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October 26th, 2010


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04:23 pm - Spooks
I am continuing to enjoy this season of Spooks. There have been whole seasons that have slid off me like water off a duck's back but I am enjoying this one.

Quick digression: Law and Order Criminal Intent, like a lot of long running US shows, has a very rigid formal structure. The three minutes before the credits present a crime, usually a murder, with original characters. I am impressed each week how they manage to build characters, peril, and meaningful mystery, in about 180 seconds of screen time.

Spooks I think is similarly impressive, racing through complex storylines in a hour, without jettisoning emotional impact, and without ever achieving moral absolution for the characters. This week, for example, Lucas North was pursuing a personal scheme opposed to his official task, which in turn was adrift from central control, and all three threads - the departmental problem, his orders, and his hidden agenda, were braided tightly together, so that his scenes functioned in three different plots simultaneously. But in addition to this, I was emotionally engaged, so that these scenes had an impact as well as a function. Two in particular.

The first was the death of an original character - a young American woman, who was painted very deftly as highly colourful and likeable. Lucas kills her, in a ghastly way, and although you can see he is upset, this really means he is damned now. Bring someone in, make you identify with them and like them so quickly that their death destroys a central character; I think this is impressive writing and acting. And then clever how this event functioned within three plots: that he was ordered to kill her, that he realised this was a fake order, and that he killed her anyway. I would take my hat off to whoever constructed this Rubik's plot.

The second scene I can't quite understand yet, we may find out more in the final two episodes. Lucas North entered a house where he had previously obtained information from an old cast member. The information proved worthless, and the house was abandoned. I thought it was a scene with more metaphorical weight than plot significance. I think it will be fine if this is never explained, and in a way I hope it never is.

I think the job of the best TV writing is to increase the freight of each scene. I think British telly usually does this by thickening up relatively simple and accessible material, for example by drawing on cultural baggage. Life on Mars, Sherlock Holmes, Doctor Who, all punching above their weight by drawing on the cultural capital out there in the audience. Spooks does draw on our capital a bit, but I think it's attempting something I see more in American telly, which is to thicken a scene by making it serve multiple plot functions plus some kind of metaphorical commentary on itself. Plus nowadays some kind of reflective 'what does this say about the show, and me watching it?' I'm pleased to see the writers of Spooks emulating this model.

if it is less successful it is because the BBC is being forced to please too many masters at once, but that's another rant for another day

(15 comments | Leave a comment)

Comments:


[User Picture]
From:the_magician
Date:October 26th, 2010 05:35 pm (UTC)

Spoiler discussion!

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There is a lot of talk that this is the last season of Spooks (I hope not, but on the other hand, it would be a fine season to finish with) which is one of the reasons I cheered when they brought Malcolm back ... and I think that the whole "there are only three people who I can give this file to, and two of them are dead" bit was delightful ... and then it being a fake, makes me suspect that Ruth's revelation that Lucas wasn't where he said he was and was hiding something and Harry dismissing it, is actually because Harry already suspects or knows something and is giving Lucas enough rope (or it's a trap to reel in the Albany crowd).

One of the great things about Spooks is that you can never be certain that *any* character is going to survive to be in the opening credits of the next episode.

Given that Lucas said he can't hear the music anymore, it really surprises me how much he's giving away in order to be back with his old love ... again this feels like an "end of things" plot arc, that he wants to give up what he's doing now and find a happier, earlier time (when he was "John") and that ultimately you can never go back, so it seems destined to end in tears ... but with Spooks you can never be sure ...

... and reminding new viewers about the Ruth+Harry relationship was also masterful and, I believe, more foreshadowing ... it would be lovely to think they could have a happy ending, but my prediction is that Harry will give up his life by the end of the season to save Ruth (and the team). We'll see.
[User Picture]
From:communicator
Date:October 26th, 2010 05:50 pm (UTC)

Re: Spoiler discussion!

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Malcolm! thanks I had forgotten his name.

It's possible Lucas is some kind of Manchurian candidate with a wiped memory? And perhaps the Ian Glenn character is a figment of his imagination (and so is Maya? 'Maya' means illusion)

I hope you are wrong about Harry, but it's just the kind of thing they would do.
[User Picture]
From:altariel
Date:October 28th, 2010 07:15 am (UTC)

Re: Spoiler discussion!

