thu 17/10/2019

Spooks, Series 10, BBC One | reviews, news & interviews

Spooks, Series 10, BBC One

Spooks, Series 10, BBC One

The beginning of the end

With 'friends' like these...: rump cast returns for one last tilt at our enemies

Am I being paranoid, or are there spies everywhere these days? A quick squiz at the telly guide recently, and you'd have been forgiven for thinking that everyone in London is either employed in the security services or in making films about them. According to last night's re-opening of the Spooks case-file, anyway, there are plenty around the red-brick side-streets of Hammersmith. And when I say "spies", I don't mean Stella Rimmington at work on a novel; I mean guys in black gloves, and "accidents", and hell to pay.

First rule for a new series: get all your loose ends squared away pronto, so you can start again from scratch. This has always gone double at Section D.

When his suspension for unauthorised actions is suddenly overturned, Harry Pearce (Peter Firth, above centre) is back in the game. And not much has changed. He still has a face like a smacked halibut, still permits himself the occasional indulgence of dismissive, steely humour - "At one particularly dark moment I actually considered gardening" - and still speaks in an ironically grandiloquent manner (Scotch? With water. "A concession to the youth of the hour"). 

Calum, Dimitri and Tariq are a walking, talking, MI5-for-the-new-century recruitment poster

Thanks to the internal logic of intel dramas - where shadowy background figures can expedite all manner of things quickly and quietly (i.e. off-screen), explanation postponed - some rookie blood has been brought in to freshen up the office banter. Calum (chippy tech guy), Dimitri (SBS heavy) and Tariq (token brown bloke) are a walking, talking, MI5-for-the-new-century recruitment poster: hand-picked to get right up Harry's arse. And just to add to his general bonhomie, as part of his ministerial slap on the wrist, Pearce's every action now has to be signed off by Erin Watts (Lara Pulver, far right), an improbably youthful careerist with a distracting wiggle and a tendency to bend a long way forward while talking.

Whom does he have to thank for all this? Who "jammed the guillotine"? Ooh, awkward... a Russian oligarch/minister/former KGB adversary and rival - and not just in matters of intelligence. That's got to chafe.

While the frustrated Home Secretary (Simon Russell Beale) snapped at Pearce to "get [his] head out of the Cold War!" the scriptwriters seemed to be doing their damnedest to keeps ours in it. Old double-agents emerged from the woodwork, dead letters were dropped in the London Library, code sheets were found in false drawers. Perhaps some of these spycraft techniques still make sense in contemporary operations, but the idea of juxtaposing them with motion-ID software and iPads didn't. 

Things were better at the strategic level. The Americans are retracting their geopolitical mandibles (from us, anyway), leaving Britain to cast around for more-viable allies, especially with regard to the Middle East. And whom does that leave? Ah. The Russians. Whitehall's imperative, now, is to remain friendly with the Kremlin, poisonings and diplomatic expulsions notwithstanding. As an simultaneous exercise in riffing on the Cold War back catalogue, side-stepping blatant Bond-style nostalgia, and touching on the occasional contemporary detail, this wasn't a bad effort. 

With 'friends' like these - one often feels - who needs enemies?

That said, it might be time - 10 years in - to step away from the thread-bare trope of MI5 officers eating their own, often for no better(-explained) reason than that that's why they got into the game in the first place. With 'friends' like these - one often feels - who needs enemies? Internal threats are a legitimate preoccupation for spies, to be sure; but there's a limit to their uses in the storyline. 

Alas, Spooks wins no awards for subtlety. The script has way too many clanky explanations, and the plot contains moments of absurd thinness (a laptop detonating itself but the attached hard-drive surviving) and amateurish inconsistency (spies who don't lock their front doors, or an MI5 officer being able to walk up to the car of a visiting Russian diplomat and touch a bug to its boot). There must be some concessions to prime-time, I suppose; but romantic flashbacks are just wrong, these ones building only to a horribly predictable conclusion about Harry's emotional past. 

Some of the narrative trends for series 10 are already fairly obvious, but I'm going to shy away from predictions, for fear of being right and spoiling everything. Suffice to remind everyone that this will be the last series of Spooks. Harry and his team have their work cut out. The time for loose ends is past.

Harry Pearce is back in the game. And not much has changed.

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Comments

From what I’ve seen, Spooks keeps getting better in the way that it never disppointed me, something that doesn’t happen often with shows that have been going for so long. I mean, it's true that it's not perfect but all in all, the most impressing thing is that none of the characters or the issues they face seem to get tiring. Just like you said, this episode has lots and lots of clichéd storylines or obvious plotholes (the computer thing WAS a bit too much) but I feel like this is nothing we haven't seen before in this show. I've never felt like it was trying to stick to reality but more of what we think reality is for secret agents, which is much funnier I belive. I’m a little anxious about the new characters though and how the writers are going to make us love them in the little time they have left but I still feel confident enough to tune in next week ;) Great review anyway.

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