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Thursday, 30 October 2008

Spooks, BBC1

Did we like it?
Much as we liked Adam Carter, and Rupert Penry-Jones’ work, his self-immolation was the best thing to happen to Spooks for three series. His replacement Lucas North has an alluring depth and ambiguity, while the scripts are back to being a mix of the incredibly silly and the heart-stopping. Whether this can continue for a whole series, unlike the previous two, isn’t yet clear.

What was good about it?
• Richard Armitage has been carrying Robin Hood pretty much since it started, and now he has a stage worthy of his talents. His ruse as a double agent to trick his former Russian captors was predictable, but there is a shadow in his soul than even Harry can’t see – and it will hopefully be revealed in future episodes.
• And we were gladdened by the return of Ros (Hermione Norris), especially as she spent the first couple of episodes auditioning to ultimately replace Adam, which she duly achieved. She killed a Russian spy by smashing him over the head with champagne, disabled another in a London square, had a Russian politician literally by the bollocks, and stunned Lucas with a taser. Although, we do remember that there was a very good reason why she had to be dead in Series 5 – but we can’t exactly recall why.
• The first episode was a peculiar triptych that mechanically reintroduced Ros, introduced Lucas and got rid of Adam. The second was a Spooks classic for its palpable but addictive silliness as a Russian submarine tried to infect telecommunications cables in the Atlantic with some ravaging internet virus. It had the usual improbable conclusion, Malcolm waxing psychobabble and Harry uttering apocalyptic portents for Britain. All it needed was Tom, Danny and Zoe walking aimlessly about corridors and it was 2002 all over again.
• The tailing of suspects through busy streets. We always find this element of Spooks rather hypnotic, like watching safety play in a snooker match – the most thrilling part of any green baize showdown, as the potting bit is a dull procession like a military parade through Red Square.

What was bad about it?
• So many of the leading Spooks characters have been mindlessly dispatched in recent series that when Harry raised his pistol with a look of righteous fury in his eyes, and gunned down Arkady Katchemov for indirectly causing Adam’s death, there was no sense of dramatic fulfilment for us. We didn’t feel the same glow of justice as when Robert Osbourne was assassinated for murdering Helen, or when Tom Quinn shot Hermann Joyce in cold blood.
• We now hardly bat an eyelid at another corpse whether it’s Adam Carter or Arkady Katchemov, so inured are we to a world which is more perilous and morbid than even Coronation Street.
• And anyhow, Adam didn’t really die in the car bomb. He perished about half-an-hour earlier during his Henry V soliloquy about the virtues of Remembrance Day, and in so doing stepped so far out of character he more resembled Captain Pugwash than a crack spy. He may as well have turned to the camera and punctured the fourth wall with his cool blue eyes, so much did this scene resemble the very last episode of Dad’s Army when Mainwaring and his troops toasted the Home Guard.
• And while the death of Arkady Katchemov didn’t move us, it certainly annoyed us. Throughout the previous couple of episodes his name had been mentioned in hallowed tones as if the Lucifer Morningstar of international espionage. Lucas trembled when he spoke of Arkady’s interrogation technique, venerating him as a “chess player”. Yet as soon as the Spooks pinioned him with a move that a three-year-old child could manoeuvre out of, he crumbled and complied with Lucas’s demand to become a double agent.
• Arkady Katchemov’s death was a double shame as he was an adversary as doughty as Professor Moriarty compared to the stock Al Qaeda terrorists we had to endure in the first episode. Sure, they were accurately portrayed as the moronic fools who try to give meaning to their piteous snivelling existences through murder and harm, but they are so basic they could be produced in a Victorian sweatshop and sold on the streets of Blackpool to dumb tourists. They spouted all the usual risible hyperbolic bilge that just made them grotesque hate figures with all the distinctive traits of a blanket of fog.
• Why did Lucas have his tattoos inscribed in the Latin alphabet rather than the Cyrillic alphabet?
• Are we the only people who thought that the fatal car bomb wasn’t really that big, and Adam could have quite easily cleared the street, with the device causing little more damage than a few shattered windows?


Anonymous said...

Much as I enjoyed it, (and I did thoroughly, make no mistake!) loving Lucas, dark horse that he is, mourning Adam, aka Henry V, Jo a little too jittery for my liking - bad things happen to spies, get over it! - there were a few puzzlements which will be answered hopefully at some point during the rest of the series, such as:-
If Lucas was in solitary for eight ears, who did the tats for him? Or is that another of his specialist skills - India Rubber Man?
As you pointed out, if the tats were to provide cover and fit in, presumably with his invisible cellmates, why in latin?
And how come they are so pretty? Whoever did that work is a true artist, no rough edges anywhere I could see, and believe me I WAS looking!
The Blake breastplate artwork is somewhat intriguing, Arkady just happening to be thumbing through a Blake tome whilst waiting for North's hard-faced ex to turn up, something I am sure all Spymasters do in their free time, said ex spouting Lucas' having the same beliefs as Blake, ie, mistrust of the system (oo-er!)and the very same print plus one, an illustration from Milton's must-read, Paradise Lost.
I could go on, but I have a meeting at the Grid in five, and I want to get there before Lucas scoffs all the choccy doughnuts, AGAIN!

Your secretively, H. Pearce xxx

Arden said...

Oh Mr Pearce, you of little faith, you raise quite a few interesting points for which I'm sure Lucas will have answers for. Having done a little research the Russian Criminal Tattooing, I recently came across Danzig Baldaev who has written 'The Russian Criminal Tattoo Encyclopaedia, published by Steidl/Fuel. This is a fasinating tome with some beautiful pictures of the infinate range of tattoos on the bodies of both male and female prisoners. Theu truly are beautiful.
If I remember correctly, Lucas was keen to 'keep' Arkady, I have a feeling we may not be looking at the whole picture here, was Lucas kept in solitary all the time....is this a double bluff on Harry?
We must wait and see Mr Pearce, we have after all five more episodes in this series and hopefully eight in the next with the enigmatic Lucas.
Can I just say how much I'm enjoying this series, I hope Richard Armitage stays around for a very long time.

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