Spooks s10 ep 6

I can’t quite believe it’s all over.

In Spooks’ last ever episode, the Elena/Ilya/Harry triangle came to a head, we found out who was behind the big plot to destroy British relations with Russia and who survived to spy another day.  Sob!

The finale didn’t start well, to be honest: plotholes galore, too many people acting like dimwits, and a storyline strung out with more painfully and ridiculously elaborate twists and turns than an hour of Strictly Come Dancing.  The only thing that kept it entertaining was the ever-increasing incredulity on the suddenly hilarious Calum’s face.

But the last 10-15 minutes or so was different: gloriously sad, heartfelt and – something that’s been lacking all season – very, very Spooks.  And I loved it.  I wish we could have had a happier ending, but it wouldn’t have felt right; the ending we got, tragic as it was, was far more in tune with a show that, at heart, has always been about loss and self-sacrifice, in pursuit of the greater good, even if no one was ever sure what the greater good was. The tragedy on the beach, that cameo, the memory wall and that last scene in Harry’s office, all made for a fitting tribute to the show so many of us have enjoyed for years.

I can’t claim to have been an early adopter of Spooks.  When I first switched it on, Adam was Section Chief, the legendary deep fat fryer death was a distant memory and Tom was long gone.  But from then on, I’ve grown to love it and its tortured heroes and heroines, hot-button topicality and genuine, if often fruitless, desire to make a good, thoughtful point or two amongst the high-octane spy shenanigans.  It wasn’t always amazing, but when it was on form, it could be spectacular, and in seasons past, that happened a lot.

Last year did show signs of strain, with the wholesale, nonsensical deconstruction and destruction of Lucas leaving an unpleasant aftertaste for a lot of viewers (myself included), but there was still hope that this season would give us a decent last hurrah.  Sadly, it hasn’t.  Apart from the last 10-15 minutes, this season has been a disaster.

Nothing seemed to work.  After ten years of deftly touching on it, the writers decided it was time to bludgeon the Harry/Ruth romance with a crowbar.  The Russian story arc was already one  season-long conspiracy arc too many, but, worse than that, it – and the entire Gavrik family – was appallingly boring.  And they tried to replace the awesome Adam, Ros and Lucas with the woeful Erin: a character wetter than the Atlantic Ocean but shallower than a puddle.  Even the brilliant Home Secretary and the indefatigable Harry couldn’t save it.  I enjoyed one episode this year before tonight’s finale, and frankly, that’s a terrible ratio for a series I’ve loved for years.  So the BBC may have given Spooks a 10th season, but I think, when I look back on it, I’ll be ignoring most of it and remembering the good stuff instead.  And there’s plenty of that to remember.  So long, Section D.  It’s been a blast.

Spooks s10 ep 5

The thrill is definitely gone.

Harry kidnaps Jim Coaver, loses Jim Coaver.  Ruth can’t quit Section D, even though she’s, um, quit Section D.  And Gavrik smirks a lot about having a tortoise in his garden.  Yeah, whatever – is it nearly over?

In the old days, this might have been amazing: I mean, there’s a bomb and mercenaries, and one of those stick-a-USB-into-a-computer covert missions, and a big international hoo-hah, but it’s all a bit tired and sad now, inexorably dragged down by endless scenes of Sacha being a pain and Ruth whining at Harry about their relationship (does anyone, anyone care any more?) like they’re in Eastenders rather than a supposedly hard-hitting action drama. How on earth did the once mighty Spooks come to this?

Next week’s finale will have to be 100 times more interesting than this lacklustre, endless re-tread of the same old ground, if the show is to go out with the big bang it deserves, rather than the long-drawn out whinge the rest of the season has been.

Spooks s10 ep 4

Blah blah fundamentalist blah blah suicide bomb plot blah blah doomed MI5 asset … I feel like I’ve seen this episode of Spooks at least 8 times before.  In fairness, it was a bit more balanced than these stories usually are, but there’s one of them every season and, essentially, they’re all the same.  Yawn.

