08 May 2015

TV: The Game - Episode Two

The second episode of Toby Whithouse's new (well, new to British BBC channels) Cold War espionage drama doesn't let up from the first - in fact, the reverse is true, if anything. Having set out all the pieces in the opener, Whithouse now begins to get on with the stories he wants to tell. Pleasingly, these have a large personal and global scale.

Indeed, Whithouse's grasp of character is unquestionable at this point. Joe Lambe is now clearly defined in audience's minds as an enigma. But a likeable (if unrelatable) one - I think. Unexpectedly, this episode focused much less on the partnership between Lambe and Jim Fenchurch which seemed like it was being set up as the backbone of the series, giving more preference to members of the guest cast like Sarah, Bobby and Wendy. By not following the almost predictable path of making Lambe and Fenchurch partners unwillingly forced together only to find they work well as a team and actually quite enjoy each other's company, Whithouse cleverly reinforces the idea that the former is an island, isolated from everyone else.

It must be said that this week's instalment took quite a few cues from its predecessor. Once again Arkady passed information on to a sleeper agent, and once again, the agent ended up dead. There was the variation of how the death came about which, while I saw it coming, was no less satisfying because of this. However, it was far from formulaic and I found parts of this episode some of the most terrifying television I've ever watched. It now looks as if a nuclear strike is on the cards, and the section dubbed over with the fallout shelter preparation instructions was truly harrowing. I was frozen to the core, similar to Jonathan Morris' 2012 Doctor Who story Protect and Survive, which dealt with the same issues (only it was set a decade or so later).

It isn't all doom and gloom though. Well, it is, but there's a lot to enjoy about this episode too. Bobby and Wendy's relationship, knowingly signposted right from the boardroom scene, was played very intelligently, much to my pleasure. This is no standard office romance. Elsewhere in the team, Sarah and Joe make for a very interesting pairing and I hope to see more shared screen time for them across the remaining four episodes. Alan, Jim and Daddy were given a little more of a backseat this time around compared to the first episode, but I'm sure their time will come across the series. What's interesting to note is that at least one of these people is a traitor. I'm having a great time trying to work it out.

The production of the episode was once again superb, but really I'd expect no less coming from such a talented group of people. The direction and music were top-drawer, and the camerawork from Jamie Hicks continued to impress. The quality of this series really is remarkable - both in writing and execution. It's a crime more of a fuss isn't being made about this - it's great!

All in all, then, another stunning episode. Whithouse takes things up a gear with the threat of nuclear warfare - and the revelation that we wouldn't strike back - and the villain of the piece really is a nasty piece of work. It is of course interesting to learn more about Joe's past and I look forward to seeing how he develops across the series. It's a shame that we have now had two-thirds of Whithouse's episodes (and almost half of the whole series!) as he is a master of his trade, spinning worlds and people with just one line. He's an incredible writer surrounded by an amazing team and together they make this, for me, an unmissable series. Whithouse and Tom Hughes as protagonist Lambe still earn the most credit for The Game's success from me, but the effort from so many that has gone into making this as good as it is certainly hasn't gone unnoticed.

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