, so who knows?

Much peering into CCTV monitors and running around council estates throwing guns hither and yon for the local kids to pick up ensued, as Dimitri was again relegated to thumping people and shooting. It all culminated in an admittedly tense standoff in Trafalgar Square (the location being announced by hyperdramatic music accompanying shots of Nelson’s Column and stone lions), as Erin begged Harry to wait for Dimitri to rescue her daughter before shooting down poor old Ashur to stop him detonating a big strap on bomb. Dimitri, of course, got there in the nick of time. Ashur was duly dispatched, and Erin’s conscience got some salving from hearing that Ashur’s daughter, rescued by MI6, was on the next plane over. Mind you, with Erin’s luck, she’ll probably be the one who has to explain to the girl about where her father is.

As mentioned, Lara Pulver conveys emotion rather better than Max Brown, so her tearful near-resignation after all of this was perfectly believable – even if her immaculate hair remained unruffled throughout. Erin’s a bit of a daft character, of course; an impossibly glamourous single mum who saves the country on a weekly basis and still has perfect hair, she certainly outdoes the responsibility juggling of Sarah Jessica Parker in the execrably titled I Don’t Know How She Does It. But Lara Pulver’s been likeable enough to make you overlook the absurdity, and it seems rather a shame that, this being the last series, we won’t see very much of her. She’ll never be in the same formidable league as the much-missed Ros Myers, but she seems to be shaping up into an interesting character.

In fact, more than anything else, the introduction and beginnings of development of two new main characters seems the clearest sign that this probably wasn’t originally intended to be the show’s last series. Why start developing new characters at this stage of the game? Calum, of course, is a necessary replacement for Tariq, whose death was vital for the standard shock value of a Spooks Big Plot. And presumably Erin was brought in because it would have been less than credible for the team to be as small as four people and still protect the realm with the reliability of five people (a fact Calum drew attention to with an in-jokey line about the five of them against the CIA).

The fact remains though that this series seems like it’s trying to take the characters somewhere, as if news of the show’s cancellation didn’t reach the writers until after they’d finished. As I said last week, given the familiarity of the ground we’ve been treading, the show’s demise may not be a bad thing. But I sincerely hope news of its end reached the writers in time to craft a proper end for the Big Plot – particularly since this year’s Big Plot must also resolve the several years of simmering but chaste romantic tension between Harry and Ruth.

Thankfully, the Big Plot was much more to the fore this week, as Ruth continued to struggle with her decision to take a job with the slimy Home Secretary and her growing distrust of Harry. This was underlined in a sweet scene, perfectly played by Peter Firth and Nicola Walker, as Harry and Ruth met on a park bench to discuss her misgivings. Ruth’s been picking the brains of CIA friend turned bad guy Jim Coaver, on a bridge over the Thames (“What is it with you Brits and hanging out by this river?” asks an exasperated Coaver in yet another in-joke about the tropes of the show). Coaver dropped some heavy hints about Harry’s bad boy past with Elena in the 80s, and Ruth, already feeling like “the other woman” is starting to feel that she doesn’t know Harry anywhere near as well as she thought she did.

Here was the real acting muscle of the show, as Firth and Walker subtly conveyed so much turmoil on such rigidly controlled, British faces. “You can’t love someone on a need to know basis,” said a frustrated Ruth, to which Harry was equivocal; clearly that’s always been a condition of his romantic relationships. But Harry’s love has no plausible deniability as he urged Ruth to take the Home Secretary’s job offer: “I don’t want you caught up in what’s coming.” Clearly Harry’s about to get badass again – time to break out the murdering gloves.

For it now seems undeniable that the CIA are the bad guys, trying to overthrow the uneasy detente with the Russians. Harry discovered this by the rather dubious means of coaxing them into taking potshots at his old flame Elena, after using her to misinform them about discovering the identity of the source posing as Harry. Wheels within wheels, it seems, as the CIA assassin was directed by an unseen car driver; the same car, Ruth later discovered, habitually used by Coaver (though given her suspicions, that one to one meeting on a bridge seems a little foolhardy).

So Harry finally squared up to his old buddy, with much philosophising about the nature of friendship versus The Harsh Realities of the Job: “I’d never shoot my friends. My family, maybe, but never my friends.” Coaver’s protestations of ignorance seemed fairly convincing, and after all, it might not necessarily have been him in the car directing the assassin. But that’s cutting no ice with Harry, whose judgement is being made to look increasingly shaky. Coaver’s got 24 hours to come clean, or Harry’s coming after him: “I guess you’ve forgotten who I work for.” “Then I’ll have to come after them too.”

So is Harry coming unglued? Or is this going to be his last blaze of righteous glory as he claims vengeance and justice in a way that the Home Secretary will presumably not approve of? With only two episodes left, it looks like the focus is going to be squarely on the Big Plot from hereon in; if nothing else, that’s a mercy for sparing us an episode centred on Calum. There’s plenty to tie up, so two episodes is probably necessary. Along with the duplicitous CIA and the inscrutable Russians, Harry has to come clean to his unsuspecting son and choose between the two women in his life before, very probably, dying a hero’s death. Let’s hope the writers are up to the task of giving this most British of heroes a proper send off. And not end the whole series on a cliffhanger because they didn’t realise it had been cancelled!

Spooks: Series 10, Episode 3

“All over the world, men are lying to women to get them into bed. Don’t overthink it.”

SpooksDimitri

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…