13 September 2015

Spooks 1.2: Looking After Our Own

There's something of an expectation with serial television series that the first episode will be an all-guns-blazing showcase before the second quietens down a little and establishes the format for the rest of the series. That is certainly not the case with Spooks. If anything, this is a bigger episode than Thou Shalt Not Kill, both in scale and execution.

The team are split in two this week, with Zoe being releived from Tom's team by Tessa, head of Section K operations. Together, they investigate a human trafficking case. Meanwhile, Tom has been alerted to the activities of hardened racist Robert Osbourne (guest star Kevin McNally). He and Danny begin working on preventing the race war Osbourne intends to start to create a 'pure' Britain once more.

Osbourne is every bit the nasty piece of work Mary Kane (Thou Shalt Not Kill) was. A wifebeater who'll stop at nothing to achieve his goals, it's immediately obvious what kind of man he is. When it's revealed early on that he runs a waste disposal company, it became pretty inevitable in my eyes that this plot and that under Zoe and Tessa's jurisdiction would end up dovetailing together.

Seeing as Zoe is otherwise occupied this week, Helen Flynne, played by the series' best-known star Lisa Faulkner, steps up from administrative tasks to field work. She plays the role of Tom's character's wife as they attempt to befriend Osbourne's wife Claire (McNally's real-life wife Debra Stephenson) to get closer to him. With time running short though, they're forced to show their hand. And so we reach probably the most controversial scene of the whole series: Helen's death.

According to Wolstencroft this episode was originally the finale to the first series. When a script was needed for the second of the run though, this was bumped. You can kind of tell, in a good way. As Helen's arm and face are seared in a deep-fat fryer before she's shot, Tom is forced to watch in return for not betraying details of MI5 agents. It's an horrific scene, that's for sure, and quite shocking considering so far things have more or less pretty cuddly for our three leads. Sure, things have gone wrong, but the physical harm they've come to hasn't seemed especially arduous up to this point; they're usually seemingly fully recovered within five minutes.

It's a really well written and directed scene, and completely shocks the audience with the immediacy and intimacy of such visceral horror. Director Bharat Nalluri shows us just the right amount of harm before concentraing on the scene's other players. Leaving much of the horror to the viewer's imaginations is a very powerful technique that works really effectively the vast majority of the time when deployed in television and film. Despite advise from the government to leave Osbourne alone as it would be advantageous for them to be able to sneak an immigration policy under the radar, a mysterious biker soon finishes him off in a tunnel. It's fitting revenge and I hope the trauma of losing such a loved colleague doesn't go unaddressed in future episodes.

The look of this episode is once again fantastic. I can really see why Nalluri gets the big bucks. This is slick and measured, and makes for a really captivating bit of drama. Everything looks very 2002, but that is of course inevitable. It's quite interesting actually to see the kind of the thing the secret service were thought to be using back then. The technology in particular pales in significance to anything we have now. The subplot with Danny adjusting his credit rating is sure to come back to bite him, especially as we don't yet know what he was trying to buy. The soundtrack is great too, underscoring the visuals neatly. I'm not familiar with Jennie Muskett's work but she fits this series perfectly - I can see why they signed her up for the first four years.

All in all then, this is a great episode. The Matthew/Ellie subplot developed nicely, with Maisie becoming more of a potential problem for Tom, and I look forward to seeing where it goes. This is a hell of an episode, and I'm not surprised that it gained the most complaints of anything in 2002. This is just what we needed at this stage of the game, and although it hasn't dated that well, it's still a gripping hour of drama. I look forward to seeing if the rest of Series 1 can maintain this standard.

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