15 September 2015

Spooks 1.4: Traitor's Gate


Bit of an odd one, this. A lot of time is spent on unnecessary exposition, leading to a very rushed climax. That said, it's another interesting premise to base an episode around, and it furthers what we would now call the series arcs successfully.

We begin with a demonstration against the arrival of American President George W Bush on British soil, with Zoe and Danny conducting routine surveillance. Quite why they would have been on such a menial mission - after all, they didn't expect anything to come of it - I don't know, but nonetheless they are. There, they come across legendary MI5 agent Peter Salter. With Tom on sick leave after being shot, it turns out Harry has been running him on a secret operation to infiltrate an anarchist cell.

Soon, Vauxhall Cross are involved, and representing MI6 is Jools Siviter, brilliantly played by Hugh Laurie. He, like the audience, wants to know exactly what's going on, because he appears to have gone off piste. As Tom says to him later on, he's gone "so far off piste you're not even on the bloody mountain".

Of course it transpires that Salter's allegiances really do lie with the anarchists and he helps them in their attempts to get attention from the authorities. Even though the message of this episode isn't in the exact nature of the crimes he commits but in the fact that he does them, it does feel like there are a few loose ends that really ought to be tidied up. For one thing, when at the university, Salter adjusts the maps of Air Traffic Control so that planes will crash into mountains. Aeroplanes were clearly still a hot topic at time of broadcast, under a year after 9/11. However, later on, we're told that Air Traffic Control has just shut down. I don't know if that was something Salter also did, to avoid having that many lives on his conscience, or if there was just some inconsistency between scenes. Either way, it's not massively important, it just doesn't follow perfectly.

Once more Zoe and Danny are given very little to do after the first few minutes. Indeed, about the most notable thing I can think of for Zoe in the last 45 minutes of the episode is being told to say hello to Salter. Danny at least gets the subplot of his credit adjustments coming back to bite him. As Harry says, he's a bloody idiot. But as he also says, it's hardly the worst crime someone in the service could commit - see Marks last week and Salter this week. Tom finally gets round to telling Maisie and Ellie about his real life and job, and it leads to some really touching moments. Tom's a character I find it hard to engage with, although I think that might be deliberate on the part of the writers, but Ellie I can fully sympathise with. Now they know though, it seems inevitable that they will at some point be kidnapped or similar such traumas. I don't know if that's a vague memory resurfacing or just dramatic irony, but either way I'm pretty confident it's going to happen.

Once again the majority of the cast are excellent. Anthony Head is great as Salter, as is Bronwen Davies as girlfriend Andrea. You can see how Salter may've become bored with ordinary life after the excitement of years at GCHQ, MI5 and MI6, and how her passion may have turned him. It's a good couple of performances that really convince you of their characters' backgrounds and desires. On the less impressive side I must once again cite David Oyelowo. I'm really sorry but I hope Danny doesn't stick around too long. I barely remember him being in it, which is hopefully a sign that wasn't in much of it. He's not alone though, as Jenny Agutter (Tessa) once again gets some more meaty material, I remained disinterested and unconvinced by her I'm afraid. The revelation she's making up contacts and pocketing the money herself should be shocking, but here it just feels pedestrian.

It's Rob Bailey behind the cameras once again, and my comments are much the same as for episode three. It all looks a little bit amateurish and somewhat lacks intensity. Still, it's a decent effort and he manages to coax solid performances from his stars, so that's a big tick. Howard Brenton isn't a name I'm familiar with but he'll continue to contribute to the series for a while. His involvement is reportedly what made Peter Firth sign up, so for that I'm grateful. While we're on the subject of Harry, I'd like to say how much I enjoyed Firth's performance again. Every time he's given something substantial to do, which hasn't been all that often up to now, he knocks it out the park. As he goes on to take increasing prominence in the series I feel like these reviews will be more and more filled with praise for him.

In summary then, this isn't a poor episode, but it feels like another episode of Spooks. It doesn't do all that much out of the ordinary and the uninspiring direction doesn't light things up too much. I look forward to following Zoe and Ellie's stories but not many others'. Roll on episode five.


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