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Isn't Maya also the name of the girlfriend in Life on Mars?

I watched this episode after reading your review: not a bad episode of Spooks at all! I assumed that Malcolm was able to get the house emptied so quickly because he Knows Sekrits, and therefore can always can on the secret service to whisk him away at a moment's notice.
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From:communicator
Date:October 28th, 2010 08:13 am (UTC)

Re: Spoiler discussion!

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Yes, and in the third season of Six Feet Under you kind of think Nate Fisher has either died or is in a coma (he had brain surgery at the end of season 2) and during this time he gets married and has a baby called Maya. The preceded LoM.
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From:sugoll
Date:October 28th, 2010 10:33 pm (UTC)

Re: Spoiler discussion!

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I've always hated the way Lucas got any kind of trust so quickly after spending years in a Russian jail; I'd be gratefully relieved if it turns out that he's an unknowing programmed sleeper, and Harry's been playing him, but I think that would require too much pipe in each episode that hasn't been apparent.
[User Picture]
From:communicator
Date:October 29th, 2010 07:17 am (UTC)

Re: Spoiler discussion!

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They seem to be painting themselves into a corner at the moment. My guess is he's lost touch with reality and Harry is not playing him. Maybe.
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From:rozk
Date:October 26th, 2010 09:41 pm (UTC)
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In a way what actually happened between Lucas and the American woman was worse than you are saying. He stuck her in the boot of the car to shut her up and while he decided whether or not to kill her, and then realized that the order to kill her was a phony, and drove off, with her still in the boot. The people waiting to ambush him opened fire and because she was in the boot, she took a bullet to the neck and slowly bled to death - his actions led to her death, and he nearly left her to die in order to pursue his agenda, and in the end did not, but knows he thought of doing so.

You are right - he is damned and coming seriously unravelled.
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From:communicator
Date:October 26th, 2010 09:47 pm (UTC)
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I think he actually delivered the literally coup de grace, because he deliberately released the pressure on her neck-wound, allowing her to bleed out into his hands. Because she said 'Albany'.

Part of why I thought it was so horrible was that we had been lead to feel that he was menacing in a kind of impressive sexy way, but would protect her, and then it turned into something bloody and pitiful.
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From:rozk
Date:October 26th, 2010 09:49 pm (UTC)
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Yes, you're right - I just looked and I hadn't understood that bit...
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From:gfk88
Date:October 27th, 2010 07:51 am (UTC)
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I cheered too when they brought Malcolm back. I'm even more impressed with him than I used to be, now I know he has the ability to get a removal firm at incredibly short notice.

You could see Lucas weighing up whether he needed to kill Malcolm after he gave him the file. But that was before Lucas finally crossed the line later in the episode and so he just shakes his hand instead. Brilliant.



[User Picture]
From:communicator
Date:October 27th, 2010 08:20 am (UTC)
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I was wondering if you had seen it and would comment, Guy. The empty house was almost surreal because, yes, was it even feasible that Malcolm could clear a place so quickly? I thought Lucas was kind of trying to use the glad-eye on Malcolm, so now I will have to rewatch it to see him wondering whether to kill him.
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From:gfk88
Date:October 27th, 2010 10:03 am (UTC)
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Unless it was genuinely just done for dramatic effect, the quick clearing does point towards your view (which I really hope is true) that Harry already knows what's going on, and Malcolm has been expecting a visit.
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From:communicator
Date:October 27th, 2010 10:24 am (UTC)
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I am kind of inclining to the view that Lucas has gone completely psychotic and nothing we see from his point of view is reliable at all.
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From:gfk88
Date:October 27th, 2010 11:16 am (UTC)
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I've been assuming that that bloke who looks like Richard Harris is the real Lucas North, and for unfathomable reasons they swapped identities at some point in the past. Though why anyone would care is not clear.

[User Picture]
From:communicator
Date:October 27th, 2010 01:26 pm (UTC)
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I think that's what we are supposed to assume. In Mad Men he just went to his boss, said 'I took over another guy's identity' and his boss 'whatever'.

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