If nothing else, London Spy offers proof that a good mystery can go a long way. It certainly kept me watching until the end, even as the rest of the show slowly – sometimes very slowly – disintegrated around it, leading to this often risible final episode. We start with Scottie’s funeral, which gives Danny the opportunity to brood for a few minutes, although in a remarkably quick administration of the estate Danny seems to have inherited Scottie’s house.
Then, though, the episode – and, effectively, the series – starts to go downhill. Danny decides that he wants to bring Alex’s theories to the attention of the world, so he prints off a few copies and posts them – posts them – to a few newspapers. When the Mysterious Forces watching Danny send the documents back to him, now rendered blank, he then recalls that there’s an easier, quicker, cheaper, and more efficient way of sending documents, and emails them. The Mysterious Forces, of course, are able to block that as well, because they and they alone have found a way to turn off the internet. But why not put them on a blog? Or Facebook? Or… something? The Web’s full of lots of that sort of crap. (It occurred to me that it would actually have been more realistic, and in its way more devastating, to show the envelopes reaching the newspapers and being thrown out, or the emails being deleted unread.)
In the middle of that, Danny’s parents visit him in his new house, and prevail upon him to come back to theirs, where his mother insists on taking a group photograph of the three of them. Except – ooh! – his parents’ house had been done up to resemble a happy family home, and the camera was rigged with a something-or-other in it which wiped the contents of that spy keyring containing the details of Alex’s research. Hang on, though. Think of all the time and trouble the Mysterious Forces went to in order to pull that off, including browbeating Danny’s parents (who referred to the MFs as “scary people”) into participating, all of it standing or falling on whether Danny was willing to go with his parents, and happened to have the spy keyring with him. If you don’t want the contents of the USB drive to get into the public domain, why not just have someone snatch it off Danny? Or kill him? Or snatch it off him, and then kill him? I mean, what do the Mysterious Forces actually want?
Danny drops into a support group for people with HIV, then heads off to that miserable old house where Alex’s mother lives, where we get to find out one or two things about Alex’s upbringing and personal history. It takes half-an-hour, of course, when it could have been done in five minutes or so, including the fire, and the ending, in which Butch and Sundance agree to go out fighting. Buried in it all, mind you, there’s one excellent scene – horrifying, taut, and moving – in which we finally get to see what happened to Alex in the Secret Attic of Sub and Dom. The possibility which many of us have been holding on to – that it wasn’t actually Alex’s corpse in the case – is dangled before us then cruelly snatched away, with Alex’s own invention actually sealing his fate, although not before delivering a gratuitous gut-punch to his mother, in a manner not unlike the end of Brighton Rock.
The rest of it, though, notwithstanding Ben Whishaw’s quiet excellence, is nonsense, and excessively-padded nonsense at that. I should say, as I always do at this point, that I’m just a viewer: I have no idea of the process involved in getting something like this commissioned, made, and broadcast. Once again, though, London Spy came across as a show which would have benefitted from a ruthless hand in the editing suite. Like Doctor Foster. And Broadchurch. And The Shadow Line. And The Fall. And just about every last fecking one, as far as I can see, of these British TV dramas, in which style is mistaken for substance, and the idea of fettering the writer’s “vision” is seen as the enemy of art, rather than its frequent ally.