The rubbish Russian B-plot didn’t liven things up, either – except for the moment when Ruth explained her big plan to trap Jim Coaver and I nearly fell off my chair at how ridiculously STUPID it was – and while everyone’s daughters getting kidnapped gave Erin a chance to cry again, it really wasn’t enough to set this episode apart from the many similar ones that have gone before it.  Especially seeing as Rosie didn’t seem remotely bothered about it.  On the plus side for Erin, though, at least she got to hug Dimitri.  Lucky girl.

Spooks s10 ep 3

The problem: “An anarchist terrorist in possession of nuclear material, whereabouts unknown.”

Except maybe by his sister…  Poor Dimitri.   He finally gets his moment to shine and Erin decides to use it to pimp him out.  For someone who was so teary-eyed about burning an asset last week, she was pretty cavalier about sacrificing the poor girl’s heart and an underling’s body in pursuit of the common good, wasn’t she?  I’m pretty sure there’s cause for a formal grievance in there, Dimitri…

The honey-trap angle reminded me a lot of Ros’s undercover (sorry) mission with the guy who was going to bankrupt the UK a couple of seasons ago, except that Ros, as usual, did the dirty work herself.  Sigh. I miss Ros.  And Lucas.  And Tariq.  And…. *wipes away tear*

Sigh again.  Anyway, as far as this particular episode goes, the main story was a decent idea, unfortunately diluted by too much time spent with the appallingly dull Sasha and Elena and frankly not enough time on the actual preventing of a radiological disaster.  And the bait and switch was so obvious, I was embarassed none of our highly-trained operatives saw it coming.  Especially you, Dimitri.  I mean, I expect this sort of gullibility from Calum and Erin, but you were trained by Lucas and Ros, man.  Must do better.

Spooks s10 ep 2

“Harder, better, faster, stronger”… and so much more entertaining than last week’s.

I really liked this one, even if it did begin with perhaps the most rubbish spy moment ever – super intelligence operative Calum gets mugged by a bunch of teenagers.  They take his top-secret laptop, which bizarrely contains top-secret info, which even more bizarrely, is super-easy to hack into as long as you have an office in  Battersea.  Or something.

Why MI5 would need to transfer this top-secret info via one man and his briefcase rather than say some secure government network or something, I don’t know.  Why that one man would act like it was everyone’s fault but his, and like he can’t see what the fuss is about, it’s just life and death and national security, I also don’t know.  And why his boss, Section Chief Erin is permanently on the edge of tears and therefore about as convincing a spy as I’d be, I don’t know either.

Maybe it’s best not to think too deeply about these things.  Especially since there was plenty else to think about, like, oh, who this year’s mole might be, why Ruth is so obssessed with Harry’s back story (what was all that “We need to talk about Sasha” stuff – what more is there to say?)  and of course, the very Spooks-ian end of the episode, which I was really quite sad about.  Poor you-know-who.  If anyone was going to die, it should’ve been Sir-Smug-a-Lot Calum.  Still four eps to make it happen!

Spooks s10 ep 1

Er… What happened to all the running and the shooting? 

Harry’s been on enforced leave (“At one particularly dark moment, I actually considered gardening” – Heh) since the whole Albany and “Lucas/NotLucas” business, but the Home Secretary wants him back to make friends with the Russians.  This poses a problem, as Harry’s already been a bit too friendly with a particular Russian a long time ago, and that particular secret is about ready to bite everyone in the butt. 

I just wish it would hurry up about it.  After a classically Spooks-style assassination in the first few minutes of the episode, we then had to sit through about forty minutes of staring and glaring, before the action picked up again, and while this type of slow-burning Cold War intrigue can be a great idea, it’s not what we watch Spooks for, is it? I was bored, to be honest.

