Spooks: Series 10, Episode 6

“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.”

SpooksHarryRuth

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.

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.”

SpooksErin

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…