16 September 2015

Spooks 1.5: The Rose Bed Memoirs


Moreso than any other episode so far, The Rose Bed Memoirs feels more like the Spooks I remember. It's unsurprising really given how influential its writer, Howard Brenton, will be across the next three series, but the tone and intrigue feels exactly reminiscent of what I expect from this programme. Not that I realised it until I felt it again.

When Hampton Wilder is released from prison after illegally selling arms to terrorists, he immediately contacts MI5. Whilst inside he wrote down some apparently pretty frank memoirs - only they went walkabout. This could potentially mean the collapse of the government, and so naturally Harry Pierce is at least interested. Across the hour, we meet and see off nasty Russian arms dealer (and, coincidentally, MI6 agent) Sergei Lermov who links a senior minister, the Prime Minister's right hand man, as his contact. And it looks like he's telling the truth.

Wilder is a pretty undesirable sort. Not only did he directly support terrorism, but he lied about the involvement of Richard Maynard - the minister. But he certainly has MI5 running rings here, chasing all sorts of leads in pursuit of the truth. And of course it's Tom Quinn, who last week let a criminal hang himself, who heads up the investigation once more. It was good to see Harry taking a more active role, but once again Danny and Zoe are relegated to simply reading the memoirs, like the rest of the desk jockeys.

There is a little relief for them though, through the scenes shared in the flat. These are amazing, and what I've been after all series. In the eight or nine minutes these must run to, we learn more about the pair than we have in the preceding four episodes. Of course Zoe's conflicted about turning Tessa in, but any viewer would be. Tell us something more! And here Brenton does just that, laying out entire personalities for her and Danny that we've not seen before. More of this please. Danny's girlfriend, who I'm not even sure gets a name onscreen, is of course just a plot device, but it works brilliantly. Keeley Hawes' "I know" speaks volumes. Brilliant.

That's an interesting point though I think. By the very nature of the series we're on 'the inside', if you like. We're following the spooks on their day-to-day activities, so of course we're in their world. At first though, we were outsiders looking in, marvelling at this strange business. The drama was presented through recognisable tics like news reports and structure, but five episodes in things have changed. The spies are supposed to be the anonymous ones, coming and going like shadows. Nameless agents going about their business undetected. Yet here, the exact opposite is true. This is the episode where we learn unprecedented amounts about our leads (I've not even covered Tom, Tessa and Harry in this area yet) and the 'normal person', as Tom might put it, is the one who comes and goes, leaving barely a footprint, nameless. It's a very clever device to get us into their world and involved in it. All credit to Brenton and director Andy Wilson, I'm suitably impressed.

So let's come to the Tom/Ellie situation. And yes, it is now a situation rather than a relationship. After Ellie's ex, and Maisie's father, Mark Hod turns up out the blue, things hit the fan for the couple. Ellie decides to move her and Maisie out. But Mark's not very taken with his ex's new man, and asks a contact in the Met to check out his vehicle. Before too long, he's lifted by Five and soon disappears. Once again, we're now on the inside looking out. There's the edge of dramatic irony over Ellie now - we're ahead of her. Previously we were only level, finding things out about the service and its operations and implications on civilians as she did. But no more. In this way, things are certainly heating up just in time for the series finale.

With each passing episode, Tessa is turning out to be coloured in more and more shades of grey. At first, I thought she was a pretty on-the-nose office type, but I don't imagine she's such small fry any more. Not only will she keep massively valuable documents to herself (the disc left by Jonnie Marks) and run phantom agents in order to make a bit more cash, here it seems she's been conducting a long-running affair with a man at the very heart of the government. She's a scarily powerful woman when you think of it in those terms, given she also has access to some of the most secret information in the country. I can't help feeling this is all leading somewhere.

Howard Brenton's mastery of plot and subplot is now coming back to me. He manages his time very well, never leaving any thread dangling for too long. This is a tremendously witty script as well; I caught myself laughing unwittingly several times. On that note, we also saw the return of MI6 representative Jools Siviter (Hugh Laurie) in this episode as things spiral out of control somewhat. The lack of shared intelligence between Five and Six must be endlessly infuriating for Harry, especially with such a man as Jools to contend with. He is a delight in writing and execution though - but I do fear for our country if there are men such as him charged with protecting it. Unfortunately, I fear Mr Siviter may be all too accurate.

In conclusion then, The Rose Bed Memoirs sees a real step up in my opinion. It begins Spooks' famous continuous nature, rather than telling a succession of unlinked stories as this first series started off doing. The parts are played well again on the whole, although I still can't get a grip on David Oyelowo's performance. But what do I know; at time of writing, he's just been nominated for an Emmy. A great episode, and I look forward to more from both Andy Wilson and Howard Brenton. The best episode yet.


No comments:

Post a Comment