I do love Harry, but the show is crying out for a Ros or a Lucas to do the high-octane action stuff, while he does the tortured and sardonic manoeuvring in the background, rather than shoving it front and centre.  And instead of giving Dimitri, who’s more than up to the task, the chance to step into the shoes of the dearly departed, we’ve got two new characters who aren’t up to much at all.  Section Chief Erin is about as exciting as a boiled egg  and self-satisfied git Calum is a buffoon.  Which doesn’t bode well for the next 5 episodes. What we need is more Demetri, more Tariq, less of the two new no-marks and everything to happen a lot faster, or this one last series is going to be one last series too many.

Public Service Announcement 35 of 2011: Spooks, Downton Abbey, Curb Your Enthusiasm

There’s been a fair bit of media hand-wringing about the fact that the new, final series of Spooks starts tomorrow on BBC1 at the same time as the new, probably–not–final series of Downton Abbey on ITV1; 9 PM, Sunday is suddenly the hot slot, it would seem.  (There’s also been some decidedly less animated chat about the new series of Curb Your Enthusiasm starting a couple of hours later – 11.05pm on More4 – safely clear of the danger zone.)

To be honest, I can’t see the schedule clash being a huge problem for Downton and Spooks afficionados at all – those who want to watch them both will do so, either then and there or later on using whatever timeshifting techniques they fancy.  Broadcasters can take that kind of thing into account now so it’s a little disingenuous of the media to pretend that first-run ratings are the be-all and end-all any more.  I’d have thought the show that stands to genuinely lose viewers who might not bother recording it or catching a repeat during the week is the other main one screening at the same time, having a far less devoted following, and desperately wanting to be Spooks: hello, mid-season Strike Back: Project Dawn.

On paper, the similarities are striking.  Both Spooks and Spooks-Alike Project Dawn recently killed off their main action hero Richard Armitage (although Spooks took it too far and carried out a full-scale character assassination first; at least Strike Back only shot him in the head), both are about spies trying to save the world, one global conspiracy plot at a time, and both feature plenty of shooting and blowing stuff up.  The principal difference between them, though (apart from the size of fan base), is that Spooks still has some great characters in the form of old hands Harry, Ruth and (please, please, please) Malcolm, and is hopefully still capable of some brilliant episodes, despite losing its way overall with the Lucas storyline last season.  Strike Back, on the other hand – in spite of a reasonable first run last year – is now more focused on the sex than the stories and has replaced any decent characters it had with a bunch of appalling ones.

Whether Strike Back’s ratings do crash because of Spooks or not, though, obviously my main problem with them going head-to-head is that I like to write about both shows as quickly as I can after the event, so putting them on at the same time is singularly unhelpful.  Never mind the Downton Abbey fans; will no one think of the poor blogger?!?  Which to watch first? Which to write about first?  Watch this space to find out….

Spooks s9 ep 8

Is anyone else a bit miffed after watching this?

I was expecting to be teary-eyed and emotional, but I’m more annoyed than anything else.  The past few weeks have been turbulent for Lucas North fans as we’ve watched a character we thought we knew pushed and twisted into something unrecognisably horrible.  The show encouraged us to invest in him as a good guy, a hero.  Now, he’s a liar and a killer.  And for what?  Apparently for nothing at all. 

“This woman’s at the centre of it all” but, as we’ve said before, “this woman” Maya, the third of Lucas’ doomed loves in as many seasons, never really rang true as a motivation and without that to anchor the story I’m left wondering what the point of it all was.  Why spend all that time  building Lucas up as someone we cared about then pull that out from under us for nothing?   Giving us a decent reason to make destroying him worthwhile would have been small solace, but it would have been solace of sorts and, instead, we got a slap in the face.

If this week’s episode had been as good as last week’s heartbreaker or the previous week’s rollercoaster ride, maybe it wouldn’t have mattered as much but it wasn’t, and that just made the plot holes and the pointlessness of it all the more galling. 

