12 September 2015

Spooks 1.1: Thou Shalt Not Kill

In the words of Chris Martin, I'm going back to the start. I've been a fan of Spooks for years, and last did a marathon of all 86 episodes about five or six years ago. Now, though, I'm doing it for the benefit of you, the lovely readers. I hope you both appreciate it.

This is a very confident opening episode. Written by series creator David Wolstencroft and creator of Hustle, you could assume it was in safe hands even before press play but in case you were in any doubt, this is a really strong beginning. Kicking off a new series is a tricky thing and I'm not convinced that Wolstencroft pulls it off as adeptly as Tony Jordan or Russell T Davies, but this is certainly a competent introduction.

Interwoven with the main plot of the episode, which I'll come to soon, we meet our three leads: Tom Quinn, Zoe Reynolds and Danny Hunter. Matthew Macfadyen's Quinn gets the lion's share of the action, of the three, and we're shown the world he lives in. As you might predict, it's one of deceit, danger and domestics. Quinn seems a very stable individual, successfully managing the balance of his two lives, which you might not expect, but I seem to remember it deteriorates at some point. And Wolstencroft is already setting him up for a fall with discussion about telling Ellie, his partner, who he really is. Zoe and Danny aren't given much in the way of backstory apart from the former is looking for a room to rent in London. Nevertheless, the characteristics of all three seem relatively defined even at this early stage, and currently they're more or less interchangeable. The only real distinction would seem to be that Tom is the leader and Danny is the new boy (something else Spooks shares with Hustle).

A pro-life group from America are coming to the UK with the intent of killing birth control (read: abortion) doctors after a successful spree in the States. Lead by Mary Kane, played by Lisa Eichhorn, they have a hit list and a lot of semtex. Unless MI5 get involved, the combination of these two things will end nastily. It's a pretty plausible plot, given the number of extremists that humanity produces, and is portrayed in a very narratively satisfying way. Mary is just the kind of nutjob you can imagine existing, and it's a strong plot to get things going. It's an instantly recognisable topic people can identify with and develops well over the course of the episode. Although we see the consequences of one attack throughout, as the story becomes more and more focused on Mary, it feels increasingly contained. Once they capture her, the game is up. Don't get me wrong, it's a solid resolution, it just pales a little in comparison to the mass destruction and high stakes we're told of.

The three leads all seem more or less suited to their parts, with Hawes perhaps the strongest of the trio at this stage. I couldn't help feeling throughout that David Oweloyo - now famous of course as Martin Luther King Jr in Selma - was playing Danny too posh. The lines and the acting didn't seem too good a fit and hopefully they can begin to taylor together more in future episodes. Esther Hall, as Ellie Simm, was great, and it made me wonder why I hadn't seen her in more. It turns out she's done a few series here and there over the year, but nothing else i've seen sadly. She's a great match for her character and I look forward to seeing more of her. Peter Firth, as boss Harry Pearce, has a smaller role here than in later series, but thanks to Firth it's just as enjoyable. There's also noticeably fewer of the quips I remember him for, but I'm sure they'll begin to seep it. Similarly, Hugh Simon, as Malcolm Wynn-Jones, displays some great talent here, and it's interesting to see where another of my favourite characters started off.

In summary then, this is a strong opening for Spooks, but I seem to remember the series doing better. It feels slightly detached from reality at the moment - but I suppose that's in the nature of the series - but I still enjoyed it. Bharat Nalluri's direction is incredibly strong; it's a shame he hasn't got too much more work in that department. The look and feel of the series is unique and I'm filled with confidence for the next 85 episodes (eek!).

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