But I guess I’m just angry because I, and a lot of other people, liked Lucas and the writers stomped all over that.  In fairness, though, this was still an intense and often powerful finale, with plenty of superb moments in amongst the slightly silly ones.  Lucas embracing the unhinged and turning mad, bad, super-villian was somewhat melodramatic and difficult to swallow but, again, wonderful work from the actors saved the episode from descending into farce.  The Lucas, Ruth and Harry triangle was at the heart of it all, with Richard Armitage and the incredible Nicola Walker making their scenes together tragically believable and gripping, while Peter Firth turned in yet another great performance as Harry, desperate to save Ruth, Lucas and Albany, whatever the cost.

Like last week, Dimitri and Beth seemed surplus to requirements as the three older characters did all the heavy lifting, and the addition of new operative Alec to aid the search also seemed unnecessary and clumsy; based on his lumbering contribution to this week’s episode I’m not particularly keen on him as a replacement for Lucas but then it’s always hard to give up a Section Chief.  Given how we lost this one, I’ll know not to get too fond of the next.

Spooks s9 ep 7

“I’ve seen you risk your life to save others and I believe in you.”

Sadly, we weren’t permitted the same luxury as Beth any longer this week; we were forced to wake up from the fantasy that was Lucas North.

There was a heavy, menacing atmosphere pervading everything from the very first scene as, inch by inch, we got closer to the big “John” revelation that has been such a long time coming.  In contrast to last week’s high-speed chase of an episode, most of this one was quiet and slow as the writers took time to weave in a desperately sad story touching on Ruth’s grief over her lost family and Harry’s guilt that has been a long time coming as well, before finally telling us who John is, or was, and is now going to be again.

Dimitri and Beth’s presence seemed intrusive; they didn’t belong in this story of a heroine who survived horrors only to begin dying inside, and a killer “who fell asleep and dreamed he was a hero.”  The episode went overboard with the flashbacks – to things that happened ten minutes earlier?  Really, guys? – and the massive amount of exposition threatened to slow things down a little too much at points, but the power was in the performances and the almost Shakespearean air of tragedy around them. Ruth’s ordeal in the flat and her grim resignation afterwards, Harry’s concern and affection turning to contempt, John’s self-loathing and despair – all bravura work from Nicola Walker, Peter Firth and Richard Armitage which made this hard to watch but impossible not to.  A fun episode it wasn’t, but a heartbreaking, nerve-shredding and incredibly powerful one it turned out to be.

Spooks s9 ep 6

Gosh.  Where do I even start?  This was breakneck, heartstopping, utterly exhilarating stuff and I absolutely loved it. 

In a plot even more freakishly up-to-the-minute than usual, the Grid was infiltrated, the spies became the spied-upon and Lucas’s entire life went to hell in a shiny black Government vehicle (handcarts being decidely passé these days). 

Richard Armitage started the episode looking mournfully handsome (prompting my internal music box to start playing “Oh.  Why you look so sad?”), and the scene was set for an episode-long battle between his heroic streak and self-preservation, as he veered between doing the right things and doing the terribly, terribly wrong ones.  It’s ironic and tragic that some of the character’s noblest moments this week were mixed with some of his basest, but, traitor or hero, most of those moments were just fantastic.

And as Lucas edged further down the road of no return (via an absolutely wonderful surprise visit to an old friend in “Hobbit country” – even more freakishly up-to-the-minute there), there were some equally fantastic moments back at the ranch, where Mama Ruth and the boys were stepping up to save the day. 

The loss of Ros has given Ruth a chance to blossom again as Harry’s right-hand woman this season, but her awesomeness reached stratospheric levels this week, while Tariq suddenly turned from nerdy techno-boy to, er, nerdy but ace techno-boy, and Dimitri provided the brawn and the bomb.  Awesomely though.  Before foiling the evil plot and everything, so go Dimitri!  The scene where he and Harry strolled into the villains’ lair was wonderful. (Even if it did seem to be the same lair/office space that nearly every villain in Spooks has used for the past three seasons.  The international spies’ housing market must be kind of quiet.) 

The only person who didn’t really have much to do was Beth, but there was so much going on with everyone and everything else that it didn’t matter.  From the deceptively subdued beginning to the final ominous crescendo, this was an incredible ride.  Brilliant.